Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Eternity Artifact

The Eternity Artifact

L. E. Modesitt

Date: 2006-08   —   Book

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Fiction, Science Fiction

L.E. Modesitt must ahve some variant of the Asimov Syndrome. You know, the one where you find typing irresistable? I mean, I can understand a huge backlog of books. Terry Pratchett has over thirty books in one series alone, and he's not slowing down. Or there's always Stephen King.

But Modesitt seems to be publishing on the order of two or three books a year. I'm not sure that many people have noticed this, since he writes in two genres, and though those two are commonly shelved together, most bookstores don't typically have all of his books on hand at one time. In fact, you're lucky if they have half of his catalog. I didn't even know he wrote science fiction until two or three years back... I even thought I was supporting a new author when I bought The Magic of Recluce, the first book in the Recluce series. I was only wrong by a factor of my age at the time.

Most of his science ficiton can be loosely plotted along a continuum. On one end, you have Earth of about a hundred years from now, and on the other, you have a massive war between people who refer to themselves as "angels" and "demons." The tricky part is that many of his books may or may not fit along this continuum, and the heroes and villains keep changing. In other words, plotting Modesitt's universe makes for a good party game but has no authorial sanction or certainty. The books could all be related or they could be completely dissimilar.

The Eternity Artifact is possibly a sidestep of this, or one set comparatively early on. It involves a fast trip to an actual alien world, one long deserted and hurtling toward a dangerous section of space. The quickly assembled group of scientists, engineers, soldiers, and humanities types— because the government in question is not about to discount the observations of intuitive types in regards to an alien civilization— is prey to the combined forces of other societies, particularly one that is very deeply rooted in a paternalistic faith that has a resitance to change. While exploring the dead planet, they'll have to elude sabotage attacks as well as frontal assaults... and all with only the small amount of weaponry they were able to put together in the allotted time.

As with all of Modesitt's science ficiton, it is intricate— with many character arcs, and the speaker designated as a chapter sub-heading— and intense. I will make two further observations. The first is that in this and other fiction, Modesitt seems to have a very dim view of Mormons, since that's the faith he bases the Covenanters (and other religions in other books) upon. Since he lives in Utah, that may be a side effect of observing certain splinter groups (such as the polygamists) close at hand.

The second is somewhat stranger. I think, in many ways, Modesitt's books are subtle love stories. The protagonist invariably has to overcome greater and greater challenges throughout the book, and many of them have to do with relationships (and failing to be good at them), but the truth is that the guy gets the girl, and vice versa, in the end. This is pretty much invariably the case.

The relationships are downplayed, the romance and wooing are all but nonexistant, but the guy gets the girl in the end. How strange is that?

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