My Writing Influences – LE Modesitt Jr
LE Modesitt, Jr is a successful author of many science fiction and fantasy novels. His first story was published in 1973 and he is probably most famous for his “Saga of Recluce” – a world of competing magic between “Chaos” and “Order”.
Modesitt’s website notes that he has worked in an incredible hodge podge of jobs over his life: Navy Pilot, delivery boy, market research analyst, director of Legislation and Congressional relations for the EPA, consultant for environmental, regulatory and communications issues, college lecturer and writer in residence. Readers of his stories will recognize certain occupations (consultant for environmental, regulatory and communications issues, military backgrounds, market research analyst, and even a college lecturer).
Modessitt’s novels entertain, but also bring up deeper issues (sometimes with a heavily swung 2X4). A very common theme or question that is raised: Which is worse? Letting a war that will kill millions or billions happen or acting by killing thousands or millions to prevent greater destruction? Some find his characters willingness to commit genocide in the effort to “preserve good and prevent evil” unnerving and ethically challenging. I imagine that Modessitt would be pleased by the discomfiture. If we could wave away the protests and uproar, wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could wipe out the terrorists and everyone who supports them? But we recognize the human costs of such action are far more than we are willing to bear. (I am not saying I agree with this solution. But I am noting it’s seduction.) Modessitt’s protagonists, with noted reluctance, ignore the protests and uproar and wipe out entire nations (note the lack of selectivity) in the name of the greater good. It is also noted that if people would have been willing to make hard decisions earlier, such wanton destruction would not have become necessary.
Examples of writing
This series isn’t quite as long as his much longer “Saga of Recluse”. The elements are similar. On one side are herders and soarers who use the life force of Corean in ways to do not deplete Corean. On the other, is the Duarchy which views the life-force of Corean as a resource to be used to promote their own purposes. The Duarchy produces great good in the form of roads and architecture and aqueducts, but the long term costs will ultimate make the planet a wasteland. The Protagonists fight the Duarchy, by using their skills in manipulating the magic forces of the planet. The novels are more political intrigue than that synopsis suggests.
This is Modessitt’s most current series. Certain folk of the world have the ability to image – they can imagine a fork and a fork appears. Imaging requires that the elemental components exist nearby and it takes energy (either from the imager or from the surroundings). I like this version of magic in that it has constraints and consequences and limits. As with the Corean Chronicles, the books in this series are far more political intrigue than they are magic. The protagonists are faced with politically well placed opponents who try to subvert the good that the protagonists do. And, in typical Modesitt fashion, the protagonists end up causing great destruction at the end because others would not stand up to the opponents early on.
Modesitt writes both fantasy and hard science fiction. Flash is example of his hard science fiction. The protagonist who is retired military. In his civilian life he has become an expert at analyzing the the effects of prodplacing has on the market place (remember Modesitt’s experience as a marketing analyst?). An election is coming up and his services are in high demand. In his research, he has found out that one of the candidates is using music to influence people to support him. Similar to what is already being done with product, the question comes – is that ok with political campaigns? Again this is a political intrigue. It also looks at what it means to be “alive”. Is a sufficiently complex AI alive?
Modesitt employees the strict third person point of view. He writes in the third person with incredible detail, but you only know what that person sees or hears or otherwise experiences. I have tried to model that in my writing. Modesitt enjoys his food and frequently has long paragraphs about meals that characters eat. I have done less of that, but I do try to make the beer and tea descriptions complete. Right now, I would hardly call my book “Political Intrigue” but the stage is set for later novels to pursue some of that. Modesitt frequently makes the contact between his protagonist and antagonists very short, perfunctory, and almost meaningless. The conflict is all through intermediaries. My writing reflects that somewhat although I did feel like I needed to add some more direct evidence about Smiths’ evil ways. Most of Modesitt’s protagonists are men but are supported by very strong and independent women. I can admire that a great deal.
Finally, Modesitt does tend to feel repetitive despite the range of stories. His protagonists all feel very much the same. I admire his skill in his point of view writing and I admire the challenging political positions he is willing to voice in his writing. I especially admire that those positions aren’t not easy answers that can easily be answered. Life is full of hard choices and we always have to live with the consequences of differing difficult decisions.