I have just finished reading Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. And I have to admit that I am amazed that the author managed to pull this off in such a fashion. The System of the World is as complex, fascinating, surprising and fun as its predecessors.
I have said before that the scope of Stephenson's undertaking was immensely ambitious. Hence, I was quite eager to see how it would all come together in the final volume of what has been an exceptionally brilliant series. And let me tell you that the author does not disappoint. This is a series that lives up to the hype!
When I finished the book, I could do little more than shake my head in wonder. This trilogy, to put it simply, is the work of a genius. I think that I'm now a fan for life!;-)
As was the case with the previous two volumes, Quicksilver and The Confusion, the amount of research that must have gone into the creation of this novel is staggering. Stephenson has an eye for details that brings the world and the characters to life. Once again, this book gives you a panoramic view of a European era that saw countless changes being brought into effect.
Like its predecessors, The System of the World is written in the same exhuberant, witty and irreverent prose that makes this series such an entertaining read. But simultaneously, it's a dense and erudite yarn, and the balance created within those pages makes this trilogy an incredibly impressive literary endeavor. I am persuaded that The Baroque Cycle will continue to defy any category and genre. Indeed, there is a little bit of everything. Which, in the end, is what makes this series so unique.
This colossal trilogy (anything that weighs in at more than 3000 pages can be nothing but colossal!) is a melting pot of several things; all of them good, however. It is part romance, because love always finds a way to sneak in when you least expect it. In part, it is also one grand and dazzling adventure. In a way, it is also some sort of scientific treatise containing so many facts and theories that it will keep your head spinning. Religion is an underlying theme, as Catholicism and Protestantism were at the root of so many conflicts in Europe during those eventful times. It is also a sweeping political saga. That series is all those things and then some!
As always, I have no intention of including spoilers in this review. I would not deprive readers of the pleasure of discovering those secrets for themselves!
Daniel Waterhouse returns from the American Colonies. And upon his arrival in London, he is immediately thrust into a secret war between Sir Isaac Newton and Jack Shaftoe. Jack the Coiner has become the Master of the Mint's nemesis. But unbeknownst to most is the fact that Jack is acting thus in order to protect the love of his life, Eliza. It is yet again uncertain times in England, with factions preparing to face one another and put its key player on the throne. And the rest of Europe watches or participates in what will ultimately be the triumph or demise of Great Britain. The conflict between Newton and Leibniz comes to a head in this volume. In addition, Father de Gex's machinations are exposed, with grave repercussions. Alchemy, often an underlying theme, plays a much bigger role in this book. Needless to say, I won't reveal more on the subject. But I will tell you that we do learn a little more about the mysterious Enoch Root.
All in all, this trilogy is an enthralling read. And The System of the World brings it to a very satisfying end.
Matthew Stover's Revenge of the Sith drops 3 spots, ending the week at number 6. This latest Star Wars installment has been on the prestigious list for 3 weeks now.
James Luceno's Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil is no longer on the list, but it is still being tracked. It went down 4 positions from last week, finishing at number 32. This is the novel's 12th week on the list.
Raymond E. Feist's Exile's Return is also being tracked. It is down 2 spots from last week, positioning itself at number 33. This newest Conclave of Shadows offering has been on the list for 3 weeks now.
Rinzler's The Art of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith drops 18 spots, finishing the week at number 22. This art book has remained on the list for 3 weeks.
Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is up 10 positions from last week, ending its run at number 25. This marks the novel's second week on the list.
Stephen King's Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah drops 7 position, finishing its second week on the list at number 33.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Robert Jordan gives us the eleventh volume of his extraordinary masterwork of fantasy.
The dead are walking, men die impossible deaths, and it seems as though reality itself has become unstable: All are signs of the imminence of Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle, when Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, must confront the Dark One as humanity’s only hope. But Rand dares not fight until he possesses all the surviving seals on the Dark One’s prison and has dealt with the Seanchan, who threaten to overrun all nations this side of the Aryth Ocean and increasingly seem too entrenched to be fought off. But his attempt to make a truce with the Seanchan is shadowed by treachery that may cost him everything. Whatever the price, though, he must have that truce. And he faces other dangers. There are those among the Forsaken who will go to any length to see him dead--and the Black Ajah is at his side...Unbeknownst to Rand, Perrin has made his own truce with the Seanchan. It is a deal made with the Dark One, in his eyes, but he will do whatever is needed to rescue his wife, Faile, and destroy the Shaido who captured her. Among the Shaido, Faile works to free herself while hiding a secret that might give her her freedom or cause her destruction. And at a town called Malden, the Two Rivers longbow will be matched against Shaido spears.Fleeing Ebou Dar through Seanchan-controlled Altara with the kidnapped Daughter of the Nine Moons, Mat attempts to court the woman to whom he is half-married, knowing that she will complete that ceremony eventually. But Tuon coolly leads him on a merry chase as he learns that even a gift can have deep significance among the Seanchan Blood and what he thinks he knows of women is not enough to save him. For reasons of her own, which she will not reveal until a time of her choosing, she has pledged not to escape, but Mat still sweats whenever there are Seanchan soldiers near. Then he learns that Tuon herself is in deadly danger from those very soldiers. To get her to safety, he must do what he hates worse than work...In Caemlyn, Elayne fights to gain the Lion Throne while trying to avert what seems a certain civil war should she win the crown...In the White Tower, Egwene struggles to undermine the sisters loyal to Elaida from within...The winds of time have become a storm, and things that everyone believes are fixed in place forever are changing before their eyes. Even the White Tower itself is no longer a place of safety. Now Rand, Perrin and Mat, Egwene and Elayne, Nynaeve and Lan, and even Loial, must ride those storm winds, or the Dark One will triumph.
