The prolific L.E. Modesitt is the NY Times bestselling author of numerous SF and Fantasy books and series. Perhaps best known for his Recluce novels, Modesitt’s novels range from epic fantasy to far future science fiction adventure. He was kind enough to answer some questions about him and his work, especially his latest novel, The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment.
Paul Weimer: Who is L.E. Modesitt?
L.E. Modesitt: The “technical” answer is that I’m a white male who is past middle age who always wanted to write but had to handle various obligations in life by undertaking a wide range of occupations, as well as an array of competitive sports. The occupations have been, in chronological order, delivery-boy, lifeguard, disc jockey, U.S. Naval aviator, industrial economist, unsuccessful real estate salesman, political campaign researcher, legislative director for a U.S. Congressman, staff director for his successor, Director of Congressional Affairs for the U.S. EPA, senior manager for a Washington D.C. consulting firm, adjunct professor of English, and finally, a full-time writer. Married three times, not totally successfully the first two, but very successfully the third time to a lyric soprano and university opera director. As a writer, I began as a poet, and for almost fifteen years only managed to get published in small literary magazines, before, in my late twenties, beginning to write SF stories, which were published sporadically in the 1970s, until Ben Bova persuaded me [more like figuratively wrenched both arms] to write a novel. That was more successful, but I still had to keep the day jobs for ten years after my first novel was published.
PW: You do have the varied and interesting biography, especially in the wide range of occupations you’ve turned your hand to. Why did you turn your writing output from a more literary output to a more genre (science fiction and fantasy) oriented one?
LM: Turning to writing science fiction wasn’t as much of change as it might superficially seem. First, off I’d always read science fiction since I was introduced to it by my mother, which was a bit different, I realized later, given that it was the 1950s and not that many women read science fiction, and she read SF, not fantasy. Second, I didn’t change my basic style and approach that much, if at all, although I’ve always worked on improving my writing, which means that I’m very much a classically trained writer who happens to write science fiction and fantasy, although I didn’t even try my hand at out-and-out fantasy until I’d been publishing SF for almost twenty years. As to why I made the shift, frankly, a friend suggested it, pointing out that I hadn’t gotten much farther with poetry than small magazines. That made sense to me, if belatedly, and I tried writing short SF… and got published in Analog.
PW: Your early F/SF career was SF stories, and your first novels were SF as well. Starting with The Magic of Recluce, though, you started writing fantasy in nearly equal proportion to your SF output. What drew you to try fantasy as well as science fiction?
LM: What inspired me to write fantasy was an experience at my very first science fiction convention. Unlike many writers, I didn’t come to SF through conventions or fandom, but through the books, and I’d been writing professionally for over fifteen years when my editor, David Hartwell, insisted that I start attending conventions. The first convention I attended was BaltiCon, and my first panel was on “Economics and Politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” As a result of that panel, the grisly details of which I’m not about to put in print, I realized that most fantasy writers at the time either didn’t know much about politics or economics, didn’t care, or thought they were irrelevant. This situation, by the way, has changed greatly in the succeeding twenty plus years. But I resolved to write a fantasy in a world where economics, politics, and magic all made sense and fit together logically. That was why and how I wrote The Magic of Recluce. And in writing it, I discovered I liked writing in both SF and fantasy, and I’ve kept doing both.
PW: Let’s talk about your new SF novel, The One Eyed Man: A Fugue With Winds and Accompaniment. Given that there is a lot to unpack just in the rich name of the book along, what’s the elevator pitch (if one can be made) for it?
LM: I’ve never been very good at elevator pitches, and most of my books don’t lend themselves to them, because anything which would adequately describe the book isn’t short, and anything that’s short is bound to be misleading in one fashion or another. That’s one reason why I’ve never asked for a contract until I’ve finished the first draft of a book. The One-Eyed Man is no different. The majority of events take place on Stittara, a world that almost shouldn’t exist in the way it does, since it borders on the unlikely in stellar, geological, and ecosystem terms, but produces anti-aging pharmaceuticals and has violent storm systems that may be the result of mere climate extremes or semi-sentient cloud-based lifeforms, but that extremism is so violent that it appears no one has ever determined which it might be. The book combines elements of ecology in an unrecognized conflict between apparently similar ecological systems whose seeming similarity masks a deep and fundamental underlying difference. At the same time, there are at least five separate political and social agendas being played out, with Paulo Verano — a consulting ecologist who took the job of undertaking an ecological assessment of Stittara to escape the financial ruin of a failed marriage –being caught between all of them. Add to that the fact that the assessment is political cover, and the fact that no one wants an accurate assessment — but for very different reasons — and Verano is in for a very tough time. Then add in the fact that there are two types human settlements on Stittara, and both differ in social and cultural mores and ecological adaptation from the home systems… and all that is just the beginning.
PW: Indeed, I’ve heard the book described as a mystery as well, in addition to the layering of sociological and ecological conflicts. And in fact, investigating quandaries, conflicts and mysteries is a theme in many of your novels. And the investigators and agents that dig into these questions are among your more common archetype of protagonists. What draws you to use that sort of form and that sort of protagonist for your works, particularly The One Eyed Man?
LM: I don’t have a pat answer for that, but I’ve always felt that there’s more behind everything, from politics to war to ecology, and I personally have felt that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to come up with lasting solutions, or sometimes even temporary ones, without understanding most of what lies behind the obvious. Then, too, one of the other things I’ve discovered over the years [although I discovered it through both observation and something written by Alfred North Whitehead a century ago] is that often no one really looks at the obvious or questions what is apparently obvious. So I have a tendency to write characters who do just those sorts of things…and they usually get into great difficulties because most people want simple answers and don’t want the fundamentals of their day-to-day lives and culture questioned. I think the trials that Paulo Verano goes through in The One-Eyed Man illustrate that.
PW: In some cases, your novels have overt or hidden connections to other novels in seemingly unconnected universes and stories. Does Sittara and the Unity of the Ceylesian Arm have connections to any of your other works, or is this a new universe for you? Do you see yourself writing more novels in and around this polity?
LM: When I’m writing science fiction I write with what Michael Moorcock, as I recall, called the multiverse mindset, in the sense that I’m exploring a few handfuls of possible futures branching off from our present. This means that all will have connections through the shared past, and some will have “parallelities,” if you will, that suggest a connection, but that connection is through a shared past. As for whether I’ll write another novel in the future/past of Stittara… I have no plans along those lines, but I haven’t ruled one out.
PW: With The One Eyed Man next, what can we expect next from you? And where can readers learn more about you and engage with you, online or otherwise?
LM: The next book will be Rex Regis, the eighth book in the Imager Portfolio and the fifth and final book about Quaeryt and Vaelora, but not the last Imager book. It will be released on January 7th. After that will be another Recluce book — Cyador’s Heirs — scheduled for release next May.
My website is www.lemodesittjr.com, which lists all my books and information of other sorts, where I also take questions. I also blog there twice weekly.