New Ideas?

The other day I was reading reader reviews of Rex Regis , a habit that my wife disparages, and there is, I must admit, a certain validity to that disparagement, but I occasionally find useful comments and every so often those which are thought-provoking.

The comment that I found thought-provoking was one reader’s comment that because a lead-lined room for limiting the power of imagers figured in the book, I had to be running out of ideas. To me that comment revealed a certain unrealistic short-sightedness. In the world of Terahnar, the use of lead-lined rooms for imagers dates back well before the beginning of Scholar, and there’s no secret to the usefulness of lead in this regard. Those who used the lead room did so exactly because that usefulness was well known, although they did employ another device that had just been developed, a fact seemingly overlooked by the reader.

Now and again, I’ve noted similar comments about other authors’ works as well; so my observations don’t represent something limited just to my work. As I have stated more than once, human beings will employ what is useful, and they will continue to use whatever they find useful until it is no longer useful or until they find a better way or tool. If more than one person uses a gun or laser or whatever, that doesn’t mean an author is out of ideas; it means he or she understands people and tools.

Somewhere, among a certain group of fantasy readers, there seems to be a belief that each and every problem must be resolved in a new and unique way, as if the only measure of author creativity is a new and different solution to each problem, even if some of those problems are the same nature as preceding difficulties. It’s one thing to use a new technique or technology if it fits into the story, can be supported by the magic/technology in use or is a logical outgrowth of that magic or technology, and doesn’t require resources beyond the ability of the individual or culture, but to throw in “new” gimmicks merely to keep readers interested or for the sake of trying to usually ends up undermining the credibility of the story… and the author.

Yet, at the same time, I do understand the desire on the part of readers for something “new,” for something to inspire that sense of wonder. The problem is that “new” things don’t happen that often in any civilization, and need to be introduced sparingly… or the author ends up producing a magic funhouse (in fantasy) or technoporn (in SF), neither of which are something to which I aspire. So it’s likely you’ll only see “new” techniques and/or gadgets in my work when they fit in the societies I’m describing… as I’ve tried to do all along.

10 Responses to “New Ideas?”

  1. rehcra says:

    You’ve turned someones turn-a-ma-bob into a screwdriver. Problem might just be the lack of wonder ,that idea once presented, lessens the enjoyment the person is able to take from the story. That is not a criticization of your world building but of it’s presentation compared to past books. An easy solution is to makes characters have to improvise. Cleaver improvisation can often come across as a wacky gadget. of course a solution to a nonexistent problem is kind of a wacky gadget all in of its self.

    -Mostly off topic question. Lead is used to stop Imagers from imaging in their sleep. So the average Imager doesn’t actually need to see to image. So theoretically could a person born blind still Image using their other senses even though they would never have developed that part of their brain that allows them to interpret images? Or must it be mentally visualized… visually(if that makes sense)?


  2. Mental visualization and visual location are both required.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    I’m with you on this one, at least with human cultures that haven’t been totally isolated from each other for long periods. Under those circumstances, given similar resource availability, one (or a very small number – competitive solutions could occasionally arise) suffices, unless there is some _reason_ for more; and to minimize clutter and distraction for both author and reader, color can mostly be achieved other ways.

    Speaking of which, I’d love to know near near equivalents for some of the ingredients and recipes (esp. the fruits and spicy foods from the Recluce series), if that wouldn’t go too far taking them out of the realm of individual imagination.

  4. Jim says:

    Ummmm, the practice was in use well after the time of the Scholar series and was considered the most effective means of controlling the effects of unconscious imaging, right? So, inventing a fancier way in the Scholar times would mean that the lead lined room used by Rhenn would have been foolish. I agree with LEM, people will, when they can, use the most efficient tool at hand unless it is far more expensive than the old one.

