Off Armageddon Reef
|Illustrator||Ellisa Mitchell (maps)|
|Cover artist||Stephen Youll|
|January 9, 2007|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3573.E217 O35 2007|
|Followed by||By Schism Rent Asunder|
Off Armageddon Reef is a science fiction novel by American author David Weber, published by Tor Books. It is the first book in the open-ended Safehold series. It follows a group of humans who have settled a planet they name Safehold, far from the reach of an alien race known as the Gbaba which is bent on destroying all humans wherever they are found. While all other human colonies have been destroyed this one was saved by trickery. Over 800 years after the humans land on Safehold an android, Nimue, with the personality of one of the starship officers who helped found the world is revived and discovers that the technology level of the colony has been reset to a primitive level. A disagreement between the leaders of the expedition resulted in the brainwashing of the colonists—they believe that they were created and placed on Safehold by the Archangel Langhorne and all advanced technology or innovation is forbidden by the Church of God Awaiting. Nimue must find a way to help the colonists gain the technology necessary to defeat the Gbaba without letting the Church know what she is doing.
Humanity is at war with a genocidal alien race known as the Gbaba, and after a long war, it becomes obvious that humans are losing. In order to preserve the species, several colonization expeditions are sent out to other stars, but all are tracked down by the Gbaba. Finally, a colony fleet manages to sneak away via trickery. The passengers of the colony ships spend a decade in hyperspace in cryogenic sleep, and then arrive at a planet thousands of light years away from and slightly smaller than Earth, which they colonize and name Safehold.
The original plan for this society was to wait for the immediate danger to pass, rebuild the technological base from records and artifacts left behind, and prepare a force large enough to defeat the Gbaba. However, the mission command is split into two groups. The first group is led by a Machiavellian administrator named Eric Langhorne. Langhorne believes that unless the humans in hiding on Safehold are permanently restricted to a Medieval level of technology, they will be eventually detected and destroyed by the Gbaba. During the trip to Safehold, the group alters the colonists' memories so they believe upon awakening they are the first humans and that they were created by a god. The radical leaders create a new religious institution called the Church of God Awaiting, which proscribes advanced technology and effectively deifies the members of mission command (they are hereafter called angels and are led by "Archangel Langhorne").
The second group, under the administrator Pei Shan-wei, wishes to preserve advanced technology and concepts, but not to use such knowledge until humanity is ready. In this way, the knowledge would be preserved and available for future generations. Once the human population had recovered, they could gradually ramp up the technology until they were capable of defeating the Gbaba. To this end, the second group establishes a city named Alexandria to house its members and technological information.
The two groups break into open warfare, and Langhorne has the city of Alexandria, and all its inhabitants (including Shan-Wei, who is made into the Safeholdian version of Lucifer by the Church), destroyed by orbital bombardment. The city ruins and the surrounding land mass are sunk beneath the ocean, creating what the now-superstitious colonists call Armageddon Reef. In a counter-attack, Shan-wei's supporters manage to eliminate most, but not all of, Langhorne's inner circle, including Langhorne. Shan-wei's group also managed to hide an android, with the personality and memories of Nimue Alban, a dead female starship tactical officer, deep within a secret mountain base, along with technology, an electronic library and a room full of weapons. When Nimue awakes some 800 years later, the situation is explained to her by a recording created by Shan-Wei's now deceased husband, Pei Kau-yung, and she is offered the mission of reversing the plans of the radicals and helping prepare mankind for the inevitable re-encounter with the Gbaba on more favorable terms.
Nimue accepts the mission and uses mobile spy technology to examine the world. However, it becomes clear that as an apparent woman, her influence would be less than it should be. She therefore changes into an apparent male and takes the name of Merlin before travelling to the Kingdom of Charis which is a relatively advanced region of Safehold with a somewhat free-thinking approach to religion. Merlin gains the trust of King Haarahld of Charis by interfering in an assassination attempt on Haarahld's son, Crown Prince Cayleb of Charis, saving his life. Merlin is made Cayleb's personal guardian and a de facto adviser to the king. He begins to introduce technology that, while not technically proscribed by the Safeholdian Bible, is advanced. While most of Safehold is at a 14th-century level of technology, Merlin introduces better sailing vessels, improved gunpowder, and greatly improved seaborne cannons, very equivalent to the 17th century in Europe. Events come to a head when the Church organizes an attack on Charis by most of its neighbors. Largely due to the technology introduced by Merlin, the combined attacking fleets of galleys are annihilated by the small Charis fleet of heavily armed galleons, although King Haarahld is killed in battle. The book ends at his funeral, about one month after the end of the battle, with Cayleb being crowned king without the Church's consent and with the beginning of a reformation movement emerging in Charis.
