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L. E. Modesitt

What do an economics graduate, a bestselling fantasy author, and an ex-staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency have in common? They are all L.E. Modesitt, Jr. What is more, the creator of the hugely successful Recluce series has a long track record of producing thoughtful, hard-hitting, and controversial science fiction novels that have more than a little to say about modern America. Cheryl Morgan talked to Modesitt about his science fiction and ended up also talking about the Iraq War, religious fundamentalism, and Hurricane Katrina.

Cheryl Morgan: I guess most people know you as a fantasy writer. Your Recluce series has been phenomenally successful. But many people don't know that you write science fiction as well. What did you start out with, science fiction or fantasy?

L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I started out as a science fiction writer. My first science fiction story was published in 1973. I wrote science fiction for 17 plus years before I ever got into fantasy, and the number of books I have written in each genre is roughly equal. And yet people do think of me as a fantasy writer.

CM: What do you see yourself as?

LM: I see myself as a writer. I don't make the distinction between science fiction and fantasy. I have often said that fantasy is the broadest genre of all. Mainstream fiction is really a subset of fantasy, and so is science fiction.

CM: As in, that which we call the "real world" is only one of many possible worlds in which stories can take place? Not to mention that "realistic" fiction is about people who don't really exist. The only "real" stories are biographies, and even those are somewhat suspect.

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LM: Everything written is suspect, in that sense, because even a historian or a biographer chooses which aspects of the subject to reveal. Selective revelation of the "truth" can often be far more distorted than out-and-out fiction. That's how more than a few tyrants and dictators got started.

CM: The science fiction that you have written, or at least the part of it I have read, demonstrates a broad knowledge of economics and politics. I gather you drew here upon your work experiences before making it big as a writer.

LM: My undergraduate degree is in economics. After college I did a stint in the Navy, partly as an amphibious boat officer and partly as a search and rescue helicopter pilot. After that I went back and was an industrial economist for a while. Then I tried to sell real estate, unsuccessfully. Next I got involved in the research side of politics, which led to a job as a fairly high level Congressional staffer, and later a political appointment in the Reagan administration.

CM: So you must know how Washington works fairly well.

LM: [laughter] Unfortunately, I do understand how Washington works. That was actually the subject of one of my books, which is currently out of print. It was written in collaboration with Bruce Levinson and is called The Green Progression. Roughly 90% of what is in the book has already occurred, with the names changed to protect the guilty, and possibly to protect me from libel suits. Most people who read it dismissed it as being too fantastic. This was strange because it came out around the same time as The Magic of Recluce, which everyone was praising as a very realistic book. To this day I have trouble getting my head around the fact that the book I knew to be 90% true was dismissed as fantastical while the deliberate fantasy was praised as realistic.

CM: That's quite bizarre.

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LM: The Green Progression was the only book I have written that has bombed. It sold something like 500 hardcovers.

CM: That suggests that people really don't want to be told what real life is like.

LM: I'd have to say that. I think part of it also has to do with readership. Although I think my readership is broader than that of many people in the field, it still includes many people who are looking for an escape. They don't want to be reminded of reality. That book was pretty direct in reminding people how the federal government worked.

CM: Nevertheless, fantasy and science fiction can be fairly effective at teaching people how the real world works by pretending to be "just fantasy."

LM: I think that's part of my success. Some of what I have written, perhaps all of it, takes familiar dilemmas and places them in settings in which people can look at them more objectively because they are removed from their day-to-day existence.

CM: Another strong theme that comes through in your books is an interest in classical music. I believe that your wife has a professional interest in this.

LM: More than a professional interest. She is a professional opera singer and heads the opera program at Southern Utah University and recently became Chair of the Music Department. She has toured many parts of the world, has appeared at Carnegie Hall, and has written widely in scholarly journals in the music field. I have to say that I owe pretty much everything I know about music to her. She is one of the people that I really do listen to.

CM: Do you sing or play yourself?

LM: I was possibly the world's worst clarinetist. I played clarinet for about five years in grade school and junior high school, and I'd have to say that my playing was off-tune and mechanical, and that's being charitable.

