From a Grand Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy: In a post-apocalyptic future, a priest must fight the forces of evil in order to bring freedom to humanity.
Three-hundred and sixty years after a nuclear holocaust ravaged mankind, the world is fraught with chaos and superstition. Endowed with scientific knowledge lost to the rest of humanity, Techno-priests of the Great God now rule. Jarles, originally of peasant descent, rises to become a priest of the Great God. He knows that the gospel is nothing but trickery propagated by non-believers. One day, he defies his priestly training and attempts to incite the peasants to rebel—but Jarles is not the only dissenter trying to bring down the priesthood—witchcraft is slowly gaining strength and support among the populace. Little does Jarles know his rebellion is about to throw him headlong into the middle of the greatest holy war the world has ever seen.
Fritz Reuter Leiber Jr. was one of the more interesting of the young writers who came into HP Lovecraft's orbit, and some of his best early short fiction is horror rather than sf or fantasy. He found his mature voice early in the first of the sword-and-sorcery adventures featuring the large sensitive barbarian Fafhrd and the small street-smart-ish Gray Mouser; he returned to this series at various points in his career, using it sometimes for farce and sometimes for gloomy mood pieces--The Swords of Lankhmar is perhaps the best single volume of their adventures. Leiber's science fiction includes the planet-smashing The Wanderer in which a large cast mostly survive flood, fire, and the sexual attentions of feline aliens, and the satirical A Spectre is Haunting Texas in which a gangling, exo-skeleton-clad actor from the Moon leads a revolution and finds his true love. Leiber's late short fiction, and the fine horror novel Our Lady of Darkness, combine autobiographical issues like his struggle with depression and alcoholism with meditations on the emotional content of the fantastic genres. Leiber's capacity for endless self-reinvention and productive self-examination kept him, until his death, one of the most modern of his sf generation.
Used These Alternate Names: Maurice Breçon, Fric Lajber, Fritz Leiber, Jr., Fritz R. Leiber, Fritz Leiber Jun., Фриц Лейбер, F. Lieber, フリッツ・ライバー
Have you wondered where George Lucas got the idea for that light sabre? Right here. This book. That's where he got it.
This groundbreaking work of dystopian fiction (1950) is an exciting, well-plotted novel which has influenced at least three generations of writers. It tells of a future dark age brought on by a well-meaning group of scientists who, wishing to prevent all further wars, invent a god, offer themselves as a priesthood and present their technological marvels--used primarily for social control--as miracles. They choose witchcraft as their bogeyman and persecute witches unmercifully--in spite of the fact that witchcraft is virtually non-existent, practiced by a few wizened female herb doctors accompanied by their pet cats.
As often happens, what we choose to fear and persecute--however trivial it may be at the start--gains in significance and power over us. A new witchcraft arises, with what look to be real magical powers, and its witches possess extraordinarily helpful familiars--not cats, but monkey things with uncannily human faces.
This is classic science fiction, recommended to everyone who loves the genre. Or, for that matter, anyone who loves a good story. The light sabre bit is just a little icing on the cake.
“If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” This is the persistent message of the National Rifle Association in America. Of course what they neglect to say is that if guns are legal, those using them illegally will have the best guns. As so it is with all technology of coercion, including the more subtle but highly effective technology of religion. Leiber’s tongue in cheek allegory speculates on some interesting developments of such technology and its consequences.
Before the 16th century, the principal technology of European religion was miracles, or at least the verbal and primitive written reports of miracles, that is, unexplained and therefore unnatural aberrations in natural forces. But these were crucially augmented at the end of the Middle Ages by the technology of printing, causing an uncontrolled expansion of non-conformist interpretation, heresy and schism. The Protestants had the best technology for a time, only to be surpassed in the 18th century by the wily deists and atheists of the Enlightenment with their knack for popular publishing.
By the early 20th century the most advanced religious technology was radio as exploited by the likes of the American Father Coughlin who, at the time Leiber was writing his book, had a ‘congregation’ of over 30 million tuned into his weekly broadcasts.* Coughlin, however was only the forerunner for an entirely new industry of television and internet media evangelists from the 1950’s Billy Graham and Fulton Sheen to today’s Megachurch pastors like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. Most of these have been exposed for practising the sins that they condemn - avarice, lust, deceit, etc. And the exposure and failure when it comes, is typically down to more effective technology - of surveillance, of accounting, and of the inspection of records.
