A couple of years ago I read ‘Adiamante’ by L.E. Modesitt, Jr and it was excellent. It was the first of his books I’d read and up to that point I hadn’t realised he wrote Science Fiction, having only seen his fantasy books in the past. ‘The One-Eyed Man’, subtitled ‘A Fugue, With Winds And Accompaniment’, was published in 2013 but I ended up reading it now mostly on the strength of ‘Adiamante’.
Dr. Paulo Verano is the main character, an ecological consultant sent to the planet Stittara to assess the ecological impact of the inhabitants on the local ecology. It’s a sparsely populated world with a couple of aspects that make this mission potentially more complicated and dangerous than it might otherwise be.
Firstly, the planet is the source of life-extending aganathics, so the interplanetary corporations with facilities of Stittara will not want anything to interfere with their profits and the population of the galaxy will not want to lose the chance of a longer life. Secondly, Stittara is the home to sky-tubes which are huge, nebulous organisms that may possibly be intelligent and could therefore preclude any human occupation of the planet.
There are two underlying problem with this intriguing set-up that affected the pace of the plot and my level of interest. The first is that due to relativistic effects, Verano would not be returning to his home planet with the report for 150 years and the second is that humans have lived on Stittara for almost 1000 years. Both of these meant that any sense of urgency I might have felt was entirely lost.
The book is full of detailed descriptions of clothing, food, the countryside and people’s offices, but it all starts to become a bit perfunctory and there’s not really a sense of character or ambiance. After 200 pages, I was still waiting for something to happen other than eating, reading reports and arranging meetings. Verano keeps referring to ideas and hypotheses he’s forming and facts that may or may not have any significance, but he never actually identifies them. Half-way through the book, it was like having listened to somebody tell me about their past two weeks of working in an office. It was not even as interesting as my office.
In some ways, the plotting is very true to the central character: he’s methodical, thorough and detailed. This does not make for a flowing story, though. Numerous secondary characters are introduced but I had a hard time keeping track of them. Some appear regularly throughout the book and others only make a single appearance, but each is given the same amount of detail in their descriptions and none of them have a distinctive voice. They are all place holders that do a minimal amount to flesh out the society on Stittara.
The frustrating thing about this book is that it’s almost intriguing. The background is full of ideas: the possibly-intelligent sky tubes, the interplanetary corporate intrigue, the indeterminate ages of the locals, the mystery woman with the flower and the ancient alien ruins. The problem is that they’re all executed in a monotonous, repetitive way in which we are constantly told about baggage movements, changes of clothing and airlock configurations. Verano muses to himself absent-mindedly, second-guessing even the most banal of decisions and thoughts, burying any potential feeling of growing excitement in a malaise of tedium.
After page 300, a few mildly dramatic things happen, but mostly off-stage. The novel finally wraps up satisfactorily but, to be honest, it was more through duty than interest that I got there. Now I don’t know whether to bother searching up any more of L.E. Modesitt, Jr’s Science Fiction novels.
Gareth D. Jones
(pub: TOR/Forge, 2013. 364 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3544-9)