    Also, I agree with RH. I’d love to get some recipes. After reading about Jonat’s fried apples in Flash, I tried them – and everyone I have made them for has really enjoyed them :-)

  5. Jim says:

    One of the things I really enjoy when reading LEM’s work is the consistency of thought, technology, and magic. When there are differences, it makes sense – not just because he wanted to “jazz things up”!

  6. Ryan Jackson says:

    Funny part is, the whole lead lined room for Imagers did bug me throughout the Prequels. But not because it was “unoriginal” or any such nonsense.

    I spent four books (starting with the wedding) in utter fear for Vaelora every time her and Quaeryt went to bed together.

    Part of that is that I’ve spent too long reading and looking at the hows and why’s. Kept expecting the Checkov’s gun to fire since it had been placed on the mantelpiece in the very first book.

    Can’t say as I really understand a complaint of “Unoriginal” Either because nothing is truly original or because “original” shouldn’t matter so much as how well written the story is.

    Let’s be honest, we’ve read Rhen’s story before we knew Quaeryt’s name. We KNEW how this story was going to go. Quaeryt would found the Collegium, Lydar becomes Solidar. We knew what happened between Barovia and Khel ever since a random painting described in Imager’s Challenge.

    The brilliance in the story is the path it takes to get there, the hows, the extras and surprises. The overall arc was never really in question in my mind.

  7. Jim S says:

    Lead makes sense as being a barrier to Imaging; due to its density combined with availability and workability. I’d suspect that there’s actually a minimum threshold (probably slightly variable between imagers due to relative strength). I wouldn’t be surprised if anything deeper into the periodic table would work, too… but probably wouldn’t be too available in that world.

    One of the things I like in your work, Mr. Modesitt, is the depth of the worlds you create. They have history, and it comes up further in a series. Frven’s story as Fairhaven is revealed… The Collegium in Imager is an established entity with traditions and rules and the role of imagers in society has developed. With Quaeryt’s story — we learn how it started. I suspect there’s a middle story worth telling, maybe to do with the real acceptance of the role of imagers and the development of the balance of power between them, the factors/business interest, and the landholders.

  8. Daze says:

    Some of the best of classic science fiction introduces just exactly enough new technology to make the story possible, and otherwise sticks with what we know or can extrapolate. Sometimes this leads to fun anachronisms – e.g. in Blish’s Cities in Flight series you have anti-gravity, rejuvenation, and instantaneous interstellar communication (not called ansibles, because predates U.K. Leguin) – but the computers need to move about on tracks to connect with each other, and interstellar navigators use slide rules for calculations. Jarring though these things can be for a modern reader, the point is that the stories still work and can grab your imagination, because of the believability of the characters, plot and writing.

  9. JakeB says:


    my favorite example of this is a Philip Jose Farmer story in which a spaceship travels faster than the speed of light and busts out of the universe. A crew member goes mad and jumps out of the ship. The ship, the universe (which is small from the outside), and the dead body of the crew member, are all orbiting one another. The onboard computer keeps spitting out punch card after punch card trying to predict the orbits, because it’s completely incapable of even approximating a 3-body problem.

  10. Lee Modesitt III says:

    Most innovation is incremental. Gazillions of examples not just in technology, but also natural selection. Just look at how most people do their work: ok, need a new proposal, document, engineering prototype…did we do something like this before? Yep (that’s probably why we were asked to do this one) so let’s begin with the last proposal, document or design and think about what modifications are needed. And if what I did before was good enough? Probably won’t be too different the next time around.

    This is also why conflict drives more rapid innovation. It shortens the cycle time. It’s a life or death struggle to have something better than what’s currently available. It’s known the enemy is also trying to improve. Therefore, there’s tremendous incentive to do more than just improve over your own version, but also to improve over anticipated improvements by the enemy. And if the stakes are high enough, there’s crazy innovation, like The USS Monitor, U-Boats, and nuclear bombs. Natural selection on steroids.

    Kind of like what happens with Quaeryt…under the pressure of all out war, he pushes himself and advances Imaging skill to levels it wouldn’t have reached for generations.

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