Leiber’s religious technology is partly organisational (as it always is) but primarily one that protects those who are part of the religious hierarchy and enhances their physical strength, thus allowing ‘priests’ to intimidate and control ‘commoners’ in the name of the Great God. But the opposition Satanists, known as the Witchcraft, have an even more powerful technology, one that works on the intellect and emotions. They are able to create illusions and delusions among the priestly hierarchy that effectively neutralise their physical superiority. This technology includes moving picture holograms and various forms of stimulative cerebral ‘rays.’
Both sides know that their powers are technological not theological. Dogma is a matter of providing theological rationalisation for what appears as miraculous to the populace. Neither the hierarchy of the Great God nor the Witchcraft really believe any of the official religious line. Nor, interestingly, do they consider the mass of commoners, who are fully indoctrinated in religious beliefs and behaviour, capable of understanding the real game of power being played by the two groups. Therefore neither side seeks to promote themselves through propaganda or ‘re-education.’
Inevitably, I suppose, the dialectic of the battle between the two technologies - the one physical, the other psychological - resolves itself not in the victory of either the old religion or the new but in the creation of a synthetic innovation - the Religion of Technology. This religion worships not a transcendent entity but an immanent system of power and technique. This is the book’s redeeming feature, a sort of prediction which has come to pass. Technology has indeed become a spiritual force, determining and constituting the relationships among virtually the entire population of the planet, and controlled by a remote and mysterious elite. The medium is the message. There is no need to preach it; it spreads itself among a docile and receptive congregation.
Or perhaps technology has been considered divine from the beginning. After all, tools that enhance human capacity are rather god-like. John Milton would have understood the situation. Poetry, too, is a form of religious technology.
* Arguably Billy Sunday was the last nationally-known, conventional revivalist, evangelical preacher who relied solely on physical gatherings. Both his popularity and his influence declined in direct proportion to the spread of radio during the 1920’s.
Serialized across several issues of Astounding magazine in 1943 (and nominated for a retro Hugo award for best novel in 2019) , "Gather, Darkness!" is a criminally underappreciated dystopian classic that depicts a repressive future theocracy and the revolution that brings it down. Lieber is a SFF grand master, and a rare multiple genre (sci-fi / fantasy / horror) triple threat. I think this may be his best work of sci-fi I've yet encountered. The story is masterfully constructed, full of layers of devilish intrigue, delicious irony and an astonishing level of technological vision that includes sophisticated holography, genetic engineering, automata of all natures and sizes, mind control and even light sabers!
The story is deeply introspective, delving into perceptions of self and memory, and is essentially a satire on two levels. The most obvious target being organized religion and its exploitation by the elite to exert control by instilling fear and perpetuating ignorance and poverty among the masses via a return to feudalism. The other being of course science itself, foreshadowing all the promise and fear latent in the then emerging atomic age, where science and technology promised to provide solutions for all of life's ills, unless it killed us all first. In an ultimate irony, the scientists who set out to save humanity from the cataclysm which abruptly ended the golden age of mankind set the stage perfectly for its descent into the dark ages. As an elite ruling class of "priests" they covertly rely on science and technology in the guise of the supernatural, and even manufacture a faux foe in the form of devil worshiping witches to serve as a convenient scapegoat and distraction. Fear, it turns out, can be a double edged sword, and one which the revolutionaries are only too happy to embrace for their own purposes.
"Gather, Darkness!" holds up extremely well today and is highly recommended for modern sci-fi fans. For golden age sci-fi it is remarkable for the absence of any camp or cheese, and notable for the presence of several well developed and pivotal female characters.
5.0 stars. Leiber's best novel and a great read. Set in a postapocalyptic future Earth, the "Hierarchy of the Great God" controls all technology (and the people) with a iron fist. The main character, a young priest named Brother Armon Jarles, speaks out against the ruling class and finds an underground movement with sophisticated technology of its own. THEN THE BATTLE IS ON. A great read. Highly recommended.
