Tag Archives: L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Gravity Dreams, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Tor, 1999, 468 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-56661-0

In his previous novel Adiamante, R.L. Modesitt Jr. proved his talent for taking a standard space-opera premise and turning it into an unusually thoughtful piece of true science-fiction. Readers enthralled by that novel were more fascinated by social moral dilemmas than with the inevitable pyrotechnics. One reviewer coined (or re-used) the term “intellectual suspense” in reviewing Adiamante, and it still stands as one of the best general descriptors of Modesitt’s fiction.

With Gravity Dreams, he applies the same willingness to peer behind some of SF’s standard gadgets to draw a wide-scale portrait of a new society built on better foundations than ours. If the plot is less satisfying than Adiamante, the book is nevertheless an improvement over his previous effort.

To immerse the reader in thirty-first century Earth, Modesitt begins by using the time-honored device of the innocent. Few would call Tyndel, Gravity Dreams‘s protagonist, an innocent in the confines of his native society. He is initially, after all, an apprentice Dzin master, a teacher/mentor of the fundamentalist state religion.

But keeping him in this state would make a rather boring novel. So Tyndel (through a somewhat bizarre set of events) is exiled outside his community to the neighboring Lyncol, a high-tech society that looks upon Tyndel’s community as charmingly quaint. Unfortunately for him, his rescue from Dzin required expensive treatment, which he will have to repay.

Before he can even properly learn the rules of his new environment, Tyndel is exiled again, this time as a laborer in a distant space station. Don’t worry, he’ll eventually learn to cope. The novel is obviously a bildungsroman in which the author can indoctrinate both protagonist and readers to cool new social ideas.

I may sound flippant, but the truth is that I enjoyed Gravity Dreams a lot, especially the ideas that are brought forth by Modesitt. None-too-convincingly disguising his libertarian sympathies, Modesitt writes of a society where widespread nanotechnology has brought forth a non-negotiable need for personal responsibility. A large portion of Gravity Dreams‘s thematic strength is built on an exploration of a society that expects responsibility from truly adult citizens.

Tangentially, that strikes me as one of SF’s next big themes. With emerging technologies putting ever-more powerful capabilities at the grasp of everyone, the need for everyone to behave responsibly. Call it the “polite society” argument of gun enthusiasts. Unfortunately, recent history has proven that there’s still a long way to go before reaching this point, as numerous cases of vandalism, real or virtual (think spamming, online harassment or website defacement), continue to make headlines. Like it or not, increased power without increased accountability cannot depend on the assumption of good behavior.

While the above may not be explicitly mentioned in the book, it is the type of reflections inspired by Gravity Dreams, a novel that could have been a perfectly good space-opera without depth. Ironically, the most plot-driven moments of Gravity Dreams (with its late-coming revelation of interstellar Dangers That Must Be Conquered) are the weakest parts of the narrative, paling in comparison with Tyndal’s training and relationship issues.

Moral lessons served as entertainment aren’t rare, of course, but it’s always pleasing to see a result so professionally realized. Instead of turning in run-of-the-mill space adventures, Modesitt chooses to inspire as much as he entertains, and the result is not only one of the best SF novels of 1999, but also another proof that Modesitt is one of our best SF writers around.

The Green Progression, L.E. Modesitt Jr. & Bruce Scott Levinson

Tor, 1992, 312 pages, C$5.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-51641-9

Are you the kind of person that loves to say exactly the opposite of what everyone else is saying? Would you take on the job of being the devil’s advocate? Do you think that a bit of discussion is better than unthinking unanimous agreement, even if you happen to agree with what’s being discussed?

If so, you should have a blast reading The Green Progression. Perennial libertarian iconoclast L.E. Modesitt Jr. has teamed up with relative unknown Bruce Scott Levinson to write a reactionary environmental novel.

Everyone more or less assumes that the environment is something worth protecting. Everyone should cheer when Washington adopts stricter environmental standards, since it means that less pollutants will be released… and if there are less pollutants, it means the environment is better off, right? Anyone who complains must be evil industrialists trying to protect their profits, right?

Modesitt and Levinson take the position that enough is enough, and that environmental standards in the US are good as they are. But how to spin a novel around this? You wouldn’t think a novel whose protagonists are lawyers, bureaucrats, researchers and politicians could possibly be exciting. And yet, The Green Progression is surprisingly gripping.

