Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

February Books 2) The Ethos Effect

2) The Ethos Effect, by L.E. Modesitt Jr

I got this largely at cherylmorgan's suggestion; in an exchange of email a while back, she said that given what I do for a living, she suspected that I would find it an interesting read, and would love to hear my professional opinion of it.

Well, I've taken advantage of my extra hours in bed between naps today to finish it, and yes, I did indeed find it an interesting read, enough to make this more of a meta-review than I usually do. Our hero, Van C Albert, is a military officer posted unexpectedly as an embassy attaché; after a series of further unexpected events his military career ends suddenly and he ends up involved with an independent foundation which is in and of itself a major player in interstellar politics.

And I can see what cherylmorgan meant. The IIS does share certain characteristics with the Open Society Foundations founded by George Soros, and with my own employers. The differences are of course important. The IIS's role of providing good political and economic information is something I aspire to as well - except that we don't really do economics, we don't charge users for our product, and we don't have star-busting weapons. The ideological basis of the IIS, as presented in the book, is midway between our rather pragmatic approach of whatever will prevent conflict in a given situation, and Soros' personal commitment to the Open Society doctrine of Karl Popper (having said which, Soros takes this as a guiding basis and then adapts it pragmatically to given circumstances). The IIS is a commercial organisation as well, whereas Soros as far as I can tell keeps his political activities and his business interests largely separate. And, like my own employers, he doesn't possess star-busting weapons. As far as I know.

There are some slightly negative reviews out there - see Clinton Lawrence in Science Fiction Weekly, Patrick Hudson in The Zone, and Donna McMahon on The SF Site. I'm inclined to agree that an awful lot of the set-up of the first half of the book then becomes completely irrelevant for the second half, and that the creative energy expended in fleshing out restaurant menus and beverages might have been better utilised in fleshing out the characters. (I'm amused to note that despite his negative portrayal of people with odd fanatical religious beliefs who name their children Brigham, the author lives in Utah.)

But in fact I find his portrayal of trying to gather sensitive information via meetings with similarly positioned officials and networking with long-lost contacts perfectly accurate (though I can see why those who wish the truth were more glamorous might have wanted it otherwise), and I'm not surprised to find out that Modesitt has spent time in such positions, notably as head of Legislation and Congressional Affairs for the Environmental Protection Agency under Reagan - "most of the Reagan political appointees in the environmental area never did understand government, politics, or the environment – and didn't want to learn." I'm inclined to the overall more positive take of Andy Stout in SF Crowsnest and indeed cherylmorgan in Emerald City #101. The book is perhaps a bit long, at 579 pages, but I enjoyed it.
Tags: bookblog 2005, information flow
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