Tuesday, March 24, 2015

One-Eye Man by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

I'll be honest; I'm not a fan of L.E. Modesitt, Jr. I read some of his books in his "Saga of Recluce" series but was never a fan. However the premise of “The One-Eye Man” was interesting, so I thought I gave it a try. I do not regret it.

In simple terms; you need to pick up this book!

The One-Eyed Man is Dr. Paulo Verano, a freelance consultant who is also an expert ecologist. Following a messy divorce where his wife got most of his assets, Verano takes a government contract to investigate the environmental impact of humans on a far-flung planet named Stittara.

Stittara is the planet which is the main supplier of anagathics, a drug that can more than doubled the human life span, but there’s deep questions about the environment impact of human settlements on the planet so Verano was sent as a political move to quiet the critics. It was a strictly political move as everyone, including Verano, knows that there was no way powerful men will abandon the production of a drug that could double their lifespan.

Once on the planet however, Verano found things to be less straightforward. As Verano begins to diligently investigate the planet, he found that there are many factions trying to influence his report. There’re also questions on whether the local Skytubes, mysterious airborne organisms, were intelligent sentient creatures. The questions and answers Verano find on Stittara will have severe consequences for him, the planet and all the humans living there.

Now as you can tell, this is a sci-fi book and I have to say it is a very good one. Modesitt put together a hard sci-fi book that has quite a few interesting ideas. For example, one of the main reasons Verano took the contract is because of the time difference. The ship he took to Stittara travels at near light speed but with the accompanying “time dilation”, while the trip takes just weeks for Verano, more than seventy-five years has passed for everyone off ship. So by the time he reached Stittara, his daughter would be older than he is. Modesitt also place an emphasis on the society that would come living with this sort of time difference. When Verano first heard that there was a woman on Stittara over 400 years ago, he hardly blinks as he himself is over a hundred after the trip to Stittara.

The book isn’t all about fantastical science fiction technology; it is also a thought-provoking book on the limits of humanity. I won’t spoil the ending but by the end of this book, Modesitt gives you a good sense that even with great technological advances, there will always be limits on humanity and we need to be humble about our place in the world.

However the best part of the book is how it was written in the first place. “The One-Eye Man” was written based on a painting by John Jude Palencar (the image which serves as this book's cover art). Personally I have no idea how anyone can write such a story full of complex governmental systems and technological advances from this strange painting but I guess that’s why Modesitt has so many books to his name and I’m writing a blog. It is amazing.

The book unfortunately will not be for everyone. People who like action with their sci-fi will be sorely tested by this book. Although Modesitt throw a bone by making Verano a (improbable) martial artist, “The One-Eye Man” works almost like a detective story where the detective is more brains than brawn. In the final sequence of the novel, Verano spent his moments at his desk waiting for others to call him back. It’s makes perfect sense in the context of the book but people who want their hero to be an action star will be sorely disappointed.

People may also have an issue with the details of Verano’s investigation. A large part of the middle portion of this book is spent on his investigation; visiting the various communities and corporations that had set up shop on Stittara, doing analysis, speaking to Survey personals on the planet. I find the whole thing interesting but I can see why some people may find it boring instead.

Despite the lack of action, I found that the plot of the book moves compellingly forward as Modesitt cleverly hints, weaves, and knits together various threads of information to form a story will blow your mind. Pick this one up; it’s great!

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