First of all, the title of this book is misleading. There is nothing "hidden" about this history, and all of the events discussed in this book have been public knowledge since their occurrence. Yes, many of the details added by the author to the general narrative of American colonial, and pre-colonial history are not widely known, but in no way could the historical events introduced in this book be described as "hidden."
The title of this book is misleading in another sense. The subtitle of this book is "Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation." This title wouldn't readily lead one to believe that the history discussed in this book stops at 1789. A better title would have indicated the distinctly early-American perspective of this book, and would not have claimed - as this book seems to do - that it is a general survey of American history from the Spanish (and French) colonization of Florida to the present. Yes, there is a little line of text on the back cover that does make this distinction, but it is an easy thing to overlook.
This book is divided into five sections. Each of these sections focuses on a specific historical event, with digressions for "backstory" and other events occurring out of the general thrust of the author's narrative. The historical events, in order, are: the Spanish conquest of Central and South America, the abduction of a New England settler by Indians, one of George Washington's early military blunders, events leading up to the Revolutionary War and the death of Joseph Warren, Benedict Arnold's military exploits, and Shays' Rebellion. In each of these chapters the author goes to great pains to draw parallels between personal conflicts and larger events, though a dedication to historical accuracy and a lack of documentation somewhat hobble his efforts.
It's a decent book, but anyone who's ever taken a class in early American history will be familiar with the events and their popular interpretations. I haven't read any books on this subject in some time, but I'm sure there are much better works of history covering the same time period(s).
All told, it is a less-than-imaginitive work of non-fiction, which might be taken as a contradiction in terms. "History", however, is an act of continual interpretation, so imagination plays a role in its definition. What we say and decide about events is often more important than the events themselves. I only wish the author had said more, and decided with more intelligence.
"They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them upinto the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing"
"All the Pretty Horses" is the first book in McCarthy's Border Trilogy, a trio which also includes "The Crossing" and "Cities of the Plain." I have read all three books in this series, though I have read the first book last. I must say that I'm a bit sorry about this, because I think "Cities of the Plain" would have been even more devastating if I had read the books of the trilogy in their proper order.
In "All the Pretty Horses" John Grady Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins set out for Mexico on horseback. What follows is a series of adventures that prompt both of these characters to question the very essence of their respective realities. There is death along the way, and also love, and a fair amount of philosophizing from various perspectives.
It is an excellent book. I liked it more than "The Crossing," which was a bit too existential for me, but not as much as the earth-shattering "Cities of the Plain," which is one of the best books I've ever read. My only complaint about "All the Pretty Horses" is the monologue delivered by the aunt near the end. This monologue seems little more than a vehicle with which McCarthy tries to get more philosophical musings across, and it takes the reader too far outside the narrative.
The section detailing their stay in a Mexican prison, however, is amazing. I cannot think of any other part of any other book that communicates such desperation, and it really is a stunning achievement. It also anticipates an important development in "Cities of the Plain," and it would add a lot of gravity to that development if you read the trilogy in order.
Anyone who thinks they don't like Westerns needs to read this. It does what any truly great book does, it transcends the setting of the story, it transcends the limitations of the characters, and it shows us the Very Large that inevitably comes to exist inside the Very Small.
"'Come inside,' he said.
"'Are you afraid of me?' he asked.
"'I've done something foolish for which I apologize. I've trespassed and I'm sorry. And now I'd like you to let me go.'
"'I'm not holding you. You have a way of trying to turn the moral tables on me. But I didn't invite you here in the first place.'
"'Then why do you want me to come inside? Because of the triumph it would be to sleep with the woman that Pegeen used to sleep with?'
"'I have no such ambition. I'm satisfied with things as they are. I was being polite. I could offer you a cup of coffee.'
"'No,' the dean said coldly. 'No, you want to fuck me.'
"'Is that what you want me to want?'
"'That is what you want.'
"The Humbling" is my second Philip Roth novel. I have also read "American Pastoral," for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. "American Pastoral" was work of brilliance, but it was also extremely depressing. "American Pastoral" sat on me for weeks.