CM: Ah well, you were probably a better clarinet player than I have been at anything musical.

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But that does bring us into the books because the first novel of yours I read, Archform: Beauty, is very much about music, or perhaps more broadly about art. To use a popular phrase, it appears to be about "dumbing down."

LM: I don't know if it is about "dumbing down," but it is about art. I'm going to have to digress on this one. Several years ago I did a talk at Brigham Young University, and I made the observation in the talk that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, or in the ear of the listener. Beauty is by itself a real quality. If we knew how, we could measure it objectively. The analogy I gave is that Roman engineers built bridges that have lasted for centuries. They did not have calculus or stress factor analysis or any of the modern tools that we have. Nonetheless, a lot of what they built is unsurpassed from both an artistic and engineering viewpoint. I feel the same way about beauty. Just because at this point we cannot measure it objectively doesn't mean that objective beauty doesn't exist. If you talk about beauty being subjective you relegate it almost to the realm of moral relativism. I think that's a very dangerous place to go.

CM: In the book you talk about beauty much more widely than just images. You suggest that there is beauty in structure, beauty in the quality of a mathematical solution.

LM: Absolutely, and I believe that. I think I wrote something along the lines of, "a beautiful solution is workable and elegant as well." All things if they are done well have an element of beauty in them. Quality is inseparable from beauty, at least in my view.

CM: There is also a suggestion to the book that pandering to the masses is not beautiful; that if you give the people what they want that's not art.

LM: That's not quite what I said in the book. I made the observation that genius and excellence are not the same thing as popularity, and indeed genius is very seldom recognized in the life of the artist. Mozart is a pretty good example. He was only the third or fourth most popular composer in his lifetime. People such as Salieri had their works performed far more often than did Mozart while they were alive. Nobody even knows who most of those composers are today, and most people would not even know who Salieri was had it not been for the play and movie, Amadeus. But Mozart's music is that which has survived because of its genius and quality.

Now Mozart was a difficult individual. If you read his biographies closely you will see that he was more than a jerk in a personal sense. But he was also a genius. The problem is that genius does not sit well with people in terms of popularity, because popularity is a measure of the public's ability to identify with the celebrities. We can identify with a rock star who can't sing really well because we can't sing well. It is harder to identify with a classical singer who sings every note perfectly on tune and in tempo. They get dismissed, and I think that's mainly because people don't want to make the effort to understand genius.

CM: Or maybe they feel threatened by it.

LM: I think both are factors, because genius reminds us that we aren't that good. We all want to think of ourselves as good. I want to think of myself as the best author out there. I suspect most of my colleagues also want to think that of themselves.

CM: Yes, I'm sure most people want to be the best at what they are doing.

LM: But what if being the best is incompatible with being the most popular?

CM: As you said, it generally is.

LM: Which means that an artist or writer has to tread a very fine line. It doesn't do you any good to be the best if you don't get published.

CM: Right, and equally there's a fairly obvious difference between a judged award and a popular vote award.

LM: Having been in both of those fields to some degree, I can agree with that. I was a World Fantasy Award judge, and a lot of what was popular didn't get awards that year, or any other year. Some of what does well in the Hugos, frankly, I would hold my nose at.

And there are strange things that go on in this whole award business. I have been publishing science fiction and fantasy now for over thirty years as a professional. Outside of one mass nomination for the British Fantasy Awards several years ago, I have never even been nominated for a "national" award in fantasy or science fiction. On the other hand I have been nominated five times for awards in romance, and I have now won two Romantic Times awards. This is interesting, because I don't write sex.

CM: I'm stunned. I wouldn't have described those books of yours I have read as being romantic.

Anyway, to get back to Archform: Beauty for a moment, I was quite struck by the character of Chris Kemal. The guy is an out and out gangster, and he has a number of people murdered during the book. And yet you make it clear in the book that he is a devoted family man and that he's doing all of these things because he wants to make his family wealthy and provide a safe future for them.

