Thursday, November 13, 2014

Done: "Black Hills" by Dan Simmons

Done: Black Hills by Dan Simmons, 2010, 9780316006989.

Not sure where this came from but according to the front cover it cost $1.00. A fairly decent book but not as great as Drood and The Terror, Darwin's Blade kinda sucked. But, for Drood and Terror I listened to the John Lee narrated versions.  John Lee is a narration god.

Simmons uses plenty of Lakota/Sioux words. I won't try to find the correct words or spelling in my comments.

Paha Sapa is ten years old at the Battle of Little Big Horn/Battle of the Greasy Grass.  Paha Sapa is not warrior in training. His Lakota grandfather, Limps-a-lot, is a "medicine man". But that is a weak description for someone who carries tribal history and myth, knows sacred ceremonies, provides counsel, occasionally has visions, etc. Paha Sapa himself has already had visions. He knows to be careful about touching people because their memories and futures can jump into Paha Sapa with skin-to-skin contact.

 Paha Sapa goes to the battlefield because he does not want to be left behind by the other boys. Galloping into the action he decides to count coup by touching an enemy. Paha Sapa touches Custer. Custer's spirit inhabits Paha Sapas head. Custer won't shut up but Paha Sapa doesn't speak English anyway.

We follow Paha through his life. The destruction of his lodge of families. Capture by the 7th Cavalry. Life on his own. Taken in by a tent housed Catholic School. Work as a cowboy - he's not good at it. Work as Indian with Buffalo Bill Cody's traveling show. Meeting his half-Lakota wife. Caring for his son after wife's death in childbirth.

The meat of the story is what will Paha Sapa do to protect the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota? He has been working for sculptor Gutzon Borglum's Mt. Rushmore project for several years as a demolition man, cutting into the granite of a sacred mountain to build Mt. Rushmore. Paha Sapa has always been a thinker. He's a brave man but not a warrior. His vision during his isolated manhood ceremony as a ten-year-old showed the white people's destruction of the Black Hills. He wonders how he can stop an unstoppable force.

Lots of things happen. Simmons gives a tour of 1880s Indian life and the wars across Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and the rest. A visit to the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Mining and blasting the granite cliffs of Rushmore. Paha's sadness at his failures in life.  Paha's sadness at his wife's death. Paha's sadness at his beloved son's death. Paha spending a good portion of life alone.

1. Simmons gives both sides of the Indian Wars by using Custer's monologues inside Paha's head and Custer and Paha's discussion over time (after Paha learns English). Custer can see through Paha's eyes but will spend years in silence after arguments with Paha.
2. Competing tribes competing by killing each other.
3. I had to look up the song Garry Owen after a few references. You'll recognize the tune if not the name.

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