7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting History
Paha Sapa, whose name means "Black Hills" in the Lakota language, is not yet 11 years old when General Custer takes his Last Stand. Paha Sapa is there in person, and on finding the corpse of the one his people call "Long hair," presses his hand to the dead general's chest to count coup. In so doing he becomes afflicted with the ghost of his people's enemy, which takes up...
Published on 10 April 2010 by Bāki
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Black Hills Down?
Let me begin by saying that I am a huge Dn Simmons fan. The Hyperion Cantos alone placed him in a personal pantheon of literary greats with the ability to offer stunning story arcs of monumentous events with fast paced dialogue and unique, believable characters. OK, eulogy over. As a die-hard fan, Dan Simmons novels are a 'must-buy' event, but I had remained uneasy at the...
Published on 18 May 2010 by Mr. N. S. Harper
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Black Hills Down?,
Let me begin by saying that I am a huge Dn Simmons fan. The Hyperion Cantos alone placed him in a personal pantheon of literary greats with the ability to offer stunning story arcs of monumentous events with fast paced dialogue and unique, believable characters. OK, eulogy over. As a die-hard fan, Dan Simmons novels are a 'must-buy' event, but I had remained uneasy at the direction he was taking since the end of Olympos. The Terror developed my concern, Drood confirmed it, and now Black Hills has created behavioural change. Put simply, I accuse Dan Simmons of losing his creative originality and of taking his loyal fan-base for granted. Black Hills once again sees Dan make the same mistake as his previous two works for mistaking thorough research for story. Paha Sapa is a delightful character, quickly drawing from the reader an empathetic connection, as does the story of the treatment of the Indian tribes in general. The work also creates a terrible sense of loss of a more spiritual existence that both the native Americans in particular, and Western society in general, have lost in the wake of material progress. But wrapped around this is a poorly concocted story that has only one objective - to give Dan the opportunity to display the depth of his historical research. The result is endless unmotivated exposition where the words coming out of the characters mouths are wooden and unrealistic - I found myself laughing and becoming exasperated as the book progressed. Mr Simmons clearly eeds to acknowledge his limitations, reappraise his structural planning, and return to a style and genre that made him his'name'. For the first time since reading my first Dan Simmons work (Carrion Comfort) I will no longer consider a Simmons release a literary event.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting History,
Paha Sapa, whose name means "Black Hills" in the Lakota language, is not yet 11 years old when General Custer takes his Last Stand. Paha Sapa is there in person, and on finding the corpse of the one his people call "Long hair," presses his hand to the dead general's chest to count coup. In so doing he becomes afflicted with the ghost of his people's enemy, which takes up residence within him. A startling relationship which abides throughout much of Paha Sapa's extraordinary life.
Sixty years after this historic moment, Paha Sapa is again part of American legend when he is working for Gutzon Borglum as a dynamiter on Mount Rushmore. Now diagnosed with cancer, Paha Sapa intends to blow up the monument the day President Roosevelt is due to arrive for a dedication ceremony. In so doing Paha Sapa hopes to avoid the fulfilment of a revelation given to him long ago, whilst seeking a vision for his tribe in the days following the Battle of The Little Bighorn.
The level of research Simmons has put into this novel is astounding. As I followed the life of Paha Sapa through the different time zones of the story, I was awed by the great swathe of history I was witnessing. The story flits between several different times in the life of its protagonist (something which at first is a little confusing,) revealing a broad vision of the changing landscape of America. As well as The Battle of The Little Bighorn, and the sculpting of Mount Rushmore, other iconic events are entwined in the story: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, The World's Columbian Expedition in 1893 with its landmark original Ferris Wheel, the messianic Ghost Dance prophecy, and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. We also meet many remarkable historical figures such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and of course General George Armstrong Custer.
Custer provides further narrative perspective through part of this book as his spirit endures within Paha Sapa, composing explicit missives to his lost love. The absorption of the ghost of Custer is related to another gift the would-be Lakota holy man has: the ability to see glimpses of the lives and futures of people he touches.
All of this is a clearly constructed plot device by Simmons, which allows him through multiple perspectives to reveal the panoramic sweep of history that is such a key aspect of this story. If there is a fault with this book, it's that its ambition - so plain to see, necessitates such a device. At times the book also reads a little too much like a history lesson. Another criticism might be, that as there is no antagonist to speak off, it at times lacks dramatic tension. Whilst I think this is true, my interest was held in other ways, such as wanting to know the meaning behind Saha's vision.
The style of the prose is quite dense, and punctuated by Lakota terms which add authenticity but slow down the flow of the writing. Taken together with the changing perspectives and the jumping around in time, this is not a particularly easy read. At points the level of detail - such as when explaining the technical aspects of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge - made for a rather dry experience. Albeit one in which I learned a great deal.