LM: And he is absolutely faithful to his wife, whom he loves dearly. He's trying to raise his children in the best way he knows. There's a contemporary message behind this. I have seen too often in politics recently the assumption that if someone is a good family man then he is a good person. I don't believe that. I believe that to be a good person you must be so in all aspects of life. You can be a good family man like Chris Kemal and still do things in public that are absolutely reprehensible.

The idea that being a good family man makes you a good person is an unfounded generalization that has crept horribly into American politics. And looking back, some of our best Presidents, and doubtless the best politicians in other countries, have been very bad family men. You have to ask the question, what qualities do we want for what position? If we are talking raising children then being a good family man is great; if we are talking about being President then I'm a bit more interested in how they'll handle public policy.

CM: Right. There's always this great dichotomy between British and French politics whereby a British politician is expected to resign if it is discovered that he has a mistress and a French politician is regarded as inept if he doesn't have a mistress.

LM: I'd heard that. In the American system it is more like you have your beautiful, dutiful trophy wife, and you can't get elected unless you have all the other women in the country lusting after you, but you mustn't do anything about it. At least not overtly. American politicians are evaluated at least in part on their sex appeal to women. What does that have to do with whether they are good at the job?

CM: That might explain why you haven't had any female presidents yet.

LM: That's true.

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CM: Let's move on to the next book, The Ethos Effect. There's a much more serious moral question in this book. What you are talking about is, "How far does one have to go in order to fight evil?"

LM: That's a very good question, but there's also another one I'm asking at the same time. It is, "Can a culture be so bad, and so warped, that the only valid way to protect the other cultures around it is to destroy it? And if so, what does that do to the destroyer?"

CM: In order to answer such questions you have to pose a more fundamental question, "Is there such a thing as an absolute standard of ethics?"

LM: Yes, I did, and I think that's the most interesting facet of the novel. What I said in the book is that I do believe that there is an absolute standard of ethics, but I believe that it is impractical to try to enforce it on a society-wide basis because the slippery line between moral relativism and an absolute standard of ethics is so narrow that most people can't straddle it. What I'm arguing is that for every situation in the universe there is indeed an absolute morally correct position to take, but it depends on the situation that you are in. And because of that, every human being will rationalize that his or her situation is different. Therefore you can rationalize doing anything on the grounds that it is morally correct as it applies to you. I'm not supporting that, but it is the potential downside of this particular position.

CM: You say at one point that people have a habit of picking facts to support what they want to be true rather than finding out what is true by looking at the facts. You can see that very clearly just by following commentary on any contentious political position on people's blogs on the Internet.

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LM: That is what I call the Delusion of Rationality, and I have used the idea in other books. In fact in my recently released book, The Eternity Artifact, I use that exact term. I believe that it is a human trait. We make most of our decisions on an emotional, personal basis, and then we go seek the facts and say, "Yes, I was right." And by the way this is one of the best arguments for having the broadest possible education at the youngest possible age. Given that we are going to make decisions emotionally, we want people's emotions to be based on as broad as possible a knowledge of the world.

CM: You say at one point in the book that the reason religious systems based on divine revelation are so popular is that nobody can agree on an ethical code devised by people whereas if they are presented one delivered from On High they can't argue with it.

LM: I think that's absolutely true, and if you look at ethical systems there isn't one I know of that is widely practiced that is not religiously based. That presents a strong case that human beings have a problem. We have a delusion of equality. If what I think is right is equally as valid as what you think is right, then the only way we can solve this is to get God to make the decision. But another part of the problem is that God doesn't decide. Humans use God as an excuse to decide.

CM: Another problem that you raise is that once God has spoken people tend to take that as final. Your alien character complains that the problem with divine revelation is that conditions in the universe change and therefore the laws have to change.

LM: Indeed, and I think that's true. Also, what we learn changes. For example, in the Old Testament there's that phrase, "Be fruitful and multiply." This makes a great deal of sense when you have an insufficient population in a wilderness area, which is sort of the situation that existed when that commandment was issued. I'm not sure that "Be fruitful and multiply" applies in the same way in New York City with 8 million people, or Mexico City with 20 million people.