Matthew Stover's Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith drops one position, ending the week at number 3. It's the novel's second week on the list.
James Luceno's Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil manages to hold on yet again, up one spot from last week, finishing at number 28. It has remained on the list for 11 weeks.
Raymond E. Feist's Exile's Return, the third volume of the Conclave of Shadows trilogy, drops 9 spots, ending the week at number 31 and hence no longer on the list. Feist's latest remained on the list for two weeks.
Rinzler's The Art of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith leaps up 7 positions to finish the week at number 4. This marks the book's second week on the list.
Stephen King's Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah debuts at number 26.
Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy debuts at number 35.
Well, since many of you encouraged me to organize another survey and not take that hiatus, I've decided to give it another go!;-) Once again, I wasn't the only one to think about this idea. As a matter of fact, it was first suggested by Martha from shadowmarch.com, and darthboromir from wotmania.com also came up with a similar survey a few weeks back. And since their idea is a very good one, this next poll will determine which cover art is our favourite.
But the poll will be two-fold. Yes, we will all vote for what we consider the best cover art ever, once again submitting our respective Top 5. But by naming the book cover and the artist who drew it, we will also keep tabs on the artists themselves, allowing me to come up with a list of our favourite cover art and a list of the most popular artists in the fantasy genre.
As was the case with the last poll, this could produce some interesting results. I don't know about you, but I will have to seriously think about this one. Because I have to admit that I can't instantly think of my 5 favourite book covers of all time.
As always, feel free to vote here in the comment section, or on your respective message boards. Let's see what we'll come up with!:-)
After enjoying Quicksilver to such a degree, it was with eagerness that I plunged into Neal Stephenson's The Confusion. And I must admit that it's the perfect sequel.:-)
This one is a lot easier to read. Indeed, all the scientific issues that were so central to the first volume of The Baroque Cycle play a secondary role in this sequel. But as the title of the last volume of the series implies, those same scientific issues just might hold center stage in the next book. Hence, although Newton, Waterhouse, Leibniz and co. do have a role to play in the story, the main plot revolves more around Jack and Eliza. Which, in the end, is the reason why it makes The Confusion easier and more fun to read.
The scope of Stephenson's undertaking is once again bewildering. This book is as richly detailed as its predecessor, a testimony to the unbelievable amount of research that indubitably went into its creation. But as was the case with Quicksilver, it's the author's genius which shines through. Stephenson's work is a tour de force, blending scientific facts with fiction, incorporating notions on national and international commerce, throwing politics into the mix, rewriting history in the process; all with a sarcastic sense of humour that brings a smile on your face as you keep turning those pages.The Confusion is again a large book: 815 pages in hardcover. But the pace is much quicker than in the previous volume, which will somehow make it appear as if you're reading a short novel. Indeed, the ending, although quite satisfying, comes too rapidly.
It is another dense and erudite yarn. But it is also a grand adventure, always clever and often hilarious!;-)
Jack Shaftoe plays a much larger role in this one. And more Jack usually means more fun! We follow his adventures and misadventures, circumventing the entire globe before the book ends. As a matter of fact, we follow his exploits from the Barbary Coast, to Spain, to Egypt, to Yemen, to India, to Japan, to the Philippines, to New Spain, and all the way back to Europe. As you can expect, life is never boring when it comes to Half-cocked Jack. Thus will you see him play several disparate roles throughout his tribulations around the world: a slave, a pirate, a dubious sort of merchant, a sailor, a pawn, a prisoner, a king, a leader of man, etc, but always a scoundrel!;-)
As Jack and his cohort visit all those different and exotic locations, Stephenson's genius is once more apparent. Every little detail is present in the narration, from the historical and political perspectives all the way to to every nation's typical clothing and habits.
Eliza also plays a key role in this novel. With the grand conflict between France and England, she appears caught between the two nations. Playing both sides against the middle, and at times using her machinations to the benefit of one king or another, Eliza is gradually changing people's perceptions concerning commerce. Ideas begin to take shape, slowly bringing new and thought-provoking concepts into play, which will irrevocably alter the manner in which people perceive and do business.
Eliza is also becoming more and more of a tramp, however. One of her lovers hold a key position in Louis XIV's court, allowing her to work her "magic."
The ending promises a lot to come in the final volume, The System of the World. I just can't wait to read it!!:-) This one remains as ambitious, intoxicating, creative and thrilling as Quicksilver.