There is a melancholy feel to much of this story, unsurprising given the tragic history of the native peoples of the Great Plains. To Simmons credit he never falls into the horrible sentimentality which so often plagues writing about Native Americans. The native culture revealed here has many faults, but the spiritual subtlety of Lakota belief is still visible.
Paha Sapa himself is a great character. I liked him a lot, and found him to be utterly believable. He has a quiet self-deprecating demeanour, and a dry irreverence at times that I enjoyed. I also found I could really empathise with him, and at no point did he seem like a parody or stereotype. The story of his life, the relationships he forms, and the encounters he has are truly remarkable. His meeting with the woman who becomes his wife and the mother of his child is beautifully told. It holds a rare uplifting moment in the life of Sapa, otherwise so full of heartache and tragedy.
The ending of the book is a surprise, and a largely satisfying conclusion to the story. Although the last vision Paha Sapa has, left me feeling slightly incredulous. When I finally read the last chapter of the story, and then read the epilogue, I was astounded by how much of the story is based on fact.
This then is a meticulously researched, densely written, visionary tale of the death of one culture and the birth of another. At its conclusion there is a spiritual optimism inspired by science as much as anything else; a counter to the otherwise pervasive sadness of much of the novel. This book is unlike anything I've ever read, and it leaves a strong impression. It is a love story, and a story of the terrifying power of human ambition and ego. It speaks of our ability to destroy and to create, and of course how these are both twin aspects of the same awesome power. Like the gift of The Thunder Beings given to the crazy lightning struck Heyoka.
I'm not sure I can say this is a fun read. It is, however, so much more than that. It is a truly ambitious narrative journey across one of the most remarkable historical landscapes of the modern era, and a moving meditation on the power of the human spirit.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A massive let down when compared with The Terror and Drood,
This review is from: Black Hills (Kindle Edition)
I loved The Terror. It is in my top 10 books of all time. I also really liked Drood, although I seem to be in a minority in this regard. I went into Back Hills with high hopes but was left disappointed.
Black Hills is very poor by Simmons' standards. I remember reading once that he likes to battle his editors to keep editing of his books to a minimum to ensure they are as close to his original vision as possible. This effort is proof of how necessary editors can be. There are far too many drawn out, ponderous passages that drain the will to continue reading out of you. Additionally, a large chunk of Simmons' writing here is very pompous indeed.
The inclusion of Custer seems baffling, his only real part in the story was to add a kind of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' aspect to the book, to shoehorn in some sex scenes between him and his wife. I imagine the ghost trapped in the Indian idea is based on a claimed real-life incident such is Simmons' penchant for that approach these days, but if it is it's very poorly implemented.
There are too many time frames stuffed into the novel and they jump around so often as to make the book nearly incoherent. The final chapter of the book was astoundingly poor and I was gobsmacked that it was published as it was. You'll see what I mean when you get there yourself.
Overall, a real disappointment when compared to Simmons' other works. There are some readable moments entangle in all of the dry and endless passages within this book but they are few and far between. Simmons' new book The Abominable is out soon and I know I will still buy it despite the disappointment of this book. Another alternate historical/horror piece set in inhospitable climes similar to that of The Terror, I hope with all my being that it is a return to form and better than this sorely lacking effort.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Didactic drumbeats and drudgery,
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Dan Simmons could write long, compelling science fiction, fantasy and horror novels that would keep readers up so late, propping up huge tomes (CARRION COMFORT; SUMMER OF NIGHT; HYPERION and THE FALL OF HYPERION; ENDYMION and THE RISE OF ENDYMION) for so long, that carpal tunnel syndrome would set in. Around the time of the Second Coming of the G.W. Bush/Cheney administration, Simmons lost touch with his story-telling "chi". Happened somewhere in the middle of his last SF duology (ILIUM/OLYMPOS), with the second book falling off its narrative rails from the get-go, and Simmons giving into his urge to always be didactic (signs of this seriously fun-sucking urge, first cropped up in the beginning chapters of CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT -- Simmons fought back the urges with aplomb for a great while, until he sat down to begin typing ILIUM). This "new" Simmons has taken to writing historical novels that either don't know when to end, don't know where they are headed, or -- both. In the case of THE TERROR, it was copious verbiage which wounded the narrative (albeit, not fatally). In the case of DROOD, the writer had a terrific character (the fictional Wilkie Collins) but no place to go: so he ended up dragging both Collins and the reader down endless blind alleys to finally end up at...another blind alley (that was a novel which should have been a novella -- but novellas don't sell well).
