Go to Homepage   L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Full Spectrum Speculative Fiction

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (photo courtesy Tor Books)

Navy pilot, market research analyst, delivery boy, college lecturer, man from the government and more -- bestselling author L. E. Modesitt, Jr., has lived enough different lives to populate a small planet. This personal diversity finds its reflection in the varied worlds of his novels, from Recluce to the star system Accord. At the same time, his insider's knowledge of politics and environmental issues allows him to paint his fictional canvases in breathtakingly believable detail.

Two books scheduled for release in 2004 showcase Modesitt's ability to bridge the perceived gulf between science fiction and fantasy. Scepters, the third of four volumes in Modesitt's Corean Chronicles, posits a world which embraces the reality of magic. In contrast, Flash will take readers to a future that seems an all-too-likely extrapolation of existing technology -- and the ways in which that technology can be abused. Crescent Blues recently talked to Modesitt about both, the Spellsong Cycle and other series -- and the experiences that shape them all.

Crescent Blues: In your bio you state that you started out with the belief when you graduated from college that science fiction and fantasy weren't respectable forms of literature. What inspired you, then, to become a fantasy and science fiction (F&SF) author?

Book: l e modesitt jr, flash
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Time and experience convinced me that F&SF was the only literary genre in which a writer was relatively free to investigate and explore wide-ranging economic, social, political and technologically related issues. The years since then have only confirmed that.

Crescent Blues: You have several series, which range from military science fiction to full-out fantasy. How easy is it for you to write between the two genres? Do you ever find yourself getting the two intermixed when you are creating them?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: I enjoy having the freedom to write in both genres, because each offers different challenges and opportunities. Because I only concentrate on one novel at a time, so far, at least, I haven't had any problems in getting the genres "intermixed," although there have been some readers who have felt that some of the technology I've used in certain fantasies made those fantasies science fiction rather than fantasy.

Crescent Blues: In your science fiction novel Empire and Ecolitan, your hero frequently destroys large enemy (and sometime civilian) complexes in a terrorist type fashion. If 9/11 had occurred before you wrote this novel would you have designed the plot any differently?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: The simple answer to that is "yes," but that's because all that I write is a result of all that I've experienced. The more complex answer is that it might not have changed the plots much, because the plots are based on the trends in human history and not upon isolated events. A single human being or a small organization must, by necessity, use force in much the same way as either Jimjoy or Nathaniel does. A large military power, such as the United States, has a greater range of options available. In either case, the actual options available are determined by the underlying resource base, but the choice of which technically available option to use is political.

...the importance of resources, logistics and the extraordinarily thin line between decisive/intelligent/bold actions and being a damned fool.

Crescent Blues: Was your wife, a lyric soprano, a major influence for your Spellsong series of books?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Yes. She was also a major influence for the Ghost books and for Archform: Beauty.

Crescent Blues: What prompted you to use a feminine point of view for the Spellsong novels?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Because the stories were far better told from a feminine viewpoint, and because I wanted to make a number of points about how force is regarded differently by men and women, and how "honor" is often merely disguised male chauvinism.

Book: l e modesitt jr, empire and ecolitan
Crescent Blues: Will there be any more novels coming out in the Ecolitan and Spellsong series?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: It's unlikely, but I never thought I'd write the fourth Ecolitan book until I did.

Crescent Blues: From what I've read, it appears your next novel, Flash, takes place in the same universe as Archform: Beauty, only two centuries earlier. Could you tell our readers about Flash, and whether it will become part of an ongoing series in the Archform world?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Flash features Jonat deVrai, a former Marine lieutenant colonel who resigned his commission rather than become a tool of a government that has institutionalized hypocrisy to an even greater extent than today. Jonat has developed a specialized advertising consulting business, with a proprietary technology. When he is asked to perform a study for a non-profit foundation, people start trying to kill him. Flash explores the intersection of politics, advertising, nanotechnology, AIs [Artificial Intelligences], Martian colonies, multilateral corporations, and high-tech cloning.

Flash is a stand-alone novel.

Book: l e modesitt jr, magic of recluse

Crescent Blues: The Corean Chronicles, set in the world of Corus, could almost be described as military fantasy. How did you develop the idea for this series?

There was no single source for the ideas behind the Corean Chronicles. Part of the development came because I wanted to write about a world where the magic and the world were in essence one, but where the world was physically real and not a magical construct. Another source was that I wanted a story where the protagonist came from a functional and happy family -- and Alucius's family is that, even despite his father's death when Alucius was a child. Another was my desire to create a world where everyone regarded "magic" as a great blessing -- and where it was anything but that. There are doubtless other reasons buried in my subconscious, as well.