By April 1943, Chicago-born author Fritz Leiber had seen around 20 of his short stories released in the various pulp magazines of the day and was ready to embark as a full-fledged novelist. Thus, his first longer work, "Conjure Wife," did indeed make its debut in the 4/43 issue of "Unknown," the fantasy-oriented sister magazine of John W. Campbell's "Astounding Science-Fiction." In it, a college professor, Norman Saylor, discovers that his wife, Tansy, is nothing less than a practicing witch, leading to increasingly dire and supernatural consequences. Leiber's second novel, released just a month later, was "Gather, Darkness!," and it, too, featured the subject of witchcraft...but in a far-future setting and with a hard sci-fi backdrop, thus making it prime fodder for "Astounding"'s May '43 issue. But this tale was a lot longer than "Conjure Wife" had been (that first novel would be revised and expanded years later), and so was serialized over the course of the May, June and July issues, that first issue copping the coveted cover art treatment by William Timmins. "Gather, Darkness!" would see its first publication in book form as a $2.75 hardcover from the small publisher Pelligrini & Cudahy, in 1950...three years before "Conjure Wife" received a similar treatment. For this reason, perhaps, it has often been referred to as Leiber's first novel, although, as has been seen, it was technically his second. This reader has long been a fan of "Conjure Wife," but for some reason, it has taken me all these years to catch up with Leiber's sophomore novel. The blame is really all mine, as there has been no shortage of opportunities to find a copy of the book over the intervening decades. It has gone through at least 26 incarnations, and the one that I recently picked up was the 1979 Ballantine edition, with cover art by Darrell Sweet. So now, I can finally concur with Scottish critic David Pringle, who, in his "Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction," refers to "Gather, Darkness!" as "1940s magazine sf at its most sophisticated."
Leiber's novel takes place in what would have been the year 2305 but is now called year 139 of the Great God. Several hundred years earlier, as mankind began slipping into barbarism and self-destruction, a group of scientists had decided that the only way to stave off catastrophe would be to establish a new religion, but one based upon science. The populace proved eager to lap up this pseudo-religion, in which "miracles" were produced using mechanical means, and by the time our story opens, the so-called Church of the Great God has become firmly entrenched, its scientist priests power hungry and corrupt, and the populace little more than superstitious serfs. But lately, a rebellious group known as the New Witchcraft has begun to stir up trouble, employing their own scientific methods to make the priests of the Hierarchy look foolish. And things really begin to heat up when a young, junior priest, Armon Jarles--disgusted with the Hierarchy after having initially been a gung-ho inductee two years earlier--begins to rail against the Church on the steps of the Grand Cathedral, in the capital city of Megatheopolis. Jarles is summarily kidnapped by the New Witchcraft and is offered admission into their ranks, but the befuddled priest is uncertain if he wishes to so commit himself that far...yet. And his befuddlement soon grows even worse, after being retaken by the Hierarchy and subjected to their personality-altering devices. Now once again an ardent supporter of his corrupt priestly brothers, Jarles goes on to plot the New Witchcraft's destruction, while Leiber introduces us to a host of fascinating characters, among them Brother Goniface, born Knowles Satrick, the clever and scheming Archpriest of the Hierarchy, who has plotted and murdered to get to his current high estate (including the murder of his own half-sister, it seems), all the while nursing a childhood shame; the otherwise nameless Black Man, the jovial and prankish second-in-command of the New Witchcraft; Sharlson Naurya, another member of the revolutionary group, and a female witch who harbors a secret grudge against Goniface; Mother Jujy, an old crone who wanders the ancient tunnels of Megatheopolis and claims to be an actual, legitimate witch; and Dickon, the monkeylike "familiar" of the Black Man, created via the advanced microbiological process known as "chromosome-stripping," who is in constant telepathic rapport with his larger, twin "brother." And then there is the mysterious figure known only as Asmodeus, whose identity nobody seems to know, but who--as the founder of the New Witchcraft--is unremitting in the furtherance of the Hierarchy’s destruction....
As you might be able to tell, in this, his second novel, Leiber subverts readers' expectations by making the usually heroic forces of science the villains of the piece, while giving us a supposed devil-worshipping order of witches that is fighting for an emancipation from tyranny. But to be perfectly honest, "Gather, Darkness!" is a book that is fairly replete with all manner of surprises (good luck trying to figure out the identity of that Asmodeus character!), not to mention constant invention, wonders and movement. Leiber lends credibility to his Hierarchy by incorporating any number of ingenious details. Thus, the priestly robes that can emit a protective force shield around their wearer, as well as an electronic halo above his head; the larger-than-life mechanical "angels" that fly and swoop and keep eyes on the populace; the so-called "wrath rods" that the Hierarchical members carry to punish or slay; the sympathetic and parasympathetic vibrations that the Hierarchy uses to alter the mood of unruly crowds; the "telesolidographic projections" (think of long-distance, 3-D holograms) that the New Witchcraft employs to frighten the commoners as well as the priesthood; and the manner in which a disfavored priest is summarily "excommunicated": He is deprived of all his senses by mechanical emanations, and rendered conscious but "doomed for a year to the private hell of his own thoughts--a year that would be an eternity, for there would be in it no way to measure time...." And then there is the matter of those familiars, truly fascinating and sympathetic creations, each one a stripped-down miniversion of its original, and wholly devoted to its brother or sister.
