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Book Review – Imager’s Battalion by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

ImagersBattalionTitle: Imager’s Battalion
Author: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: TOR
First Published: 2013
Genre: Fantasy

This is the sixth installment in American fantasy writer L.E. Modesitt’s Imager series. In it, Quaeryt continues to advance his goals of making the continent of Lydar a safe place for imagers (the magicians of this world), Pharsi (an ethnic minority), and scholars (a much maligned group of scribes and thinkers). Quareyt is a member of all three in one way or another.

Bhayar, Lord of Telaryn, considers Quaeryt a friend and a competent ally. He is also his brother-in-law, but it is mainly for his imaging abilities, loyalty, and intelligence that Bhayar makes him a subcommander in his army.

In this book, Quaeryt is nurturing a small group of other imagers who are junior officers under his command. They, and the rest of Bhayar’s army, are invading the neighboring kingdom of Bovaria, which is ruled by the ambitious and thoroughly despicable Rex Kharst.

The story is essentially a five hundred-page narrative of the military campaign that brings Bhayar’s army to the capital of Bovaria. It relates, sometimes with almost too much attention to detail, Quaeryt’s journey, his stays at inns, his consumption of lager (for mostly medicinal purposes), and the magically augmented scouting missions, engineering efforts, skirmishes, and battles in which he is involved.

Modesitt’s strength is his world building. The setting has a solid feel, as if it might really be able to exist in some alternate reality with slightly different physical laws. The magic system used is interesting. It’s not just wand waving and reciting bits of mock-Latin. There is some effort to maintain the basic principle of conservation of energy, although in this book I thought this was being stretched by instances of impressive dirt shifting and bridge building. Any details on those would involve spoilers, though, so I’ll say no more about them — or about the ending, which I thought could have benefited from a final confrontation with Kharst.

The prose, however, is unexceptional. The writing is serviceable but not elegant. It certainly isn’t beautiful. There are few, if any, instances of clever word play or poetic imagery, and there is no attempt at humor. The characters are stiff, formal, and their dialog is comparable to that in the old TV series ‘Dragnet.’

There are also no grand ideas floating beneath the surface. The book conveys no deep, philosophical insights and little by way of social commentary. Quaeryt is portrayed as being less prejudiced, more considerate, and more intelligent than most other characters in the book, which places him on the moral high ground and which is why the reader cares about him and his success.

I would not call this a great book, but it is engaging enough to keep you entertained for a few evenings. If you’ve read the others, you’ll want to read this one. I did, and I’ll probably read the next.

 

Related Post: Book Review – Princeps by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Book Review – Haze by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

This is an oddly constructed novel with two different stories running in alternating chapters separated in time by about five years. Keir Roget, an agent of the Federation Security Agency is the main character in both.

The earlier story has Agent Roget investigating a ‘Saint’ (Mormon) terrorist cell. His cover story during this is as an energy monitor, ostensibly responsible for ensuring people are not wasting energy. In the course of his investigation, the terrorists infect him with some memories of a long dead senator from Utah, a former part of the United States, a political entity absorbed by the Federation a thousand years ago. The senator was popular at the time, but he seems otherwise unexceptional. Why the cult chose his memories for their attempt to ‘convert’ Roget is unclear, as are their long-term goals or even their beliefs.

This is also true of the Federation, which seems to have come about after a long period of Chinese economic hegemony. At times, the Federation seems benign and patient, concerned mainly about maintaining order, and at other times, it seems oppressive and even paranoid.

The second story follows Agent Roget as he is inserted onto a mysterious planet protected by high-tech shielding. It is populated by ‘Thomists,’ a group of philosophical skeptics that splintered from Earth about two thousand years ago, although there is some suggestion of non-linear time hanky-panky going on. Roget is supposed to assess the threat these people pose and report back.

He discovers an unashamedly elitist society even more obsessed with energy efficiency than the Federation, and which has some odd societal practices regarding politics, commerce, production, and the like. None of these are well explained or, quite frankly, seem to make much sense, but in daily life the place is pleasant enough. This may be because they are ideologically and culturally less diverse than Earth and so are subject to less social strife. Their advanced technology helps, too.

