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Modesitt, L E, Jr

Entry updated 29 January 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1943-    ) US industrial economist and author who began publishing work of genre interest with "The Great American Economy" in Analog for May 1973, the first of two Council of Economic Advisors tales. Most of his work, both fantasy and sf, has been in the form of series, such as the Timedivers sequence – beginning with his first novel, The Fires of Paratime (1982; vt The Timegod 1992), plus Timediver's Dawn (1992), both assembled as Timegod's World (omni 2000) – in which emissaries/guardians from the planet Query engage in complex and metaphysical manipulations of reality through their control of Time Travel. After a singleton, The Hammer of Darkness (1985), also sf, Modesitt wrote nothing but series for several years, including two sf sequences. The Forever Hero series – comprising Dawn for a Distant Earth (1987). Silent Warrior (1987) and In Endless Twilight (1988), all three assembled as The Forever Hero (omni 1999) – treats the profound Ecological desecration of Earth (see also Climate Change; Ruined Earth) through an array of interstellar Space Opera exploits in the course of which an Immortal warrior called MacGregor Gerswin hornswoggles the Galactic Empire which has been using Earth as dumping ground for toxic waste. The Ecolitan sequence – comprising The Ecologic Envoy (1986), The Ecolitan Operation (1989), The Ecologic Secession (1990) and The Ecolitan Enigma (1997); for omnis see Checklist – deals with associated themes, though ultimate success is here achieved as part of a pattern of political intrigues and battles, in which a hero similar to Gerswin tricks an overbearing empire.

Better known than Modesitt's early sf, however, is the Saga of Recluce, beginning with The Magic of Recluce (1991) and continuing through many volumes, including Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce (coll of linked stories 2017), which gives an overview of the entire multi-cultural world; with further volumes projected. Set on a planet whose land-masses include the continent Candar and the island Recluce – later volumes of the sequence retrofit a Colonization of Other Worlds-cum-Planetary Romance sf origin story, not dissimilar to that crafted by Marion Zimmer Bradley for her Darkover series – the series is essentially a Science Fantasy epic dominated by an age-long conflict between Order and Chaos. There is a Hard Fantasy precision [for this term and Rationalized Fantasy see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] in the balance between these forces, like that between positive and negative charge in Physics; a natural law of conservation or balance operates to ensure that increasing the power of Order also increases that of Chaos, and vice-versa. The Multiverse created by Michael Moorcock in the 1960s as a complex arena where Order and Chaos vie for dominance – and the Cosmic Balance registers the state of play – may have influenced Modesitt.

His next series – the Alternate America sequence comprising Of Tangible Ghosts (1994) and The Ghost of the Revelator (1998), both assembled as Ghosts of Columbia (omni 2005); plus Ghost of the White Nights (2001) – also fits easily into the conversation of genre, the highly intricate pattern of influence and counter-influence, borrowing and innovation, that has marked Fantastika since its inception; Modesitt is clearly one of the most competent exponents of that conversation. He is a writer remarkable for the clarity of his presentation of this material, giving his work a sense that it is simultaneously old and new, as is the case with Alternate America, where well-used Alternate History topoi – the series is set in a world where the Dutch-descended "Columbians" are pitted against a coherent and aggressive Austro-Hungarian Empire – jostle Equipoisally with topoi out of fantasy and horror, for this world is kept from disintegration through the shaping energy of the spirit world, from which ghosts and Zombies emerge, and, to some degree, are explained.

Modesitt's next two full-length series – the Spellsong Cycle beginning with The Soprano Sorceress (1997), and the Corean Chronicles beginning with Legacies: The First Book of the Corean Chronicles (2002) – are both fantasy; but the short Parafaith War sequence, comprising The Parafaith War (1996) and The Ethos Effect (2003), is Military SF set in a Space Opera arena where secular forces are opposed by fundamentalists (see Religion). The Archform: Beauty tales, Archform: Beauty (2002) and Flash (2004), which are both set in Denver, Colorado a century or so hence, after Climate Change has caused a devastating rise in sea levels. Flash is a noir thriller; Archform: Beauty, set a century later, is a Dystopia. Modesitt's most recent sequence, the Imager Portfolio series beginning with Imager (2009), is again fantasy; as usual, elements of sf are mixed into the general setting, implying ultimate explanations in terms of Rationalized Fantasy (see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy; see also Medieval Futurism; Military SF); a late volume in the sequence, Endgames (2019), contains hints of a coming industrial revolution.

Modesitt has been described more than once as a Hard SF writer, a label less appropriate perhaps when applied to his series than to some of his singletons. Though it has no element of the fantastic, The Green Progression (1992) with Bruce Scott Levinson examines Ecological issues with a programmatic clarity typical of sf. Gravity Dreams (1999) is a cogently-told Space Opera. In The Eternity Artifact (2005), the Discovery on a previously unexplored planet of what may be relicts of a Forerunner civilization is conveyed with a genuine Sense of Wonder. The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, with Winds and Accompaniment (2013) – inspired by the cover illustration by John Jude Palencar, which itself seems to uplift the famous "Christina's World" (1948) by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) – focuses on a dilemma of Ecology on an alien planet, the source of an anagathic drug (see Immortality) whose secure cultivation is under threat from human intervention. Throughout his career, Modesitt has almost invariably couched his fiction – sometimes in the fantasy series at a remove or two – as Thought Experiments: he is a writer who is deeply faithful to ideas, and to their consequences. [JC]

Leland Exton Modesitt Jr

born Denver, Colorado: 19 October 1943




Forever Hero


Saga of Recluce

Alternate America

Spellsong Cycle

Corean Chronicles

The Parafaith War

Archform: Beauty

  • Archform: Beauty (New York: Tor, 2002) [Archform: Beauty: hb/David Seeley]
  • Flash (New York: Tor, 2004) [Archform: Beauty: hb/David Seeley]

Imager Portfolio

The Grand Illusion

  • Isolate (New York: Tor, 2021) [The Grand Illusion: hb/Chris McGrath]
  • Councilor (New York: Tor, 2022) [The Grand Illusion: hb/Chris McGrath]
  • Contrarian (New York: Tor, 2023) [The Grand Illusion: hb/Chris McGrath]

individual titles



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