Also interesting to this reader were the unusual character names that we are presented with...unusual until one considers that perhaps, at some time during the previous 300 years or so, mankind could have transposed the positions of its surnames and Christian names and slightly altered them. And so, Armon Jarles might once have been something akin to Charles Harmon; Sharlson Naurya could have been Maura Carlson; Knowles Satrick may have been Patrick Knowles. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate ploy on the author's part or not, but it somehow added a pleasing, convincing touch for this reader. In all, Leiber's second novel is a true page-turner, and the several evenings that I spent with it were very pleasant ones for me, indeed.
Still, the tale does come with several problems. For one thing, despite its 216-page length (again, my Ballantine edition), the book feels as if it should have been even longer; that some background material could have been given more detail. Other than Goniface and, to a lesser degree, Jarles, characterizations in the book are sketchy, at best. The hinted-at relationship between Jarles and Naurya, which existed before the events in the novel begin, is never satisfactorily delineated, and the precise motivations of Asmodeus, when his/her secret identity is revealed, remain nebulous by the book's end. Even Goniface himself is mystified regarding this last matter. But these are relatively minor matters, and Leiber's story remains a compelling and memorable one.
Today, "Gather, Darkness!" has received some latter-day attention, more than 75 years after its initial release, by dint of its receiving a nomination for a Retro Hugo Award: Best Novel, 1943. But it is up against some fairly heavyweight competition. Also nominated for the coveted prize are "Conjure Wife" itself (How many times in Hugo history has an author competed against him- or herself? Not too many, I would wager!), as well as Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore's "Earth's Last Citadel" (a novel that I enjoyed very much, from two of my favorite authors, but one that also failed to answer all of my questions). Also up for the award are three novels that I have long wanted to read but, to my great embarrassment, have failed to catch up with...yet. Those three novels are A . E. van Vogt's "The Weapon Makers" (the sequel to his 1941 – '42 serialized novel "The Weapon Shops of Isher"), C. S. Lewis' "Perelandra" (his sequel to 1938's "Out of the Silent Planet"), and finally, "The Glass Bead Game," by German author Hermann Hesse, for which he ultimately received the Nobel Prize in Literature. So which novel will/should cop the award? Well, of the three that I've experienced, I’d select "Gather, Darkness!," which is a more satisfying read than the Kuttner/Moore work, and more sci-fi oriented than "Conjure Wife." I would not put my money on the van Vogt book, however, as that author's cachet has seemingly dimmed in the modern era. Lewis' Perelandra trilogy is surely beloved in many quarters, and as for the Hesse novel, I would imagine that it could be a difficult matter to vote against a Nobel Prize winner. (Has any novel ever won a Nobel Prize as well as a Hugo? I tend to think not, but how cool would it be if that did happen?) Anyway, as you can see, it's a tough race to call, but my hunch is that either "Perelandra" or the Hesse novel will claim the honor when the Hugos are announced this coming August 15th. But whichever of the six Golden Age novels wins the day, I doubt very much that it offers as much imaginative flair and thoughtful fun as Fritz Leiber's "Gather, Darkness!." And really, in what other book are you going to find a monkeylike, telepathic clone being given life-sustaining blood from a haglike witch? Now that's what I call a selling point....
(By the way, this review originally appeared on the FanLit website at http://www.fantasyliterature.com/ ... a most ideal destination for all fans of Fritz Leiber....)
Considering that this novel is 80 years old and doesn't feel dated in a genre that changes so much over time is no small deed. This gets a respectful 5 stars from me. Leiber's tale about a society where technology is uplifted to hierarchical religion and the dark side struggles against the light side felt in parts like a predecessor to Star Wars. Even a light sword duel took place.
Finding such jewels among the oldies is worth all the quest of going through the Hugo and Nebula award nominees.
