L.E. Modesitt Jr. (1943-) Biography - Personal, Career, Writings, Sidelights
(Leland Exton Modesitt, Jr.)
Born 1943, in Denver, CO; (second marriage) Elizabeth Leanore, Kristen Linnea; (stepEducation: Williams College, B.A., 1965; graduate study at University of Denver, 1970–71. Politics: Republican. Religion: Presbyterian.
Author, 1973–. C. A. Norgren Co. (industrial pneumatics company), Littleton, CO, market research analyst, 1969–70; Koelbel & Co. (real estate and construction firm), Denver, CO, sales associate, 1971–72; legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Bill Armstrong, 1973–79; administrative assistant and staff director for U.S. Representative Ken Kramer, 1979–81; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, director of Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs, 1981–83, special assistant, Office of External Affairs, 1984–85; Multinational Business Services, Inc., Washington, DC, regulatory/communications consultant, 1985–89; independent regulatory and communications consultant, 1989–. Lecturer in science-fiction writing at Georgetown University, 1980–81; lecturer in English and writing, Plymouth State College (New Hampshire), 1990–93. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1965–69; became lieutenant.
Hammer of Darkness, Avon (New York, NY), 1985.
(With Bruce Scott Levinson) The Green Progression, Tor (New York, NY), 1992.
The Parafaith War, Tor (New York, NY), 1996.
Adiamante, Tor (New York, NY), 1996.
Gravity Dreams, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
The Octagonal Raven, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Archform: Beauty, Tor (New York, NY), 2002.
The Ethos Effect, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
Flash, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
The Eternity Artifact, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including In the Shadow of the Wall: An Anthology of Vietnam Stories That Might Have Been, 2002, Low Port, 2003, and Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy and Emerald Magic, both 2004. Contributor to science-fiction magazines, including Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Galaxy, On/Spec, Science Fiction, and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.
"TIMEGODS" SCIENCE-FICTION TRILOGY
The Fires of Paratime, Timescape (New York, NY), 1982.
Timedivers' Dawn, Tor (New York, NY), 1992.
The Timegod, Tor (New York, NY), 1993.
Timegods' World (omnibus; includes complete trilogy), Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
"FOREVER HERO" SCIENCE-FICTION TRILOGY
Dawn for a Distant Earth, Tor (New York, NY), 1987.
The Silent Warrior, Tor (New York, NY), 1987.
In Endless Twilight, Tor (New York, NY), 1988.
The Forever Hero (omnibus; includes complete trilogy), Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
"ECOLITAN MATTER" SCIENCE-FICTION SERIES
The Ecologic Envoy, Tor (New York, NY), 1986.
The Ecolitan Operation, Tor (New York, NY), 1989.
The Ecologic Secession, Tor (New York, NY), 1990.
The Ecolitan Enigma, Tor (New York, NY), 1997.
Empire and Ecolitan, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Ecolitan Prime, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
"GHOST" SCIENCE-FICTION SERIES
Of Tangible Ghosts (also see below), Tor (New York, NY), 1994.
The Ghost of the Revelator (also see below), Tor (New York, NY), 1998.
Ghost of the White Nights, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Ghosts of Columbia (includes Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost of the Revelator), Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
"SAGA OF RECLUCE" FANTASY SERIES
The Magic of Recluce, Tor (New York, NY), 1991.
The Towers of the Sunset, Tor (New York, NY), 1992.
The Magic Engineer, Tor (New York, NY), 1994.
The Order War, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
The Death of Chaos, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
Fall of Angels, Tor (New York, NY), 1996.
The Chaos Balance, Tor (New York, NY), 1997.
The White Order, Tor (New York, NY), 1998.
Color of Chaos, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
Scion of Cyador, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
The Magi'i of Cydor, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
Wellspring of Chaos, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Ordermaster, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
The Magic of Recluce, The Towers of the Sunset, The Magic Engineer, and other "Recluce" books through Scion of Cyador have also appeared in British editions published by Orbit.
Some books in the "Recluce" series have been translated into German, Dutch, Russian, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian, and French.
"SPELLSONG" FANTASY CYCLE
The Soprano Sorceress, Tor (New York, NY), 1997.
The Spellsong War, Tor (New York, NY), 1998.
Darksong Rising, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
The Shadow Sorceress, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Shadowsinger, Tor (New York, NY), 2002.
The "Spellsong" cycle has also appeared in British editions published by Orbit.
"COREAN CHRONICLES"; FANTASY SERIES
Legacies, Tor (New York, NY), 2002.
Darknesses, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
Scepters, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Alector's Choice, Tor (New York, NY), 2005.
