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Starred Review: The One-Eyed Man by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Poster Placeholder of - 44“Intriguing mysteries, subtle plots, vividly drawn female characters and nuggets of hardheaded wisdom are scattered among the narrative strands. One of Modesitt’s best, which means, don’t miss it.”

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment got a starred review in Kirkus Reviews!*

Here’s the full review, from the July 15th issue:

starred-review-gif Independent science fiction from the prolific, talented and versatile Modesitt (Imager’s Battalion, 2013, etc.).

Planet Bachman houses many huge corporations that depend on colony world Stittara’s production of anagathics, drugs that have powerful life-prolonging and cosmetic effects. Political expediency requires Stittara to be inspected, and consultant ecologist Dr. Paulo Verano is hired. On the interstellar voyage to Stittara, Verano meets his fellow passengers—most of whom are extraordinarily cagey about their jobs and their reasons for visiting Stittara. Due to unpredictable electrical storms that whip up tornado-force winds, the Stittaran population lives underground. In the upper atmosphere drift skytubes, differentiated clumps of microorganisms whose exact nature remains unknown. Disturbingly, Verano finds that many facts are being concealed or deliberately ignored. Why do the local women find him so irresistibly attractive? Can Ilsabet, the sole survivor of a community destroyed in a storm, really be 400 years old? Certainly she speaks in enigmatic rhymes and has some connection with the skytubes and the storms. Why are there no statistics on birth and death rates? Why does the appearance of vast, inexplicable badlands coincide with the extinction of alien colonies millions of years ago? Why do the numerous outland settlements, independent of the company towns and living in harmony with the planet, appear on no official census? Research complex RDAEX has hired a number of high-energy physicists—to do what, exactly?—and admits to having lost planes while investigating the skytubes. And the more Verano resists the political pressures being brought to bear, the clearer it becomes that somebody—perhaps several somebodies—would prefer to see him dead. Intriguing mysteries, subtle plots, vividly drawn female characters and nuggets of hardheaded wisdom are scattered among the narrative strands.

One of Modesitt’s best, which means, don’t miss it.

The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment will be published on September 17th.

Kirkus is a subscription-only website.

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Alien Ecology as Character?

The One-Eyed Man by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Written by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Novels where the ecology plays a central role in not just the setting, but in the resolution of the plot, are rare. Novels that do this well are even rarer, and novels that do both accurately, in conjunction and in conflict with a functioning society, are even rarer. Accomplishing all those was certainly in my mind when I wrote The One-Eyed Man, in addition, of course, to writing a novel based on John Jude Palencar’s gorgeous cover painting.

Part of the difficulty in creating a workable alien ecology is that everything in an ecosystem interacts with everything else, and that in some fashion or another, there will be a food chain, meaning that there will always be more small creatures and plants than large omnivores or carnivores, another fact often overlooked by more than a few writers for the sake of drama and action. The other problem is that it’s highly unlikely that any ecosystem in which human beings can survive without the use of high technology will be other than carbon-based (a point explained at some length years ago by Isaac Asimov, a writer far more accomplished in biochemistry than me). These factors and others make creating a truly alien but workable carbon-based system a bit of a challenge.

Then comes the question of intelligence in such a system. Even if the parameters an author sets up allow for recognizable intelligence, would the ecological conditions actually allow the evolution of intelligence, and if that intelligence does develop, will it develop in ways that are recognizable to humans. And…even if that is possible, will any sort of meaningful communication be possible? These may seem like obvious questions, and they are, but after more than fifty years of reading science fiction, I’ve found that most authors who create aliens avoid the ecological background of their aliens and the implications of that background, as if the aliens existed in almost a vacuum. Either that, or there is irreconcilable conflict or the aliens are more like humans with different bodies.

In The One-Eyed Man, events take place on Stittara, a world generally hospitable to humans, with the notable exception of an ecologically influenced weather pattern that results in winds that make the most violent earthly tornadoes and hurricanes seem mild by comparison. There are no large animal species and all recognizable animal species rely on burrowing or marine habitats. There are few analogues to terrestrial trees, again for multiple ecological reasons, and, because of the winds, the terrain is, in general, far less overtly rugged. What makes Stittara valuable are derivative anti-aging pharmaceuticals developed from Stittaran plants and animals, possible only because of the unique ecology.

The Stittaran ecology and even the geology are far more stable than they should be, given the position of the planet in its solar system and the planetary composition. These factors have not escaped the human inhabitants, who have also adapted over the generations, although they appear essentially unchanged. They are in many ways as much Stittaran as human, so much so that when Dr. Paulo Verano arrives to conduct an ecological assessment, prompted by concerns of the distant legislature that governs the Ceylesian Arm, he finds far more difference between what has been reported and what exists than he ever anticipated. These differences appear not only in the ecology, but in the local socio-political system as a result of the changes in human biology created by Stittara itself, not to mention potential disasters being created as a result of misapplication of high technology to the planet.

In the end, Verano must find a solution that balances two differing ecologies, multiple levels of political systems, all of which view him as a threat, and his own conscience, a difficult proposition considering that he is a hired ecological consultant with no real power.

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From the Tor/Forge September 9th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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More from the September 9th Tor/Forge newsletter:

Throwback Thursdays: Creating a New World of Magic and Mystery

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

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!

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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.

This article is originally from the April 2009 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox twice a month!

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