Jack McDarvid is a former pilot, a former CIA operative, a former EPA staffer but a current husband, father and consultant at a law firm that specializes in environmental issues. At the beginning of The Green Progression, his boss is gunned down in a drug hit. Then, his inquiries in his former boss’s last case are proving very sensitive to some important people…

Modesitt and Levinson happily mix a few other threads in the plot. A Russian operative is shown encouraging tougher environmental standards in the US to drive away the high-tech industries. McDarvid’s associate gets involved with a woman implicated in radical environmental movements. A humble staffer receives a scholarship for her daughter in subtle exchange for… information. CIA, congressmen, French industrialists, radical lefties and other characters all get caught in this political/bureaucratic thriller.

The Green Progression is not an easy book to read. It uses more -much more- hard-science jargon, assumptions and concepts than most hard-SF novels on the market. (There’s a glossary at the end) The separate threads are difficult to differentiate at the beginning. The plot takes a while to coalesce, leaving the reader confused for the first part of the book.

But then, the novel somehow pulls itself together and the result is a fairly enjoyable, mostly ingenious novel that doesn’t quite resemble anything else you’re likely to have read so far. There’s a happy ending.

It’s a fascinating novel not only for its focus, but also for its attitude that takes pleasure is showing the reader how much of what he thinks he knows is wrong. The bureaucratic process involved in making new standards is very well described, with the result that the book expands your knowledge of how government works. (Whether or not you trust the authors is up to your confidence in their research and ability to represent reality!)

Some readers will enjoy the anti-rabid-environmentalist viewpoint, others will loathe it. That’s normal. The Green Progression will probably find a ready home among hard-SF enthusiasts, most of them already receptive both to the pro-technology agenda and to Modesitt himself, who’s better known as a SF&F writer. Unusual thriller; worth a look.

Adiamante, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Tor, 1996, 312 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-54558-3

Thousands of years after being exiled from Earth, an evolved subset of humanity comes back seeking reparations. If the population of Earth can’t agree to give what they want, well, destruction might as well be as good as anything…

Intrigued? There’s more.

For instance, the returning humans are cybernetically enhanced humans. Their ships are almost indestructible. Their weapons are terrifying.

The humans on Earth have established a decentralized society that is very near utopia. There are un-enhanced humans, but most of the elite is composed of, again, enhanced humans.

The would-be destroyers are willing to negotiate, so Earth assigns negotiation to a reluctant man. His problem, beyond -obviously- avoiding destruction, is to deal with the threat in a manner that will not transgress the basic principles of his society. This future Earth is unwilling to become a monster to fight monsters.

The plot is original. Fortunately, Modesitt’s writing is up to the task. Adiamante alternates between the third-person viewpoint of the invaders and the first-person narrative of the Coordinator. The result is one akin to a psychological poker game with ever-rising bets. Only rarely do novels manage to attain -and sustain- this level of intellectual tension.

Part of this success must be attributed to Modesitt’s world-building. His future Earth may not be believable (see below) but is fairly consistent. The moral choices are explicitly defined. Some novels quickly gloss over the political structure of the future -especially when they’re not readily identifiable as “straight” democracy or dictatorship- but Modesitt takes great care in filling in the details of his society.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone aware of Modesitt’s previous works. A long-time favorite of the Libertarians, Modesitt obviously has an agenda. Still, he manages to produce an entertaining novel without (too many) political messages. This critic didn’t really believe in Modesitt’s postulated system, but it’s a fine idea anyway. Other readers with sufficiently open minds should have no problems with this.

The heart of the novel is a clash between the incompatible cultures. The title Adiamante is well-chosen, reflecting both the adiamante motif in the book and the rigid positions of both parties. (Adiamante being in the novel a practically indestructible material, much stronger than diamond.) The science in this novel is believable and exciting: There’s a vivid description of advanced weapons for persons so inclined.

Adiamante has the distinction of offering a vision of the future that’s fresh without being too alien. While the narrative may be predictable, at least the setup offers an original situation. The new animal species populating Earth, for instance, are logical and frightening.

Some of the characters could have been brought out of the background a bit, but since this is more of a premise-driven novel, it makes sense to develop only two of them.

Very enjoyable, nicely written, provocative without being (too much) pontificating, Adiamante is a good choice for SF that’s both entertaining and intellectually stimulating.