The Ecolitan Operation by L.E. Modesitt Jr
Major Jimjoy Wright is the Empire’s most successful secret agent. That’s because he’s strong, brave, clever, deceptive, ruthless, and totally goal-oriented. Once he accepts a mission from his government, nothing gets in his way. He always gets the job done.
Though JimJoy thinks he’s highly ethical, most people would find his consequentialism to be psychopathic. For example, JimJoy is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. This doesn’t bother him because if he hadn’t destroyed them, millions of other innocent people probably would have died (it’s like an extreme version of the Trolley Problem).
The fall-out from JimJoy’s actions are causing problems for his government and now he has become a liability. Instead of just firing him, though, they try to get rid of him by attempting assassination. This was a big mistake because after they fail, and now their best agent has become their worst nightmare.
Seeking refuge, JimJoy travels to a planet called Accord, the home of the Ecolitan Institute, a think-tank that hates everything the Empire stands for. The Ecolitans think JimJoy might be a spy so they don’t trust him, but they’re eager to recruit him to their side.
As JimJoy lives at the Institute, studies with them, and learns their philosophies and tactics, he finds himself tempted to defect. From the Ecolitan’s perspective, JimJoy’s defection from the Empire would be a huge victory for them. But some of the Ecolitans realize that an alliance with JimJoy could represent either the Ecolitans’ survival or their destruction.
The Ecolitan Operation (1989) is, according to internal chronology but not publication date, the first book in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet. It’s recognizably Modesittian, with all the little quirks I’ve mentioned in my reviews of his other work. There are way too many descriptions of mundane events such as meals and equipment checks, sound effects abound, we learn things about our “hero” by watching him overhear what other people whisper about him, the women are all described by how they look, etc, etc.
The plot of The Ecolitan Operation is entertaining, though, especially the parts where JimJoy cleverly outthinks his enemies as he completes missions or avoids traps and assassination. As I mentioned, so many of his choices seem unethical, though JimJoy’s Machiavellian explanations might make this debatable. He’s certainly a “grey” character.
I don’t really like JimJoy, but I think he’s interesting and I’d like to see where this story is going. His story continues in The Ecologic Secession. I’m listening to Tantor Audio’s editions of THE ECOLITAN MATTER. Kirby Heyborne does a nice job with the narration. The audiobook is 11.5 hours long.