One discontinuity that did strike me, however, was that in this technologically advanced society, many people seem to hold menial service jobs. I would think that a society that could develop underground trains that travel three times the speed of sound or teleport ships into low orbit could develop artificial intelligence systems to handle baggage or wait tables.

I believe this book is supposed to be a cautionary tale about energy overuse, national arrogance, and possibly a few other things, but it doesn’t quite pull it off. The political and philosophical dichotomies are poorly presented. There is no clear cause and effect established between decisions, actions, and eventual results. Ignoring the possible thematic element for the moment, the story itself is not especially interesting and the characters are lackluster.

Although I’ve enjoyed many of Modesitt’s other novels, I cannot honestly recommend this particular book.

Book Review – Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

This is the fifth book in Modesitt’s Imager series and continues to follow the exploits of the imager/soldier/princeps/scholar, Quaeryt. (That’s his name. Don’t ask me how it’s pronounced.) In this book, he adds a couple more jobs to his resume, but to say what they are would be a spoiler. In fact, all I will say about the plot is that it is driven by strategy and tactics both political and military. Other than that, I’ll just mention a few things I liked most and least about the book.

(Note: The cover art on the left, which comes from the publisher, TOR, is slightly different from the hardcover version I read. The thing in Quaeryt’s right hand is a loaf of bread. In the hardcover edition, the loaf is wider and much shorter. I think the change was a good idea because, at a quick glance, a juvenile mind might think he’s holding something different on the one shown here.)

What I liked most:

  • The world building is great. There is attention to detail that makes the setting come to life. Political and economic systems are described well enough to make one feel as if this world could really function.
  • The main characters are vivid and distinguishable, and I liked them well enough to care about what happened to them. This is actually my number one criteria for fiction. If I don’t like at least one of the main characters in the first sixty or so pages, chances are, I’m not going to care what happens to them and may not finish reading the book. Quaeryt (however it’s pronounced) is likeable enough. He’s reasonably intelligent, honest, and has integrity. His wife, Vaelora, is less so. In fact, I found her a bit grating in places, but since she’s clever, young, normally thoughtful, and obviously smitten with Quaeryt, this can be forgiven.
  • The magic system is internally logical. As with all magic, one must suspend disbelief to accept it, but once you understand the principles and underlying assumptions, this one makes sense.

What I liked least:

  • I’m sure the systems used to measure time and distance also make sense, but as they are unfamiliar, they cause a drag to the story. When it is said that a ‘glass’ or a ‘quint’ passed (time measurements), I found myself pausing to try to remember how long that’s supposed to be. (I think a ‘glass’ is about two hours, but I could be wrong.) The measurements for days and months are less unfamiliar, but the names given to them sound like mock-French, which also causes the reader to pause to try to remember where in the week ‘Samedi’ or ‘Lundi’ fall, for example.
  • There is an overly large cast of characters with names, many of them unpronounceable. I understand that some of this is to make the world feel both strange and real, but between the number of characters and their names, it’s easy to get lost.
  • The prose and dialog tend to be a bit stiff, formal, and humorless for my taste. This is typical for epic fantasy adventure, though. If these novels were people, I’d say they are taking themselves far too seriously. Although I read almost as much fantasy as I do science fiction, this is one aspect of the epic fantasy subgenre that I don’t particularly care for. This is simply a matter of taste.

This is a long book, 496 pages in hardcover, and it does drag in places where the political intrigue and backbiting gets down into the weeds. The characters and story make it worth persevering through these rough spots, though.

I also noticed a few typos that slipped by TOR’s professional editors. That always happens, and in a book this long, it’s not surprising. I only mention it here because I’ve seen reviews where the number of typos and similar errors are mentioned as a sign of ‘unprofessionalism.’ This is especially true in reviews of self-published books, and I just wanted to mention that these slip by even traditional publishers, of which TOR is, in my opinion, one of the best.

