Book Review: How Firm a Foundation Safehold Series No. 5

I first became acquainted with David Weber’s Safehold series at a book overstock sale when I happened across the first title in the series. I’ve continued to buy the other books as soon as they are published. I’ve grown quite fond of the major characters, and I recommend the series to anyone who enjoys epic science fiction. His latest, How Firm a Foundation was recently published.

The background to the books is, a superior alien race has been going around the galaxy destroying all other civilizations it comes across. Humanity puts up a good fight, but the aliens have superior technology. In a last minute desperate retreat, the humans jump into hyperspace and fool the aliens by having them chase after a decoy fleet, which gets destroyed. The remainder escape to a far distant star system and settle a planet called Safehold.

On their new home planet, the humans divide into two groups. One group wants to prepare for the inevitable future conflict with the aliens, and be far more technologically advanced so they can defeat them next time. The other group believes if humans are forever low tech, they can avoid detection by the bad guys and continue living. The latter group wins the argument, and kills off most members of the former group. They then set up a world perpetually stuck at the technology levels of the early 19th century. They do away with all world religions and leave one church in charge of enforcing this low tech philosophy on the population.

Into this milieu, one of the pro-tech group’s PICAs enters the picture hundreds of years later. Lt. Commander Nimue Alban had a Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar that allows her essence to continue long after death. She sets about to become a Prometheus for the Safehold humans. Among the many super powered capabilities the PICA has is to change physiological characteristics, and so she turns into a male version of herself since the Safehold culture is male dominated. She, now a he, renames himself Merlin. This is one of many intriguing twists in the saga.

Another interesting feature in the series is the interpolation of futuristic high tech with the decidedly low tech lives of those on Safehold. Thus, satellites and space skimmers are mixed in with sailing ships. Weber obviously enjoys his sailing terms and much time is spent on the progressively high tech Charisian Empire, a group of countries reminiscent of England’s naval superiority back in the day. Readers also may enjoy watching the empire quickly advance toward Industrial Revolution levels of knowledge as they battle with a corrupt Luddite religion.

On the down side, it’s a very slow moving saga. Much time is spent on conversations as opposing sides examine possibilities from all angles in endless conferences. The lead time to battles may last over several chapters, as fleets draw near across the water at a glacial pace. When action finally does occur, it’s well written, but Weber fills the books with an excessive amount of conversation between the characters. Swearing is low to moderate, and usually reserved for bad guys. You can sometimes tell when new characters are bad if they start dropping F-bombs, for instance.

The latest in the series won’t disappoint fans. It’s not one a new reader can pick up and jump into; readers will need to start with the first Safehold book, Off Armageddon Reef. Once started, however, you will likely become anxious to read the next installment. You’ll mark your calendar, and begin an impatient wait.

4 out of 5 stars

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