scifi blog — Haze

LE Modesitt Jnr.

This isn’t so much a review as an unstructured reaction to Modesitt’s Haze.

I enjoy Modesitt’s love of the details of doing work. He could make reading about mopping a floor enjoyable … “Michael put the mop in the bucket, allowing the warm water with the crude odour of pine to be absorbed by the mop, and squeezed the mop in the bucket tray to remove the excess liquid. He put the mop on the floor. The floor was shaded by the day’s dirt of staff walking between offices, & the dust that had settled out of the night’s still air. He swung the mop from left to right, a scythe, three times, four times, leaving arcs of clean damp where the mop had taken the dust. He put the mop back in the bucket, soaking and squeezing it to remove the dirt, before cleaning the next section of floor. The corners were stubbed, extra attention was paid to a particular piece of stubborn dirt, then the floor was clear. Michael gathered the bucket, and left the fresher floor for the uncaring attention of another day’s shoes.”

That’s not from Modesitt. It’s what I didn’t really find in this book. I listened to Haze as an audio book, rather than reading the tree leaves. And I missed those working patterns. But, you see, it could be the format, I’m new to it, and it might not bring so much to my attention that style of writing—but I think not. Having said that, the descriptions of simple actions are still in the book, and still enjoyable; there’s just not enough of them.

Much is set on the far future earth, a far future earth with working practices of today’s earth. There hasn’t been much progress. But this is a key part of the story: most of the rest of the tale takes place on Haze, a future world which has developed. Mysteriously, Haze is the United States upgraded, whereas Earth is inherited by the nasty communists. The book still echoes the propaganda of the cold war, except this time the nasty nasty reds are the Federation — no, not that one, but a Chinese Federation. I do wish he’d drop the United States nationalism: it’s like believing your wife is a goddess to be polished once a day rather than a flawed woman to be loved. Sex is much more fun, and productive, than cleaning something so obsessively it blinds you.

The story: yawn militarism. Oh, it worked, it carried me, and Modesitt had the decency to have the hero question all the deaths, question the social order that hosts then, and carry on regardless, pretty much. But the militarism is back to the US obsession with nasty nasty foreigners, who ultimately fail because they don’t have the good fortune to be born … gosh … truly American. It’s either ironic or politically simplistic. It’s certainly culturally naïve.

A lot of the story is awe science & technology, which Modesitt has the decency not to flub. His hero is neither a scientist nor an engineer, he simply observes, and doesn’t entirely believe what he sees. He comes from one post–American society, the invaded and occupied America, and is introduced to, and given tours around, another. It’s something like a propeller plane pilot being introduced to a TGV, but add a millennium of technological progress without giving up the train sets, if you get the drift.

Yet the new social order of the highly advanced freedom loving America is actually very Brave New World. This is no police, except for looking after the insane, although there are courts and lawyers. A society that doesn’t need policing is a society that doesn’t contain ordinary people, with their ordinary arguments, and their ordinary stupidity. The nasty nasty communists do have the police, and the equivalent special forces (indeed, the hero is a special operative), and they’re nasty, but not out–of–their–way malicious. There, people can chose to disobey, but if they cause too much bother, or are caught, or both, they get (severely) punished. But they’re left alone if they don’t upset the social order: the police enforce order, not obedience. On the other hand, in Brave New America, they’re not entirely people, so there’s no trouble, so there’s no need for policing. No drunks. No violence. No stupidity. No family rows. No flawed humanity. Except for the insane. I guess that’s what the ordinary flawed human beings are in libertarian America, insane. I wonder if this book is less a nasty comment on Brave New America, more on a weakness of nationalist idealism, aka libertarianism, its naïve assumptions about humanity, living in a libertarian society, how mysteriously people lose their imperfection. You must have ideal people for an ideal society, & anyone else is insane. That’s why I find the supposedly ideal libertarian society to be no such thing. You can see the rain on the road to fascism shining in this gleaming innocence.

This book certainly has more depth than many. The author has clearly added some puzzles I didn’t bother to work out; some of the characters say so at the end. But it has some very ordinary American nationalism, a political crudity that lets it down — unless that really is irony peeking his sharp nose out from under nationalism’s bedsheets?

If you’re a Modesitt fan, it’s worth seeking out. Otherwise, if you come across it, grab it, you’ll enjoy it. But is it worth a special search? Probably not.

ancient front