Many of you will recognize John Palencar's cover which initially was meant to be used for Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds. Later on, David Hartwell used it for what came to be known as the Palencar Project. Interestingly enough, L. E. Modesitt, jr., one of the authors invited to submit a story based on Palencar's illustration, quickly realized that he had more than a short story in the works when he simply couldn't stop writing. Hence, he wrote an entirely different story, "New World Blues," for the Palencar Project (which is included at the back of the novel). And when he completed the installment of the Imager Portfolio he was working on, he resumed writing the story that ultimately became The One-Eyed Man.
I've always been a big fan of Modesitt, but I'm behind on a number of his series. This stand-alone science fiction title was thus the perfect opportunity for me to read something new from this quality author. And once again, I wasn't disappointed!
Here's the blurb:
The colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements. Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes—gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology—if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn.
Worldbuilding has always been an important aspect of any of Modesitt's books/series. The author never takes shortcuts and everything in his novels needs to make sense. Hence, the same can be said of Stittara's ecology and the way it affects its inhabitants. As Verano's study progresses, more and more details are unveiled about the planet's ecological balance and the potential truth about the skytubes. Add to that the politicking created by political and commercial interests pursuing their own agendas, and you end up with a multilayered plot that keeps you turning those pages.
Dr. Paulo Verano is your typical Modesitt main protagonist. Capable, intelligent, unassuming, but who won't stop at nothing in order to get the job done. The man quickly realizes that there is more than meets the eye on Stittara and that this ecological assessment could actually get him killed. The supporting cast includes a number of interesting characters, such as Kali and Aimee Vanslo. As a matter of course, Ilsabet, the woman inspired by Palencar's painting, is the most fascinating character of the novel.
Modesitt wrote another well-crafted plot which makes for a satisfying reading experience. Don't expect any bells and whistles, however, as this isn't a Sanderson book. But if you are looking for something smart, with mature characters, and several unexpected surprises along the way, The One-Eyed Man could be what the doctor ordered.
As is usually the case with any Modesitt work, it cannot be said that The One-Eyed Man is a fast-paced affair. And yet, though the rhythm is never crisp, there is not a dull moment throughout the book. Details are revealed by increments, keeping you reading chapter after chapter, as Verano's investigation slowly uncovers the hidden truths behind the delicate ecological balance of Stittara. I was captivated from start to finish!
All in all, The One-Eyed Man is another quality read that demonstrates that L. E. Modesitt, jr. remains one of the best SFF writers out there.