I read it as a part of monthly reading for December 2021 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group. The book was first published in 1943, an updated version was published in 1950. In 2019 it was nominated for Retro-Hugo, but lost to Conjure Wife by the same author. To my pleasant surprise the novel aged quite well.
The story starts with a church official - Brother Jarles, priest of the First and Outermost Circle, novice in the Hierarchy makes a fiery speech on a square before the throng of ordinary people, denouncing his church and saying that all its wanders are in truth are wise usages of science, which made inaccessible for people and that the common belief in witches and Sathanas is just a rouse to keep people in place. Readers ‘see’ the speech both from POV of Jarles and of some person behind the scene, who observes it on a remote screen and orders minions how to react… to re-instate belief in the Great God their tinker with another ‘wonder’, but in the last moment Jarles is snatched away by way that smell of witchcraft.
Readers get a quick introductory infodump that it is year 139 of the Great God would be the year 206 of the Golden Age, except that Golden Age dates were not recognized. It would also be the year 360 of the Atomic Age. And finally the year 2305 of the Dawn Civilization and—what was the god called?—Christ. That some time ago scientists decided that to prevent mankind’s self-destruction, decided to return to fake middle ages with illiterate populus blindly following priests (scientists) as they guide people’s lives. They created belief in witchcraft, but now someone snatched this idea and seems there are real witches with real familiars and powers.
The story has a nice pace, even if slows a bit in the middle. There are self-sufficient women of different ages, intrigues and interesting tech, the most memorable being familiars and a version of brainwashing, which keeps all memories intact but changes person’s attitude to them. There is a bit of overuse of different ‘radiations’ to do this or that, but still it is a light but SF.
Fritz Leiber was so good at so many genres. He wrote two of my favorite horror novels, Conjure Wife and Our Lady Of Darkness. The sword and sorcery fans revere him for his Fahred and the Grey Mauser series. He even wrote some endearing philosophical inquiries in his late life such as The Mystery of the Japanese Clock. Gather Darkness is in the realm of science fiction and, while many state that it is his greatest novel, I find it a bit weak. In fact, Gather Darkness reads much like a fantasy since the main idea is that the earth has descended into a post-apocalyptic period in which scientists use technology disquised as the supernatural and enslave the people in a religious hoax. Witches, wayward priests, and satanic familiars all make a visit to these pages and are all explained in natural terms; a la science fiction. It is all quite enjoyable and there is some of Leiber's best prose in this work. But I guess I like my fantasies, and science fiction, a bit more straight-laced. Nonetheless, three and a half stars for a story that kept my interest to the last page.
It's never clear, as the story progresses, how nihilistic or devout the priests and Witches are. This dystopia is a completely cynical fabrication of medieval church structure and iron-fisted scientific control, with the priests theoretically are entirely two-faced about it, preaching to the peasantry while institutionally nihilistic and pragmatic. But hints indicate that they, and by equal token the Witches, have begun to believe their own fabrications and imagery. Getting to the bottom of any person's core belief is a journey containing several reversals.
The story is touched through with small baroque details that add so much. There are mad scientists, and then there is the mad scientist who experiments upon himself, remolding his own personality towards greater efficiency. There are the familiars, who are 'familiar' for good reason. There is the sentence of excommunication, which in this society is a removal from the world in a sensory-deprivation sense.
-El miedo es un arma de dominio. Y lo desconocido es lo que más asusta-.
Lo que nos cuenta. En el futuro, y para no volver al estado de caos que sufrió la civilización después de la última guerra, los hombres de ciencia crearon una religión sostenida por los “milagros” de su conocimiento técnico. Pero la religión degeneró hacia un gobierno fundamentalista tiránico, al que sólo unos pocos tratan de oponerse, aunque con sus mismas armas.
¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:
Leiber's Classic Dystopia of Religion Versus Witchcraft
"Gather, Darkness" was one of two dystopian novels written by Fritz Leiber (The other was "A Specter Is Haunting Texas".). Without question this splendid little novel still remains one of his most impressive literary achievements. It is also one of the best conceived, best written novels of a dismal future for humanity.
Three hundred years after a nuclear holocaust, humanity is ruled by a secretive religious brotherhood, the Hierarchy of the Great God, which uses science as the supernatural means of ensuring its control over an impoverished, predominantly illiterate population. Opposing this brotherhood is a secret society of witches, the followers of Sathanas, seeking to use science to overthrow the brotherhood's tyrannical theocracy. A young Hierarchy priest, Brother Armon Jarles, skeptical of his beliefs and the Hierarchy's orthodoxy, soon finds himself caught in the bitter struggle between both groups. A struggle that is meant to gather darkness against the Hierarchy's grip on power.
