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Black Hills: A Novel Hardcover – February 24, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hugo-winner Simmons, the author of such acclaimed space operas as Hyperion and Olympos as well as Drood, an intriguing riff on Dickens's unfinished last novel, displays the impressive breath of his imagination in this historical novel with a supernatural slant. In the author's retelling of Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn in 1876, the dying general's ghost enters the body of Paha Sapa, a 10-year-old Sioux warrior who's able to see both the past and the future by touching people. The action leaps around in time to illustrate the arc of Sapa's life, but focuses on 1936, when, as a septuagenarian, he plots to blow up the monuments on Mount Rushmore in time for a visit to the site by FDR to atone for his role in constructing the stone likenesses. In his ability to create complex characters and pair them with suspenseful situations, Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries. 6-city author tour. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Simmons's previous novels The Terror (2007) and Drood (2009) meld historical figures and events to occult phenomena, and Black Hills follows a similar pattern. Here, Simmons fuses the triumph of American Western expansion and the marvels of early 20th-century science and engineering with Native American spirituality and mysticism. Simmons is a gifted storyteller whose meticulous research and evocative prose deftly transport readers to another time and place. However, the Christian Science Monitor found the frequent barrage of historical minutiae tedious and criticized the novel's interpretation of Manifest Destiny and the harsh treatment of native populations, which it considered obnoxious and disrespectful. However, most critics praised Black Hills as a highly imaginative, interesting novel and a worthy addition to Simmons's oeuvre.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (February 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031600698X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316006989
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #883,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Dan Simmons was born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1948, and grew up in various cities and small towns in the Midwest, including Brimfield, Illinois, which was the source of his fictional "Elm Haven" in 1991's SUMMER OF NIGHT and 2002's A WINTER HAUNTING. Dan received a B.A. in English from Wabash College in 1970, winning a national Phi Beta Kappa Award during his senior year for excellence in fiction, journalism and art.
Dan received his Masters in Education from Washington University in St. Louis in 1971. He then worked in elementary education for 18 years -- 2 years in Missouri, 2 years in Buffalo, New York -- one year as a specially trained BOCES "resource teacher" and another as a sixth-grade teacher -- and 14 years in Colorado.

His last four years in teaching were spent creating, coordinating, and teaching in APEX, an extensive gifted/talented program serving 19 elementary schools and some 15,000 potential students. During his years of teaching, he won awards from the Colorado Education Association and was a finalist for the Colorado Teacher of the Year. He also worked as a national language-arts consultant, sharing his own "Writing Well" curriculum which he had created for his own classroom. Eleven and twelve-year-old students in Simmons' regular 6th-grade class averaged junior-year in high school writing ability according to annual standardized and holistic writing assessments. Whenever someone says "writing can't be taught," Dan begs to differ and has the track record to prove it. Since becoming a full-time writer, Dan likes to visit college writing classes, has taught in New Hampshire's Odyssey writing program for adults, and is considering hosting his own Windwalker Writers' Workshop.
Dan's first published story appeared on Feb. 15, 1982, the day his daughter, Jane Kathryn, was born. He's always attributed that coincidence to "helping in keeping things in perspective when it comes to the relative importance of writing and life."
Dan has been a full-time writer since 1987 and lives along the Front Range of Colorado -- in the same town where he taught for 14 years -- with his wife, Karen. He sometimes writes at Windwalker -- their mountain property and cabin at 8,400 feet of altitude at the base of the Continental Divide, just south of Rocky Mountain National Park. An 8-ft.-tall sculpture of the Shrike -- a thorned and frightening character from the four Hyperion/Endymion novels -- was sculpted by an ex-student and friend, Clee Richeson, and the sculpture now stands guard near the isolated cabin.
Dan is one of the few novelists whose work spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, suspense, historical fiction, noir crime fiction, and mainstream literary fiction . His books are published in 27 foreign counties as well as the U.S. and Canada.
Many of Dan's books and stories have been optioned for film, including SONG OF KALI, DROOD, THE CROOK FACTORY, and others. Some, such as the four HYPERION novels and single Hyperion-universe novella "Orphans of the Helix", and CARRION COMFORT have been purchased (the Hyperion books by Warner Brothers and Graham King Films, CARRION COMFORT by European filmmaker Casta Gavras's company) and are in pre-production. Director Scott Derrickson ("The Day the Earth Stood Stood Still") has been announced as the director for the Hyperion movie and Casta Gavras's son has been put at the helm of the French production of Carrion Comfort. Current discussions for other possible options include THE TERROR. Dan's hardboiled Joe Kurtz novels are currently being looked as the basis for a possible cable TV series.
In 1995, Dan's alma mater, Wabash College, awarded him an honorary doctorate for his contributions in education and writing.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy on February 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In June of 1876, a gifted young Lakota Indian boy named Paha Sapa touches a dying white soldier at the Battle of Little Big Horn, little realizing that he is "counting coup" on the fallen General Custer himself. In that moment, the boy's life changes forever, as the ghost of the slain war leader mysteriously enters his soul, where it will reside, speaking to him at odd moments, for the next sixty-plus years.