"The Humbling" is another grim book, much in the vein of "American Pastoral." It details the sufferings of Simon Axler, former star of stage and screen who suddenly finds himself unable to perform. After a brief stay in a psychiatric facility, he seeks out the company of Pegeen Stapleford, a woman 15 years his junior.
The affair ends as you might expect, but Roth makes you hope for these characters. He makes them very real, and very immediate. You know their bid for domestic happiness is likely doomed, but you want to see them succeed anyway. There is a desperation in Simon Axler that is eminently human, and likewise a mercenary element in Pegeen that is nothing if not based in practicality. Their lives intersect briefly, they work their will upon one another, and are in turn left to plan new plans, and dream new dreams. That is if they haven't given up hope.
I would not question the simple fact that Philip Roth is one of the greatest American writers yet living, but I would question the fame he has enjoyed of late. Much of this fame seems generated by the Hollywood machine, and there is a certain mass-market, easily consumable element to his fame that I sometimes find offensive. He is without question a great writer, but I sometimes feel that he is overexposed.
Whatever the nature of the author's popularity, I encourage you to read "The Humbling." If you like this book, check out "American Pastoral." Be warned, however, that his books get HEAVY.
"Frank Herbert's speculative fictions have taken the grand themes and questions of politics, ecology, overpopulation, and much more and applied them to the human drama. His most popular works are the well-known Dune books: Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and the latest, the extraordinary best seller, God Emperor of Dune. Mr. Herbert has written more than twenty other works of fiction and nonfiction, including a recent book on home computers. With his wife, Beverly, he maintains two homes, one in Hawaii and the other in the Pacific Northwest."
- from "The White Plague" dust jacket (1982)
At the time of writing, I have read all of Herbert's Dune novels, all of his other novels published during his lifetime, the three books he co-wrote with Bill Ransom, and the novel he wrote with his son, Brian Herbert. I have also read two of his four short story collections, "The Book of Frank Herbert" and "Eye."
I have yet to read the novels published by WordFire Press after his death (High-Opp, Angels' Fall, A Game of Authors, and A Thorn in the Bush), and his other two short story collections. But these WordFire novels were written very early in his career, and with the exception of "High-Opp" all lie outside the realm of science fiction. Given the overlap between short story collections, there are only a few of his short stories that I haven't read.
If I had to (somewhat arbitrarily) divide Herbert's books into the categories "Excellent," "Good," "Bad," and "Simply S**T," I would divide them like this:
Children of Dune
God Emperor of Dune
Heretics of Dune
The Santaroga Barrier
Herbert's short stories exhibit the same kind of distribution. About equal parts Excellent and Bad, with a few Good and a couple S**T ones. On the whole, I wouldn't say that his short story collections are worth seeking out on their own merits. Any ideas that Herbert introduced in short story form were better explored in one or more of his novels, and those looking for a good sci fi anthology would be better advised to start with one of the many treasuries featuring the likes of Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, Vance, and many others.
The three novels he wrote with Bill Ransom, all set in his "Destination: Void" universe, are of varying quality. The first of these novels, "The Jesus Incident," is excellent and compares favorably to Herbert's best books. The second novel, "The Lazarus Effect," is pretty good and has enough interesting ideas in it to be worth the effort. The third novel, "The Ascension Factor," was largely written after Herbert's death, and is a complete mess.
The novel he wrote with his son, Brian Herbert, may be the worst of his novels. It is a confusing jumble of stereotypical characters and situations, all building up to an unsatisfying conclusion. I've read some BAD science fiction novels in my day, and this one is near the top of the pile.
All in all, Frank Herbert had moments of brilliance as a writer, and it is these moments of brilliance that keep me invested in his books. He certainly wrote his share of crap, but he was still light years (if you can excuse the slight pun) away from Stephen King. Whatever he did was ambitious, even if it failed.
One of the other things I like about Frank Herbert is that he was from the Pacific Northwest. This is also a locale that features in many of his stories. Frank Herbert grew up in Washington and Oregon, and in many of his books you will find references to Seattle, Tacoma, or even more obscure places like Grand Coulee or Florence. Speaking as someone who also grew up in Washington and Oregon, I appreciate his efforts to put these places in his stories.
