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April 04, 2016
What to Read
Ron Hardin

What's On the Bookshelf
Over the years, we’ve had numerous conversations with industry leaders and often one of the topics that we discuss is the latest book read. We thought it would be fun to share some of these booklover conversations with our readers. Here are what our industry leaders are reading.

Safehold Series
By David Weber

[Review by Ron Hardin, Davidson Hotels & Resorts]

I admit to being a nerd. I have Star Trek ornaments on my Christmas tree. I have a t-shirt with a light-up Wi-Fi signal strength indicator. I read science fiction and fantasy – in which genre, the hallmark of the uber-nerd is the epic multivolume saga – Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth, Herbert’s Dune series, Asimov’s Foundation novels. So, as Rod Serling would say, submitted for your approval… David Weber’s Safehold series, currently at eight hefty volumes and counting.
Mankind has spread to the stars, until encountering the Gbaba, a civilization that ruthlessly exterminates competing species. Humans have been beaten back to their home planet, and Earth is now a smoldering cinder. With defeat inevitable, Operation Ark is conceived to seed a hidden colony on the planet Safehold. But there is a schism in the project leadership, and Eric Langhorrne believes that the only way to ensure the survival of Safehold is to impose a universal religion that keeps any advanced technology from developing, as the Gbaba use the traces and emissions of that technology to locate their enemies. Langhorne has the memories of the colonists reprogrammed while enroute, and they awaken on “Creation Day” as the newly created Adams and Eves, under the leadership of the Archangel Langhorne, who with the other Archagngels – the rogue project leaders -- has established the Church of God Awaiting. Their “scriptures” provide all the necessary laws and knowledge for a healthy agrarian society, including proscriptions against knowledge that would lead to technology, and harsh penalties for heresy. A static medieval society results and the status quo is preserved for almost 900 years until an android wakes up in a cave under a mountain, with the memories of one of the original Project Ark tactical officers, a young woman named Nimue Alban. The android Nimue had been planted as a fail-safe by Pei Shan-Wei, leader of the opponents to Langhorne’s plan. Nimue is presented with the history of the final “War Against the Fallen” that resulted in the undisputed preeminence of the Church, and is charged with determining a course of action to set things right. Nimue also has the challenge of being housed in a taller-than-normal android PICA unit, and having to integrate into a patriarchal society, so assumes the very male persona of Merlin Athrawes. Nimue/Merlin must now locate a progressive nation among the various kingdoms and principalities of Safehold to begin the long process of resurrecting the truth. The seafaring mercantile Kingdom of Charis fits the bill, and Merlin soon gains the confidence of King Haarald Ahrmahk and Crown Prince Cayleb. But even the small changes afoot in Charis draw the attention of the Church, which moves to destroy Charis, both for their apostasy and to protect the political and economic preeminence of the Church. But Charis, with the assistance of the mystical Merlin, will not go down without a fight. Merlin has access to advanced knowledge and technology, not to mention the super-human capabilities of his PICA body, but must walk a razor’s edge to instigate change without exposing himself as a demon from hell, or losing the growing war with the Church, or worse – of wakening the anti-technology safeguards he suspects are dormant under the Temple. The stage is set for political intrigue in courts and capitals, pitched naval battles and a protracted ground war on numerous fronts.  Deftly “assisted” by Merlin, improvements to medieval military technology provide the surprising advantage to the underdogs, and drive the spread of technology and knowledge, just as wars had always done on the forgotten Old Earth. The Church, however, still has the majority of the population, wealth and military resources on its side, and a corrupt, venal leadership that will stop at nothing to defeat the heretics.
This is just the premise of the series. Weber does a masterful job of drawing the reader into the labyrinthine world of Safehold. The characters are fully realized and believably nuanced, given the sheer number of them. Each book includes an index of characters, which runs about 80 pages by book 8. The plots and sub-plots advance on multiple levels, from the halls of the temple to multiple royal courts; from the brutal warfare of pikes, arbalests, muzzle-loading muskets and smooth-bore cannon to the growing military advances of rifled artillery, exploding shells, breech-loading guns and steam-powered ironclad warships; from the hidden repository of wildly advanced technology in Nimue’s Cave (overseen by an AI known as Owl) to the sanctuaries of secret organizations protecting fragments of the truth for centuries against the Church. Weber takes his time progressing the story arc, but each book has plenty of action and story development to keep the reader involved.  With eight books “on the shelf,” and number nine tentatively due in October 2016, this is the perfect series on which to binge-read for the full-immersion experience. It would be easy to dismiss the premise of the series as a heavy-handed condemnation of religion and its role in society. And while it does clearly draw parallels to the corrupting influence of power and wealth in organized religion, the concept of an intentionally fabricated religion serving a pre-ordained “higher calling” in a misguided attempt to preserve the species is an engaging framework for this epic series. I can’t wait for the next book.
The books of the Safehold series by David Weber include:

  • Off Armageddon Reef
  • By Schism Rent Asunder
  • By Heresies Distressed
  • A Mighty Fortress
  • How Firm a Foundation
  • Midst Toil and Tribulation
  • Like a Mighty Army
  • Hell's Foundations Quiver
  • At the Sign of Triumph (Oct 2016 anticipated publishing date)
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