Flash – L. E. Modesitt Jr.



An expert on product placement in a decadent society, Jonat de Vrai finds himself the target of assassination attempts.


I first found L.E. Modesitt, as I imagine many did, through his remarkable The Magic of Recluce. It’s a terrific story, and if you haven’t read it yet, go straight there now and buy it.

I stuck with Modesitt through at least nine books of the Recluce series, as it gradually went downhill – not really worse, but just retelling the same story over and over. I tried to follow him into several new series and standalone novels, but none of them stuck. Some were decent, some were pretty weak.

So why am I here now? Well, a few reasons.

1) when I like an author, I stick with him as long as I can;

2) the book was free;

3) I made a mistake – I didn’t realize this was the second in a series. Until recently, I’d never heard of, let alone read, the first, Archform: Beauty.

I’m not sure that would have made a difference, but I deeply hope that first book does a terrific job of setting the stage. I found Flash to be nearly impenetrable, stuffed with so many neologisms and unexplained concepts that at page 20, and page 40, and page 50, and page 100, I found myself wondering how I could possibly read another 400 pages. Had the author been new to me, I would have quit, much as I dislike doing that with any book. Instead, I trudged painfully on, trying not to look at the worrying ‘remaining pages’ figure at the bottom of my Nook.

One example – ‘cydroids’ are central to the book, but they’re never really explained. I originally thought they were more android than cyborg, but in fact they seem to be pretty much human, physically speaking.

While the story itself improves slightly (there’s more action) by about page 300, other obstacles arise. For example, midway through the book there are suddenly also chapters from a new point of view, though the change is unannounced, and not immediately obvious.

The good points: as always with Modesitt, the protagonist is likeable, interesting, relatable, good to tag along with.

The bad points: Aside from the above points, Modesitt unfortunately inserts a fair amount of (what I assume to be) his own political views in the story. They don’t agree with mine, but then Heinlein’s didn’t either. The problem here is that there’s no real reason to include most of them – they don’t add to the story (come to that, in later books, Heinlein’s didn’t either). In my view, it just got in the way.

The story is about Jonat de Vrai, an ex-marine product placement consultant. And we hear a lot about the life of a product placement consultant. Now, as it happens, I am a consultant, though not in product placement or anything like it. Parts of de Vrai’s life were right on (feast or famine), but a lot of it didn’t ring true. And, more to the point, it was deadly dull to read.

As often happens with Modesitt’s characters, the protagonist is widely recognized as relentless moral and upright. He’s forced my circumstance to do bad things to people, but when he causes collateral deaths, it’s different than when the bad guys do it. Because it wasn’t his fault. That line of thinking loses its effect when it’s true for every protagonist we see.

Overall, I found this to be a painful read, and a big disappointment from an author I’ve liked before. If you have any inclination toward this series start with the first book. I will not be going out to get it.

Also, Grey tea is the drink of the future. If not simply Earl Grey tea, I don’t know what it is, but Jonat can’t go more than a page without drinking it, so it must be really something.

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