For those who haven't read Herbert yet, I would recommend starting with "Dune Messiah." It is a good point of entry into his catalog. For those who've read all the Dune books but not the others, I would recommend starting with the books in the "Excellent" category and working your way right if you find yourself wanting more. For those who think Frank Herbert SUCKS, I would recommend giving another of his books a try. You might have read the wrong one.
While I can't say that he had a command of scientific concepts to match Asimov or Clarke (both of whom were SMART), he was definitely a writer of of considerable talent, and one of the more original voices in American fiction. While in some ways overlooked during his lifetime (his entries for the Hugo and Nebula awards were usually passed over in favor of inferior books), his Dune series enjoys an enduring popularity, and he has exercised a subtle if not generally acknowledged influence over American culture. If you don't believe me, go see "Avatar" again. Then read the synopsis of "The Jesus Incident" on Wikipedia. Sound familiar?
"The White Plague" is a story of revenge. The protagonist, John O'Neill, is struck by tragedy while in Ireland, and decides to take revenge on terrorists everywhere by unleashing a plague. The plague targets only women, and has a catastrophic effect on populations worldwide.
It is one of the last books that Herbert wrote before his death in 1986, and it was published between "God Emperor of Dune" and "Heretics of Dune." It is also among the easiest of Herbert's non-Dune novels to locate. You're not likely to find "The Eyes of Heisenberg" in your local bookstore, but they probably have at least one copy of "The White Plague."
Which is a pity. Herbert wrote books much better than this one, and it saddens me that many people will judge him by this effort. As an attempt at "serious fiction" it is an abject failure, and even taken as a piece of genre writing it has some serious flaws. For the sake of brevity I will divide these flaws into three categories: causality, characterization, and length.
This is probably the biggest issue I have with this book. I could dismiss the characterization and length issues because, well, it's a Frank Herbert novel, but the causality issue cuts right to the core of why this book doesn't work.
Firstly, would the loss of your loved ones - however horrible it might be - prompt you to unleash a plague upon three different countries? Even if you had the wherewithal and had suffered a breakdown?
Secondly, would such a plague invite the wholesale destruction of entire countries through nuclear bombardment? Regardless of the obstacles involved in irradiating large sections of the globe? Wouldn't the radiation problem be just as worrisome as the plague?
Thirdly, would the provisional government of Ireland (many of whom are former members of the IRA) act upon their suspicions concerning the protagonist's true identity in so subtle a manner? Why not just torture him for the information they required? Don't they have a background in terrorism?
These three points are merely the most obvious in the book. There are also many others, each mediating against a suspension of disbelief. Obtuse discussions of genetics aside, Herbert really could have invested more thought into the basic structure of this book.
This a problem inherent in many of Herbert's novels: a lack of credible characterization. He can be quite brilliant when it comes to high-flown concepts and the scientific underpinnings of some ideas, yet when it comes to creating believable, consistent characters he often falls flat on his face.
In short, the guy just wasn't very good with emotions. He wasn't very good and portraying the inner worlds of his characters in a consistent manner. The characters in this book are all types, and most of them could be used interchangeably.
More fundamentally, the main character's psychology is less than credible. His schizophrenia is entirely too self-contained, and his reasons for doing things are baffling. For much of the book he struggles against this "other" inside him, but aside from frequent mention of this "other" he seems completely sane. Herbert also wastes the first chapters of the book by failing to give us a convincing portrait of his breakdown, and to explain the nature of this breakdown in terms that would have made "The White Plague" more compelling.
Exacerbating the above two issues is the question of length. I feel that Herbert was at his best when writing a book of around 200 pages, and anything longer than that - for him - was really pushing it. Many of the questions regarding both characterization and causality may be due to the fact that he was padding this book to make it either longer or more like "literature." Had this novel been edited down to 200 pages, it might have worked a lot better. Of course some of the problems with causality and characterization would have remained, but they would have been easier to excuse.
