“Flash” L. E. Modesitt Jr.

There’s a particular flavour to an L. E. Modesitt Jr. book, although I’m not quite sure I can describe it. Some of it is that his protagonists tend to be of a type (even tho distinct characters in their own right). They tend to be humble and to not quite believe that they are anything out of the ordinary. They have a core of integrity, and often feel forced into action by circumstances because they can’t comprehend choosing not to do anything and letting things go to hell in a handbasket around them. Most of the books I’ve read by Modesitt have been his fantasy books, and there the protagonist often ends up running a country or becoming a leader of some other sort because he or she can’t stand by, although that wasn’t the case here.

“Flash” is set in a 24th Century Earth that was also the setting for his book “Archform: Beauty”, which I don’t think I’ve read*. I don’t think this is a direct sequel, certainly it appeared to me to be complete in itself. In this future there’s been some sort of “Collapse” (ecological, I think) between our time & theirs and the rebuilt world feels different but like it came out of our world. Some politics continues as we’d expect (some early parts of the book have to do with senatorial elections in NorAm, the replacement for the USA), but large corporations called Multis also run the world. Tech has moved on – not just ubiquitous computing that’s way beyond current stuff, but also more out-there things like cydroids (non-sentient clones, remote controlled by computer or by a person). But some things feel familiar, wines have the same sorts of names for instance.

*Between writing that paragraph and this review going live I looked in my librarything catalogue and discovered I own “Archform: Beauty”. Ahem. It’s not on the shelf, must’ve been boxed up during a previous cull of the shelves and I’ve pretty much no recollection of reading it.

One thing I thought Modesitt did particularly well with his extrapolation was names. You can figure out what places were before in most cases, but the words have shifted in believable ways. For instance Denver is now Denv, Texas is Tejas. Other words also give you just enough to figure out what they are in combination with their context. Like safo = safety officer = police. Another example is you have a gatekeeper on your computer system that’s partly a firewall and partly there to announce callers, both at the door and on the equivalent of a phone. So the world felt quite solid and plausible, without Modesitt going into much detail.

The protagonist, Jonat deVrai is a consultant who analyses the effects of this future’s equivalent of adverts on sales of products. He’s the best at his job & has a reputation for honesty, and so he gets hired to investigate if a senatorial candidate is illegally using these adverts in his campaign and to analyse if it’s had an effect on the voting results. It soon becomes clear that there’s more going on beneath the surface than deVrai first thought, and the stakes are much higher than he anticipated. Jonat deVrai is also an ex-Marine with PTSD (who publically resigned on a point of principle, another pointer to his integrity), and his military training & background are important in how he reacts to the things he uncovers.

I’m not sure I always followed the details of what was going on, there are a lot of oblique conversations where what isn’t said is as important as what is said (and how it is said). But I did figure out what was going on with Central Four long before deVrai did (and I’m being vague because it would be a shame to spoil it) – to be fair, that was a case where he was blinded by his societal preconceptions whereas as the reader I didn’t have those, but still pleasing 🙂

This was a book I enjoyed reading. I think Modesitt is one of those authors where if you like his stuff, you like his stuff and this book was no exception for me. But all his books do have a distinctive flavour, so if you’re not so fond of it then you’ll probably find it off-putting here as well.