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Story Behind The One-Eyed Man by L E Modesitt Jr

I never intended to write the novel that became The One-Eyed Man. When David Hartwell sent me a copy of the cover painting by John Jude Palencar, the idea was that I, and four other writers, would write a short story that based on the painting, and Tor.com would publish them as part of what became known as the Palencar Project. The “only” problem I had was that my first attempt at a short story reached 15,000 words with no end in sight. So I set it aside and wrote a true short story [“New World Blues”] that was published with the others in the Palencar Project in early 2012 and then went back to finish Antiagon Fire, the Imager Portfolio book I’d been working on at the time. But when I finished that, I discovered that I really wanted to finish the unnamed story that I’d started, and doing it right required a great deal more than I’d anticipated, including learning more about the composition of human cartilage and the vascular systems of plants and trees, and then integrating that with what I knew about planetary formation, ecological interdependence, political chicanery, and everything else I knew from my years in the political and consulting worlds I’d worked in for far too many years.

The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment 

The problem behind the story is simple. The planet Stittara provides the pharmaceuticals that have more than tripled the lifespans of those who can afford them, i.e., those who are upper middle class and above, but there are concerns that human settlers and pharmaceutical companies on Stittara may be changing the ecology, and any such change will threaten those pharmaceuticals. Therefore, the government commissions an ecological study to assess the ecological condition of Stittara and sends a top ecologist – Paulo Verano – to investigate.

One aspect of the book that I suspect will strike some readers as “unrealistic” is why there even is a consulting assignment for Paulo Verano in the first place, given that, first, no one will know his findings for 150 years, and, second, that the politicians who create it will be long gone by then. Yet – in my view, at least – the scenario is anything but unrealistic. The politicians have to come up with a “solution” now to retain power. Not doing anything, or waiting to see, is a political disaster because it would suggest that the politicians’ “failure” might mean shortening the lifespans of the powerful, who control the political system in the Unity. Or, put another way, it’s my suggestion that this aspect of human nature and power – both political and corporate -- isn’t likely to change, even tens of thousands of years into the future. 

The book raises not only social, ecological, and political questions, but also a much broader issue of perspective… and I’m not going to say more about that, except to say that it’s critical to the problems Verano faces and to the resolution of the book. And no, the universe isn’t threatened, and Verano doesn’t have to save it… which is good, because he’s an ecologist who’s having more than enough trouble just staying alive while doing his job.

Oh… and, by the way, I did persuade Tor to include “New World Blues” and an afterword at the back of The One-Eyed Man…but it’s not in the ARC; so you can’t get it that way.


L.E. Modesitt Jr.
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