The Ecolitan Enigma by L.E. Modesitt Jr science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Ecolitan Enigma by L.E. Modesitt Jr science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Ecolitan Enigma by L.E. Modesitt Jr

The Ecolitan Enigma (1997) closes out L.E. Modesitt Jr’s four-book ECOLITAN MATTER series. It’s a direct sequel to The Ecologic Envoy which was published in 1986, so you need to read that book first. The other two books in the series, The Ecolitan Operation (1989) and The Ecologic Secession (1990), take place 400 years earlier with different (but related) characters, so you don’t need to read them.

In the previous book (according to internal chronology), The Ecolitan Envoy, we met Nathaniel Whaler, the top economist at the Ecolitan Institute on the planet Accord. The Institute’s mission is to quietly prevent, in whatever (usually Machiavellian) manner necessary, activities by the Empire or others that might possibly lead to widespread suffering and death.

The Empire has tried, but failed, to kill Nathaniel. Now he’s back on Accord with his new love interest, Sylvia, who used to be a secret agent for the Empire. He’s hoping to have some time to relax and get to know Sylvia better, but instead the Institute has been asked to send him to Artos, an old-fashioned backwater planet, where his mission is, ostensibly, to assess its economic potential. Nathaniel and his superiors at the Institute know the mission to Artos may be a trap, but Nathaniel would rather take action than sit and wait for someone to kill him, so he goes to Artos, taking Sylvia with him.

Nathaniel is used to working alone but it turns out that Sylvia can do more than just look good in her uniform. The couple, who have different backgrounds, strengths and skills, must work together to solve the mystery on Artos. They like each other, but their different ethical philosophies create a lot of tension (the same tension we’ve seen in previous books).

The Ecolitan Enigma by L.E. Modesitt Jr science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSylvia, understandably, thinks the Ecolitan Institute is immoral, while Nathaniel suggests she’s the immoral one because she thinks it’s okay to let millions of people die before somebody steps up and does something about it. (For example, assassinating a tyrannical political leader who might invade a neighboring country and kill millions of its citizens.) This ethical dilemma is not a new one, and it was interesting to contemplate these issues during a time when world events make them just as relevant as ever.

As expected, the explosions, sabotage, poison, and various other deadly shenanigans start as soon as Nathaniel and Sylvia land on Artos. Someone wants to prevent them from seeing something on that planet, or perhaps they’re just trying to get revenge for what happened in the previous book. The story is exciting as the couple dodge multiple assassination attempts while trying to figure out who’s after them and why. Careful investigation shows that there is indeed something nefarious going on and the stakes are much higher than anyone anticipated.

As the story concludes, we see the heavy toll that Nathaniel’s ethical principles and actions have taken on him and others. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t discuss it, but I was pleased that Modesitt didn’t take the easy way out. He addresses the difference between morality and justification while forcing his protagonist to struggle with the consequences of his ideas and behaviors.

Tantor Audio’s editions of the ECOLITAN MATTER novels which are nicely read by Kirby Heyborne. I recommend them to anyone who wants to read this series.

Published in 1997. L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s science-fiction novels have been pleasing audiences for nearly two decades. Among his earlier novels were three books set in the future universe of the Ecolitan Institute. Now Modesitt returns to that world to tell another story of cultural conflict and interstellar diplomacy. The Ecolitan Enigma is sure to thrill his old fans and win new ones. Nathaniel Firstborn Whaler is an Ecolitan, both a professor at the Institute and a field agent with extraordinary powers. Sent to a backwater colony planet nominally to determine its economic viability, Whaler evades an assassin’s bullets only steps from the spaceport. He soon uncovers evidence that the planet will become the flashpoint for interstellar conflict between two empires, with each prepared to blame the Ecolitan Institute should war break out. Whaler must do everything in his power to stop what might become the worst disaster in human history. And Nathaniel Whaler just may have more power than any man in the galaxy.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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