Adiamante, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Tor, 1996, 312 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-54558-3

Thousands of years after being exiled from Earth, an evolved subset of humanity comes back seeking reparations. If the population of Earth can’t agree to give what they want, well, destruction might as well be as good as anything…

Intrigued? There’s more.

For instance, the returning humans are cybernetically enhanced humans. Their ships are almost indestructible. Their weapons are terrifying.

The humans on Earth have established a decentralized society that is very near utopia. There are un-enhanced humans, but most of the elite is composed of, again, enhanced humans.

The would-be destroyers are willing to negotiate, so Earth assigns negotiation to a reluctant man. His problem, beyond -obviously- avoiding destruction, is to deal with the threat in a manner that will not transgress the basic principles of his society. This future Earth is unwilling to become a monster to fight monsters.

The plot is original. Fortunately, Modesitt’s writing is up to the task. Adiamante alternates between the third-person viewpoint of the invaders and the first-person narrative of the Coordinator. The result is one akin to a psychological poker game with ever-rising bets. Only rarely do novels manage to attain -and sustain- this level of intellectual tension.

Part of this success must be attributed to Modesitt’s world-building. His future Earth may not be believable (see below) but is fairly consistent. The moral choices are explicitly defined. Some novels quickly gloss over the political structure of the future -especially when they’re not readily identifiable as “straight” democracy or dictatorship- but Modesitt takes great care in filling in the details of his society.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone aware of Modesitt’s previous works. A long-time favorite of the Libertarians, Modesitt obviously has an agenda. Still, he manages to produce an entertaining novel without (too many) political messages. This critic didn’t really believe in Modesitt’s postulated system, but it’s a fine idea anyway. Other readers with sufficiently open minds should have no problems with this.

The heart of the novel is a clash between the incompatible cultures. The title Adiamante is well-chosen, reflecting both the adiamante motif in the book and the rigid positions of both parties. (Adiamante being in the novel a practically indestructible material, much stronger than diamond.) The science in this novel is believable and exciting: There’s a vivid description of advanced weapons for persons so inclined.

Adiamante has the distinction of offering a vision of the future that’s fresh without being too alien. While the narrative may be predictable, at least the setup offers an original situation. The new animal species populating Earth, for instance, are logical and frightening.

Some of the characters could have been brought out of the background a bit, but since this is more of a premise-driven novel, it makes sense to develop only two of them.

Very enjoyable, nicely written, provocative without being (too much) pontificating, Adiamante is a good choice for SF that’s both entertaining and intellectually stimulating.

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