With all of the above stated, I can only conclude by saying that "The White Plague" is simply a boring, laboriously written book, and makes even Herbert's "Children of Dune" seem concise by comparison. Those, like me, working their way through Herbert's bibliography will read it anyway, but I would suggest that those less interested in his works avoid it.
"'I don't care how you feel or don't feel,' he said, stuttering a little now. 'It's that you're the future, the meaningless future when all men are as useless as I am now, and I hate you for it and the worst of it is I can't kill you.'"
This novel first appeared in 1982, though the stories that make up its individual chapters were first published in the 50s. The author has arranged these chapters under a single theme, though there are some discrepancies between events in different chapters.
This is the first of Poul Anderson's books I've read, so I'm not able to comment on how it relates to other books by the same author. I read one of his stories in an anthology recently, and even though it was far from the best story in that anthology, it was sufficiently intriguing to lead me to "Cold Victory."
He wrote a lot of books, and I gather from Wikipedia that he is/was one of the more political sci fi authors. He was also one of the more prolific, engaged in a writing career that stretched from the 40s to the early 2000s.
"Cold Victory" begins after the conclusion of World War III. Mankind survives the devastation to build a new society, creates thinking, feeling robots, and begins colonizing other planets. In the background there is the Psychotechnic League, an advanced group of psychologists who engineer many of the key moments in mankind's development. Anderson never really explains what psychotechnology is, but it seems to have a lot in common with Asimov's idea of psychohistory.
The "chapters" in this book - which are really stories in themselves - are all pretty good. Anderson was good about drawing characters into dramatic conflict, and his prose has a workmanlike quality that reminds me a lot of Jack Vance. "Cold Victory" does go on a few too many historical digressions for my taste, but I never found it dull.
I'd recommend this book if you're a fan of golden age sci fi. It's solid, well-written, and well thought out. I'd be interested to see what Anderson did with actual novels that weren't stitched together from preexisting stories. "Cold Victory" was good, but I'm thinking that it's far from his best.
"Eye" appeared in 1985, though most of the stories in this collection are much older. Many of them form the basis for later novels, and three of them were previously included in "The Book of Frank Herbert," another collection dating back to 1972.
As much as I like some of Herbert's longer fiction, I have to say that he wrote some very silly short stories. While most of the stories in this collection are not bad, there are couple that really make no sense, and a couple others that are outright terrible. Synopses are below.
Herbert talks about the filming of the movie "Dune," difficulties in translating from novel to film, and critical responses to the movie. An interesting read, though his guarded claim that "Dune" was the inspiration behind the Star Wars films fails to convince me.
Also in "Book of Frank Herbert." Aliens are afoot in a small town, and a deputy with nearly superhuman deductive powers is out to thwart them. This is one of those stories that just doesn't make a lot of sense. Rats in a cage? And this is supposed to mean what? To whom? Couldn't they have just sent a letter?
"The Dragon in the Sea"
This story was the basis for the novel "Under Pressure," which is also - confusingly enough - titled "The Dragon in the Sea." Submarines go to war over the world's remaining oil deposits. A plausible enough concept, though the pseudo-psychological elements grow a bit tiresome.
This has to be one of the stupidest short stories I've ever read - and I've read a lot of stupid short stories. Some guy in the arctic discovers a way to explode all of the explosives in the world, bringing an end to modern warfare. Uh, yeah, right...
"A Matter of Traces"
Is this a story? I'm not sure. An interplanetary pioneer is interviewed about the domestication of a local life form. At least it's not as bad as "Cease Fire."
"Try to Remember"
A race of aliens task humanity with a new method of communication. This story brought Theodore Sturgeon to mind. It sort of makes sense, but the ending is unintentionally hilarious.
|Ornithopter illustration from "The Road to Dune"|
"The Tactful Saboteur"
This story is the cornerstone of Herbert's ConSentiency universe, which led to the novels "Whipping Star" and the unspeakably bad "Dosadi Experiment." Anyone who's read those two novels need not bother with this story. There were a lot of details in this story that could have been more fully realized, and the subsequent two novels did little to illuminate them.