Overall, the book is a good read, and if you’ve enjoyed the others in this series, this one won’t disappoint. Based on the ending, I would expect that Princeps will not be the last Imager novel.

An Outing with Other Oddballs in Orlando

I just returned from the OASIS 25 Science Fiction Convention in Orlando. I seldom attend conventions, but this is my second in as many years, although the one last year was technically a ‘symposium.’ The only one I ever went to prior to that was a Star Trek convention in Detroit. I don’t recall the year, but it was when cell phones and personal computers were still the stuff of science fiction.

OASIS is one of the smaller annual science fiction conventions and I enjoyed it in large part because of this. It had a close, almost family reunion feel to it. The honored guests were all very approachable, as were the other attendees. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I should try to start a social life. I may even go again next year. Heck, I may consider joining the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society (OASFiS), the group that organizes these.

Obviously, I don’t get out much, and I never heard of either OASIS or OASFiS before this year, as far as I can recall. I found out about them when the president of the writers’ group I ostensibly belong to sent an email telling us that a local editor wanted submissions for a short book of ‘pulp’ style short stories he wanted to publish and provide free to OASIS 25 attendees. Oddly enough, one of the few short stories I had languishing in my files seemed to fit the bill, so I submitted it, thinking, what could it hurt? Imagine my surprise when the editor offered to buy it! This was not a big sale for a lot of money, and the publication is a limited edition ‘freebie,’ but it means a lot to me. I felt honored to have my story appear with one by Jack McDevitt, who has written several books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Jack, of course, was at the convention. We chatted briefly and he seems like an extremely nice gentleman. Unfortunately, I forgot to take his picture.

Another great author who attended and sat on several panels was L.E. Modesitt Jr. I have read a number of books by him and have enjoyed them. In a talk on world building, I was astonished to discover that he and I have very similar approaches to our writing. We also share a few personality traits. He seems to lack much of a social life, has no hobbies (other than writing and reading), watches little TV, and attends relatively few conferences. What he does is write. He does it well and he does it constantly, as do I — I write constantly, anyway. We agree that golf is a ‘silly’ game and neither of us crave excitement in our personal lives. We seem to have a very similar work ethic and an almost obsessive compulsion for organization. We also share a couple pet peeves about novels. One is that the economic systems portrayed in works of science fiction and fantasy are too often either ignored or unworkable. Another is that the magic systems can be seemingly arbitrary. He emphasized that he takes care to ensure such things are logically consistent and coherent in his books, and that conservation of energy is a basic fact that must be respected. I agree.

An author I am not familiar with, Richard Lee Byers, sat on some panels. One of his short stories also appeared in Strange Pulp. Other than that story, I am not familiar with his work, but after hearing him talk, I will need to check out his books.

Other fiction writers who appeared at OASIS 25 include David Weber, Janny Wurtz, Chris Berman, Adam-Troy Castro, Nick DiChario, Glenda Finkelstein, William Hatfield, Brad Linaweaver, Will Ludwigsen, Sandra McDonald, Peter Rawlik, T.S. Robinson, Gary S. Roen, Elenora Sabin, and Rick Wilber. I can’t say I’m familiar with any of these except David Weber.

There were also several technical people on panels including Jeff Mitchell, author of the textbook Space Power Systems, which my aerospace engineer son says is quite good. I am not qualified to have an opinion for a couple reasons, although I did chat briefly on spacecraft design with Jeff, and he never talked above me, which, for a man as obviously brilliant as he is, says a lot about him.

OASIS 25 was an enjoyable experience for me, although it felt like a guilty pleasure because I did nothing on my current work in progress the last three days. Yes, I feel like I’m shirking if I don’t do something on it every day. This will be my fourth novel, an adult science fiction story set in the same world as my others. I don’t want to say much more about it yet, but I think those who have told me they want to see more of Trixie will especially enjoy it. Tomorrow, I will get back to work on it.

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