CM: Your hero in the book, Van Albert, is a black man living in what he believes to be a democratic society. Through the course of the book he serves that society very well, working for the military. In the process of that he sees his country moving towards military dictatorship and being heavily influenced by a fundamentalist religious sect. Is there perhaps some suggestion that this might be related to something happening in the real world?

LM: Only in a general sense. The book was actually written before anything happened in Iraq, and before the excesses of the Bush Administration became as well known as they are now. But I've been worried about this particular situation for a long time. It is so easy when one is threatened to go to excesses on the grounds that we have to preserve what we have. The problem with this is that if you don't preserve what freedoms you have when you are under threat then you won't have them for very much longer.

I see all sorts of little signs that are extremely disturbing to me. For example, the United States becoming one of only a handful of countries that is demanding special visas for visiting journalists. To me that's frightening. We've prided ourselves on the freedom of the press in this country, and now all of a sudden we are keeping a special eye on foreign journalists so we can check up on what they are saying about us.

Or for example saying that the Geneva Conventions and the Bill of Rights don't apply to terrorists we have picked up in Afghanistan, which means we can incarcerate them for who knows how long in Guantanamo Bay. I do believe that there is a basis for saying that if we pick up a terrorist you don't have to charge them within say, 24 or 48 hours, or even a week, because you don't want the news to get out while you are looking for others. But there is a big difference between holding someone incommunicado for a few days and holding them incommunicado for a few years. That's a question of balance. Everyone seems to argue it one way or the other. "We should charge them immediately!" No, you shouldn't. "We can keep them forever!" No, you shouldn't.

CM: I recall reading coverage of the Presidential election in The Economist. They came out in favor of John Kerry, and the primary reason that they gave was Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. turning its back on the Geneva Conventions.

LM: I hadn't seen that, but I'm not surprised.

CM: At the end of The Ethos Effect the situation in the Republic of Tara gets pretty bad and your hero does something quite terrible. The reader is left to ask whether he did the right thing. Have you had any interesting feedback on that?

LM: Actually, I have to say that the silence has been absolutely deafening.

CM: So it hasn't come up in reviews at all?

LM: One reviewer noted that the ending was predictable, without saying what it was, but you are the only reviewer who has actually brought up the issue. I've seen this before when I've written very controversial stuff. The attitude seems to be, "Well, I really like what he's writing, but I just don't want to deal with this particular issue."

CM: Talking of not wanting to deal with things, in California we get a lot of people saying that there are all sorts of things happening in the world that are really terrible. We must protest; we must do something; we must stop them; as long as nobody gets hurt. Your books clearly don't agree with this.

LM: I would like to believe that, but from what I've seen in politics there are only two things that change the way things are. One is power (which may spring from wealth), and the other is blood. These are, unfortunately, what politicians listen to. Polite little protests don't mean anything unless they turn into actual votes or money, or they end up with bodies in the street. Horrible as it is, Kent State probably did more to stop the Vietnam War than all of the casualties in Vietnam itself, because horror of horrors, we had 13 students mowed down on a pristine university campus by those nasty National Guardsmen. Well, hell, you had protesting students on one side, and scared 18 or 19-year-old National Guard recruits on the other side. Neither side had even thought about what might happen. It was a tragedy. But that caused more dissent and civic reaction than the 12,000 or so casualties in the previous two years in Vietnam itself.

CM: It was close to home. American soldiers are dying on a regular basis in Iraq. Thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war started, but only 9/11 was close to home.

LM: It is funny what people think about as "close to home" casualties. The United States has somewhere in the region of 19,000 homicides a year, most of which are gun-related. We have somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 deaths a year on the highway. I don't see anybody rising up against the car. Some of the population is unhappy about guns, but obviously not a majority. So we are looking at over 60,000 people dying every year in ways that might be preventable, and hardly anyone says anything, and yet the much smaller numbers of American soldiers dying in Iraq are a major political issue.

CM: It is fascinating to me the way people have different perceptions of what you might call the value of life. For example, the public, on the basis of policies it demands, seems to require railways to spend an order of magnitude more money on safety per life saved than the roads.

