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The Ecolitan Enigma
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Tor Books, 383 pages

The Ecolitan Enigma
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is the author of the Recluce fantasy series and a string of science fiction novels, notably The Parafaith War, Of Tangible Ghosts, and Adiamante.

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L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Tribute Site
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

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Monsters as political leaders have been a recurrent nightmare in this century -- from Lenin, Hitler, Stalin & Mao to such comparative small-timers as Idi Amin, Pol Pot & Slobodan Milosevic. The record of "good governments" in dealing with monsters is not encouraging. Millions of lives could have been saved with a few snipers' bullets... why weren't they?

Modesitt posits the Ecolitan Institute, on the Coordinate capitol world of Accord, as a genocide-prevention force: "The Institute, for better or worse, operates on principle. They try to avoid small wars... by deceit, assassination, or economic warfare. They willl try any type of small-scale tactic to avoid war... That's the good side... The other side is that when they do fight, they insure they don't have to fight that enemy again."

Economist Nathaniel Whaler is sent to the frontier colony of Artos, ostensibly to do a survey of the planet's infrastructure. His (barely) covert mission is to look into rumors of war. His task is complicated by multiple assassination attempts. Clearly, he and the Institute are being set up as fall guys by one of the interstellar powers -- but which one?

Shadowy organizations of dedicated, competent fighters-against-evil are a classic SF trope, and Modesitt knows the classics. The Ecolitan Enigma is the latest and one of the best. It is thoughtful, well-written, an accurate and disturbing portrait of the dark side of humanity -- "Greed and force -- that's all most people listen to."

This isn't a grim or preachy book 1 -- Modesitt's action and intrigue scenes are first-rate, and the ending is, well, earth-shaking. The Ecolitan Enigma can be enjoyed as a first-rate political-adventure tale, as a continuation of a long-running SF conversation, or as an examination of human nature... it's an outstanding work, and I plan to reread it.

I see I've left out the economic basis of conflict, the well-drawn characters, the romance-amidst-danger and intrigue... Well, trust me. You'll enjoy it. Assuming you've liked books in the shadowy-future-space-institute sub-genre before. It's like them, only superior -- subtler, better-written, and less self-righteous.

This is (I believe) Modesitt's 20th novel, of which I've read but two. The Ecolitan Enigma is the fourth Ecolitan novel, but it's definitely a stand-alone. I haven't encountered the previous three, but I plan to find out if they're of similar quality.


(1) Okay, Modesitt does get a bit heavy-handed at times, especially when dealing with politicians. And he includes a major spoiler (in my opinion) in the first 20 pages. But you'll get over it.

Copyright © 1998 by Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at www.silcom.com/~manatee/reviewer.html#tillman .


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