Reading an L. E. Modesitt story is like sitting down on a bus next to another passenger who suddenly begins talking to you. At first it seems like he might have some interesting ideas, but then you realize he’s actually the most boring person in the world.
There are good writers and there are bad writers. Then there are mediocre writers. L. E. Modesitt is a mediocre writer. He doesn’t lack for ideas. There are plenty of ideas in Viewpoints Critical, some that are even intriguing. He’s even good enough as a world builder. He can put one word after another and even introduce the occasional stylish flourish into the mix. But his characters are cliches and his plots are dead on their feet.
Reading an author’s short stories can give you some insights into his writing. Viewpoints Critical, a collection of L. E. Modesitt’s short stories does that. And the insight is that L. E. Modesitt is a hopelessly mediocre writer. Some of his early Science Fiction stories have promise. They even read like watered down Heinlein. But that’s all that L. E. Modesitt ‘s writing ever has. Promise. Potential. And then nothing.
L. E. Modesitt is not a storyteller. There are writers who are and are deficient in everything else, but they can tell a story. L. E. Modesitt approaches a story the way that a carpenter approaches a building project. He sets it up and builds it and it’s functional, it holds things up, but it’s also soulless, bland and boring. Give L. E. Modesitt a fantasy setting and within a 100 pages it becomes a task list with the protagonist working his way up through barrel-making (I wish I was joking) or being a police officer. Occasionally he’ll kill a bunch of people and resolve a political problem that way. Then he’ll go back to what he was doing before.
The stories in Viewpoints Critical are not that bad, but they share the same symptoms of mediocrity. Forced to set a story in the present day, strips away L. E. Modesitt ‘s worldbuilding skills and leaves him with the bland characters and the checklist. L. E. Modesitt ‘s default mode is didactic. Even when the stories don’t directly preach at you, they’re a task list of another kind. There’s no sense of wonder or surprise. Just the dull knowledge that the author has set out to do something and by the time he’s finished, it’s done.
Not all of the Viewpoints Critical stories are this bad. Some of the earlier stories have that sense of potential, but it’s very brief. L. E. Modesitt is comfortable with the didactic. Everything from the politics to the magic to the tools works in a very limited way and the story consists of him telling you how they work at great length.
There’s something to be said for that, but mostly it’s like sitting on a bus while the passenger next to you tells you in great detail what it’s like to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Every book and story that L. E. Modesitt writes seems to be another excursion to the Fantasy or Science Fiction version of the DMV.