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War with the Newts Paperback – February 1, 1990

4.4 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The visionary Czech writer Karel Capek (1890-1938), one of the century's great authors, first gained fame during the 1920s and 1930s when his short stories, novels, satires, journalism, children's books, and plays made him the most important writer in his native country. War With the Newts, one of the great dystopian satires of the century, is about the discovery by a Dutch sea-captain of a race of giant, intelligent, talking, and walking newts. When humans begin to exploit the newts as slaves, the creatures organize to fight the oppression, taking up arms and challenging the humans for control of newt destiny and freedom.

From Library Journal

Issued to celebrate the centennial of Capek's birth, these three volumes testify to the versatility and timeless appeal of one of the first Czech writers to achieve world acclaim. Toward the Radical Center contains, in new or revised translations, a selection of Capek's charming short stories, essays, and travel sketches, as well as four of his major plays, including R.U.R. , a brilliant drama about the destruction of humankind by artificial people, Rossum's Universal Robots. The dangers of runaway technology, militarism, and greed are further explored in Capek's hilarious satire, War with the Newts. When Captain van Toch discovers giant, intelligent newts on a remote island off Sumatra, he teaches them to use knives to find food, fight off sharks, and collect pearls for him. When he dies, his partners turn his friendly venture into a huge international business with the newts (rapidly growing in numbers) and with the tools and supplies for them. The newts are taught to read, to build massive underwater projects, and to protect the shores of the countries that bought them. They become an essential and powerful part of the industrial machine, and thus warnings about their potential danger to humankind go unheeded. In the end the newts start to blow up continents to create new shores for themselves, while governments argue impotently. Issued in a new, vibrant translation, this immensely entertaining novel has lost none of its relevance and spark. Considered Capek's masterpiece, the trilogy Three Novels explores the plurality of a man and his life, the impossibility of understanding all facets of truth. In Hordubal, events leading to the murder of a brooding, solitary farmer in a small Carpathian village are presented from the perspective of the victim, the villagers, and the police. Although Hordubal's wife and her lover are convicted, their motives and actions, as well as Hordubal's, remain partly mysterious. Meteor concerns an unknown, unconscious man brought into a hospital after a plane crash and attempts by a nurse, poet, and clairvoyant to penetrate the mystery of his life. The stories they derive are convincing and at points they converge, yet the real truth cannot be known. In An Ordinary Life , a retired railway official's attempt to examine his life reveals powerful and complex aspects of his personality that have shaped his seemingly ordinary life. If you must choose, select War with the Newts , but all three volumes are recommended.
- Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Catbird Press (February 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0945774109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0945774105
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on August 18, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Though perhaps best known for coining the word "robot" in his wonderful play R.U.R., Capek also wrote a number of stories and novels. Of his novels, War With the Newts is probably the best known. And with good reason. It is an excellent story.

Flirting with the apocalyptic tradition in science fiction, this novel tells the story of the discovery of large, intelligent sea creatures off a small island "west of Sumatra." Initially curiosities, their intelligence makes them excellent workers for underwater projects for humans. Unfortunately for humans, these creatures are in fact quite smart enough and, over the course of a few years, develop to the point where they can challenge people for the domination of the earth. Which they do quite effectively.

Written in a number of styles--journalistic and scientific in addition to straightforward prose that switches points of view--it is very engaging. Granted, the prose is a little more formal as befits a novel written in the 1930's and the translator has kept that formal feeling but I am quite fond of this style. And Capek's perceptive examination of the politics of this period in his tale of newts and man is impressive.

Capek is often thought of as a science fiction writer but, as is the case with many writers of this genre, his appeal is much wider. Otherwise, why would his novels and plays still be read nearly 80 years later. Anyone with a taste for good, intellectual writing would enjoy this novel.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
and Saw a Beast Rise up Out of the Sea.

This apocalyptic vision from the book of Revelations is a fitting introduction to Karel Capek's dystopian masterpiece, War With the Newts. Capek described in an interview how the idea for War With The Newts came to him and serves as a good synopsis of the book:

"I had written the sentence, 'You mustn't think that the evolution that gave rise to us was the only evolutionary possibility on this planet. . . . that cultural developments could be shaped through the mediation of another animal species. If the biological conditions were favorable, some civilization not inferior to our own could arise in the depths of the sea. . . . Would it do the same stupid things mankind has done? Would it invite the same historical calamities? What would we say if some animal other than man declared that its education and its numbers gave it the sole right to occupy the entire world and hold sway over all creation?" Out of this thought process War With the Newts Was Born.

The plot is straightforward. The master of a tramp steamer, Captain van Toch, comes across a rather curious breed of newts in an isolated lagoon near Sumatra. He discovers that they are intelligent and capable of communication. They lack, however, the ability to open easily oysters for food because of their short arms. He takes a knife and shows them how to use it. Next thing you know they have used his knife to open thousands of oysters, enough to provide the newts with food and the Captain with a large supply of pearls. Captain van Toch takes groups of newts and plants them in lagoons across the coastlines and lagoons of Asia. They are extraordinarily industrious. Before long newts become a worldwide rage.
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Format: Paperback
Of all the science-fiction books I read in my teenage years, this is the one that stimulated my mind the most, and the one I've re-read most often. It's the story of a discovery of another intelligent species, not in space but on an island lost in the Pacific. The new species are man-sized newts, with language and smart enough to acquire H. sapiens technology quickly. Eventually the newts and humans go to war, and that's all the plot I'll give you.
I loved to watch newts when I was a kid. In California especially, there are several species with interesting life-styles. Taricha torosa is a pretty brown and red newt with pebbly skin. It lives most of the year on land, but returns en masse to water to mate. It's a graceful, gentle, slow-moving creature with remarkably human "hands" and large eyes. That's the newt I imagine as the prototype for Capek's man-sized newt. T.torosa is also deadly poisonous... if you eat it. There's an evolutionary battle occurring in California right now! The newts' chief predator is the garter snake; snakes have been evolving tolerance for the newt's poison, which would kill the hugest other predator. In turn, the newts have been evolving ever stronger toxins. Recently, a population of snakes was discovered, in an isolated eco-zone, which has evolved better resistance and thus has gained the advantage in the endless evolutionary race.
In any case, reading Capek's book, I felt much like a traitor to my species. In every way, justice seemed to be on the newts' side. Obviously Capek has intuited what might well be the scenario of the future, when H. sapiens encounters another intelligence in the galaxy. Let's hope that species has evolved farther ethically than we humans have.
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Format: Paperback
War with the Newts is an excellent example of the work of Karel Capek, one of the Czech Republic's most beloved authors. In many ways, the book reads like a traditional sci-fi novel, telling of the rise of a species of giant lizards and its eventual conflict with mankind. However, several things set it apart from the rest of its genre.

For one thing, though there are four or five notable characters in the book, you never really see any of them for more than about four chapters. The main players in the novel are not individual people but countries; much of the book is written from a global perspective, in terms of the reactions of countries, societies, and the whole world as they are introduced to the newts.

The book is also notable for its humor. The dry, subtle gibes give the work a similar feel to the novels of British author Terry Pratchett. The comedy comes not only from the tone of the writing style itself, but also in the form of the characters (both individual and regional), whose slightly ridiculous portrayal makes them seem quite human indeed, just like any one of us.

The book is not merely for sci-fi enthusiasts. The reactions to the newts - human, economic, political, and otherwise - are chillingly familiar. In them we see accurate reflections of current and past social climates. This novel is equally valuable from a sociological perspective, or even as an insight into human nature itself. In this grim view of the future, we see our own past and present.
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