Humanity spreads across the stars until meeting the Gbaba. The Gbaba are set on destroying all human life and make a good go at it. One colony fleet escapes and sets up on the planet Safehold. In order to avoid discovery by the Gbaba, advanced technology is forbidden in the new society. The colonists have all memory of their previous lives erased by their leaders who then establish an anti-technology religion with themselves as messengers from god. 800 or so years in the future we find a society dominated by the Church of God Awaiting, which has seen little technological development. Society remains in the pre-industrial era.
Into this society enters Merlin Athrawes, a Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar (PICA), who was hidden away 800 years earlier by members of the ruling council who did not agree with the society that was being created. Merlins goal is to advance Safeholds Renaissance-era society to one capable of defeating the Gbaba. To accomplish this he has to overcome the religious mandates against technology that have been ingrained for over 800 years.
To begin working towards his goal he travels to the Kingdom of Charis where he ingratiates himself with the King, Crown Prince, and other nobles through a variety of acts. Merlin has arrived in Charis in a time of troubles. A growing dispute between Charis and the Church points towards war and a vastly out numbered Charis is more then willing to accept the assistance of Merlin who begins introducing more advanced technology. Soon war begins and Merlins new technology is put to the test.
Off Armageddon Reef is really two books in one. The first is a science fiction story involving a technologically advanced human race traveling through the stars with aliens and space battles. The second is almost a fantasy story set in a pre-industrial world where advanced technology takes the place of magic.
I found the man made religion in this book very interesting. I think it says something about the man made aspects of all religions. There were similarities between the Church of God Awaiting and the Christian Church of Earths medieval period, particularly the corruption and the secular concerns and powers of high church officials.
While I enjoyed the there were a couple of issues I had with it. The first was the similarity of many of the names. On more then one occasion I had a hard time keeping track of who was who. Secondly, I started to get tired of Merlins superhuman abilities and his advanced technology. Granted he is superhuman and nothing he does is outside of the given abilities of a PICA and the spy technology was necessary to the plot however it began to seem overwhelming. This was primarily evident in the middle of the book and was greatly reduced as time went on.
At 600+ pages this was a bit long however I thought it was well worth the time invested. Overall I thought this was a good read and I look forward to reading the sequel, By Schism Rent Asunder.
I'm a big fan of David Weber's military space novels, but not so fond of his others. Off Armageddon Reef was an iffy selection for me, since it really wasn't a scifi space story at all.
What it is, however, turned out to be quite fascinating. Essentially, the story is that of a small, plucky nation, eager with innovation, versus a much larger world of old technology and no desire to change. All in a pre-industrial revolution world of wooden ships and simple cannons.
And it worked. It worked really well. There was lots of good character building, which centered (eventually) on just two or three people, so it didn't get that often unbearable overcrowding effect. There was lots of fun in the "technological marvel" vein. And lots of explosions.
Worth reading. 4.5/5