Interview with David Weber on Off Armageddon Reef
I wouldn’t recommend that you read this unless you’ve read the novel itself.
I think I can quote this portion without spoiling the beginning.
Weber: Nimue … is charged with breaking the Church’s stranglehold on human freedom and technology and preparing humanity to re-encounter the Gbaba on terms which will at least ensure that the human race is not exterminated.
… [A] faction of the command crew which was horrified by the colony administrator’s decision to brainwash the colonists with his false religion. They believe in human freedom and human dignity…and that eventually, no matter what the Church of God Awaiting may do, advanced technology will reemerge on Safehold. In time, Safeholdian humanity will venture back into the stars, and without knowing that the Gbaba are out of there, they will run right back into the menace which almost exterminated the entire human race the first time around.
As I’ve told people at conventions, my hero doesn’t really do anything until she’s been dead for about 800 years. 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 volunteers to serve on the escort force’s flagship, knowing it will be destroyed, rather than continuing to Safehold with the officer upon whose staff she serves. In other words, she chooses to die when there’s finally an excellent chance that she could actually live, marry, have children. She does this because her PICA is essential to the success of the people conspiring to defeat the colony administrator’s plans. Only by officially taking the PICA with her to a ship which is going to be destroyed can she and her fellow conspirators drop it off of the equipment list and allow it to be “lost” until it is needed.
I think the decision she makes in this regard pretty much sums up her character. One of the ironies of the book is that Nimue realizes at one point that she is the last Christian in existence … and that she’s a machine. Of course, she’s also the last person in the entire universe who’s ever heard of Islam, Shintoism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other genuine religion, as well. Yet just as she doesn’t really know if she’s technically “alive” at all, she doesn’t know whether or not she has a soul? Or if Nimue took it with her at the time of her biological death?
Obviously, Nimue is a person adrift, outside the time and place which created her. She’s also effectively immortal, and … she has to deal with the mortality of those she allows herself to love. Not to mention the fact that however laudable her final objectives, and no matter how essential to the long-term survival of the species they may be, the consequences of her actions are inevitably going to lead to an incredibly bloody and vicious cycle of religious warfare.
Off Armageddon Reef could be read as an anti-religion book. Would that be fair?
Weber: I’m sure some people will read this book as an attack on organized religion. After all, the primary force for the restriction and manipulation of human freedom and character, not to mention corruption, on Safehold is to be found in a world-wide religion. I think, however, that reading this book that way would be a mistake. Yes, the Church of God Awaiting is a monstrous, deliberately fabricated, enslaving lie imposed upon the people of Safehold. But the very impetus for reform coming out of places like Charis is coming out of men and women who follow the logical implications of the Church of God Awaiting’s own moral teachings. Off Armageddon Reef is less about the evils of religion than it is about the use of any ideology or belief structure to manipulate, control and coerce. In the case of Safehold, it’s religion; it could have been communism, fascism or any other brand of authoritarianism or totalitarianism. I said that my books are about choice.
To my mind, anything which removes or denies the right, ability and responsibility to make choices is evil, destructive and a perversion. Religion that closes off, that demonizes or dehumanizes the “other” as the first step in destroying him in the name of some intolerant, oppressive, thought-denying process can be a terrible force for evil. The cynical use of religion, of man’s belief in God, as a self-serving means of manipulating others is despicable. And yet religion can be an equally powerful force for good. The people who support Merlin in Charis believe firmly and fervently in God; they simply can’t accept that God is as small and mean-spirited as the Church of God Awaiting’s current leadership apparently believe He is.
I am quoting only the parts that don’t give away too much about the book’s plot and occurences. After a small edit of course.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, and what way was this story personal do you?
Weber: In the most fundamental sense, almost all of my stories are about choices. I believe that the best measure of anyone’s character is to be found in the decisions they make in the face of adversity. Do they act responsibly? Do they place their own convenience or survival ahead of their moral obligations to others? Are they prepared to accept the consequences of their decisions and their actions? Are they prepared to pay the price of their decisions and their actions?
In my books, the heroes are almost always the responsibility-takers, the ones who step up when a problem has to be confronted. They don’t usually worry about who’s responsible for the problem in the first place—or, at least, that particular concern is completely secondary to the question of how they fix what’s wrong. Quite a few of my characters are not particularly safe people to be around, for a lot of reasons, but the villains are those who don’t care about their responsibility to others, or who simply don’t see that they have one at all. I suppose you could think of it as the conflict between those who are prepared to give whatever it takes to meet a recognized need and those who are simply prepared to take whatever they can get for their own personal benefit. That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, but it’s a pretty decent thumbnail of how it works.
Nimue Alban is pretty nearly the ultimate in responsibility-takers. Merlin is the electronic copy of the memories, beliefs and emotions of a young woman who voluntarily sacrificed her own life so that Merlin could be available to defend and restore human freedom and dignity. The allies Merlin recruits in Charis are also responsibility-takers, prepared to put their lives on the line for the things in which they believe. Indeed, the Charisians are prepared to confront the corruption of the Church and the restrictive manipulation to which they and everyone else on Safehold has been subjected without benefit of Merlin’s knowledge of what’s really happening and why. I think that actually requires even more moral courage than Nimue’s decisions do.
One of the funny and useful things about reading good fiction writers is that their fictional world already predicts the real world before the real world events even happen. I read David Weber’s account of anti-war sentiment in Honor Harrington before 2001-2, before the entire anti-war Democrat movement even got into full steam. Yet it might as well be a carbon copy description I had read in Weber’s book of what people do and say in war.