"The Road to Dune"
Unique to this collection. Herbert poses as a tour guide, showing us the wonders of the planet Arrakis. Minimal text, accompanying illustrations.
"By the Book"
A technician attempts to fix a malfunctioning matter transmitter. One of the better stories here, though I fail to understand how he could communicate - in real time - with someone several light years away. Wouldn't this undermine the story's central concept?
Also in "Book of Frank Herbert." Mankind adapts to life on a new world, and some find that what works on the old world doesn't necessarily work on the new.
"Murder Will In"
An alien parasite struggles for survival in the midst of a new human society. This is easily the best story in the book. Strange and interesting.
"Passage for Piano"
Also in "Book of Frank Herbert." A family, about to relocate to Planet C, tries to appease their blind, piano-playing son. One of the most human stories Herbert ever wrote.
"Death of a City"
Herbert brings his ecological interests to bear on this story of social/urban engineering. A nice piece of short fiction.
"Frogs and Scientists"
Frogs watch a woman bathing. Frogs make comments about human mating patterns. That's pretty much the entire story right there.
"'We worship the future, not the past. We worship what is to come, not what has been. We aspire to the consequences of our own acts. We keep before us the image of that which is malleable and growing - of that which we have the power to improve. We worship that very power in ourselves, and the sense of responsibility which lives with it. A child is all of these things.'"
"Venus Plus X" is a really old book, a really overlooked book, and a really great book. It's a shame that most people don't read it nowadays - not that I can blame them. There are a lot of books like "Venus Plus X," great books, but forgotten books, sitting lonely on bookstore shelves.
One day Charlie Johns wakes up in the world of the Ledom, a hermaphroditic race descended from homo sapiens. Cut off from the world he remembers, he strives to understand the Ledom and their way of life. He is largely successful in this endeavor, though he draws unintended conclusions from his time with this fascinating and altogether alien race of child worshipers.
The jacket of this book proclaims it as "one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written," and I would not dispute that claim. It gets a bit preachy near the end, but the ending adds an ambiguity to the story that makes Sturgeon's philosophizing a bit easier to take. I would agree that this is a great book, even if it is a bit heavy-handed.
Incidentally, this is not Sturgeon's best-known work. That honor would go to "More Than Human," a book that I am extremely eager to read.
"But the Black Man had gained time to act. His own wrath ray lashed out, swished into that of Cousin Deth's. Since the two rays were mutually impenetrable, unable to cut through each other, Deth's was fended off...."
"Gather, Darkness!" was serialized in 1943, and it appeared in novel form sometime thereafter.
The story takes place in the distant future, though the Earth of this future resembles medieval Europe. A priesthood, with all the weight of an advanced technology at their disposal, seek to maintain dominion over an ignorant population of farmers, artisans, and tradespeople.
And while it might sound like a great idea, this book has a lot of flaws. The most fundamental of these flaws is the book's general premise - that a group possessing advanced technologies would want to pose as a theocracy, ordained by a "Great God" that they themselves don't believe in. I find such a proposition hard to swallow, especially in the absence of a first cause which might explain why they chose this strategy. Would they really enjoy their dominion over the ignorant? Wouldn't they find this dominion as confining as the serfdom of the peoples they rule - if not more so?
It is moreover unlikely that the rank and file priesthood would be aware of the deception. A workable conspiracy would require their ignorance even more than their complicity. Otherwise, the nature of their undertaking would be obvious to all. This is how pyramid schemes work - only those at the top of the pyramid are truly aware of how the scam functions. Those at the bottom of the pyramid must be invested enough to commit to the scheme. If they aren't, the scheme becomes obvious to all.
Beyond the general premise, there is also the problem of the protagonist's change of heart. In the first chapter he proclaims the falsehood of his occupation to the commoners, he reveals the priesthood's technological tricks, and he despises religion itself as a tool of the ruling class. Yet halfway through the book he somehow changes his mind, and the author never bothers to explain why. For some inexplicable reason he joins the rebels, a group who would be - to his thinking - just as corrupted by religion as the priesthood he has left behind.