Since there is an ever-growing number of people who visit these parts, and since no one wants to waste time perusing every post I've written thus far, here is a little index of what's been happening since the beginning of the year.:-)
- The Book of Words trilogy (J. V. Jones): Book review (My very first. . . And worst!) - Children of Amarid (David B. Coe): Book review - The Outlanders (David B. Coe): Book review - La Crème de la Crème (part 1): A list of my all-time favourites - Eagle-Sage (David B. Coe): Book review
- Fall from Grace: David Eddings article - Shadowmarch (Tad Williams): Book review - Things that make you go hmmm. . .: Terry Goodkind article - La Crème de la Crème (part 2): A list of my all-time favourites - Ship of Magic (Robin Hobb): Book review - Close but no cigar: A list of runner-ups that almost made it to my all-time favourites' list - Mad Ship (Robin Hobb): Book review - Around the World: Budget traveling article - Ship of Destiny (Robin Hobb): Book review
- Top 5 Ongoing Fantasy Series: Poll results - The Runes of the Earth (Stephen R. Donaldson): Book review - Europe's Low-Cost Airlines: Budget traveling article - Favourite Fantasy Authors of All Time: Poll results - Tad Williams Interview: Interview - The Silences of Home (Caitlin Sweet): Book review - Best Fantasy Series of All Time: Poll results - Hostels around Europe: Budget traveling article - Quicksilver (Neal Stephenson): Book review
- L. E. Modesitt, jr. Interview: Interview - So you want to be a book reviewer?: Article - Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (Matthew Stover): Book review - Favourite Fantasy/Scifi Characters of All Time: Poll results
Once again, this last poll was immensely popular! Many thanks to everyone who participated. But compiling the results was quite a pain in the butt, however! The lists that people have submitted were so disparate. It made the job of tallying the votes a very tedious one. But here are the results!!!:-)
This will be the last poll for a little while. I need a break from compiling the results from all these polls!!!
I invite everyone to comment on the list, as always.:-)
Favorite Fantasy/Scifi Characters of all Time
1- Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin) 2- Roland Deschain (The Dark Tower by Stephen King) 3- Jimmy the Hand (Riftwar and Serpentwar sagas by Raymond E. Feist) 4- FitzChivalry Farseer (The Farseer and The Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb) 5- Nighteyes (The Farseer and the Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb) --------------------------------- 6- Mat Cauthon (The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan) 7- Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman) 8- Gandalf the Grey (Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien) 9- Simon (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams) 10- Jon Snow (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin)
Honorable mentions: - Pug (Raymond E. Feist) - The Fool (Robin Hobb) - Faramir (J. R. R. Tolkien) - Paul Atreides ( Frank Herbert) - Gerald Tarrant (C. S. Friedman) - Death (Terry Pratchett) - Thomas Covenant (Stephen R. Donaldson)
Hmmm. . . I have always been capable to refrain myself from reading a Star Wars novel before the movie comes out. How could I possibly deprive myself from fully enjoying the upcoming film by discovering all of its secrets before it is even released? I'm afraid that I'm one of those hardcore fans. I won't sink so low as to dress up as a character, but I'm a Star Wars fan to the marrow of my bones. I'll soon turn 31 years of age. Which means that I grew up with the original trilogy. Images of what used to be known solely as Star Wars are the earliest memories I have of my childhood. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures are among the first toys I remember playing with. The subsequent release of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi marked my childhood years. Later on, in high school, I relived the excitement with Timothy Zahn's excellent trilogy of books. My mouth watered at the thought of buying the original trilogy of movies, remastered with digital sound and image. Then came the Star Wars New Editions. I stood in line for 4 to 6 hours, once in a snow storm and once in freezing rain (welcome to Montreal!), just to make sure that I would get a ticket for the premiere of each movie. Idem for The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Thank God the tickets became available in April or May, with more pleasant weather for a guy standing in line, waiting for the tickets to become available! Understandably, I have all the videos, DVDs, soundtracks (even the original anthology). So in light of all this, I figure that I could be called a fan!;-)
Went to the bookstore with my friend Pat during our lunch break on Sunday. That was when I realized that the book was already out. He asked me if I was going to read it. Of course, I said I wouldn't. Well, the very next day I was buying it. So much for self-control, eh!?!:-) But this has been 28 years in the making!!!
By the way, I have finished Neal Stephenson's The Confusion, so expect a book review soon. I thought I'd write it before reading Revenge of the Sith. Alas, I finished the novel in less than 24 hours.
It is not my intention to reveal all of the film's secrets. But it is impossible to write an appropriate book review without including some spoilers. So be forewarned: If you read beyond this point, whether you like it or not, some secrets will be revealed. But since many of them are already known, it is not much of an issue.
What's the movie's premise, you ask? Well, the Clone Wars have lasted for years now. The Separatists have been battering the Republic almost to the point of collapse. Darth Sidious, who orchestrated the civil war and feeds its fire under the guise of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, continues to strip away constitutional rights in order to, ostensibly, safeguard the faltering Republic. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi have become war heroes, but the Clone Wars are decimating the Jedi Order. And led by the military genius of General Grievous (yes, the name is quite lame), the Separatists are getting bolder and bolder, killing millions of people in the process. The story begins with one such bold move, as Separatists attack Coruscant itself and kidnap the Supreme Chancellor.
