Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Black Hills

by Dan Simmons
453 pgs

Paha Sapa is a Sioux warrior who was born with a gift, one that he eventually comes to think of as a great curse. When he physically touches someone he is often able to see into that person's future, and past. His supernatural gift also may allow the spirits of the dying to enter into his body where they reside and communicate to him as a voice in his head.

At the age of ten, Paha Sapa was "counting coup" (proving his bravery by touching enemy soldiers) following the Battle of Little Big Horn when he unknowingly touched the dying General Custer. Custer's ghost entered Paha Sapa that fateful day and for the next sixty years of his life, Paha Sapa was forced to live with the voice of the dead General in his mind.

Later in his life Paha Sapa signs on as a powder man on the blasting team carving the Mount Rushmore memorial into a mountain sacred to Paha Sapa's tribe. His intentions are to one day destroy the memorial in a spectacular fashion and to do it on the day FDR visits the site to see its progress.

The book jumps back and forth in time--sometimes telling the story of Paha Sapa's life before working on Mount Rushmore, sometimes telling the story of his plans and attempt to destroy Mount Rushmore, and sometimes telling the story of Custer's life as told to Paha Sapa by his ghost

Black Hills is the fifth book by Dan Simmons that I've read. I thought the previous four were all outstanding and I consider him a fantastic writer because of them. This one missed the mark a little for me. Of the three different stories being told in the book, the only one I found interesting was Paha Sapa's life as a powder man on Mount Rushmore, and his quest to destroy what those who had destroyed his way of life were now carving into the mountain so sacred to him and his people. I thought that the story of Custer's life, as told by his ghost, was unintentionally hilarious. I don't know whether this is a direct result of research Simmons did on the man or not, but he writes him as a sexually-obsessed man who has little if anything left to occupy his thoughts but the memories of his sexual adventures with his wife.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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