LM: You see it in so many areas. I used to see it a lot when I worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. You would have arguments over the value of human lives saved through environmental controls or what have you. A lot of people say, "A human life is priceless." No, it isn't priceless. My own life may be priceless to me as an individual, and the lives of my wife and children may also be priceless to me. But society implicitly sets values on human life. We insure human life. That means we put a value on it. We won't spend more than a given amount in certain areas to save life. That too puts a value on it. So the question is, why are some human lives more valuable than others, even when their backgrounds are intrinsically the same? Certainly, the recent disaster with hurricane Katrina underscores this. Experts had been recommending the need to improve the levies and to stabilize and restore the protective marshlands around New Orleans for at least a decade, and everyone knew that the systems in place would not withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane. For all that, none of the politicians wanted to spend the money. If that's not valuing human life, what is?

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CM: In the next book, Flash, you once again address the question of violent action against an oppressor, and perhaps go further in your sentiments. You can rationalize the situation in The Ethos Effect in that there is this incredibly powerful inter-stellar empire that has habits that are, if anything, worse than those of the Nazis, so you can justify to yourself that something ought to be done about them. But in Flash you have essentially a corrupt American government and your hero turns vigilante and goes round murdering corrupt businessmen.

LM: He doesn't murder very many, and he pays highly for it, but vigilantism isn't really the point of the book. The point I was trying to get to is that Jonat deVrai, who is the hero of Flash, is caught in a situation that I see arising in America today. Anything that he can do to protect himself and his family is insufficient. Anything that he might try to do that would be effective is illegal. I think we are seeing a trend in the government today that is going along those lines in that the regulations tend to hem in the individual. You have to incorporate, you have to build a power structure, to be able to play the game. This shouldn't be the case. Jonat is faced with a situation where there are several corrupt organizations that are doing far worse things than he is doing, but they have figured out ways to do it within the law because of their resources. So you have the organization doing things that no individual is allowed to do.

To some extent we see that happening today. For example, if you are on a school board and you let a single source contract to a supplier for school meals without competitive bidding then you'll get crucified. But it is apparently perfectly legal to allow a single source contract for arms supplies to go to Halliburton. The same applies in the stock market, where mutual funds are allowed to do all sorts of things forbidden to the individual investor.

So this is the sort of situation I have put Jonat in, except I have extrapolated it into the future. I wasn't trying to make Jonat into a vigilante. I just wanted to point out that for him to survive he had to do things that were illegal, and yet the people who were opposing him could do the same things legally.

CM: I can see certain parallels with the situation in New Orleans. People who were too poor to flee the hurricane are now finding themselves with their homes flooded, with their food running out and the water supply probably contaminated. But any attempt to obtain supplies is likely to be classed as looting.

LM: Regrettable as it is, that's always been true, particularly for the poorest in society, pretty much in all times and places. The distinction I was trying to draw in Flash was that we're seeing trends where this legalized "oppression and restriction of rights," for lack of a better term, is affecting virtually everyone in society, and not just the disenfranchised.

CM: The thing that starts Jonat out on the slippery slope to rebellion is when he resigns from the U.S. Marines because he decides that the army is being used, not to protect America, but to advance the interests of American corporations. Is this another area of concern?

LM: Here we are talking about a very fine distinction. All governments throughout history have attempted to protect the commercial interests of their countries, and I think to some degree that is a legitimate foreign policy. The question is: Where do you draw the line between that legitimate policy and using military force to enslave or kill citizens of another country strictly for commercial interests?

CM: You are right that is by no means a new idea. You can think back to the activities of the East India Company or Cecil Rhodes. The British government, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and perhaps even before that, used private companies as a means of extending the empire, and then as an excuse for extending the empire. So I guess that America is no more guilty of this than any other empire throughout history.

LM: Probably no more guilty, but I don't think many people were very happy about the way the British went about things, and I know that the rest of the world isn't very happy about how America is going about things. I'm getting concerned about the precedents that are being set, because what we are really talking about is "Might makes right" in terms of commercial enterprise. Maybe it does in some ways, but I'd like people to stop and think and ask, "Is this really the right thing to do?"