Let's focus on the novel itself for a minute. I've never read anything by Matthew Stover. And frankly, I probably never will. I am acutely aware that this is the adaptation of a screenplay. But regardless, a little more substance would have been appreciated. I know that this one is certain to hit the NYT list, so Del Rey were well aware that it was pointless to give this assignment to one of their top talents. But folks, this is a far cry from Zahn's work. Lately, I have been reading the prose of such authors as Robin Hobb, Stephen R. Donaldson and Neal Stephenson. Let's just say that you'll never hear Stover's name mentioned with the aforementioned writers. In itself, unless you are a collector or if you want to read it now, there will be little point in buying or reading this book following opening day.
What makes Revenge of the Sith different from its two predecessors? Well, it is packed with action from start to finish. Indeed, there are more lightsaber fights than in the other five movies combined!:-) More violence, which undoubtedly explains why this one will be PG-13. It starts with a bang, with both Anakin and Obi-Wan rushing to Palpatine's rescue.
If I were to write a synopsis of the storyline, readers would be thrilled at the pace and depth of this last chapter in the trilogy. Unfortunately, two major obstacles could prevent this film from being as good as it could and should be. Number 1: the dialogues often leave a lot to be desired. Too many one-liners, delievered to convey a little humour, but which don't always have a place in this darkest chapter of the saga. Number 2: everything hinges on Hayden Christensen's performance. Anakin's fall to the dark side of the Force takes central stage in this one, and the actor has shown just how inappropriate he could be in Attack of the Clones. So we'll have to see if he can pull this off. . .
Surprisingly, Padmé plays a secondary role in this film. Her love for Anakin is tearing her heart apart, as she gradually discovers how far gone her husband is. And the fact that she is pregnant, if it becomes public knowledge, could force Anakin to leave the Jedi Order.
Another key player is Darth Sidious. Ian McDiarmid's performance could make or break this movie. The Sith Lord is more powerful than the Jedi have ever imagined. There is a very big surprise concerning the man who'll become Emperor, but I don't want to spoil it by revealing this secret!;-) Nor will I disclose just how he'll manage to turn Anakin to the dark side.
Obi-Wan also plays an important role, as always. Witnessing his dearest friend's fall into the darkness will shake him to the core of his being, but still he trusts Anakin to be true to his Jedi heritage. Of course, we all know that he will end up defeating his former apprentice, leaving him for dead in a lava pit. But I'm not about to tell you how it's going to take place!
The Jedi are spread far and wide, in an attempt to restore peace and end the Clone Wars. But the Separatists have grown stronger, creating droids that can kill powerful Jedi Knights. General Grievous himself owns 4 lightsabers, trophies of his Jedi kills. As public opinion is turned against them, the Supreme Chancellor boldly makes a political move that seeks to put the Jedi Council under his authority. When the truth is finally revealed, that Palpatine himself is the Sith Lord, could it be too late for them? I will say no more, but the film will answer the question as to why Yoda and Obi-Wan are the sole remaining Jedi in the original trilogy.
The movie starts with a bang and ends with one. Of course, you have guessed it: the raising of Darth Vader. If the film is done well, the last 30 or 45 minutes should keep us to the edge of our seat!;-)
Ultimately, is this one good? Damn right it is!:-) Will this last chapter somehow bridge the quality gap between the 2 trilogies? I'm afraid not. But Revenge of the Sith has the potential of being the very best of the new trilogy, head and shoulders above the others.
Having said that, will I stand in line for hours to have the chance to be at the premiere at midnight on May 19th? You better believe it!
Regardless of what detractors claim; regardless of how bad Attack of the Clones was; regardless of what all those haters have been saying for the last 3 years; regardless of the negativity that seems to surround the release of this film; regardless of the fact that this one will once again rely way too much on special effects; regardless of the fact that some actors will conceivably offer poor performances; regardless of all that, I believe that Revenge of the Sith will capture the essence of the original Star Wars movies. Hence, I cannot wait for this film to hit the silver screen! Forget the hype and just enjoy it!:-)
Ever since I've been recognized as an "official" book reviewer by a number of publishers, and with my status pending with a number of others, people have been asking me how I managed to achieve that particular status. Ostensibly, they show interest in the book reviewing thing, yet most of those curious people are undoubtedly more interested in how to get free review copies of their favourite authors' novels!;-)
Truth to tell, I haven't replied to such inquiries so far because I haven't the faintest idea how it all happened. Nonetheless, I will try to explain. Because if I was able to do this, it stands to reason that almost anyone can possibly do the same.:-)
Shortly following the Holidays, I decided to create a weblog. In order to see how the whole process worked, I had no choice but to create one. Having no idea what it would be about, I elected to somehow do something that would have to do with fantasy novels. Not long after that, book reviews became the perfect fit for this new blog.
Quite obviously, in order to become a book reviewer, one must write book reviews. But that's easier said than done, I soon discovered. As a matter of fact, I had never before written a book review. And writing a "full" review is quite different from chatting about a particular novel on a message board.