Now we have BLACK HILLS. Many novels Simmons writes often harken back to one of his short(er) fictions: CARRION COMFORT was first a novella (and even better as a a huge novel); HYPERION was first a short story ("Remembering Siri"); ditto for THE HOLLOW MAN ("Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams"), CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT ("All Dracula's Children"), etc. Thus, some of the themes in BLACK HILLS, the history of the Lakota, etc., can be traced back to "Sleeping With Teeth Women" (found in the story colleciton, LOVEDEATH). But the overall plot/story involves an aging indian named Paha Sapa (who happened to be near the General just as he fell dead, and) who is haunted by the ghost of George Armstrong Custer all of his life, and finds himself on the crew to help finish Mt. Rushmore. The indian decides to use that opportunity to commit a terrorist act and destroy the monument, when Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt visits the site. It's a good, solid idea, and one that the "old" Dan Simmons mostly gives its narrative due. Unfortunately, the "new" Dan Simmons steps in to ruin things. In DROOD he put a slimy spin on the character of Charles Dickens (brilliantly doing so via the back-stabbing "character" of Collins) and in BLACK HILLS he puts a neo-conservative spin on his fictional version of Custer, taking a man who -- despite a few attempts at revisionist history -- was and is generally acknowledged to have been egocentric and a reckless leader, and turning him into a brave, military strategist, and a sort of romance novel "leading man" (luck may have been on Custer's side many times, but he was reckless nonetheless; whether he was a romantic or just a horny individual, is something only long-dead lovers can know). While that revisionist characterization is a bit disappointing and distracting, what really slows things down is the "new" Simmons's penchant for trying to lecture, pontificate and "teach." The majority of one chapter is spent describing the building of a bridge. Don't get me wrong, it is well-done -- in fact, like most of Simmons's writing these days, it is over done -- but it is hardly necessary to the story. Such a diversion certainly has no place in a book that seeks to thrill its audience (even the "ghost" in Paha Sapa's head agrees, at one point, needling him with, "...now that you've got that out of your system, can we go get ready to keep the appointment now?").
What's more, most of the dialogue sounds like something written to be spoken on a documentary, by the guy narrating said documentary (which may be something Simmons is more suited to these days). Give a listen to Paha talking to his son: "The revolving Hotchkiss cannon had five thirty-seven-millimeter barrels and was capable of firing forty-three rounds per minute." Don't know about anyone else, but my dad never expended so much hot air, even when getting into details. And as another reviewer has already pointed out, the "new" Simmons still doesn't know when to end a story. He lets his didactic, I'm-in-love-with-everything-I-say/write urge get the better of him, tacking on an epilogue that would have been better-suited to an endnotes section. Overall, a book that falls closer to THE TERROR in its storytelling sensibilities, but still not quite far enough away from the didactic preachiness of the "new" Dan Simmons to avoid inescapable moments of narrative drudgery -- and the full-on stop of verisimilitude -- which can arise from such indulgences.
5.0 out of 5 stars Black hills,
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Totally immersing story from there native american perspective. Couldn't put it down. Makes you laugh, masked yuou cry. A really good read
5.0 out of 5 stars Dan Simmons is brilliant,
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Fascinating tale based on events throughout American history seen through the eyes of a Native American Indian who worked on the Mount Rushmore presidents heads.
2.0 out of 5 stars Disapointing,
I am sorry to have to give this only two stars but that is really what i thought.
I am a big fan of Dan Simmons and if you check out my reviews you will find him one of the mostly highly rated in reviews that i have written. I bought the book based soley on the fact that Dan Simmons wrote it. For many another writer it would, i think, have been a good book, however, Mr Simmons has produced some of the best fiction that i have ever read and in comparison this failed.
It is still an enjoyable book telling the tale of a lakota North American Native that sees to have become westernised yet has not.
Mr Simmons obviously has an interest in this time period and describes it rather vividly and quite interestingly.
Yet i feel it lacked a little of some of his other novels.
I would urge you though not to let that put you off as he is the author of some of the greatest novels that i have read.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black HiIls,
This is the second book among those I've read notable with its gross misuse of italics, the first one being Jackson's Dilemma written by Iris Murdoch when she was already deeply acquainted with her Alzheimer's. Nevertheless, Black Hills is a very good read, its language a mixture of English, Lakota and occasional French, which makes it more a kind of poetry than a plain and comprehensive text one could use to tell an interesting story; at times it's rather like listening to an exotic song: you don't understand what it's about, but the tune is catchy. But that's okay, some authors seem to be writing in English and yet remain as obscure as Nostradamus with his quatrains. Dan Simmons is a great storyteller indeed. His prose is almost flawless, even such passages as "The shadows of the direction posts and of the few stunted trees near the rocky summit leap away in all directions from the hurtling brillians directly above him" on page 171 of my edition can be a part of overall poetry, I believe (in fact, they are). Also I appreciate his ablility to find new subjects for his novels, again and again, unlike, for instance, Stephen King since his collision with a truck. Anyone who loves Dan Simmons will find Black Hills at least satisfying (except maybe for the ambiguous ending with its rewilding and so on).
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Black Hills by Dan Simmons