The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction hosted by Matthew Peterson


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L. E. Modesitt Jr.

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L. E. Modesitt Jr.   L. E. Modesitt, Jr. is the bestselling author of nearly 60 novels encompassing both science fiction and fantasy, including books in The Saga of Recluce, Spellsong Cycle, The Corean Chronicles, and The Imager Portfolio series. The Magic of Recluce was a British Fantasy Society Best Novel nominee. Mr. Modesitt graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts and served as a U.S. Navy pilot.

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This episode originally aired on 01/14/2010 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with L. E. Modesitt Jr.

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Matthew Peterson: Hey, youíre listening to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction. Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero. Weíre talking about High Fantasy today, which is usually what people think of when they hear the words ďtraditional fantasyĒ or ďepic fantasy.Ē For instance, J. R. R. Tolkienís Lord of the Rings with its elves, dwarves and magic is considered traditional fantasy.

My next guest is L. E. Modesitt, Jr., bestselling author of nearly 60 novels encompassing both science fiction and fantasy. Welcome to the show, Lee.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, thank you. Iím glad to be here.

Matthew Peterson: Now youíve written quite a lot of series like the Spellsong Cycle series and the Corean Chronicles, but your largest series is the Saga of Recluse. Tell us a little bit about that one.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: [laughs] Well, Recluse is not a standard series. I mean, everybody calls it a series, but right now there are 15 books. The 16th, Arms Commander, will be out in January.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: But the stories, there are no more than two books about any set of main characters.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: And the stories take place across almost two thousand years on 5 continents and something like 12 separate cultures. So itís almost a series of stories about a world as opposed to a series that follows a series of characters, of their descendants--although obviously some people are related to other people in this. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Now the first one, The Magic of Recluse, that was back in 1991, which I think was a British Fantasy Society Best Novel nominee.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: It was.

Matthew Peterson: So I assume thereís magic. This is a fantasy series. What got you interested in doing that book and starting out this series?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: [laughs] It would take far too long to explain all of the details. Suffice it to say that it was a challenge put to me inadvertently by a bunch of fantasy writers.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Iíve met a couple other authors who said, ďI wrote this book just because I wanted to prove that it could be done.Ē [laughs] Or a challenge: ďI bet you could do this.Ē What was the challenge exactly that the fans gave you?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, they didnít give it to me. Basically, I had made comments about the fact that I felt that too many fantasies did not have workable economic, political or technological systems. And that their magic systems were not particularly useful.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Because, humans beings are a tool-using species, like it or not. If it doesnít work, we donít use it. It just gets discarded very quickly. If we had magic, it would be the same thing. And I basically developed some magic system which is logical and which is adapted for a tool-using species. And I tried to develop political and social and economic systems that would be consistent with it and with an economic system that made sense. That was the challenge.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay. And Arms-Commander is out. Is there anything you can tell us about Arms-Commander? What the fans could look forward to?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Itís actually the first book I have written in the Recluse series where the protagonist is a woman.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Iíve certainly written other series... I mean, the entire Spellsong Cycle is written from the female perspective, but this is the first story in Recluse. And itís a story that Iíve known that I would have to write for a long time. Basically it takes place ten years after the Chaos Balance ends, and itís the story of Saryn, who is left as the #2, the Arms-Commander, of Mountain Kingdom of West Wind. And itís basically her story of what happens when there are no mages left at West Wind and the kingdomís threatened.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, that sounds very interesting. You mentioned Spellsong Cycle and we mentioned Corean Chronicles. I like how... As Iíve been reading your books, I like how you do take some sort of aspect, like a talent or a magical power, and put some sort of consequence. Like on your newest series, The Imagerís Challenge, or the new book thatís out, Imagerís Challenge. What is the conflict with that book?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, basically the concept behind Imagerís Challenge is, call it visualization magic. There are certain individuals--very rare, itís a genetic component, and I actually in one of the books get into the, in an indirect way, the genetics behind itĖwith the ability to visualize something and make it real. But thereís a physical cost to it, and thereís also a social cost to it. And the imagers... the only country in the world where the imagers are should we say, ďprotectedĒ is Solidar, which is where the action obviously takes place. And the idea is that because there are so few of them and because so few of those few are extremely powerful, thereís a tremendous restriction socially on what an imager can do or dares to do, because regardless of how powerful they might be individually, they canít stand against a society.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: And so the politics work around and the social structures work around how you make this work to both partyís benefit. And most countries in this world donít. Solidar is one of the few that does, but itís got tremendous social and personal consequences as a result of that.

Matthew Peterson: So these individuals with this power, thatís just a genetic thing that happened? They can visualize something and . . .