Fritz Leiber published Conjure Wife in 1943. It remains a classic American tale of modern witchcraft, still as effective any Val Lewton production for RKO pictures. Apparently Leiber was not ready to leave the witchcraft theme behind, because that same year he took it into a far future sf tale, Gather Darkness. The results were hardly another classic.
In this tale, Earth is ruled by a religious brotherhood that while enjoying some of the benefits of advanced technology themselves keep the populace living in a near medieval society, perpetually in fear of divine retribution. Social hierarchies are strictly maintained, and no greater honor can befall a family than to have one of its sons selected for the priesthood. But initiation into the priesthood could hardly go the way acolytes might expect. The first thing a novice learns is that the whole religion is a sham, kept in place to keep the populace in theirs. And this is a full time job. Not only do the orders of the priesthood fight constantly among themselves, there are disturbing accounts of witchcraft and worship of The Dark One taking hold of the hoi poloi. Of course the priests know that whoever is pulling off these feats of witchcraft have to be using technology the same way the priests use it themselves. But people are spooked and ready to switch alliances.
I worry that I am making this sound more interesting than it is. The story does have potential, but the writing is stiff and the dialog is terrible. There is a lot of not very interesting intrigue, and the resolution hardly comes as a surprise. I am baffled by other reader reviews who say this is Leiber's best novel. Both Conjure Wife and The Big Time far surpass it.
Written in the 1940's this novel postulates a future where the Hierarchy control the populace by using religion as a control. Using science to produce false "miracles" the Hierarchy brainwashes the populace into obedience--the more clever of the 'commoners' are encouraged to join the priesthood.
So, when an group of revolutionaries begins to overthrow the tyrants, the rebels disguise themselves as "witches" and use their science to create miraculous effects ascribed to "Sathanas".
It is an oddly compelling book and the premise was unusual for the 1940's (several writer have used similar ideas since them). The idea of the witches having 'familiars'---basically cloned symbiotes--was a nice touch.
But the plot holes and rushed ending make it only an okay book. Definitely worth reading once, hoeever.
Distopia di preti ultra-tecnologici, avversati da una stregoneria altrettanto attrezzata. L'ho trovato poco datato, per essere un romanzo del 1943. Bellissima la caratterizzazione dei famigli delle streghe. Leiber è un autore dai grandi meriti, che sto iniziando a conoscere solo adesso.
This book has a fantastic premise: centuries ago, after a cataclysmic war that ended the Golden Atomic Age, a group of scientists enshrined their knowledge within a new religion intended to guide humanity through the new dark age. Unsurprisingly, this has led instead to a tyrannical "theocracy" of priests who use their advanced technology in concert with the ignorance of the commoners in order to maintain the status quo through "miracles," all the while pushing the promised return to the Golden Age farther and farther into the future. They are opposed in this by the New Witchcraft, a renegade sect that, of course, using technology to pretend they have the magical support of the Dark Lord Sathanas. As above, so below.
I also love that this book starts on page 1 with "main character" Jarles deciding mid-service that he is fed up with the lies of the Hierarchy and launching into a fiery denouncement of the regime. After so many modern novels that are little more than hyper-extended prologues,this is a breath of fresh air.
It's too bad that pretty much everything else about this book is garbage. Over and over, the narrative lurches forward and then halts for long stretches, and the book is only like 200 pages long! The characters, such as they are, don't make any sense in their motivations or choices or relationships, and the writing is a textbook example of the bizarrely over-eager and earnest prose that golden age pulp sf tends toward.
In it's favor: this book is short, imaginative and oddly compelling.
The downside: Like many sci fi writers of the 1950s, Fritz Leiber has a limited view of the value of women in society. His views of men aren't much better. Maybe it's just that he doesn't know how to develop character? Actually, there's a lot about the structure of this novel that is eye-rollingly silly.
"Gather, Darkness!" is a sci fi novel about a dictatorial regime of atheists who keep the common people oppressed, modeling their feudal society on the Dark Ages. Then witches bands together to wreak havoc on the oppressive hierarchy.
