Book Review: The One-Eyed Man (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, November 05, 2013
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is a hard working author, delivering book after book in righteous succession. With The One-Eye Man he takes a brief interlude from his currently running Imager Portfolio series (the previous two books reviewed HERE and HERE), to expound on a short story inspired by a nebulous painting (the image which serves as this book's cover art). From this strange juxtaposition, Modesitt invests significant time crafting a unique combination of worlds replete with complex governmental systems. World building has always been his strongest suit as an author, and within these pages is woven an intriguing creation, imbued with artificial Frankensteinian animation. But the narrative is not without its snags, which we will get to.
The One-Eyed Man follows Dr. Paulo Verano, a freelance consultant who is also an expert ecologist. Following a messy separation from his unfaithful wife, Verano takes a lucrative government contract to investigate human and corporate impact on Stittara, a planet which supplies the main worlds with their longevity drugs. It's also the least populated and furthest distant from home for him. He takes the job as a means of distancing himself from his personal problems- near light speed travel comes with accompanying time dilation; the trip takes weeks for Verano but seventy-five years has passed for everyone off ship.
On Stittara, the situation becomes less and less straightforward, with multiple factions dealing in the shadows to influence Verano's report. The mysterious Skytubes, airborne organisms which react violently to all attempts at discovering their nature, may play a critical role in the drama, and are certainly a cause for consternation. Are they merely ameba-like or do they possess sentience? The answer could be accompanied by severe consequences.
Despite the influence of enormous corporations and planetary governments Verano sticks to what he knows, diligently investigating and processing data. Therein lies a the texture of The One-Eyed Man's shortfall- Verano spends a great deal of paragraph real estate diligently investigating. It does grow mildly repetitive. There is not a great deal of action to be had here. That which is present is quick and inexplicable- Verano's combat ability also seems strangely overstated, as his Tai Chi like workout regimen allows him to overcome skilled opponents without significant investment. This feels somewhat unearned.
Fans of the Imager Portfolio will probably be unfazed by the detailed itinerary of structured planetary research which Verano conducts because it bares a great deal of resemblance to the narrative description of military marching and camp arraignment contained in those books. The primary difference is that those books are punctuated with explosive action sequences, where as the conflict here is primarily social in nature- think conversational combat where an errant word will mean great injury.
In sum total The One-Eyed Man is engaging and entertaining, though not action packed. The world is robust and full, and the science fiction technology is sufficiently fantastical. The second half of the narrative feels far more engrossing that the first, which admittedly takes some time building up steam (or plasma, ions, etc). Fans of hard sci-fi and those of procedural investigations will get the most from The One-Eyed Man, where as more casual fans might feel a bit bogged down by the work like nature of it. As a bonus, the original short story Modesitt wrote based on the painting is included at the end.
The One-Eyed Man is available now from Tor Publishing in hardback for $25.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
Mania Grade: C+
Author: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Book Series: One-Shot
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 352pps