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Genetic... itís basically genetic, and the power varies from individuals. Some imagers can only do very simple things. Most can do a few things and only very few are very powerful. Iíll call it a bell-shaped curve of the distribution of those abilities, which is pretty standard for human beings.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. It sounds similar in the sense of... like in the Spellsong Cycle, they use music as a magical power; in the Corean Chronicles they have a talent where they can perform astonishing feats. How similar is it actually, though, to those two?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Every one of the systems is very, very different. Although they donít necessarily appear so. In the Spellsong Cycle, for example, to be able to do magic, you have to be able to sing perfectly on key.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Thatís not me!

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Itís not me either [laughs]. You also have to have a song in which the words make sense. You have to have precise accompaniment. And youíve got to have a fairly strong voice. Now these are things that everybody takes for granted, but when you put those together, the number of people who can do that in any society is relatively rare.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: So itís a combination of common things, but when you put all of those common things together, all of a sudden it becomes much less obvious. One of the things that was sort of interesting about that particular thing was that I also took--because my wifeís a music teacher; sheís a professor of opera--my observations about students. And I realized that there would not be very many sorcerers or sorceresses in such a society, because youíre giving somebody the power that is literally life and death.

Matthew Peterson: Ahh.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Exactly how many young people would you trust as a teacher to give that power to?

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: So itís going to be a very jealously guarded, call it ďtrained, ability,Ē which is something that people donít think about.

Matthew Peterson: And itís something that can be learned, it sounds like.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Right, it can be learned, if youíve got some basic talent. But not everybody, as I know personally, [laughs] not everybody has that talent.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. My wife, sheís just the most amazing musician. You know, any piece of music you put in front of her, she can just play. And sheís teaching my boys music. Iím like, you know, they just are having a hard time with this. ďHow come you did so well?Ē And thatís what she said, ďWell, I kind of was born with some talent.Ē

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, one of the problems, of course, is that you can be born with the talent, but if you donít train it, itís useless.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: And thatís one of the other things that Iíve noticed in dealing with my wife: how many talented people come through the door and how few really have the determination and the will power to turn that into a finished product. And I think the same thing would be true if it were sorcery.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, definitely. Now the Corean Chronicles . . .

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Thatís a take-off on what one might call Earth magic.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Basically itís the Aegean concept of the world has a planetary life force and those who have talent can draw on it.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: But life force varies, obviously by the amount of life in a given area, etc., etc., etc. And you can draw on it too much. And basically youíve got two races on this planet, one of whom has this tendency to exhaust all the life force on a planet by building great things and imbuing them with life force and literally leaving planets dry and hopping to another planet.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay! So this has some science fiction in it as well... so moving from planet to planet.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Yes. And then there are the locals who are stuck there and who may be left with a dead planet on which itís rather difficult to survive.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: And youíve basically got the conflict between two cultures, and the locals donít even know that that conflict exists for the most part.

Matthew Peterson: Well, it sounds like youíve written a lot of fantasy novels, and you have science fiction novels as well. Which one do you feel a little bit more comfortable in writing, or which one do you enjoy writing in more?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Iíd have to say theyíre just different. I like writing them both.

Matthew Peterson: Theyíre just different.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: In a sense Iíve often felt that thereís an artificial distinction between fantasy and science fiction, because theyíre both very realistic and theyíre both very unrealistic, simultaneously. And itís only the question of which should we say unreality you choose to suspend your disbelief over, because most of whatís done in science fiction that people use really isnít practical.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: I mean, the obvious example is the old television series, The Jetsons.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah, yeah. [laughs]

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, or in 1939 World Fair everybody postulated that they would have personal helicopters. Nobody ever thought about 1. The capitol cost of producing those helicopters or 2. The air-traffic nightmare that would result if you have 7 million people commuting into New York every day.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, I know. I can imagine.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: It isnít gonna happen. And an awful lot of science fiction, unfortunately, is like that. Somebody comes up with a nifty technological idea, which might in fact be technologically feasible, but often they donít think about what are the implications of that for a society. And so in that sense, science fiction can be very unreal. It may be technically sound as can be, but sociologically, it can be very unreal.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, with the money and . . .

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Fantasy tends to be very real, very much more real in terms of personal interactions, but of course, the magic systems are unreal.

Matthew Peterson: And Iíve heard it said that pretty much everything is fantasy, and just like what you said, how much do you suspend your disbelief.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: And in what areas.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, Iíve been speaking with L. E. Modesitt Jr, bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction. Itís been a real pleasure speaking with you, Lee.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, thank you. Itís a pleasure to be here.

Matthew Peterson: Alright, make sure you visit after the show to listen to the bonus questions that didnít make it onto the live show. Stick around. Iíve still got Dennis L. McKiernan and Diana Pharaoh Francis coming up next.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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