On September 17, L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to science fiction with his new novel, The One-Eyed Man. To celebrate, we thought we’d dip into the newsletter archives and pull an article he wrote for us in April of 2009, about Imager, the first volume in The Imager Portfolia fantasy series. Enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!
Creating a New World of Magic and Mystery with Imager
Written by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
A combination of steampunk, political, semi-thriller, and romantic fantasy? That’s about as close a one-line description as is possible to the books of the Imager Portfolio, which opens with Imager. Rhenn is a journeyman portraiturist on his way to becoming a master painter who discovers, with fatal consequences, that he is one of the few imagers in the city of L’Excelsis, capital of the continent nation of Solidar. Imagers are feared, valued, and vulnerable, and must live separately on the river isle in the middle of the river that divides the capital city, while providing services and skills to the ruling Council.
As a late-developing imager, Rhenn finds himself under the tutelage of one of the most powerful imagers — who forces the equivalent of a university education on Rhenn in months, before dispatching him to serve as a security assistant to the Council. Along the way, Rhenn makes enemies he shouldn’t, falls in love with the beautiful daughter of a family with connections in the underworld, and becomes a target for both the enemies of Solidar and a powerful High Holder.
One of the challenges of writing the Imager Portfolio was to realistically depict a different and sophisticated culture of a capital city. In my own experience of close to twenty years in politics, most of it in Washington, D.C., I found that there was a minimal amount of actual violence, but an enormous amount of pressure and indifference, great superficial charm, and continual indirect jockeying for power, with very little real concern for people as people. I’ve attempted to convey some of those dynamics, as they are expressed in a steam-and-coal-powered society that has the added benefit of some “imaging” magic. One of the key elements that illustrates the difference of this fantasy-steampunk culture is the religion. Because the deity cannot be named, there’s an underlying cultural skepticism and worry about emphasis on the importance of names, memorials, and the like, as well as a distrust of other cultures that exalt names and fame.
Because Rhenn has come to the Collegium Imago in his early twenties, having just begun to achieve a certain recognition as a portrait painter, he’s neither a youth learning the ropes nor a person of fully defined talents. Instead, he is essentially an adult faced with a mandatory career change, and one that could be fatal if he fails to make the transition from portraiturist to imager.