The First two books of the "Corean Chronicles" were translated into Italian.
The environmentally focused science-fiction and fantasy novels of L.E. Modesitt, Jr. have been praised for their finely crafted plots which are rich in technological detail. In both his "Forever Hero" trilogy and the ongoing series about the island kingdom of Recluce, as well as his other novels, Modesitt weaves diverse ecological theories and technologies into the storyline. From ghosts reenacting their untimely deaths, to magic controlled by music, to the adventures of the scattered survivors of a post-nuclear holocaust earth, his novels boast intriguing characters and imaginative plots in tales designed to both entertain and enlighten readers.
Categorized under the science-fiction subgenre referred to as "hard" science fiction, works such as "Forever Hero" trilogy and 1996's The Parafaith War and Adiamante feature intricately devised plots. In the "Forever Hero" trilogy, Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war. Modesitt's epic revolves around the adventures of MacGregor Corson Gerswin, a strong, resourceful, and seemingly indestructible loner who manages to survive on what little the earth's surface still produces. He and others like him join together as trainees for the army of a powerful intergalactic empire that has added the weakened Earth to its collection of colonial outposts.
In Dawn for a Distant Earth, which opens the trilogy, the surface of Earth has degenerated into poisoned oceans and barren deserts, its unwholesome atmosphere broken by violent climatic outbursts that include hail and tornadoes. Survivors of the nuclear holocaust are divided between the suspicious "shambletowners," whose small, tattered communities dot the landscape, and "devilkids" who, like Gerswin, live in isolation, stealing what they cannot glean from the land. Now a lieutenant with the Imperial Army and stationed back on planet Earth, Gerswin dedicates himself to terraforming his home planet—reworking the atmospheric conditions to allow Earth to support life again—while also attempting to stop the Empire from using the earth as a dump-site for sub-standard life-forms from other worlds.
In Endless Twilight, the final book in the trilogy, recounts Gerswin's attempts to break the grip of the powerful Empire and continue to restore the ecology of planet Earth. The protagonist draws upon his knowledge of genetic engineering to help the people of several worlds dominated by the ruthless intergalactic superpower to create sufficient food and shelter for themselves. Meanwhile, through his creative genius he finds a way to undermine the greedy Empire's network for robbing each of these worlds of their riches. While a broad technological knowledge provides the series with an intricate plotline, some critics contended that Gerswin, the Forever Hero, is too invulnerable. Comparing In Endless Twilight to the popular "Star Wars" books, Tom Pearson noted in Voice of Youth Advocates that "Gerswin would be more interesting and believable if, like Luke Skywalker, he had a sense of humor or some interesting friends, or a superhuman villain like Darth Vader to oppose him."
In The Parafaith War Trystin Desoll, an officer in the Eco-Tech army, is involved in a long-standing racially based interstellar battle with opposing Revenant forces. He is also fighting the prejudice of his own people because, due to his fair complexion and blue eyes, he looks more Revenant than Eco-Tech. A man of great intelligence and perception, Desoll is eventually ordered to infiltrate the Revenant stronghold of Wystuh and as-sassinate that group's leader; instead, he devises a way to end the war peacefully, using the Revenants' fanatical religious beliefs as the means.
The Ethos Effect is a sequel to The Parafaith War that takes place some 200 years later, when the Revenants have changed their tactics, but not their objectives, and features Commander Van C. Albert, a black officer in the space forces of the Republic of Tara who must not only deal with the Revenants but with the subversion of his own government after he is medically retired to ensure he is removed from a position of influence.
Washington, DC, where Modesitt once served as director of legislation for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), represents one wellspring of ideas for his science-fiction novels. While works like the "Forever Hero" trilogy have loose ties to their author's EPA experiences, 1992's The Green Progression is a direct outgrowth of Modesitt's career as an environmental consultant. Coauthored with consultant Bruce Scott Levinson, The Green Progression is a science-fiction thriller that concerns a Soviet effort to sap the power of the U.S. industrial base by trapping it within a web of regulatory bureaucracy. Jack McDarvid and Jonnie Black, consultants to an international chemical company known as JAFFE, discover to the Russian plot after their boss is murdered on the job. The two consultants soon realize that environmental restrictions against pesticides and other industrial technologies have been pushed into law with the backing of Soviet agents who use U.S. environmental lobbyists as puppets in a covert cold war battle plan.