For the format of those reviews, I had very little idea about what I wanted to do. But I was sick and tired of those amazon.com and Kirkus reviews, in which you basically get a short synopsis of the book and a few sentences containing opinions. I wanted something more substantial.
Hence, without giving too much away, I wanted to paint the "big picture" of each book I read. Good or bad, I wanted to be as objective as I could. Since I've started doing just that, a lot of people have commented on my candor and objectivity. I guess I'm not doing too bad!;-)
What exactly makes a good book review, you ask? Honestly, I have no idea. I believe it's different from person to person. You tell me! After all, about 2000 visitors log on to this blog every month to read my rambling thoughts! No but seriously, what I attempt to do is to break the novel down and evaluate certain aspects such as worldbuilding, the characterizations, the prose, the flow, etc.
Many book reviewers seem to have the "holier than thou" attitude, and appear intent on bashing certain books or authors. Some get so deep and philosophical that after a few lines you cannot even remember that you are supposed to be reading a book review. As my weblog's header proclaims, I want to share my love of the fantasy genre other readers. Which means that I want to spread the word about what's good on the market. This doesn't mean that I'll refrain from pointing out bad or sub par novels/series, far from it. But I'm certainly not here to mud-sling anyone. I would rather let people know about what's great, thus pointing them toward books and series they'll hopefully enjoy. I am persuaded that this positive approach appeals more to publishers. The fact that my reviews may encourage people to buy/read certain books cannot hurt.
Secondly, you need a place to showcase your work. Insofar, I have found the weblog format to be perfect. it's free, easy to use, and not very time-consuming. It's pretty basic, yes, and yet one must not lose track of the fact that people are coming over to read articles and book reviews.
And last, but certainly not least, you need people. And that is the difficult part. No matter how good those book reviews ultimately are, if you don't have a following, it's not worth a whole lot. So where does one find a following? Well, that's a wee bit unclear. . .
My weblog was created a little over three months ago. At that time, I was telling myself that if I ever acquired about 30 regulars with whom I could discuss fantasy novels, I would be a happy camper. During those days, I was posting occasionally on message boards such as wotmania.com, shadowmarch.com and hallofworlds.net. A link to the blog was included in my posts, but I doubted that it attracted more than a few curious souls. About 6 weeks following the creation of the weblog, I added a site meter, more out of curiosity than anything else. That first week, it attracted more than 400 people. At that period of time, I thought I had about a dozen people checking out the site per month! I was blown away. As matters stand right now, the blog attracts an average of 500 people per week, from 19 different countries. The very thought is a bit overwhelming. . .:-)
In the weeks that followed, I was fortunate enough to secure interviews with David B. Coe and Tad Williams, to be hired by an independent magazine (Gryphonwood Press), to have Robin Hobb encourage her fans to visit my weblog, and to have my reviews appear on another website (worldsoffantasy.net).
Following our interview, I stayed in touch with Coe, who told me that at some point I should consider contacting publishers in order to be recognized as an official book reviewer. Not exactly knowing what it took to be recognized as such, after a while I decided to give it a try. I wrote publishers a letter explaining what the weblog was all about, including my site meter statistics pertaining to traffic, time zones, etc. I invited them to peruse the content of the blog and to offer comments on what they enjoyed/disliked. I included a link to the independent magazine's website and to worldsoffantasy.net. I enumerated the message boards on which I could be found, and which usersname I utilized (so they could get a better opinion of me). And lastly, I included a list of titles I'd love to review in the future.
Well, as the weeks went by, I received packages with free books (some I had asked for, others not), or inquiries for more information. Of some publishers, I have not heard anything. So this is how it all began. This entire weblog sort of happened by accident. And now, a few short weeks later, I'm writing book reviews and articles, I'm doing free books, and I've been receiving free books!;-)
So as you can see, it need not be as difficult as it appears. So perhaps many of you can become "official" book reviewers as well!:-)
I am acutely aware that the fact that my weblog caters exclusively to a fantasy-reading audience probably had a lot to do with my new status with publishers. But the same can be said of a lot of you, I'll wager. So best of luck to you all!
It is with great pleasure that I post this new interview. I want to thank Mr. Modesitt, who was gracious enough to answer all the questions that were submitted to him. Many thanks also to all of you who sent their own questions. As you can see, several were selected to comprise this interview.
L. E. Modesitt, jr. is the author of three fantasy series, The Saga of Recluce, The Spellsong Cycle and The Corean Chronicles. He has also written a vast number of science fiction novels, including the series The Ecolitan Matter, The Forever Hero, Timegods' World and The Ghost Books.
1- For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of the RECLUCE Saga.
First off, the saga of Recluce is not a standard series. Although there are currently 13 books, there are no more than two books about any one group of main characters. The novels are set in differing time periods across roughly 1900 years in history of the world. Each book is written as a stand-alone, although it is generally better to read the first book about a given character, and I do suggest reading the very first book –- The Magic of Recluce – before the others.The magic system is based on a “rationalized” and logical application of order and chaos, but, while black mages use order magery, and white wizards favor chaos magic, order and chaos do not automatically equate to good and evil. Some of the books are written from the “black” viewpoint and others from the “white” viewpoint.
