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The Rifles (Seven Dreams #6)

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  331 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
The latest installment of Vollmann's seven-part epic chronicling the clash of Europeans and Native Americans in the New World. Volume six focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest passage.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 1st 1995 by Penguin Books (first published February 24th 1994)
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(showing 1-30)
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Aug 22, 2016 Cody rated it liked it
Shelves: post-modern
This is my second read in the Seven Dreams series. My first foray into Vollmann’s catalogue was his colossal ‘The Dying Grass’, which impressed me a hell of a lot. ‘The Rifles’ is a bit different. Quite a bit of this book consists of Vollmann’s own adventures in the arctic. Subzero, a (presumably) fictionalized version of Vollmann, is the reincarnation of the late John Franklin, the English explorer with whom he shares the spotlight in this novel.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book that focu
Nov 13, 2016 Josh rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Suppose you draw a straight line.
Suppose that line breaks.
Suppose that line goes on into an infinite direction into other straight lines.
Suppose that line is time.
Suppose that time is a man-made object.
Suppose that time is not real.
Suppose that our perception of life relates to which area we spatially observe and not when we are.
Suppose that point where we stand is when we are.
Suppose we fly with our arms like a bird.
Suppose this rock, this ice, this crevice in the rock and ice, the green
Jan 12, 2014 Geoff rated it it was amazing
Shelves: seven-dreams

Excerpt from a letter to the Makivik Corporation from William T. Vollmann, found in the appendices to his novel The Rifles:
"I have just completed a book which is partially concerned with the relocation of Inuit families from Inukjuak, Quebec and Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord in the 1950’s...

...The basic theme of my book is one that you might disagree with as being too gloomy: that non-Inuit are rapidly and irrevocably destroying most Inuit lifeways, leaving in thei
Mar 18, 2014 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
From interviews with Bill:

"All these worlds that I see and write about are equally real and can coexist, so it’s not like I have to leave my own world in order to inhabit them. That’s my ability, I guess. But this also means that these different worlds are also equally unreal, so I can’t take anything too seriously. None of them take precedence over any others."

"Later on, I began to realize that it’s pretty hard to know yourself, harder still harder to know the other, and what’s hardest of all
Neal Adolph
Nov 25, 2015 Neal Adolph rated it liked it
William T. Vollmann’s name sounds serious, laden with that extra weight provided by a great germanic name. It’s that second ‘n’, right at the very end, a bit of a surprise for the reader who thinks that one suffices but discovers that they are wrong and that his name, like his identity, would be incomplete without that dual duals in his family name, the one dual in his given name, and that T, like some cross between two great names, the point where they meet, the hint of some great mystery. What ...more
Griffin Alexander
Jan 21, 2016 Griffin Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bill, the-past
My first of WTV's Seven Dreams. This book made me feel physically cold—it impressed, upset, and transfixed me (I dreamt of reading this book every night after putting it down). The moments of deep emotional weight here occupy instances of slippage between time and/or character—through reincarnation that works both ways, intense lead poisoning, extreme exposure to cold coupled with privation, or all of the above. This aspect of hallucination ultimately impressed me most: the hallucination of ...more
Jim Elkins
Aug 04, 2016 Jim Elkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
Writing with No Distance From Your Subject

In the last couple of years I've read a fair number of arctic and antarctic stories, including Christoph Ransmayr's well-reviewed 'Terrors of Ice and Darkness.' My wager is that when enough time has passed, many will fade away.

This one is different, and reason is simple, although it's not entirely clear from some other reviews here or on Amazon. Vollmann really put his heart into this: he lived in the North (he fell in love there, and he may even have f
Dec 15, 2015 Hadrian rated it it was amazing
Another damned good book by Vollmann. His descriptions both of the tattered Inuit society and of the Franklin expedition are bone-chilling. Felt shivers throughout.
This is the fourth book I've read from Vollmann's Seven Dreams series, and for me, it was the easiest to follow, despite the twinning and tripling of characters, times, and places - often within the same paragraph.

