L.E. Modesitt, Jr is perhaps better known for his many fantasy novels, ‘The Saga Of Recluce’ above all, but he turns out a fair bit of Science Fiction, too. ‘The Elysium Commission’ falls into this category and is also a detective novel. Science Fiction detective novels are a venerable category going back to Isaac Asimov’s 1954 novel ‘The Caves Of Steel’, if not further. Combining the complex plot of a good detective story with the complex background of a good Science Fiction novel can make things…well, complex. Be prepared to focus for the first few chapters of this book as it contains much information and many names to remember. The first three chapters were so good I read them twice, though I was tired the first time. I must admit that I was confused at times by later chapters and wasn’t sure what the hell was going on.
In summary, Blaine Donne is our hero and the first person narrator of this adventure. He is a retired military special operative, now for hire as a private investigator. Business has been slack and he’s short on credits but in chapter three, he gets two commissions. One is from Seldara Tozzi, a very rich widow and patron of the arts. Her great-granddaughter is setting out to marry an unsuitable chap, Guillaume Richard Dyorr, a scoundrel who represents himself as ‘straight-straight’ but may actually be keeping another man. It’s his misrepresentation, not his sexual orientation, that bothers the grande dame. She wants Blaine to get the goods on him. The second case is from another lady, Seigniora Elisabetta Reynarda. She wants to find out the exact relationship between Eloi Enterprises, Judeon Maraniss and Elysium. Our hero knows that Eloi Enterprises is a gigantic media and entertainment empire but the other names are a mystery. Elysium, of course, is a word used for many enterprises down the ages, from hotels to consulting firms. He has a lot of work to do.
The novel is set in one of those far distant futures where competing interstellar powers occupy the galaxy, where men can become women and women become men, where technology can do just about anything. Our hero’s home planet is ruled by a Sisterhood and not democratic but that doesn’t bother him too much. He has seen worse democracies. Interestingly, as in many such novels, the character of man (and woman) has not much improved in the far future. Nor has society generally, though advanced technology makes it very comfortable for many. Surely, one reason for the popularity of ‘Star Trek’ is its vision of a better future for humanity, albeit one besieged by Klingons, Cardassians and super-powered whales. The more realistic vision is more likely to be true, if the future follows history, but the Trekkie vision is much nicer.
As in the ‘Imager Portfolio’ series, L.E. Modesitt goes in a lot for French place names: Nouvelle Seine, Left Bank and so on. It goes well, this Gallic air, with his love of good food and wine which is adoringly described as usual. Perhaps we should call him Le Modesitt as his surname is of French origin. There is also a bit of barbed sophistication about the social interchanges among the rich elites he describes. They don’t quite say what they mean but their meaning can be inferred by one who knows the code. As Le Modesitt spent some time in Washington politics, I can only assume that this kind of thing and he does it well, reflects his own experience of a certain social scene. In general, his books are about successful, powerful people competing for high stakes. This novel is no exception.
I’ve enjoyed a half dozen or so of Modesitt’s fantasy novels and a volume of his Science Fiction short stories but this is the first SF novel of his that I’ve read. Despite getting a bit lost in the middle, indicating either a very complicated plot or my grey matter shrinking with age (probably the latter), I was very happy with the book by the time I reached the end. Everything was wound up in a satisfactory manner and I set it aside with a satisfied sigh. Hopefully, other readers will do likewise.
(pub: TOR/SciFi Channel. 336 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-765-31720-9)
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