Black Hills comes from the vivid imagination of Dan Simmons, author of previous lengthy best-selling historical novels The Terror and Drood. The book is long, entertaining, and wonderfully descriptive, though it lapses into excessive wordiness at times. The epic story encompasses seven decades of Paha Sapa's life and treats the reader to diverse settings ranging from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair. Told in a nonlinear fashion, much of it in present tense, the story can be difficult to follow, particularly toward the beginning of the book before the reader is accustomed to the back-and-forth, decade-skipping flow of the narrative.

The main plot centers around the construction of the Mount Rushmore memorial, carved into a mountain sacred to the Lakota tribe. Paha Sapa signs on as a powderman on the blasting crew, hoping to fulfill a destiny revealed to him as a child in a vision: to stop the wasicus--the white "fat takers"--from destroying the Black Hills. Other story lines include Paha Sapa's wonderful coming of age as a Lakota visionary, a too-brief romantic interlude in Chicago, and the underlying saga of America's growing-up years through the early twentieth century.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By 1gudriter on April 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You know how in many historical novels, historical facts and details are so intricately woven into the plot that you are barely aware of the author's extensive research? Well, this novel isn't one of those. In "Black Hills," every paragraph, every page screams "Look at all the research I have done!" There apparently isn't a fact that Dan Simmons has uncovered--whether relevant to the plot or not--that he doesn't cram into this book. The mind-boggling detail of minutia is almost laughable in places. Want to know the dimensions and weight and workings of the machinery in the power plant of the Chicago World's Fair? It has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but it's all there. There are hundreds of similar examples, and they all get in the way of an otherwise clever dramatization of Sioux (Lakota) history, Custer's Last Stand, and the building of Mount Rushmore. Dan Simmons has always needed a good editor, but never before like he needs with this novel. There are other annoying elements as well. While Custer's early letters to his wife , as depicted in this novel,may be taken from the real ones Custer wrote, it smacks of gratuitous sex, included because, well, otherwise there'd be no sex in this story. (Apparently love is not enough). Custer's carnal details feel out of place and unnecessary. In fact, all the chapters of Custer's letters feel overwritten and unnecessary. Custer, in real life, was not a person deserving of sympathy. The real story here is about the protagonist, Paha Sapa, and his Lakota heritage, his brief marriage, his progeny, and his work on Mt. Rushmore. The nonsense about Custer's ghost is quite secondary, or should have been. What redeemed this book for me was the ending which, although way too preachy and heavy-handed, tied up loose ends and was quite touching. After finishing this nearly 500-page book (while fighting the urge several times to put it down), I came to realize that about 300 pages of it were really worthwhile.
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46 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Chapati VINE VOICE on February 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Black Hills, by Dan Simmons, begins with Paha Sapa, a young Lakota boy, touching the body of the dying General George Custer at Little Big Horn. In that moment, Custer's spirit enters Paha Sapa's body. It doesn't leave for over sixty years.

Paha Sapa experiences this more than once with people. He has Custer's spirit in his head, but he also can see the pasts and futures of many people he meets, including Crazy Horse. During his initiation ceremony to become a man, Paha Sapa also experiences a terrible vision of the future; four large stone presidents of the United States careening across his beloved Black Hills, eating everything in their sight and leaving all behind them to waste. Paha Sapa grows up as his Lakota family and the other native tribes of the Great Plains die out. He comes to the decision that he must destroy these stone presidents before they destroy his land. So he sets out on a plan to blow up Mt. Rushmore before the monument is complete.

Paha Sapa is a wonderful character; he is so good and so kind and so aware of his culture disintegrating around him. He is a complicated person who hates what the white settlers have done to his land but who also respects and admires their ingenuity and passion. He is one of the most achingly lonely characters I have met in a very long time. He is kind to everyone, but is set apart by his race and by the ghost in his mind and by other people's memories crowding out his own memories. I fell in love with him and his quiet dignity.

I also enjoyed the story and Simmons' storytelling approach. There is a true sense of immediacy for the reader in each chapter. The narrative jumps around a lot, from the 1870s to the 1930s and between Paha Sapa and General Custer.
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