Other forays taken by Modesitt into the world of ecological science fiction include 1986's The Ecologic Envoy, 1989's The Ecolitan Operation, 1990's The Ecologic Secession, and Of Tangible Ghosts, published in 1994. Taking place in an alternate world where ghosts and psychic phenomenon exist, Of Tangible Ghosts sets forth an alternative history of our own planet. Northeast Columbia (which represents the United States and Canada) is a Dutch-based culture (the British never won colonial control of North America) that features a quiet, dedicated workforce with a love of hot chocolate. It is one of two competing superpowers; the other is the power-hungry Austro-Hungarian empire. The great psychic energy of the spirit world is the only thing preventing these powerful governments from going to war over world domination; ghosts' habits of haunting the sites of their untimely deaths and replaying the means of their murder has made the thought of creating battle-fields—sites of mass death—untenable. Doktor Johan Eschbach, a teacher of environmental economics who formerly worked as an agent for the Columbian government, is drawn into the struggle for world domination after a colleague is murdered and he encounters her ghost, who demands justice. As he hunts his friend's murderer, Eschbach discovers that a computer-driven technology able to harness the power of ghosts and channel it to serve human interests has been developed; both Northeast Columbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire compete for this frightening technology.
Modesitt "excels in using subtle details to enhance the credibility of an imaginary parallel world," noted a Library Journal reviewer, while Jennifer D. Kubenka wrote in Voice of Youth Advocates that the book features "an engaging and all-too-human protagonist, a finely realized world, and misused technology that is vaguely familiar yet exotic and different makes for a reading experience that will linger in the reader's mind and sense long after the last page has been turned." Other alternate histories by Modesitt have combined to form the "Ghost" series, followed. In a review of Ghost of the White Nights, Roland Green commented in Booklist that Modesitt "lets readers savor detailed characterization."
Some of Modesitt's books bridge the science-fiction and spy thriller genres. Archform: Beauty delves into nanotechnology, and tells a single story from several first person points of view. In The Octagonal Raven the wealthy Daryn Alwyn is the target of murderers with mysterious motives. In order to stay alive, Alwyn must solve the mystery, in the process becoming a hero—or a villain, depending on point of view. "Modesitt's distant future looks and sounds remarkably like 2001," a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented of The Octagonal Raven, noting that "the mystery-suspense angle is thoughtfully adumbrated." Roland Green, reviewing the title for Booklist, noted that while Daryn is reminiscent of some of Modesitt's other heroes, he is "well developed in his own right," and concluded of the novel, "The pacing is excellent."
Fantasy has also proved to be a fertile ground for Modesitt's storytelling abilities. In his "Saga of Recluce" series, which includes the novels The Magic Engineer and The Death of Chaos, he recounts the history of an otherworldly island called Recluce, wherein a balance exists between the forces of Order and those of Chaos: if chaotic activity increases, then order must also increase to balance it. The wellspring of this world's "magic" increases as such balances are struck; White Wizards promote Chaos, while Black Wizards work to promote Order, and both fight the natural balance of nature. In The Magic of Recluce, which introduces readers to the series, a woodworker's apprentice named Lerris is forced to leave his home in a test that moves him from childhood to maturity after he criticizes the island's laws. Temporarily exiled from Recluce, Lerris is helped in coming to terms with Order-dominated island culture by a gray wizard. He also encounters Antonin, the master of the laws of Chaos, who uses his power to disrupt and destroy law, thereby increasing his own supply of chaotic magic. Lerris eventually grows up and begins to both understand and appreciate the importance of laws in preserving the stability of his island home.
Other "Recluce" novels recount various other segments of the saga. The Towers of the Sunset describes the island's founding, as Creslin, son of a powerful female military leader and himself a Black Storm Wizard able to control the heavens, flees from an arranged marriage in order to find himself. Pursued by his distraught and slightly annoyed fiance, Megaera, with whom he shares an empathic bond (when he feels pain, she does as well, and vice versa), as well as by the White Wizards of Chaos who feel threatened by his growing power, Creslin finds refuge upon a desolate island and vows to start a new life. "The concept of a necessary maintenance between Order and Chaos is an interesting departure from most SF and fantasy ideas," wrote Diane Yates in a Voice of Youth Advocates review of The Towers of Sunset.