If I were in a deeper mood when I read this, I might have read a very 1950s-specific political message in "Gather, Darkness!" I mean, an elite tier of oppressive atheist dictators lead an oppressed populace ... hmmm, wonder who they could represent? But the morality and the political overtones of this book are a bit too simple to deserve much deep thought.
It's better as candy than as philosophy. Strange, oddly compelling, a good antidote to my literary malaise. I kept turning the pages all the way to the end.
Gather, Darkness! Is nothing short of a disaster. I've spent a month fumbling for a better word, but "disaster" is as accurate a word as I can come up with. The book tries to be everything - which few (as in, literally a couple of) serious master writers can handle. Lieber is like a kid who finds himself straddling a motorcycle with more power than he can control. Rather than looking cool and doing some fly wheelies, he drives it through the backyard fence and makes it onto a musical montage on AFV.
It's a shame, because Lieber's main characters are genuinely engaging (a rarity in genre fiction). Losing one's religion from the high platform of an archbishopric is a heavy subject and damn if Lieber doesn't handle it with poise. But when you introduce magic wands, a 200 foot animatronic candy dispensing Jesus, and - no shit - robot angels in jet packs... You're in over your literary and philosophical head. Lieber dug this hole for himself. It's his own damn fault he couldn't get out and this book is such a disaster.
Loved Mother Jujy, and was largely entertained by the action and amused by the characters.
Overall perfectly workable, but seems a bit heavy on the This Is A Grand Idea aspect of the story at times, in a slightly info-dumpy way. Towards the end I felt the resolution was unwinding by fiat; this is justified by the setting, but the delivery seemed uninteresting to me.
Might just be a phrasing thing, or the fact that I was reading it in an ebook.
Leiber is a master of SFF, and yet again he entertains. This is the first real novel of his I've read, as previously I've only gone through the first 3 Fafhrd & Gray Mouser books, he doesn't dissapoint. This story is set in the dystopian future, where the planet is ruled by a theocratic government. Great themes and good storytelling.
Not finished, but set aside possibly for good. It reminds me of the Mechanists from Thief 2 and old Bioware/Black isle games and D&D modules, all in a good, nostalgic way, which isn't surprising since Leiber was pretty influential. However, all fantasy runs the risk of slipping over the line into silliness, and this does, for me at least. The idea of science-priests is kind of interesting in a way, I guess, but the execution is clumsy and, as a result, I find it hard to suspend my disbelief. It does in several ways really remind me of the first two Thief games which I loved, though, so maybe I'll come back to it.
Plot: It's 2305, and the Hierarchy has ruled mankind for 139 years, meteing out the grace of the Great God to the poor peasants of Earth. The Witchcraft (both an organization and a talent) seems set to oppose them, using the same 'miracles' (in the form of atomic techology disguised as 'miracles') in the name of their secret leader, Asmodeus. In the middle of it all is a young priest name Jarles having a crisis of faith and a girl with a secret.
Analysis: I couldn't help but think of the Foundation reading this.. almost a 'what if the foundation failed'. The parallel of having technology saved after a big war by hiding it as religions is obvious. I don't think there's a connection though (both were written pretty close to each other)... seemingly just great sci-fi minds thinking alike.
Some cool technology here... they pretty much have holographic recording, which is pretty cutting edge (I'm not sure that was even a think yet in the 40s... if it was, it was just a vague concept), and 'wrath rays' that are somewhere between Starman's rod and a lightsaber.. there's what amounts to a light saber duel towards the end, which is sweet. for a book written 40+ years before Star Wars.
Of course, being at the dawn of the 'atomic age' they thought radiation was, well, pretty much magic. There's emotion control, brainwashing, memory wiping, all manner of stuff, just add the right wavelengths and you're good to go.
My only complaint is the writing style, which used alot of sentence fragments and was very choppy at times (especially during dramatic scenes)... I didn't find it dramatic, more annoying. Other than that, an excellent read!
