In the galactic Federation, the planet of Poictesme has sunk to a mere footnote. After the civil war which rocked the 200 planet federation, Poictesme was left stockpiled with military supplies but very little else. Rumors still swirl about Merlin, the super computer which supposedly held all of man's knowledge. Many on Poictesme believe it is on their planet; and can be found. Thus, they send Conn Maxwell to Terra to study the computer and bring them back proof of its existence.
Conn returns, disheartened at having to break the news to them that Project Merlin does not in fact exist. But everyone believed finding Merlin would bring Utopia upon Poictesme. So instead, he began a search of his own, and ends with very surprising results. As the planet begins to rebuild, Conn becomes more and more convinced that Merlin may in fact still be on Poictemse; but that uncovering it may blow the top off of an entire 200 planet Federation already in decline sine the war.
I must confess; I read this book solely for the battle scenes. I had it recommended to me as a great way to improve my writing of (fantasy) battles, so I loaded it onto my nook and gave it a try. But I have become an H. Beam Piper fan in the process. This book is written in the sort of early 1900's sci-fi style that makes Verne and Wells so enjoyable to read. And, thought I read the book for the battle scenes, the writing is pretty good. There are a few very flat characters that are characteristic of this era of writing (Sylvie Jacquemont being the largest example), but overall the characters engage with the plot well.
In short, if you're looking for a good Sci-Fi read, but you've run dry your Wells and Verne books, you might try H. Beam Piper for a different voice in the more classic sci-fi realm. It's an excellent read, and if you're anything like me, you'll be out looking for more of Piper's books as soon as you finish this one.
~ Andrew J