As in The Magic of Recluce, 1994's The Magic Engineer also centers around a young man. But this time, rather than a bored youth, the young man is Dorrin, the ambitious son of a Black Wizard. Fascinated by the for-bidden art of metallurgy—an orderly process that unfortunately generates chaos through its byproducts, air and water pollution—Dorrin is exiled to the land of Chaos where he continues to dream of building machinery. Eventually Recluce becomes threatened by White Wizards and Dorrin must choose between following his dream of practicing Chaotic arts or defending his Orderdriven island home. The battle between controlled technological advancement and chaos continues in The Order War as yet another smith, Justen, engages in direct battle with the armies of Chaos, who have taken over much of the world in the wake of the steam engine's development. "Modesitt is as clever as his blacksmith heroes," noted Tom Easton in a review of The Order War for Analog, "finding ways to discuss today's environmental concerns and technological hubris in ways that can reach a public that prefers wish-fulfillment fantasy to more hard-nosed SF." In a review of Cholors of Chaos, Roberta Johnson considered the series to be "much better than the average dark-versus-light power struggle."
The "Saga of Recluce" has continued to grow, introducing readers to young heroes such as Lorn, an exiled apprentice mage and soldier with a reputation for a survivor, who is the protagonist of Magi'i of Cyador and Scion of Cyador. Like many of Modesitt's books, Scion of Cyador "treats matters of responsibility and deciding when to act … quite well," according to Booklist reviewer Roland Green. Jackie Cassada, writing in Library Journal, wrote of Scion of Cyador that Modesitt "displays a rare talent for portraying the day-to-day affairs" of those living in his fantasy world. Another "Recluse" novel, Wellspring of Chaos, introduces Kharl, who through various good deeds finds himself exiled and alone. The book "delights from start to finish," praised a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who noted that Kharl's transformation from exiled cooper to wizard "makes for a relentless and absorbing story." Frieda Murray, reviewing the book for Booklist, wrote that this "excellent new story has thought-provoking underpinnings that will snare newcomers" as well as please "Recluce" fans. Jackie Cassada, in her Library Journal review, praised Modesitt's "knack for emphasizing the ordinariness of extraordinary people."
In 1997, Modesitt launched a second fantasy series, the "Spellsong Cycle." In The Soprano Sorceress, Anna wishes she were anywhere but in her home state of Iowa, and soon finds herself summoned to the world of Erde. While on Earth she was a music teacher, in Erde Anna discovers that she is a powerful sorceress—possibly the most powerful in the whole world. Her power makes her a target, and to survive, Anna has to learn to control her new powers. The series follows Anna's rise to prominence in the world of Erde and her move to become one of the most pivotal people in the entire world. Secca, Anna's heir, is the heroine of later books in the series, including the fifth entry, Shadowsinger, which Booklist contributor Roland Green noted "shows no sign of falling off from its predecessors in any way … it merits the highest recommendation."
With the "Corean Chronicles," Modesitt blended science fiction and fantasy to create a world called Corus where characters are likely to encounter both aliens and magic. Alcius is Talented, but he keeps this a secret so he can remain a shepherd like his mother and grandparents. But when Alcius is captured by slavers, he realizes that his power must be used, not only for his own good, but for the good of his world. The novels follow Alcius as begins to use his Talent, in the hopes that he will be able to do so without becoming a pawn to the rich and powerful of Corus. The first three books—Legacies, Darknesses, and Scepters—follow Alcius's saga, while the fourth book, Alector's Choice, is a prequel that gives background to the history of Corus. Roland Green, writing in Booklist, noticed "world building as detailed and intelligent as any from Modesitt" is present throughout the "Corean Chronicles" series. Frieda Murray, in her review of Darknesses for Booklist, wrote that "turning the pages to see what the author's current quiet, competent hero will do next is always a pleasure." Reviewing Scepters for Booklist, Frieda Murray considered the "Corean Chronicles" "a notable achievement." According to a critic for Publishers Weekly, Alector's Choice "contains plenty of fine world building and intelligently developed magic."
On Modesitt's home page, he acknowledged that he did not originally intend to write science fiction and fantasy novels. "Originally, I thought I'd be a poet," he explained. "I even got some poems published in small (very small!) magazines. Then, when I was in my late twenties, someone asked me why I didn't write science fiction, since I'd grown up reading it." Since beginning his career in the genre, every novel Modesitt has ever written has been accepted for publication, and he has also found success in the fantasy genre. Discussing his decision to move from sci-fi to fantasy, the author noted: "In a way, it was a personal challenge, as well as a professional one. I didn't see very many authors writing logically based, alternate world fantasies that didn't rely on pretty standard myths. I wanted to try something different." Modesitt once told Something about the Author: "One of my motivations in writing fantasy was to create 'real' places with 'real' people, economics, and politics, not pale copies of might-have-been medieval societies that once existed on earth. Some of the 'Recluce' books have technology, and that technology impacts and is impacted by order/chaos magic. Both technology and magic have an impact on their users, and often a high price to pay. One reason for that is my observation that talented individuals, whatever their field, usually pay a high price for their talent, and I felt that would be true of talented magicians as well."
