The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment
by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Edited by David Hartwell
Cover Artist: John Jude Palencar
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765335449
Date: 17 September 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The title of this novel refers to the old saying, "In a land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." In this story the blindness is not literal, but it still keeps people from seeing or admitting the truth before their eyes. The one-eyed man must lead the people out of the dark.
In the future, the colony world of Stittara is the golden goose. Unique life forms on the planet have led to discoveries that have extended people's lives and improved health. The Unity government does not want to risk the loss of these advancements.
Travel between planets is slow. Any round trip will almost guarantee that the people leaving won't see those they are leaving behind. The Unity government must be seen to do something, so it hires a consultant to perform an environmental impact survey.
Dr. Paulo Verano is at the top of his field. A recent separation leaves him in a financial situation that he isn't pleased with. When the offer to leave his problems behind comes in, he takes the plunge. What he finds creates more questions than answers. If his employers expected Verano to perform the standard cursory survey, they picked the wrong guy. The more he researches the unhappier some of the leading corporations seem to be. He also discovers that some of the things that are happening may be part of a regular cycle of reactions.
Although Modesitt is best known for his fantasy writing, he also enjoys writing science fiction. He has written several series that are science-based adventures. Although never the primary theme, one of the common themes in several of the ones that I've read is longevity. Humans strive to extend their lives through scientific research. In some cases they have great success; in The One-Eyed Man this ability to extend lives is very important as a driving force for many of the choices that the characters make.
According to the author's website, this novel was originally a short story based on the cover art. As the story developed it became more than the requested length and wasn't close to completion, and Modesitt sold this new idea and wrote another story to fit the original request. There is a long history in science fiction and fantasy of writing stories to meet the artwork. A couple of examples are Robert Silverberg in the sixties and seventies and Eric Flint in his Ring of Fire short story collections today. The ability to create a good story based on a single picture is the mark of a good writer, and you won't be disappointed with The One-Eyed Man.
One of the characteristics of a Modesitt story is the inclusion of a real relationship. Characters don't have picture perfect interactions. They make mistakes. Those mistakes sometimes lead to pain, anger, and distrust. This is a reflection of real life. Not everything is perfect, and love requires work.