There’s also a misconception, whose origin baffles me, that I always write about young men growing up. That’s simply not accurate. Certainly, this is true of some of the characters, particularly Lerris [The Magic of Recluce], Cerryl [The White Order], and Lorn [Magi’i of Cyador], but it is far from universally true. Nylan [Fall of Angels] is in his late 30s; Justen in his late 20s; and Kharl [Wellpsring of Chaos]is married with two children when the book opens.I do have a common plot theme in all the books, in that my main characters do learn a few things as matters develop, but what’s the point of writing about protagonists who don’t?
2- Same as the first question, but in regards to THE SPELLSONG CYCLE.
The Spellsong Cycle is a very different fantasy series, for a number of reasons. First, all five books are written from the female point of view. Second, the main character of the first three – Anna – is a woman in her late 40s or early 50s with grown children. She’s a divorced singer and music professor who has just lost a daughter and who wishes she were anywhere else. She finds herself in a world where magic is controlled by the application of accurate song and accompaniment. It’s also a world that is incredibly chauvinistic. She is potentially one of the most powerful sorceresses that world has known – if she can survive long enough to learn how.
The last two books are about Anna’s foster daughter – Secca – some thirty years later. Secca inherits Anna’s role – and responsibilities – and enemies who have been biding their time for years. Secca is no child, either, but a woman in her mid-30s.This series tends to polarize readers more. Many of those who like it are almost fanatical, but I also have heard from readers who like it far less than my other fantasies. Despite the fact that I do not write about sex, or graphic violence, the last book in the series -- Shadowsinger – did win an award from Romantic Times Bookclub for the best epic fantasy of 2002, as well as a starred review from Booklist.
3- Same as the first question, but in regards to THE COREAN CHRONICLES.
The Corean Chronicles are a work earlier in progress than the other fantasy series. So far the first “trilogy” has been published, all about a young man named Alucius. He has been raised as a nightsheep herder by his mother and grandfather, in a world where, thousands of years earlier, a great magical civilization fell, yet where isolated eternal towers still stand and great highways, impervious to time, cross the continent of Corus. Nightsheep are not like any sheep we know. Their “wool” is black, and when processed, turns into the equivalent of fabric plate armor. Their horns are razor-sharp, and a ram could gut an earthly tiger without raising a sweat. They need those defenses because the predators who prey on them are even more fearsome. Unfortunately, Alucius lives in a poorly-governed state, threatened on all sides, and he ends up, as soon as he turns of age, conscripted into the militia. His training by his grandsire and the talents that enable him to be a nightsheep herder do not save him from capture by the troops of the Matrial – an eternal ruler who is recovering much of the lost magical technology of the vanished Duarchy.
The second “trilogy” begins with Alector’s Choice, scheduled for June 2005 release by Tor. This book takes place thousands of years earlier, in the days of the Duarchy, and follows the acts and careers of two individuals. One is Mykel, a captain of the Cadmian Mounted Rifles, and the other is Dainyl, one of the magically-Talented alectors who rule the world of Acorus and who are using human beings to make it more habitable for full colonization by the alectors. Dainyl is a colonel and third in command of the Myrmidons – those who fly the pteridons and enforce the will of the Duarches through their expertise and superior weapons. A rebellion breaks out, and the ancient soarers – the original inhabitants of Acorus – reappear.
In the Corean Chronicles, magic, or “Talent,” is linked to the very lifeforces of the world, exemplifying a Gaiean concept of world structure.
4- What role does magic play in each of those 3 series? How does the magical system work in each universe?
As I’ve noted elsewhere, I don’t believe magic – or technology – solves anything. It only makes matters more complex and harder to resolve, and that’s certainly true in all three series.
5- The RECLUCE saga has garnered what can best be described as a cult following. You have stated in the past that you don't believe it will ever become "mainstream." With that in mind, how rewarding is it to realize how successful the series has been and continues to be to this day?
I think it’s fair to say that every author hopes that his or her work will not only be read, but will continue to be read. That mine has been received well and continues to be read is extremely personally gratifying, and I feel very fortunate in that.
6- I have to admit that the reason which compelled me to buy THE MAGIC OF RECLUCE, in 1992, was Darrell K. Sweet's cover art. Like Robert Jordan's THE WHEEL OF TIME, the entire RECLUCE saga has distinctive cover art, giving each book some sort of visual continuity. How important is cover art to you, in terms of a marketing tool?
According to surveys by the publishing industry, cover art is the single most important factor in attracting readers, particularly new readers. My editor, David Hartwell, has worked very hard with Irene Gallo, the art director at Tor, and her predecessors, and with the artists to obtain art which represents the spirit of what I write. Darrell K. Sweet is particularly good in his use of color, especially, in my view, in such things as skies, buildings, and sunsets.
All in all, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my cover art, and I’m very grateful that I have been, because the covers are extremely important in today’s book-selling world.
7- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write each series in the first place?
The Saga of Recluce was generated by my very first con, BaltiCon, when I was placed on a panel that discussed economics, politics, and technology in fantasy and science fiction. In the process, I realized that I’d never seen a fantasy that tried to integrate all those factors within a rationalized structure. So I wrote The Magic of Recluce to see if it could be done. Before that, I’d written about seven or eight science fiction novels, but no fantasy.