Modesitt has explained that the motivation for his fiction comes from several sources. "Although the various aspects of power and how it changes people and how government systems work and how they don't are themes underlying what I write, I try to concentrate on people—on heroes in the true sense of the word. A man who has no fear is not a hero. He's a damned fool. A hero is a man or woman who is shivering with fear and who conquers that fear to do what is right. I also believe that a writer simultaneously has to entertain, educate, and inspire. If he or she fails in any of these goals, the book will somehow fall flat."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, August 1994, pp. 161-162; June, 1995, Tom Easton, review of The Order War, pp. 167-168; November, 1997, review of The Ecolitan Enigma, p. 147.
Booklist, May 1, 1991, p. 1698; March 1, 1994, p. 1185; October 1, 1994, p. 245; January, 1995, p. 803; September 1, 1995, p. 48; December 15, 1998, Roberta Jones, Colors of Chaos, p. 730; December 15, 1999, Roland Green, review of Darksong Rising, p. 761; September 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of Scion of Cyador, p. 71; January 1, 2001, Roland Green, review of The Octagonal Raven, p. 928; October 15, 2001, Roland Green, review of Ghost of the White Nights, p. 388; January 1, 2002, Roland Green, review of Shadowsinger, p. 825; April 15, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Shadowsinger, p. 1387; June 1, 2002, Roland Green, review of Archform: Beauty, p. 1698; October 15, 2002, Roland Green, review of Legacies, pp. 395-396; September 1, 2003, Frieda Murray, review of Darknesses, p. 75; September 15, 2003, Frieda Murray, review of The Ethos Effect, p. 218; March 1, 2004, Frieda Murray, review of Wellspring of Chaos, p. 1147; July, 2004, Frieda Murray, review of Scepters, p. 1829; January 1, 2005, Frieda Murray, review of Ordermaster, p. 834.
Chronicle, April, 2004, Don D'Amassa, review of Wellspring of Chaos, p. 33.
Environmental Forum, October, 1982; April, 1983.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1995, p. 1673.
Library Journal, March 14, 1994, p. 104; September 15, 1994, review of Of Tangible Ghosts; December, 1994, pp. 138-139; September 15, 1995, p. 97; May 15, 1998, review of The White Order, p. 119; September 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Scion of Cyador, p. 118; April 15, 2004, Jackie Cassada, review of Wellspring of Chaos, p. 128.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 19, 1982.
Publishers Weekly, November 22, 1991, p. 38; January 2, 1995, p. 63; August 28, 1995, p. 106; August 10, 1998, review of The Ghost of the Revelator, p. 374; February 1, 2001, review of The Octagonal Raven, p. 73; September 17, 2001, review of Ghost of the White Nights, p. 60; March 1, 2004, review of Wellspring of Chaos, p. 54; May 24, 2004, review of Scepters, p. 49; May 16, 2005, review of Alector's Choice, p. 45.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August-September, 1987, p. 132; December 1988, Tom Pearson, review of In Endless Twilight, p. 247; February 1991, Diane Yates, review of The Towers of the Sunset, pp. 354-355; April, 1995, Jennifer D. Kubenka, review of Of Tangible Ghosts, pp. 37-38; August, 1995, p. 174; February, 1996, p. 385; February, 1998, review of The Chaos Balance, p. 394; April, 1998, review of The Chaos Balance, p. 13; October, 1998, review of The Spellsong War and The White Order, p. 286; April, 1999, review of The Spellsong War and The White Order, p. 14; June, 1999, review of The Ghost of the Revelator, p. 124; August, 1999, review of The Colors of Chaos, p. 193; June, 2000, review of Darksong Rising, p. 127; August, 2000, review of Magi'i of Cyador, p. 198; February, 2001, review of Scion of Cyador, p. 434; April, 2001, review of Darksong Rising, Magi'i of Cyador, and Scion of Cyador, p. 13; October, 2001, review of The Shadow Sorceress, p. 292; April, 2002, review of The Shadow Sorceress, p. 15; October, 2002, review of Archform: Beauty, p. 298; April, 2003, review of Archform: Beauty, p. 13, and review of Legacies, p. 66; June, 2004, Marsha Valance, review of Wellspring of Chaos, p. 144; August, 2004, review of Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror 2003, p. 13, and review of Scepters, p. 232.
Washington Times, February 3, 1988.
Official L.E. Modesitt Web site, http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/recluce (September 15, 2005).