True Review
Current Issue Number 74 Vol.19 No.3  February 2010
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

BLACK HILLS:

BLACK HILLS, by Dan Simmons. Reagan Arthur Books/Little Brown (www.hachettebookgroup.com), 2010, 485 pp., $25.99. ISBN 978-0-316-00698-9

In Simmons’ previous novel, TERROR (from my review in TR 67), a sea captain by the name of Francis Crozier, trained to survive as a navy officer in Her Majesty’s Service, must rethink and relearn and undo everything he has come to learn about naval survival to endure the hardships of a Northwest Passage trip gone terrifyingly wrong. To survive, Crozier must adapt. To survive, the captain must change.

It’s a common thread with the work of Simmons – the transformation, mentally and physically, of someone so they may survive.

For the characters that inhabit many of his novels, that transformation often comes with a heavy price.

In BLACK HILLS, Simmons introduces us to Sioux (but not warrior) Paha Sapa, whose name translates literally as “Black Hills.” Yes, those Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore. It was the 11-summer-old young would-be warrior, Paha Sapa, counting coup with Lakota warriors who are defending their land from wasicun (the white man) and the invader Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and Custer’s wasicu cavalry. Paha Sapa is gifted (or cursed, as we find out) with his talent, what he calls “small-vision-backward-touching” that allows him, after touching another’s skin, to “receive a jumble of memories and voices and sounds and visual images that were not his own.” In one battle, he absorbs the “soul” or “memories” of the legendary Crazy Horse. In another of our nation’s most popular battles, one that will live in history – the battle of what the whites call “Little Big Horn” in June 1876, and what Paha Sapa refers to the battle of the Greasy Grass -- Long Hair (Custer) lives on in Paha Sapa’s mind, first at war with him, then almost a nagging acceptance – as acceptable as a West Point graduate can be living in a Lakota Sioux’s body.

Custer and Paha Sapa have conversations about being a warrior, about the history of the Lakota people, about the great westward expanse, about Paha Sapa’s courage, or lack of it – and that’s just a sampling.

The story of Paha Sapa, his growing up, his Vision Quest, and his desire to learn his destiny from the Six Grandfathers – whatever that destiny may entail -- all comes to bear in a story that literally spans generations. The movement of the white man to the West, the deportation of Native Americans to reservations, brings Paha Sapa to various locales and careers, first at the Wild West Show at Jackson Park, Illinois (just outside Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition) in July 1893, where he courts and falls in love with his soon-to-be wife, Rain. Eventually he travels much further East, to New York, to learn how first to be a cable man from Big Bill Slovak during the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Paha Sapa travels with Slovak westward to learn how to be a gold mine munitions expert. Which brings Paha Sapa, eventually, to August of 1936, when he helped in demolitions at Mount Rushmore (first with some hilarity and adventure, moving a dilapidated submarine engine to the site of the Mount Rushmore carvings).

There are flashbacks to his courtship with Rain and her eventual death, to the birth and upbringing of his brilliant son Robert, to the “present-day” Great Depression setting of the opening of Mount Rushmore. Paha Sapa becomes the country’s first great terrorist, trying to rid the insulting rock face, with its arrogant wasicu great leaders – his destiny, which he foresaw in his Vision Quest by the Six Grandfathers, to stop the building of the Mount Rushmore monument – by blowing it up.

As in TERROR, you have to read this novel, and hang on to this novel, to the very end. With Simmons, just when you think it’s over, it’s not – because you find out early that Paha Sapa’s talent for “small-vision-backward-touchings” extends not only to the past but to the future. There is a breathtaking spirituality present in the world of Paha Sapa, which Simmons captures brilliantly, page by page.

As with Simmons, Paha Sapa enjoyed the works of H.G. Wells, particularly THE TIME MACHINE – and it shows. What separates the visions of the visionaries is not measured in miles or clothing or standards of living or halls of education, but something quite extraordinary. That extraordinary is measured, ever so calmly, entwining Native American lore with all the wonders of science and imagination in BLACK HILLS.

Andy Andrews

 

Black Hills - Dan Simmons Warriors - George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois Additional Reviews Diving Into The Wreck - Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Jewel Hinged Jaw - Samuel R. Delaney

Boilerplate - Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett Swords From The Desert - Howard Andrew Jones Shades of Gray - Jasper Fforde Muse and Reverie - Charles de Lint Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's - Charles A. Cerami

The Raindrop's Adventure - Kimberly Kerr An Irish Country Christmas - Patrick Taylor Twilight Zone - Carol Serling Home For Christmas - Andrew M. Greeley Amelia Earhart - Lori Van Pelt

A Simple Christams - Mike Huckabee Puttering About in a Small Land - Philip K. Dick   Are You There - Jack Skillingstead The Fantasy Writer's Assistant - Jeffrey Ford

RECOMMENDED

CYBERABAD DAYS, by Ian McDonald. Pyr/Prometheus (www.prometheusbooks.com), 2009, 279 pp., $15.00. ISBN 978-1-59102-699-0

Seven stories in CYBERABAD DAYS are set in the year 2047 in India, including a Hugo Award winner and nominee.

THE THIRD SIGN, by Gregory A. Wilson. Five Star/Gale Cengage Learning (www.gale.cengage.com), 2009, 351 pp., $25.95. ISBN 978-1-59414-765-4

Calen Gollnet, resident of the country of Klune, watches as his world goes to war, as the peace made by the king and the arlics has become tenuous at best. But the armies are the least of his concern, as the Soul Wall appears. Prophecies are coming true - and what will the latest portend?

BY BLOOD WE LIVE, ed. by John Joseph Adams. Night Shade Books (www.nightshadebooks.com), 2009, 485 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59780-156-0

There is a strange craving for these types of stories, felt by mostly teenage girls suddenly feeling the throngs of post-puberty. And there are plenty of authors to accommodate this strangeness, indeed.

TWO EXCELLENT TACHYON ANTHOLOGIES:

THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION, ed. by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Tachyon (www.tachyonpublications.com), 2009, 381 pp., $14.95. ISBN 978-1-892391-93-3

I remember reading most of these SF classics when they were first published, with seminal work by Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, Lucius Shepard, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, James Patrick Kelly, and many others.

Also:

THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, 60th Anniversary Anthology, ed. by Gordon Van Gelder. Tachyon (www.tachyonpublications.com), 2009, 475 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-892391-91-9

Many of these I read collected in other anthologies, and some I read in the magazine itself. (I have subscribed to F&SF regularly from 1977-2007, and off and on since 2008.) Included are works by Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Ursula K. LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Ted Chiang, and others).


Next Time In True Review

A Sample Of Our Upcoming Reviews...

GASLIGHT GROTESQUE Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes, ed. by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec. Edge (www.edgewebsite.com), 2009, 311 pp., $16.95. ISBN 978-1-894063-31-9

TESSERACTS THIRTEEN ed. by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell. Edge (www.edgewebsite.com), 2009, 317 pp., $16.95. ISBN 978-1-894063-25-8

THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR Vol. 1, ed. by Ellen Datlow. Night Shade Books (www.nightshadebooks.com), 2009, 321 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59780-161-4