Thursday, May 20, 2010

Black Hills - Dan Simmons

I really enjoyed reading Drood by Dan Simmons last year.I chose to listen to his latest book, Black Hills, in audio format.

Black Hills is the name of the Lakota protagonist as well as the area in South Dakota where much of the story is based. In 1876, Paha Sapa (Lakota for Black Hills) is an 11 year old boy. It is also the time of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Paha Sapa counts coup for the first time. The wasichu (white man) he chooses to touch just happens to be General Custer. Custer's ghost or spirit jumps to Paha Sapa where he stays for over 60 years.

Paha Sapa is able to see the future. What he sees is the construction of Mount Rushmore - a feat that will desecrate the sacred Black Hills. In 1936 Paha Sapa is a dynamite man on the construction site of Rushmore. He has devoted his life to reclaiming the Hills and intends to destroy the carvings on the day that Roosevelt visits the site.

Simmons' research skills are exceptional. His attention to detail is remarkable. When I was reading Drood, I went to the computer many times to look up a detailed event or scene. With an audio book, it's much harder to do that. I learned quite a bit of the history surrounding Crazy Horse, Custer and this time period through listening to Black Hills. On the flip side, sometimes the amount of detail bogged the story down for me. I found the main reader Erik Davies did an amazing job of relaying the Lakota/Sioux words. But again, I found myself not listening when the same word had been used repeatedly in a chapter. Davies did an excellent job of portraying an adult Paha Sapa with his voice. I found the child voice annoying, but that's just a small picky point.

Michael McConnohie provided the voice for Custer. McConnohie has a rich, full, expressive voice, really a great reader's voice. So I enjoyed his narration, but wow - I really didn't like Custer at all. Simmons' bias towards Custer is quite plain. Our initial introduction to him is quite awkward. His story is told as a series of letters to his wife Libby. They all being with 'Do you remember.." The main thrust of Custer's letters are of a sexual nature as he remembers times with Libby. Quite frankly I found them incredibly tawdry and indeed fast forwarded through them after listening to two.

Somewhat disconcerting was the timeline. The story would switch from the 1870's and then to the 1930's in the next chapters. Many details are revealed, such as Paha Sapa's wife's death, before he has even met her.

Black Hills is classic Simmons length at twenty one hours of listening. Mid way I found my interest flagging. The last quarter picked up for me, but what I expected to be the ending was not the ending. He finishes up with a thought provoking finish, Simmons style.

Good but not great for me.

Listen to an excerpt of Black Hills. Watch a video of Simmons discussing Black Hills.

Read an excerpt of Black Hills. You can find Simmons on Facebooks as well.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

WOW, kudos to you. This must have taken forever to listen to with so many discs (30)? I was planning on giving it a try, but I really wasn't too confident it would be worth my time. Thanks for sharing your thought.

bermudaonion said...

Most of the reviews I've read agree with you - that this isn't Simmons' best.

Jo-Jo said...

I just finished reading this one last week and I really got bogged down in the middle of it also. Although I enjoyed the story and his writing I found that I just wasn't eager to get back to it.

Luanne said...

18 Diane!
Jo-Jo and Kathy - glad to hear it's just not me...

Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this book myself, though I feel I am in the minority! It was my first Simmons book, but I plan to read The Terror soon, as I hear that's his best.

Jenners said...

I imagine this might be a "niche" story. Sounds like a tough one to hear on audio too.