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Through the novel, Weber uses the conflict between technology and religion to explore the ability of people and cultures to make choices, rather than have the choice made for them. Weber himself has stated in an interview that the novel was not an attack on organized religion, but more "about the use of any ideology or belief structure to manipulate, control and coerce". It is this concept of control to prevent the right, ability and responsibility to make choices forms the thematic backbone of the novel.
In many ways this book is about the human condition at its core, set in a future world of high and low technology. It highlights how the choices individuals make on a day-to-day basis, as well as the relationships we build define the character and quality of our lives. Classic, and often interesting, themes such as 1) the ability of money and power to corrupt otherwise "good" individuals, 2) the influence of duty and morals in relation to the good of the "many", 3) the power of faith and its tension with orthodoxy, 4) the importance of truth balanced with the need for secrecy, 5) the drive for human innovation and progress, 6) the hopeful human will to survive, even in the face of overwhelming odds, 7) the separation of church and state, and 8) the tension of whether the "ends" truly justify the "means".
Concept and creation
Author David Weber says he was setting out to create a series in which high technology fused with "the feel of a 'last defender of elfland', but without the urban fantasy matrix"; the cybernetic protagonist who is unsure of his own humanity "grew naturally for me out of that initial basic premise." Weber explains that like many of his novels, the meat of the novel grew from questions such as "What set of circumstances could create a situation in which my PICA hero (Personality Integrated Cybernetic Avatar) came into existence? And given those circumstances, and the personality of Nimue Alban, how was 'Merlin' going to react?" As Weber puts it, "The lead character, Nimue, is a brilliant tactical officer, only about 27 years old at the time of her biological death, and has never known a time when humanity wasn’t fighting a losing battle for its very existence." She awakens, in the body of an android, 800 years after her death, into a world which has retreated nearly completely into tyranny and ignorance. Even with magnificent technological resources, how in the world is she going to make things better?
The concept of the technologically superior Gbaba aliens, determined to exterminate all life forms that could be a threat to them, resembles the Achuultani aliens from Weber's earlier novel Mutineers' Moon, the first novel in his Empire from the Ashes trilogy. Furthermore, the plot of the third novel in that trilogy, Heirs of Empire, involves a small group of people with high technology using their knowledge of military weapons and tactics to assist a group of humans living on a world of low technology. This resembles how on the planet Safehold the character Merlin assists the Charisians in their struggle with the Church and its allies.
Reception and reviews
Off Armageddon Reef was a cumulative bestseller, entering the New York Times Best Seller list at number 33. It was listed by Booklist as one of the top ten SF audiobooks of 2008 (read by Oliver Wyman) and was nominated in 2009 for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom.
Unlike the following four books, the title of Off Armageddon Reef does not come from a hymn. Instead, the title refers to one of the battles in the book, as well as a location that is central to the series' backstory.
Audiobook (Book on CD)
- The reader of the Audiobook version of both Off Armageddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder was Oliver Wyman. The reader was switched to Jason Culp for both By Heresies Distressed and A Mighty Fortress.
- Weber, David (2007). Off Armageddon Reef. Tor. ISBN 0-7653-1500-9.
- White, Sake (2007-12-01). "Interview with David Weber on Off Armageddon Reef".
- Adams, John Joseph (May 7, 2007). SciFi.com "Interview with David Weber". SCI FI Weekly.
- "Cumulative SFFH Books on 2007 General Bestseller Lists". Locus Magazine. 12 February 2008.
- "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". New York Times. February 11, 2007. Retrieved July 6, 2009.
- Moyer, Jessica (May 15, 2008). "Top 10 SF/Fantasy Audiobooks: 2008". Booklist.
- "ACCA 2009 - the long list". The London international festival of science fiction and fantastic film. April 2009.
- Brown, Eric (2 February 2008). "Virtual heist". The Guardian.
- SciFi review
- SFRevu Review of "Off Armageddon Reef"
- Publishers Weekly Starred Rerview of "Off Armageddon Reef"
- Library Journal Starred Review of "Off Armageddon Reef"
- The Guardian Book Review of "Off Armageddon Reef"
- An excerpt of Off Armageddon Reef is available for download or reading online at the Baen Free Library here.