L. E. Modesitt : Actually, I wrote and published poetry for almost ten years before I wrote a science fiction story in 1972. I wrote and had published science fiction stories for another ten years before my first SF novel [The Fires of Paratime] was published, and I didn’t complete my first fantasy novel until 1989. I decided to write the first fantasy novel [The Magic of Recluce] after attending my first-ever science fiction and fantasy convention, when I realized that very few writers were addressing the kinds of questions that I wanted to deal with.
ActuSF : Tell us about your universe in Recluce. How did you build it ?
L. E. Modesitt : I have already written a long article about how I created the magic used in the world of Recluce, and that will be published sometime in the next year in the U.S. magazine Black Gate. A shorter explanation is simply that I wanted to create a world where the magic system was logical, and where economics, politics, and cultures all seemed to be workable. Every character in the world has a “real” job. Lerris is a cabinet-maker; Cerryl works his way up from being a lumber mill hand to being a scrivener; Justen is an engineer…
ActuSF : It's about order and chaos. Why did you do these two forces so opposed and so Manichaean ?
L. E. Modesitt : I wouldn’t call the magic system of Recluce Manichaean, or even a reversal of Manichaean doctrine. The universe of Recluce depends on the Balance between order and chaos. That concept is far from the Manichaean idea of the realm of light as being good. My concept was based more on physics and the idea that structured matter equates more to order, while unstructured energy equates to chaos. In the last decaying stages of the Recluce universe, billions of years hence, everything will be low-level diffuse chaos, and very similar to the entropic death postulated by some scientists for our universe. My construction was also based psychologically on the fact that human beings instinctively tend to gravitate to simplistic answers, and order and chaos represent simplistic polarities. As my stories illustrate, it takes great understanding and courage to stand against the popular and the simplistic.
ActuSF : Usually, the order is associated with the white, purity and also to civilization. But on Recluce, white mages are working on the chaos to maintain in civilization as it is, in fact, to maintain a certain "order" in the cities. The black mages, who handle law and order, are regarded as destabilizing factors. Where did you find the idea of this reverse-used clichés ?
L. E. Modesitt : I’ve always tended to be sceptical of widely-held “popular” beliefs. From the time I was a child, I always wondered why people thought “white” was good and pure. When I grew older, of course, I learned that not everyone thought that way. Among the Hindus, the sacred colour is saffron, and in Chinese culture, brides wear red, and not white, and white is the colour of death. The equation of “white” to purity is a European culture-centric concept, and I decided to upset the entire equation or assignment of colour to values and worth.
ActuSF : What did you want to do with this cycle ?
L. E. Modesitt : I wanted to entertain readers, yet give them some stories and thoughts that might trouble the simplistic opinions and views that we so often assume so easily without thought.
ActuSF : Tell us about Lerris, a hero who prefers his work of cabinetmaker to the role of saviour of the world ...
L. E. Modesitt : Lerris begins as a young man who really does not understand the importance of excellence in a meaningful life. Like many people, he just wants to “get the job done,” even if he could provide better crafting. As he sees more and more of the world, and as he works in different lands, he begins to understand the fleeting nature of power, and the more lasting nature of what he can craft. He does what he must as a powerful ordermage, but only because he understands that no one else can do so, and he pays most dearly, but he survives because he comes to understand how his cabinet-making represents the life well-lived.
ActuSF : Another hero, Cerryl, a teenager who has not an easy life. How do you see him ?
L. E. Modesitt : Cerryl becomes mature beyond his years while still very young. That is because he has little choice. He becomes a man skilled at using as little power as necessary to accomplish his ends, and one who understands all too well his own limitations and the limits of his own culture.
ActuSF : You have also written a lot of science fiction novels. Why did you choose the Fantasy and Science Fiction ? What do these two genres give you as an author ?
L. E. Modesitt : Science fiction and fantasy are the last remaining venues where a writer can reach a relatively large audience and raise the key philosophical and practical issues that both define and threaten our times, while also being able to make a living. I believe that a writer must both entertain and educate. If one only entertains, then the work has no value. If one only educates, then the writer is likely to have no audience… and no future as a writer.
ActuSF : You often do series. You feel more comfortable on the long stories ?
L. E. Modesitt : Most of my “series” are composed of fantasy novels, and I tend to raise the sorts of problems and issues for my heroes and heroines that can’t be resolved realistically in short books. Even my stand-alone science fiction novels tend to be a bit longer than the average, and I suspect that is because I’ve discovered that life is more complex than many writers wish to convey. My private investigators and consultants, for example, never have just one or two clients. I’ve been a consultant, and in real life, it doesn’t work that way. You always have too many or too few clients. I do occasionally write short fiction, however, and my first collection of stories will be out in hardcover from Tor in March. It’s entitled Viewpoints Critical, and the early reviews have been quite favourable.
ActuSF : You have done a lot of different jobs. What do these experiences give to you as an author ?
L. E. Modesitt : I didn’t write my first story until I was almost thirty, nor my first novel until I was close to forty. I kept working full time at other jobs until I was almost fifty, and the experience from those jobs permeates everything I write, because experience provides a “feel” that is difficult to replicate through research. I believe I can write about military officers because I was one, and about space piloting because I was a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot. I was involved in government and politics for many years, and, as I mentioned earlier, I was a consultant who dealt with executives from some of the largest corporations in the world. Most experts suggest writers stick to what they know. I certainly try to… and yes, I actually have crafted furniture, enough to know that I’ll never be as good as Lerris is.
ActuSF : You seem very interested in the environment in your writing. What is your reason ? Does that strike you as important ?
L. E. Modesitt : I spent several years as Director of Legislation and Congressional Affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and even more years as a consultant dealing with environmental matters. The more I learned, the more obvious it became that one of the great flaws in the “western world” market system is that it does not factor in the economic externalities of industrial production. So the cheapest forms of manufacturing processes allowed by law tend to be adopted, and usually those are the ones that create the greatest environmental damage. There’s a direct analogy there to my Corean Chronicles, a series one reader called “the only environmental epic fantasy ever written.” Even though I was actually a Republican political appointee in the Reagan Administration, I do believe strongly in raising environmental awareness and in taking action to assure that environmental costs are included in the price of all manufactured goods or agricultural produce.
ActuSF : What are you working on ?
L. E. Modesitt : I’ve completed work on a seventh Corean Chronicles novel – The Lord Protector’s Daughter – that will be published in November. After that, there will be a brand-new fantasy series – The Imager Portfolio. The first book will be Imager, and it will be out in March 2009. I’m finishing up the second book – Imager’s Challenger – and beginning another science fiction novel, as yet untitled.