Interview with L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Q: In the Recluce series, the two opposite forces [order and chaos]don’t necessarily reflect good versus bad.  What are yourthoughts about this?

A: One of the underlying themes of all of the Recluce books is that anything taken to extremes is evil.  Too much order is as evil as too much chaos.  People who read the first books immediately jumped on the order versus chaos theme and ignored the issue of extremism.  Now, as the later books about the white mages [as heroes] make clear, chaos or order can be used for good or evil.  As human history has shown, the greatest evils come more from extremism than from specific philosophies or  approaches, although this too gets muddled when the philosophy or belief is itself extreme.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your future plans?

A: In the simplest of terms, I intend to continue writing.  Magi’i of Cyador was just released in the USA in hardcover, and the follow-on book about Lorn [Scion of Cyador] is scheduled for USA hardcover release in September of this year.  I’ve just delivered another science fiction novel, tentatively entitled The Octagonal Raven  which I understand Tor intends to publish in early 2001 in hardcover [USA release].Also, the two “timediver” books are going to be rel-released  under the title Timegods’ World as a single large size trade paperback in August of this year [2000].  I’m currently working on another book set in the world of Erde, entitled The Shadow Sorceress, but it’s not about Anna.  After that… I’m not sure.  I’m also going to be doing a series of columns with an economic focus for Galaxy Online.

Q: Do you find that fantasy writing is ignored compared to sciencefiction, or taken less seriously?

A: That depends on whom you ask. Studies show that there’s still not that much crossover in readership between fantasy and science fiction.  Many fantasy readers generally aren’t looking for the same things as science fiction readers, and vice versa.  In my own case, I know that while I get generally favorable reviews for both my science fiction and fantasy, more readers buy the fantasy, and general sales figures show more fantasy best-sellers than science fiction best-sellers.  As far as “serious” criticism goes, I think both fields are ignored by the mainstream literary establishment.  That’s good, in a way, because we’re not hampered by conventions and expectations, but bad because not that many schools offer an exposure to either genre, when there’s a great deal of good writing going on, some of it superior to so-called good mainstream writing.

Q: How much science and how much fiction do you think there shouldbe in SF?

A: In science fiction, it’s not so much a question of the amount, but of the accuracy.  Over the years, I’ve found that most serious authors take their science seriously and make a good effort.  That’s not always true in space opera, but I’ve found it to be generally true.  Where I’ve found the greatest errors are in other aspects of culture — the economic structures, the political sub-cultures, the relation of education to the society.  Too often a new aspect of “science” gets exalted above reality.  For example, a lot of writers and the 1939 World’s Fair predicted personal helicopters or flitters or what have you for personal transport by now.  The technology exists, but the economic and infrastructure costs make wide-spread use of the technology infeasible.  If a writer dwells too much on technology, he or she may end up writing the equivalent of “techno-pornography.”

Q: What are you usually inspired by when writing a book?

A: I’m probably inspired — or on a large soapbox, as my wife has said — almost all the time, whether writing or not.  But in writing a book, what keeps me going is the inter-relation of the characters, their ideas, and their culture and situation.  My “background” inspiration generally comes from my non-fiction reading, which is varied and eclectic.

Q: What did you like to read when you were a child?

A: I read the usual children’s fare, as I recall, such as the Hardy Boys, and Tom Swift, and Nancy Drew, then the Oz books, and then science fiction.  Early in high school, I became more interested in poetry and history, but kept reading science fiction.

Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?

A: The Internet allows me more immediate and direct contact with those interested in my work, and it also allows a more speedy transmission of short stories and articles to editors.   It’s not suitable for transmitting novels, especially given the length of what I write.  I can also get reader feedback more quickly than in the times before the Internet.  Generally, it’s little help in research, because the information density on the net is rather low, unless you want to pay for specialized access.  Also, for the amount of information I need, even with high speed modems, using the Internet is really slower than either my personal library or the local university library.

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