Sometimes there may be situations where you say, "Well, it isn't really the right thing to do, but because of these questions of national interest we think we have to do it anyway." But there ought to at least be a question. As opposed to, "Oh gee, we're Americans, and we're wonderful, and this is what we're gonna do!"

CM: Flash is set around an election. That's part of the backdrop to the plot. And I was interested to see that it is actually the left wing candidates in the election that are using suspect means to persuade people to vote for them. They resort to a form of subliminal advertising. The bad guys then expose this, not to discredit their opponents, but to discredit the very idea of democracy. I'm beginning to think that your level of cynicism about American democracy has moved on quite a bit.

LM: I think what I'm pointing out is that too often people rely on the status quo if they happen to be in power. In this case the right wing party is in power, so they don't want the system changed. Those who are not in power are trying to use every means at their disposal to change the system, which is what they always do. The question is, are we going to use subliminal advertising, or are we going to use bullets? At least these guys have opted for a non-violent route.

But actually the issue is deeper than that. If all of the legal means of changing the government are being blocked, which is of course what the conservatives have done in the book, and what the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in the Senate and House seem to be trying, then the opposition is forced to resort to illegal means. And, at times, those means were in fact legal, until those in control changed the rules.

CM: If John Kerry had won, do you think things would have been a lot better or do you think he would have been bound by what had gone before him?

LM: Any President who gets elected is bound by what has gone before him. The political system is rather like a very large ocean liner with a very small rudder. You can change direction. It is possible, and it has happened. It just takes a very long time to make those changes and have them show up. It would have been possible for Kerry to change things, but if he had tried he may have ended up a very frustrated man because anything he did would probably not have had an effect until he was out of office. We've seen this before. George Bush, Sr., got beaten by Clinton because of economic problems that he inherited from the Reagan Administration, and Clinton benefited by the measures that Bush Sr. took to put things right.

What I worry about with Bush Jr. is that this is a man who has such religious certainty that he will not question anything. I really believe that the American president should question everything. He may end up having to say, "There's nothing else I can do about this," but as an individual he should question everything. Because everything that he gets is filtered. I know; I was part of the system. Everybody has got their spin and agenda. If the President doesn't question he's going to get taken for a ride. Or he'll take us for one.

CM: One of the things that concerns me is the long term economic issue. We've clearly seen a switch to a more adversarial style in international relations, and I'm wondering whether that is an inevitable result of the squeeze on natural resources. We've had a lot of prosperity in the West in the last few decades, which has allowed us the luxury of believing in peace and goodwill. But we are now moving into a situation where countries like India, China, and Russia, all of whom have very large populations, are demanding the same level of wealth that we've got, and the resources simply aren't there.

LM: I'd only agree with that partly. Resources are limited, but economics also works to ration things. I'm far more worried about the political spin, especially in the media. And I'm not talking here about "those nasty liberal media" or "those nasty right wing people at Fox." I'm talking about a general media emphasis on making news. To make news you create conflict. It is easier to create conflict if you pose things in black and white. The media has become far more polarized in its presentation of issues, regardless of which side they are on.

Some people will say, oh, that isn't a problem because of the proliferation of media. We used to have only four networks in the United States, and now we've got six and a hundred cable channels. But what nobody is looking at is the structure. To compete in each of these niche markets people are ramping up conflict in whatever area they specialize in. We have more violent television shows; the news is more violent; and it is more polarized. I think that is a far bigger factor that the underlying economic factors.

CM: If anything, I suspect the proliferation of media may make things worse. As you said earlier, people tend to pick the facts that support their position. The more channels you have, the easier it is for people to pick one that only tells them things they want to hear.