Interesting to read a story from the 1940s. Fritz imagined holograms and GPS, computers and telecommunication, small atomic power packs, and the fall of mankind into tyranny. In this story, the setting is a society which has degraded into serfdom. The ruling party is not a king or queen, but an oligarchy of scientists. Science has become the god, the scientist/priests are in control. The society has also fallen into a type of Dark Ages, in which the serfs are basically ignorant, and the science is shown as a 'magical' - the serfs are awed by the amazing wonders. Their lives are an archipelago of toil and penury. The ruling class lives in luxury and comfort - definitely the 'have-nots' versus the 'haves'. An opponent arises, and is categorized as 'witchcraft' and from Satan. Make no mistake, there is nothing spiritual about either the state religion, or the satanic opponents. The state wants to maintain power, the followers of Satan want to free the people from that power and placed under their own. Both the state religion and the opponents think they know what is best for the people. At no point is freedom, whether spiritual or political, the goal - only who gets to make the law. Still, it interests me that the SF writers recognize that mankind left to itself, without the rudder of faith and the resulting morality, will descend into tyranny. On the other hand, they also refuse to seriously consider that faith in God, or Jesus Christ, is a fundamental building block in creating a free and robust culture.
http://nhw.livejournal.com/119652.html[return][return]This is a rollicking Golden Age of Science Fiction story (which I got electronically from FictionWise); the earth is dominated by a hierarchical religion which actually uses advanced science to perform what appear to be miracles; the subversive opposition organises as witches and warlocks. Published in 1943, it's a precursor to Arthur C Clarke's Third Law, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". It's also in part a riposte to the two Heinlein novels, If This Goes On... aka Revolt in 2100 in which a religious dictatorship is overthrown by a few good men and women, and Sixth Column in which a sinister Asian invasion of the USA is overthrown by a resistance movement disguised as a religion, both published a few years earlier.[return][return]Leiber's book is much more fun than I remember the Heinleins as being (it's twenty years since I read them, of course). Much more theatrical; much more improbable (the scene of the haunted house comes dangerously close to being silly). But great fun, and fuel for pulp cliches for decades afterwards.
In terms of world building, this novel has the best opening chapter I have ever seen. Within a few paragraphs, I was not only engrossed, I was THERE. I could see it, feel it, and knew who to cheer for.
For me, things fell swiftly downhill from there until about 75% through the book, where everything became awesome again.
About 60% of the way through the book, I abandoned the book and almost deleted it from my Kindle.
I liked the last 15% of the book immensely, and if you're going to have a wiggly part, it might as well be the middle. So in the end, I give it 3.75 out of 5 stars and give it a "Well done, if not especially entertaining and thought-provoking throughout."
I was actually planning on reading a few more Fritz Leiber books based on GRRM's recommendation, but since everyone else seems to consider this novel his best work, I'm officially on the fence. I will give one more book of his a try.
I have the 1969 mmp version published by Pyramid, and I don't recall any reference to an atomic war. The "Golden Age" is a thing of the past and the Hierarchy, that serves the "Great God" (a huge animated idol) runs the planet.
The story gets off to a moderate start; a bit of stage setting, but takes off fairly early into a fast-moving yarn about rebellion, failure, and the consequences. There are two flavors of "witchcraft" and one is run by the Hierarchy as a "straw man" for the purpose of manipulating the populace. The other is a true opposition that uses the same science as the Hierarchy to fight for freedom (or are they just out to gain power of their own?). Then there's Mother Jujy. Is she a real witch or just an old crone pretending to be a witch?
I've read the book at least twice and it never fails to entertain me.
Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) was an American writer of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. He was also a poet, an actor, a chess expert, and a cat lover. This story was first published in "Astounding Science Fiction" in 1943. Then, it was published as a book in 1950. I found it interesting and certainly a fast read, but not the best Leiber. It's a dystopian novel ( a type of novel much more common in our enlightened Twenty-first Century) about a theocracy running the world--and the Revolution that brings it down. So, there is a happy ending (whew, I was worried there for a moment). And there is a cat in the story--a black cat named Grimalkin who accompanies an old witch...
A bizarre and entertaining dystopian tale, of a futuristic theocracy which uses all the tools of science (and whose rulers are nearly all atheists) to manipulate and cow the populace in a somewhat Medieval style. The hero falls in with the "witches," who seem to be using the same tactics to raise a rebellion.
This is one of those books that must have been far more subversive in its first decade or so (published in 1943), but now seems like a weirdly amusing little adventure. (As a good friend of mine noted, it also has what is likely the first precursor of the light saber.)
Che dire? Grandi aspettative per questo classico della fantascienza e faro della ragione nella diuturna lotta contro l'oscurantismo. I temi ci sono tutti ed anche ben disposti nel corso del racconto. Purtroppo il raccconto in sé è troppo semplicistico: manca la tensione, tutto accade troppo in fretta e semplicemente. Il finale è meraviglioso e riscatta il romanzo, ma non basta per andare oltre le tre stelle.