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Gravity Dreams
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Tor Books, 399 pages


Stephen Youll
Gravity Dreams
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 and and Adiamante.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Colors of Chaos
SF Site Review: Of Tangible Ghosts and Ghost of the Revelator
SF Site Review: The Soprano Sorceress
SF Site Review: The Ecolitan Enigma
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Tribute Site
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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It is a truism that the science fiction field has grown well beyond the capacity of any one person to keep track of everything that is produced each year. This fact was brought home to me as I picked up Gravity Dreams, the latest novel by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and realised that the man has written almost 30 novels, and until now I had never read any of them. If Gravity Dreams is any indication, I've been missing out on some good books.

Gravity Dreams is set approximately 2500 years from now, long after our present civilisation has destroyed itself. The main character is Tyndel, a resident of Dorcha and a dzin Master. Dorcha is a religiously low technology society, and dzin is a philosophy that emphasizes moderation in all things, especially in the acquisition of knowledge. Such a society can breed malcontents, and when one of them infects Tyndel with an old strain of nanites, Tyndel is forced to flee to Rykasha, the land of demons.

In reality, Rykasha is a high tech, space-faring civilisation that regards Dorcha and similar societies as barely better than termites. The Rykashans save Tyndel and enhance his body with nanotechnology, but they expect something in return. Tyndel has the aptitude to become a pilot, one of few able to navigate through hyperspace. The Rykashans expect Tyndel to pay off the debt incurred by saving him, and it is here that the story of Gravity Dreams really begins.

The philosophical bases of Dorchan and Rykashan society are almost diametrically opposed, and it is in the mind and actions of Tyndel that the conflict is played out. Gravity Dreams is billed as an action-adventure story, but the action actually serves to lure the reader in to what is really a novel of character and social philosophy. Tyndel strives throughout the book to understand his own motivations and the motivations of others in Rykasha. He struggles against the idea of becoming a pilot, and those around him despair of his ever fitting in.

The key to it all is Tyndel's sense of honesty. The Rykashans pride themselves on being an honest society that cannot afford self-deception, and which, as a society, shows no sympathy for individuals who cannot measure up. Nanotechnology can be used not only to enhance physical abilities, but also to control behaviour. Tyndel is forced through the story to confront his own self-deception, and in doing so comes face-to-face with the inherent deceptions of Rykashan society. The story comes to a climax when Rykasha as a whole encounters the same problem that has faced Tyndel: How do you adapt when confronted with something so far above your own society that in contrast, your faults are immediately laid open for all to see?

Almost all the conflict in Gravity Dreams is played out in the thoughts of Tyndel, and it is in his internal conflict that the story and its philosophy are presented. C.J. Cherryh is the master of this method, and in many ways Gravity Dreams resembles a Cherryh novel, most notably books like Tripoint and Rimrunners, whose characters have been pulled from one life and forced to survive in another. Modesitt, however, is more interested in the structure of society, as compared to Cherryh's concern with the effect of power politics on those caught up in events not of their own making. Gravity Dreams presents us with several societies that are the way they are very much as a reaction to our own mistakes and excesses. As such, it is an interesting discussion of various social theories, but what makes the book a worthy novel is the character of Tyndel, and the reader's ability to empathise with him and his problems. Gravity Dreams is a book for those readers who appreciate the fact that, even while facing life on other worlds and the dangers of hyperspace travel, L.E. Modessitt's characters are real people, with desires, hopes, and ambitions that are a direct consequence of the time and place they live in.

Copyright © 1999 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, where he currently devotes his spare time to figuring out just how much chicken Tyndel consumes in Gravity Dreams. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction and Tangent Online.


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