Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Modesitt, L E Jr

(1943-    ) US writer of sf novels who turned to fantasy with his popular Recluce series, so far comprising The Magic of Recluce (1991), The Towers of the Sunset (1992), The Magic Engineer (1994), The Order War (1995), The Death of Chaos (1995), and «Fall of Angels» (1996). The common setting is a world following Rationalized-Fantasy rules which, as in Larry Niven's Magic Goes Away sequence, echo the implacable laws of physics. In LEM's systematization, Order and Chaos are opposed but need not (though generally do) correspond to the usual Good and Evil dichotomy. Chaos Wizards command disruptive effects: firebolts, explosions. Order wizards, whose abilities initially seem confined to craftsmanship, Healing and defence, can usefully manipulate the rules (> Quibbles). Thus The Towers of the Sunset, chronologically first in the series, exploits the notion that "ordering" water and wind gives offensive weapons of ice and storm, though at high cost to the wielder: hysterical blindness. The Magic of Recluce has an Ugly-Duckling hero who emerges as a natural Order master who single-handedly destroys the leading current Chaos wizard.

LEM's sf experience gives the later books an interesting turn by combining magic and technology (> Technofantasy). The Magic Engineer's eponymous innovator is a Renaissance man who controversially develops steamships with high-pressure systems and an outer armour of magically enhanced iron (> Cold Iron), harnessing the Chaos of Fire. Later, in The Order War, similar techniques allow more advanced weaponry – ultimately including an approximation to a military laser, which reshapes the world. (There is a sly indication that nuclear weapons would be feasible, but inadvisable.) In the Order-Chaos arms race, rigorous conservation laws apply: as with electric charge, one side's accumulation of "positive" magic increases the availability of "negative" magic to the other, and the final victory in The Order War part-cripples the resources of the nominal victors.

The magical system, with its planetary Balance, is a strength of these books; the writing, though, is often sloppy, with repeated phrases and plot structures, and a tiresome line in onomatopoeia. [DRL]

Leland Exton Modesitt Jr

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.