The Ecologic Envoy by L.E. Modesitt Jr
The Ecologic Envoy (1986) was the first novel published in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet but, according to the series’ internal chronology, it comes third, after The Ecolitan Operation (1989) and The Ecologic Secession (1990). You don’t need to read those two novels first because The Ecologic Envoy and its sequel, The Ecolitan Enigma, are set a few hundred years later and feature a completely different set of characters.
Our hero, though, is a direct descendant of JimJoy Earle Wright, the protagonist of the other two books. His name is Nathaniel Whaler (the name “Whaler” was given to JimJoy when he joined the Ecolitan Institute and assumed a new identity so he could hide from the Empire) and he’s an economist for the Ecolitan Institute. The Institute is on the planet Accord which seceded from the Empire during JimJoy’s time.
Is there anything that sounds more boring than a science fiction adventure with an economist for a hero? (I’m allowed to say that because I’m married to an economist.) Fortunately, Nathaniel is more than an economist. He’s also (surprisingly) a highly trained secret operative, just like his ancestor.
That’s why the Institute sends him on a mission to broker a trade deal between Accord and the Empire. The Empire, however, which is trying to win back the planets that seceded during the revolution that was sparked by the Institute, wants the trade talks to fail so they’ll have a reason to invade Accord and end the Institute. Thus, to ensure Nathaniel’s failure, they plan to assassinate him. But they underestimate Nathaniel, not realizing that he’s not just a boring economist. He’s got skills and, like JimJoy, a very flexible sense of ethics.
The overall plot of The Ecologic Envoy is fairly entertaining, with assassination attempts, explosions, poisonings, bioweapons, mind-wiping, and a protagonist who, while he survives all this, is, amusingly, pretending to be an absent-minded academic.
However, the numerous trade negotiations and other meetings are dull, as is, at least to me, the underlying political landscape. I never (and this is true of the first to books, also) really got the feel for how evil the Empire is and why so many planets wanted to secede. I also remain unconvinced that the revolutionaries are morally superior to the Empire.
Nathaniel’s adventures continue in the next book, The Ecolitan Enigma. I’m enjoying Tantor Audio’s editions of the ECOLITAN MATTER novels which are read by Kirby Heyborne.