LM: That's clearly become the case, and people are seeing and hearing more and more only what they wish to hear. I recently received an email from a fan who was violently upset about the main website run by the gentleman who has been kind enough to operate the "The World of Recluce" website for me. His other, personal, website had a mild banner feed that was critical of the Administration, but respectful of American troops. Yet this fan insisted that the feed was disrespectful of American troops and demoralizing them, which was simply not the case. First Amendment rights aside, furthermore, she wanted me to force the website operator to change his personal website—not the Recluce site, which has no political content beyond what's in the books—just because there's a link between the two sites and they're operated by the same individual. More than ever, I think, people are compartmentalizing their perceptions, holding on to what supports their prejudices, and ignoring the rest. And, as you pointed out, niche media fosters this.

CM: So what have you got new?

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LM: Well, there's Ordermaster, which was the thirteenth book in the Recluce series. That came out in January and is about Kharl who is a cooper or barrel-maker. Then the fourth Corean Chronicles book, Alector's Choice, was released in June. It's the first of the second "internal" triology in the Corean Chronicles. The second book in that trilogy, Cadmian's Choice, will be out in April of next year. My most recent science fiction book came out in October. It is a stand-alone novel called The Eternity Artifact, and that's going to raise probably as many questions in a slightly different area than did either Flash or The Ethos Effect. It talks about the relation between power and religion, in terms of what fundamental beliefs will do to interstellar politics.

CM: So it is a book about religious fundamentalism?

LM: Actually it is about the conflict between, on the one hand, secular practicality and ethics, and on the other religious necessity and tenets. One culture is, shall we say, an outgrowth of the best in humanistic secularism, while the other had taken Bush-style religious fundamentalism to its illogical extreme.

CM: That should be interesting. Anything else we should know about it?

LM: Stylistically I've done a similar sort of thing that I did with Archform: Beauty in that it is told from the point of view of four characters. One is a pilot on the secular, rational side. One is a semi-independent history professor, one is an artist, and the last one is a fundamentalist spy.

CM: And presumably you have given them something rather interesting to quarrel about.

LM: Yes, the first alien technology ever discovered in the galaxy. And this is 4,000 years in the future. The alien artifact is immensely in advance of anything that human beings have ever done. It is 10 billion years old, in perfect working order, and nobody can understand it.

CM: So this is either something that God has done, or it proves that God doesn't exist.

LM: Or it is something that Lucifer did in rebelling against God.

CM: I'm looking forward to reading it.

L.E. Modesitt, thank you for talking to Strange Horizons.


Cheryl Morgan


Cheryl Morgan is a writer, editor and radio presenter. She also owns and operates Wizard’s Tower Press. You can find her at her website, Cheryl’s Mewsings, or on Twitter @CherylMorgan.
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Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Tara Calaby's “Three Days with the Kid.”
Fixing my pipes, for the plumber, / is a simple thing. He whistles gently as I tell him / about the yellow eyes I saw last night.
Between us, there are threads of doubt, unwinding spools like spider webs across the scalded earth
what the map said was once a buffalo jump
By: Kaily Dorfman
By: Camille Louise Goering
By: Brian Beatty
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Kaily Dorfman
Podcast read by: Brian Beatty
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents poetry from the Climate special issue.
Solarpunk reminded me that growing your own food is a thing, that we can make or grow something rather than buy it, that technology can help us redirect the trajectory of the world.
The Wi-Fi is shallow, a miracle drizzle that broke the heat wave blockade. They say in 10 years the internet will never flow here again.
Thursday: Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock 
Friday: Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters edited by Sarena Ulibarri 
Issue 23 Mar 2020
Issue 16 Mar 2020
By: Lisa Nan Joo
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jenny Thompson
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
100 African Writers of SFF - Part Fifteen: Ghana
Issue 9 Mar 2020
By: Leah Bobet
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Emily Smith
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 2 Mar 2020
By: Innocent Chizaram Ilo
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Cam Kelley
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
By: Dante Luiz
Art by: DAPENHA
Issue 24 Feb 2020
By: Mayra Paris
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 17 Feb 2020
By: Priya Sridhar
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: E. F. Schraeder
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 10 Feb 2020
By: Shannon Sanders
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Issue 3 Feb 2020
By: Ada Hoffmann
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: S.R. Tombran
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 27 Jan 2020
By: Weston Richey
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
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