Thirdly, there are grammatical issues in this book which seem to go beyond sloppy editing. I'm still puzzling over words like "unwieldily," and "horrifiedly," which seem, given the sentences in which they are present, to have been part of the original manuscript. The author often seems less than certain of his grammar, and while I would readily dismiss this flaw in other science fiction novels, in "Gather, Darkness!" it seems more systemic, more pervasive, and more traceable to the person who wrote the book. It seems, in other words, a symptom of lazy thinking.
It is very possible that Fritz Leiber wrote better books. I certainly hope so. As it is, "Gather, Darkness!" has lessened my enthusiasm for this author.
"Their eyes were full of wonder, each at the other, and together at the world. They seemed frozen in a full-to-bursting moment of discovery; they made way for one another gravely and with courtesy, they looked about them and in the very looking gave each other gifts - the color of the sky, the taste of the air, the pressures of things growing and meeting and changing."
"Starshine" is a collection of short stories Sturgeon wrote in the 50s. The stories in this collection vary in quality, from the amateurish to the excellent.
I don't have the book in front of me at the moment, but there's a story about human reptiles, a story about a haunted house, and three or four other stories that fall more firmly into the realm of science fiction. The first two stories are quite stupid, but at least they're short.
The standout here is the "loverbirds" story, which is really trippy and excellent. It must have shocked people at the time, and even now seems (to me) like a story that most sci fi magazines wouldn't publish.
Sturgeon was an interesting guy, and his books are worth searching out. I also own his "Venus Plus X," which I have yet to read. After reading "Starshine," I'm really looking forward to that one.
"It was said that God, in order to test mankind which had become swelled with pride as in the time of Noah, had commanded the wise men of that age, among them the Blessed Leibowitz, to devise great engines of war such as had never before been upon the Earth, weapons of such might that they contained the very fires of Hell..."
Is this a science fiction novel? I'm not entirely sure. It certainly falls within the domain of "speculative fiction", though I have trouble with that particular term. What kind of fiction isn't speculative?
Science fiction or no, this is a great book. It takes a while to get going, but when it finally does it has a depth that few other books can equal. The plot revolves around a group of monks living in a post-apocalyptic age, and their attempts to preserve ancient knowledge in the face of our collective tendency toward barbarism. As you might imagine, this book sets its sights high, but anyone who perseveres to the end will find himself (or herself) well-rewarded for the effort.
This is the only novel that Miller ever wrote. A victim of post-traumatic stress disorder incurred during his service in World War II, he later struggled with depression and ultimately took his own life in 1996. Both his depression and his service in the war inform "Canticle," and if someone was only going to write one book in their lifetime, this would be the book to write. A sequel of sorts exists, but it was completed by another author.
WARNING: There's a lot of Latin in this one. Those who've studied Latin might want to review a bit before reading this book. Reading the Canterbury Tales beforehand might also help.
"The Eyes of Heisenberg" is one of Frank Herbert's better novels, though I'm sure it went over most people's heads at the time. The first few chapters go into such detail with regard to enzymes, gene splicing, and fetal development that most people who tried to read it back in 1966 probably gave up after the first few pages. This is too bad, because "The Eyes of Heisenberg" is actually a fast-paced, well-written piece of science fiction.
At some point in the future, a group of "Optimen" perpetuate their existence for thousands of years through genetic engineering and enzymatic manipulation. These Optimen rule over a large population of sterile citizens, and also a few select citizens who are allowed to breed. In the background looms a secret society of cyborgs, which attempts to overthrow the Optimen by sabotaging their breeding program.
It's a great book, though a bit harder to find than some of Frank Herbert's other novels. A lot of the genetic thinking that went into the Dune novels originated here, and there are a lot of other parallels to be drawn between this novel, "Dune", "Dune Messiah", and especially "God Emperor of Dune."
I also love the fact that it's set in the futuristic city of Seatac, and even mentions places such as Grand Coulee and La Push. Washingtonians - Frank Herbert had your back!