Haze reminds me of a Heinlein novel, with a receptive but clueless protagonist immersed in a society he doesn't understand only to have that society explained to him, usually on socioeconomic terms. The end result is polemical and usually dry, and this book is no exception.
There's actually two stories going on, both featuring Keir Roget as their protagonist. One is the main plot as advertised by the title; the other occurs a few years prior. Up until the end of the book, I found the latter more interesting than the former. Roget's mission to Haze turns out rather dull, since he spends most of his time just listening to an explanation of how parts of the society on Haze—Dubiety to its denizens. There's no real conflict in this part of the story, just exposition disguised as Roget's bewilderment that such a society could function under the nose of the Federation for so long. The mission in Roget's past, however, is more interesting because it holds more mystery and the promise of conflict. Roget is undercover in a small, close-knit religious community in the former United States of America. He's smoking out a conspiracy while posing as an environment and water monitor. When taken together, these two stories demonstrate the importance of conflict in any story, however well written it may be.
Maybe it's unfair of me to be so demanding. There just isn't much about Haze that excited me. Roget is a decent main character: he's capable and intelligent, able to think for himself instead of just blindly obeying and parroting the party line. Unfortunately, he's the only three-dimensional character in a universe populated by cardboard—on both sides. The only two people with whom he has much contact on Dubiety are flimsy, unquestioning mouthpieces for Dubiety philosophy. Likewise, Roget's superiors on the orbiting ship, including the colonel who orders the ill-fated attack on Dubiety, are one-dimensional puppets of a doomed dystopian society. They disbelieve Roget's data and his opinions not because he's unconvincing but because the plot requires them to disbelieve. So not only are they idiots, but they're plot-induced idiots.
Indeed, Roget doesn't have any sort of relationship in Haze. And I don't mean romance. A book can work fine without any romantic overtones, as long as the character forms some sort of relationship with the people around him. In the subplot set in rural America, Roget doesn't spend enough time undercover to do anything except take a woman he suspects of being a conspirator out to lunch (and even then, it's made clear she suspects he's an undercover agent). We don't see him get to know anyone in the town, form friendships or make enemies; all he does is buy an image of a dog painting and then go infiltrate suspicious buildings and shoot paralysis darts at people. On Haze, he forms a tentative friendship with Lyvia. We never learn how this turns out (the book hints that he meets someone else later on), and it's never more than the uneasy alliance of someone assigned as a guide to an essentially alien man.
This is a thin book. It has a credible main character, but from there the rest of the trappings are rather familiar and decorated in an unoriginal manner. There's the aptly-uninspiringly-named "Federation" that has dominion over all of human society, with the exception of this small splinter colony on Haze. The odd mention of "nanotech" and "trans-temporal entropic" technology reminds us that this is a science fiction novel and not some sort of alternative utopian fantasy dream or whatever, but that's pretty much their primary function. The Federation never feels like a threat to Dubiety, so we know before the book ends how the climax is going to play out, and it feels lifeless as a result.
And maybe it's just me, but Modesitt has a serious obsession with describing in detail every meal that his characters have. I'm noticing this in most of his books as I re-read them; he does this for Roget in this book, careful to emphasize that Roget likes lager. Good to know.
No praise for Haze.