The Spellsong Cycle came about because I’m married to an opera singer who is also a professor and the director of a university opera program. I was thinking about the rational [again] application of song as a way of controlling magic, when I realized that it wasn’t possible from within the culture – because of the power constraints. So... I thought about what would happen if someone like Carol Ann were placed in such a situation… and the books developed from that.
The Corean Chronicles… I’m not sure that they had a genesis in anything so concrete as the earlier two series. I did want to write a series where magic was tied to the very environment itself, and I just kept playing with the possibilities and concepts until I had something I liked.
8- What authors have had the biggest influence on you?
Probably William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden. I did start out as a poet, you know. I just never got beyond the small magazines and rejections from the Yale Younger Poet’s competition.
9- Is there a character that you particularly enjoy/enjoyed writing? Why is that? By the same token, is there a character that you absolutely don't/didn't like writing about? For what reason?
I’d have to say that I’ve probably enjoyed writing Johan Eschbach in the “Ghost” books [my alternate history series in a world where ghosts are indeed real and can be measured with scientific instruments] and Anna Marshall of the Spellsong series. I just liked Johan, identified with him. As for Anna, it was a challenge to write from the female perspective.
I can’t say there are characters I disliked writing. There are a number of characters I wrote, however, that I would never wish to meet in person.
10- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
I used to think that I could define that. I’m no longer sure that I can. According to my editors, I’m a very good technical writer. I’d like to think that I’m able to present a more complex vision of the conflicts my characters face without losing the ability to entertain my readers.
11- Do you have a different approach when it comes to writing fantasy or science fiction?
As far as the basic approach goes… no. The underlying rules differ, and I have to keep that in mind.
12- Few authors are capable to jumping from fantasy to science fiction and maintain the high level of quality for which they are known in either one of the genres. But apparently, you manage to do so with baffling ease. What is your secret?
I don’t know that it’s a secret. Books, whether they’re science fiction or fantasy, should tell stories about people. Most readers, and certainly most of my readers, like to identify with or understand the characters. For me, while the magic should be logical or the technology possible, both are tools in the hands of the characters. For me, the characters are what make or break a book, although the setting and background certainly have to work as well.
13- The entire SPELLSONG CYCLE was told from a female perspective. And according to both readers and reviewers, you did so very convincingly. In this day and age where men have almost given up on trying to understand women, how were you able to pull this off!?!
It might have something to do with my life – and my failures. After three marriages and six headstrong daughters, I’ve been forced to learn a great deal. Remember, I didn’t write the Spellsong Cycle until after I married Carol Ann, and after my daughters were mostly grown. In such matters, I’ve been a slow learner, but eventually, I have learned a few things.
14- We spoke a few years back, and you were telling me that you doubted that your novels would ever be translated in French. Imagine my surprise when, last summer, I saw French translations of your books in Paris! Have you sold foreign rights in many languages? How does it feel to now have the possibility to share your books with people from around the globe, in different languages?
I had my doubts about being published in French for several reasons. First, translation from English to French increases the length of the books by as much as 40%. This increases costs. That’s why you seldom see large translated books in French unless they are books “guaranteed” to sell many, many thousands of copies. I don’t write short books, and my books are complex. That means they’re hard, if not impossible, to condense without losing much of the underlying support. Some readers would prefer that, I know, but most of mine would not.
So, initially, most of the translations of my books were into Germanic and Slavic languages, rather than romance languages.
However, recently that’s changed. There’s the French edition of The Magic of Recluce, and the first Corean book has appeared in Italian, and the second will in early May of this year.All told, I’ve had books translated into eight languages other than English. Because French is the only language I read besides English, I can only hope the other translations are good!
15- What author makes you shake your head in admiration?
I really don’t follow authors per se. I tend to look at particular books, or poems, and I’m not comfortable making a statement in print about such. There are many works I’ve admired, but for many different reasons. To list those and why would take too much space, and to list just a few would be grossly unfair to those not listed.
16- Thus far, the RECLUCE saga is composed of 13 books. Only two of them occur in the "present" of the RECLUCE timeline, while all the others take place in its "past." Are there any plans to write a number of books taking place in the "future," since you have left a lot of things up in the air at the end of THE DEATH OF CHAOS?
As I have said, there will be no books set chronologically after The Death of Chaos. There are very good and structurally-based reasons why not, but to explain why not would reveal more than would be fair to those who have not read that far.
17- I know that you were not asked to participate in the first LEGENDS anthology. But were you asked to contribute to the second one? Many believe that you deserve to be a part of such a project.
I was never approached for any of the Legends anthologies.
18- Is a World Fantasy Award something you covet?
I certainly wouldn’t turn one down, and it would be nice to have one, but I can’t say I ‘covet’ one. I think it’s highly unlikely that I will ever be nominated, let alone receive one, because while my readership certainly includes devoted fantasy readers, my readers also come from many other areas, and because I’m a lousy literary politician.
19- You have claimed that Tom Doherty is one of the most underappreciated men in fantasy. What do you mean by that?