Crescent Blues: Does the third volume of the Corean Chronicles, Scepters, continue with Alucius and his adventures, or will you be introducing a new hero/heroine?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Scepters is the third and final book about Alucius and Wendra, but it is not the last book in the Corean Chronicles. I'm currently winding up work on the next book -- Alector's Choice.

Crescent Blues: You've sold short stories to many noted magazines like Analog, On-Spec and Low Port, as well as novels. Do you prefer writing short fiction or novels? What do you consider the virtues and challenges of each form?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: I find writing novels -- generally -- suits me, and I usually like the larger canvas.

Book: l e modesitt jr, scepters
Short stories are a challenge because everything has to be expressed so concisely, and because usually a successful short story has to have a "twist" to be memorable. I don't like "generic" twists.

The challenge of a novel is to create a world in which everything seems both different, "new," and yet "old" (in the sense that the reader feels that the world has always existed and always will).

Crescent Blues: Wellspring of Chaos showcases an ordinary, middle-aged man who has to learn to deal with extraordinary and calamitous events. This move away from the stereotypical young and perfect warrior/ mage hero makes for a very interesting read. What was your impetus for writing a decidedly different character like this?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Actually, that's a bit of a misconception. I've written about older heroes before. Johan Eschbach of the Ghost books is a good fifteen years older than Kharl of Wellspring of Chaos. Likewise, Nylan (Fall of Angels and The Chaos Balance) is also Kharl's age, if not older. Neither is anything close to perfect.

Ecktor deJanes (Adiamante) is in his sixties, and Daryn Alwyn (The Octagonal Raven) is at least 45.

I decided to write Kharl's story because… it was a good story that I wanted to tell.

Crescent Blues: The world of Recluce has many fans -- is there any chance it might be turned into a computer game?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Several individuals and one company have tried so far, but it's far harder than even the computer experts think. Would I like to see that? Of course. Do I think it's likely? Not any time soon.

Book: l e modesitt jr, ghosts of the revelator
Crescent Blues: You served twice in Vietnam. How has your combat experience shaped your fiction? Do you ever base characters and events on things you experienced in your life in the military?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: I have to correct that slightly. While I had two tours that took me to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era, I actually was only on Vietnamese soil for the first, and not for very long. I spent much more time at sea off the coast, first as an amphibious boat officer and second as a helicopter search and rescue pilot on a carrier, than in or above Vietnam. So far as I know, no one ever fired a shot at me.

Nonetheless, my military experiences definitely shaped my view of the world, and how I write about military events, both in my fantasy and science fiction. One aspect, in particular, is the understanding that senior officers and junior officers are often not fighting the same war -- even in the same command structure. Another is the importance of resources, logistics and the extraordinarily thin line between decisive/intelligent/bold actions and being a damned fool.

The only story that is a direct analog to what happened in the Navy was "Iron Man, Plastic Ships." The short story "The Pilots" was an outgrowth of my later exposure to the Vietnam Wall.

Crescent Blues: Which of your books or series do you feel would make a good movie and what actors do you think would play the parts well?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Adiamante, The Octagonal Raven or Flash would be the easiest to film with today's culture and technology. I'm not about to guess on the actors.

Book: l e modesitt jr, the shadow sorceress
Crescent Blues: With over fifty books and stories in print -- many written while you held a full-time job -- how do you manage to keep such a high rate of literary production going? Do you have a regular routine to your day?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: There are only three absolute givens to my day[s]: (1) five days a week, I run/walk/jog three and one-half miles through the hills; (2) I write as much as I can; (3) I get interrupted a lot.

Crescent Blues: Your official web site has an active bulletin board where your fans can pose questions on and you frequently answer them. How useful do you find this type of feedback for your writing? How important do you feel this kind of author/reader link is and does it add much additional strain on your writing time?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: I think the link is important, not necessarily in terms of determining what I write, but to explain the nagging points of interest to readers. It does take more time, but that is balanced by the fact that such links create more interest in the books and give the readers a better feel about both the books and why I do what I do.

Crescent Blues: What are your current works-in-progress? Could you tell us a little about them?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: I'm not far enough along on the next book to feel comfortable saying much, except that it is science fiction and fairly far-future, and that if I can do what I'm hoping to, it will combine adventure, intrigue, science, politics and a number of issues critical to the future of the species -- but then, probably most good SF books could claim the same.

Crescent Blues likes to give a free soap box where authors can say what they like. Is there anything you'd like to add, on any subject at all?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: For a writer, that's like offering a choice of preferred methods of suicide.

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Stephen Smith