Modern day Captain Subzero is exploring the same territory - geographic and gynecologic - as the 19th-century British Arctic explorer, John Franklin. Metaphorically, and possibly metempsychotically, Franklin and Subzero are pursuing the same woman, Reepah, but in different time-spaces
Alexander Weber
I'm falling in love with William the Blind. So far I have only read the abridged version of Rising Up and Rising Down (4/5 stars) and The Atlas (4.5/5 stars). I really loved The Atlas, as I felt there was real beauty and true human loneliness dripping from that book. Vollmann actually manages to get you to share a deep human emotion, which is all too rare. He just comes off as so honest and sincere...and oh so lonely.

The Rifles is the best of the three, sharing features from both. It is part his
Dillon Strange
Feb 10, 2010 Dillon Strange rated it it was amazing
This is the book that has sparked my current William Vollmann obsession. This guy gets a bad rap for being "difficult" but I found this book to be really accessible. It is book 6 in his 7 dreams series that explores the history of the exploitation of native north american people, in this case the Inuit or eskimos, by colonization. If that sounds like a downer to you, it's because it totally is, but Vollmann pulls this off by writing a book unlike any other I had ever read. The story is partly ...more
May 13, 2015 Cphe rated it really liked it
I haven't read Vollmann before but he is an author that has been on my reading radar for quite a while. I enjoyed this book overall although I must say that some parts for me were more palatable then others. I enjoyed the descriptions of the desolation, the ice, the environment and the Inuit people both in the past and the present. The exploration of the ill fated Franklin expedition was brilliant in my opinion.

However I did find myself confused by some of the narration, the time sequences (and
Oct 27, 2010 Jordan rated it it was amazing
Vollmann does it again with this amazing ride into the Arctic and into the past. North America's history and landscapes are laid bare in this series of seven books/dreams (not yet finished) and this volume is unique and as amazing as the others. It reads beautifully, all the landscape work and meta-textual blending of time and characters as they all experience the same landscapes and the harshness it brings. Sad and pathetic what befalls relocated Inuit by the Canadian government as well as what ...more
Nov 12, 2014 Sean rated it really liked it
Another dreamy, sad, surreal slice of history from Vollmann. Much like The Ice Shirt, something of a sequel, as Vollmann says. Not as powerful as Fathers And Crows or Argall, but still I liked it. Much more of Vollmann's own adventures in this one, as he becomes the reincarnation of Franklin, who died on his attempt to find the northwest passage. Sort of. Possibly Franklin is the reincarnation of Vollmann, and the woman Vollmann falls for his is own northest passage. It's a bit strange, is what ...more
David M
Dec 25, 2015 David M rated it really liked it
"He knew that cold was only a negation, not a substance, but what sharp teeth it had" - pp 288 (growing up in a city where it would regularly fall below zero for weeks at a time, you were never in danger, but there's a sense of active persecution, forced confinement; the cold is death; Eros and Thanatos, vollmann certainly pays tribute)
May 21, 2008 stew rated it really liked it
Vollmann raids the survival couture closet, grabs his Mossberg 12 GA. and heads to the magnetic north pole. While trying to keep from freezing to death he manages to hook up with an unstable eskimo girl and write brilliant, penetrative prose about his surroundings, the people that inhabit the surroundings, and the people that discovered and/or set out in age old expeditions to said surroundings. I haven't read Argall yet, but at this point, this is my favorite of the Seven Dreams Series. A ...more
Jul 09, 2011 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
Much like Vollmann's earliest works, there is a hefty ick factor in The Rifles surrounding his advances on an Eskimo woman. That plot recedes and is supplanted by an account of his time camping above the Arctic Circle and a historical recreation of the doomed Franklin expedition, the latter is deftly paced situated: an absurdist comedy of manners. There is a curious essay iwthin about the advances of firearms, which I found intriguing but ultimately disparate.
James Murphy
This is the Sixth Dream in Vollmann's ongoing series called Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes in which he recounts the history of European contact with aboriginal Americans. The Rifles concerns contact with the Inuit, both by the doomed Franklin expedition of the 1840s and by a modern day reincarnation of Franklin called Captain Subzero who visits a settlement on Baffin Island, in the Arctic. I'd read Wanting by Richard Flanagan several months ago. It included John Franklin as a ...more
Kye Alfred Hillig
Apr 03, 2011 Kye Alfred Hillig rated it it was amazing
I heard Vollmann say that this is one of the books that he is proudest of and I can see why. He weaves history into fiction into memoir. And he does it all with that deadly poetic bite of his. You can feel the loneliness of the Canadian landscape and its beauty. This tale of a love triangle in which he (or a character that almost identically resembles him aka Captain Subzero) finds himself so hopelessly tangled that all you can do is watch as it falls apart. Suicide and survival and a peoples ...more
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Dec 25, 2012 b bb bbbb bbbbbbbb rated it did not like it
read this a couple years ago. some nice parts, kind of obnoxious and sleazo.
Aug 18, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it
This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.

