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Bewildering Stories

L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Alector’s Choice
(The Fourth Book of the Corean Chronicles)

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Alector’s Choice
Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2005
Hardcover: $27.95 U.S.
ISBN: 0-765-31387-1
Years ago I found an intriguing pulp fantasy story featuring a harsh-featured, flaming-haired man with a huge hawk behind him. It was John Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor. I liked the book, and I kept looking for others in the series, here and there in various used bookstore visits. Eventually I found another. It was later in the series, and I can’t even remember the name of the book now. I sat down to read it with happy expectations.

Only the sequel had some troubling elements. To make a long story short, it featured a kidnapped Earth female, liberated and emancipated variety, who is transported to Gor and turned into a pleasure slave. The trouble was she liked being a pleasure slave. I remember thinking at the time, stop wagging your tail and licking his boots, you stupid she-dog, and stand up for yourself! But alas, it was no use. She remained hopelessly servile and fawningly submissive to the end of the book. Man was made to be the Dominant Bull, and the cows licked it up. At least that was pretty much the theme of the story.

Norman was a good writer, at least in his early works. He was in fact better than Edgar Rice Burroughs, who of course wrote a similar pulp fantasy (the John Carter series). But the politically incorrect dominance-submission man-woman byplay in his stories pretty much tanked Norman’s reputation as far as main-stream fame and glory went. It’s easy to understand why. Just imagine that you, gentle reader, have a fondness for wearing red silk girly panties when you embrace your beloved. They go so great with your hairy chest. Such fetishes are fine when they’re discreet. Who cares? But let the fetishes hang out on the public laundry line, and it’s not so fine. Some things should just be kept private.

I found myself thinking of John Norman’s fatal fetish when I read L. E. Modesitt’s latest book in the Corean series. You may wonder why. Modesitt’s heroes, throughout the entire series, are scrupulously upright souls. They are chivalrous to women, answer Yes, sir and No, sir, work hard, value the family and save the sex for after marriage.

But there’s a fatal flaw in these would-be heroes, and it’s one that Modesitt doesn’t seem to be aware of. They are without exception the most polite and seemingly cold-blooded killers I’ve encountered in many a read. I noted this problem with an earlier review of a story in the Corean Chronicles (see my earlier review of Legacies). Is the author aware of how chilling his heroes are? They’re hollow men whose gloss of good manners hides a frostily effective talent for mass manslaughter. In more than one of the books, this talent fuels their meteoric rise up the ranks (as it does for the hero of this story, Mykel). Triple-digit death-counts: the sure-fire way to rise to the top.

Modesitt is not a character-oriented author. What works in all his stories is what also works in Alector’s Choice. Modesitt is a world-builder par excellence, and the detail and depth of his stories are what fuel his sales and his readership.

Alector’s Choice begins with an intriguing mystery. Colonel Dainyl belongs to the elite ruling rank of Alectors, who are off-world invaders who may just have sucked the life-force out of their previous habitation. They’re managing what they call the steers and that ever-critical life-force on their new colony of Corus, and they have a problem. The steers in question are the local inhabitants of a distant mining settlement, and they are in revolt.

Dainyl is sent to investigate, and finds that he can scarcely take a step without putting his foot in a mine-field. His superior officers tend to resolve disciplinary issues with the death of the disciplined, and they seem to have some unspoken interests in the revolt which may conflict with his official instructions. So, too, do the local settlers and the powerful aboriginal inhabitants of Corus, who were thought extinct.

To add to Dainyl’s trouble, there is an up-and-coming steer (man to those of us less prejudiced than the Alectors) named Mykel, whose use of the forbidden Talent requires Dainyl to kill him. But Mykel’s a hero, of course, and he even saves Dainyl’s life. It rather complicates Dainyl’s official instructions to finish him off. Is the Alector going to make the right choice? Read the book and find out.

I hope Modesitt combines his wonderful talent for world-building and description with better characterization of his heroes in future stories. The characterization we see in this one is typical for Modesitt’s Corean series, which is to say, it pretty much stinks.

So I have a challenge for Mr. Modesitt. Can those interchangeable, soulless, super-polite, hollow and efficient killers in the future. Rein in the budding death-dealing fetish. Go out and read Henry IV and the Merry Wives of Windsor. Soak yourself in that bucket of sack, that mountain of lard, that vice-ridden, ferociously alive character named Falstaff. Figure out just why we love him, in spite of his gluttony, his lechery, and his unrepentant sin. I’ll even tell you why. It’s because no one has a greater zest for life than old Falstaff.

What you need, in short, Mr. Modesitt, is a hero with life in him, in all its warts, its warmth, and its failure-ridden humanity. Then I’ll buy every one of your books.

Copyright © 2005 by Danielle L. Parker

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