Tom Doherty is one of the few visionary publishers. He also has always been willing to allow his editors freedom in publishing a wide range of authors. His vision and energy have taken Tor from being something like the fifth largest publisher of F&SF in the U.S. in 1983 or thereabouts to the largest in the world today. He’s courteous, but direct. He doesn’t hide behind subterfuges, and he understands how the publishing business operates – all the way from the creative side to end-point sales – far better than do the bookstore chains. He’s a consummate salesman, and he’s also an excellent editor. And yet, I’ve seen very little recognition of Tom as an individual – just the recognition of Tor itself.
20- Does each new book you publish attract more readers than the one before? Or are your sales relatively steady, meaning that you have a loyal following? I ask, because at times it's as if you are fantasy best-kept secret.
I’m told that, over the years, my sales have continued to increase, although they don’t necessarily increase book by book. One book may sell about the same as the last, and then the sales of the next several may increase significantly.
I’ve often joked that I’m the most anonymous, best-selling author in the field. Part of that is, I believe, because a larger portion of my sales than of many other authors comes from readers outside the field. So, while my sales increase, my visibility inside the F&SF field doesn’t necessarily increase correspondingly.
Then, too, it could be that I’m just not charismatic. A number of years ago, I did a signing at a book store in London, and near the end, a gentleman appeared and said that he very much enjoyed my work. I asked him if he’d like me to sign a book for him, and he replied, “Oh, no. I’m not interested in you. I just like your books.”
21- Is the RECLUCE universe vaster than the island continents we see on the map? If so, will we ever discover what lies beyond?
Both Ordermaster and Wellspring of Chaos reveal more details about Austra and Nordla, since most of the events take place there, as well as a few scenes in Hamor. Over time, I hope to explore more areas.
22- What was the hardest part of the entire process involved in the writing of the RECLUCE saga? Each new addition reveals yet more depth to a series which has shown just how rich and complex it truly is.
I honestly can’t say that any one part has been harder than the others. When I start a new Recluce novel, however, I do take the precaution of studying the maps and my notes carefully.
23- Your science fiction novels are not as popular as your fantasy books. What can you tell us that could introduce readers to your work in that genre?
My science fiction, while also character-driven, tends to be somewhat more overtly thought-provoking than the fantasy. Most of my recent science fiction has received starred reviews from reviewers such as Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, although not universally from all of them. Flash, which came out last October, features a resigned Marine lieutenant colonel, now a media/advertising consultant who has developed a high-tech method of evaluating the success of high-tech product placement advertising on the world-wide entertainment nets of the 22nd century. When he takes a contract for a public interest group to look into the application of these techniques to politics, people start trying to kill him and his family, and replica clones of him appear in illegal actions. Add to that the subversion of police AI nets, and a renegade AI, as well as the rebellion of a Mars colony against its corporate sponsors. The book is not only action-filled, but explores just what happens when the regulations of society, designed to protect us, become a trap where, if Jonat obeys the rules, he dies, and if he doesn’t, he has to go against everything he believes in.
24- What can you tell us of your future projects? Any chance of a new SPELLSONG novel?
A new Spellsong novel is unlikely at any time in the near future.
The next novel after Alector’s Choice is The Eternity Artifact, a stand-alone SF novel set some 4,000 years in the future. Mankind has explored much of the Galaxy, but has encountered no alien sentient life – until a strange planet is discovered at the edge of the Galaxy – with an abandoned and perfectly preserved single huge city upon it – and nothing else. The city is over 5 billion years old and contains advanced and inexplicable materials and technology. Every major government either wants to monopolize the city or deny to everyone, which creates considerable difficulties for the members of the science team trying to unravel those mysteries. I’m currently working on the second book of the second Corean trilogy, and will probably write the third one after that, followed by another SF novel.
25- What is your work ethic? You appear to be the only fantasy/scifi writer capable of putting out 2 or 3 books a year, and big books to boot.
First off, I happen to like to write. I admit that there are days when it’s a bit harder to get the first words on the screen, so to speak, but I can’t imagine anything else that I would enjoy doing so much as I do writing, and since I’ve had experience in a number of fields over the years before I was able to become a full-time writer, I’m not at all tempted to change full-time professions again. Second, for better or worse, I was raised by parents with a love of language and an incredible work ethic. They also had high expectations. Third, it’s become very clear that if I want to remain a successful writer I need to write books regularly. Readers do not pay for books writers do not write. For these reasons, I attempt to maintain a writing schedule of between 8 and 12 hours a day. I use the word “attempt” advisedly, because there are always interruptions, either from dogs who need to be fed and walked, meals that need to be prepared, and from all the other non-occupational miscellany of life.
I appreciate having the chance to ramble on at length, and hope my comments will provide some additional insight to present readers and intrigue possible new readers.
Well, there wasn't supposed to be another poll for some time, but Karen at robinhobb.com has beaten me to it!;-) So I have no choice now but to go along with her idea! Which was going to be a future poll, anyway!:-)
So this around we'll compile a list of your favorite fantasy characters of all time. You know how it works, so it's now time to vote!!!