This is the sixth of the Seven Dreams of William the Blind, but both the third in publication order and the third I’ve read. After the Vikings crashed through Greenland into the New World, amidst saga and song, to encounter The People in The Ice-Shirt, and later the French Jesuits too meet The People in Fathers and Crows, we now journey to Canada and follow three distinct but interwoven threads.

Doomed John Franklin and his quest for the Northwest
Mark Sacha
The Rifles is so bluntly titled for a William Vollmann work that you'd be forgiven for thinking it meditates particularly heavily on its main thematic conceit - that European weapons degraded Inuit livelihood and culture not through the usual pathways of hostile aggression, but from their being gleefully adopted by the Inuit themselves, to the detriment of the arctic environment and their traditional methods of subsistence. In truth rifles themselves have little to do with this book, and play a ...more
Sep 08, 2016 Ethan rated it liked it
There's a point mid way through the Rifles where Vollmann gives a flurry of historical quotes outlining the destructive effects of over-hunting connecting with the rising popularity of Rifles before straightforwardly mentioning that he almost wrote this whole book in a similar fashion to previous work Fathers and Crows, filling in the details between the story those quotes told, but mentions that he felt those had summed things up quite well which makes this entry in the series fairly different ...more
Mar 18, 2008 CKS rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Despite Vollman's well conceived prose, the sophomoric thread of 'Subzero' (Vollman's ridiculous alter ego) detracted from my interest in Franklin's journey to find the northwest passage and the plight of the modern day Inuit. It's as if Vollman were trying his own version of Killing My Lobster's 'Strindberg and Helium'web based animation series but forgetting why it worked on line and why it cannot work interwoven with the 'serious' nature of the two dominant threads of 'The Rifles'.
Jul 27, 2015 Edward marked it as to-read
List of Maps
Rifle-Text: The Quest for Polar Treasures (1933)

--The Rifles

Straight Shots (1741-1991)

I Glossary of Personal Names
II Glossary of Nations, Organizations and Kinship Terms
III Glossary of Places
IV General Glossary

A Chronology of the Sixth Age of Wineland
Sources and a Few Notes
Exchange of Letters on the Relocation Allegations
Equipment List for Isachsen Trip
Dec 17, 2009 Dmitry rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Jon Krakauer's 'Into the Wild."
William Vollman survives a winter alone above the arctic circle in order to understand what happened to a doomed Arctic expedition. This book has all the tangibility, immediacy and crunchiness of Krakauer's best work, but adds a dimension of universality through philosophical complexity and first-rate historical research.
Apr 21, 2014 Ren rated it really liked it
A multifaceted, discursive look at the exploitation of Arctic lands and their First Nations people -- ranging from the Franklin expedition of 1848 to the author's amazing, harrowing, and thrilling two weeks alone in an abandoned Arctic station in 1992.
Sep 28, 2009 Charl(ie|es) rated it liked it
Reading this book made me cold and hungry as its characters were often freezing to death and dying of starvation. The dreams were sometimes confusing to me but the setting and underlying theme of the effect of rifles on the Inuit was fascinating.
Dec 16, 2009 Erin marked it as to-read
Volume 2 in Vollman's seven dreams series. The Ice Shirt was sick and magical, I expect nothing less from The Rifles.
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  • The Age of Wire and String
William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

More about William T. Vollmann...

Other Books in the Series

Seven Dreams (6 books)
  • The Ice-Shirt
  • Fathers and Crows
  • Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith
  • The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War
  • The Cloud Shirt (extract)

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“Maybe life is a process of trading hopes for memories.” 21 likes
“In the preface of "The Rifles"
"Another rule we followed was never kill an animal that we were not going to use for food or clothing." Barnabas Piryuaq
"Well, in those high latitudes we found such quantities of seals and walruses that we simply did not know what to do with them.There were thousands and thousands lying there; we walked among them and hit them on the head, and laughed heartily in the abundance which God had created." Jan Welzi 1933. ”
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