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War with the Newts Paperback – February 1, 1990
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From Library Journal
- Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An indisputable and highly entertaining (although frightening in its predictive accuracy) novel by Czech novelist/playwright Karel Capek. Read morePublished 3 months ago by T. Kasuboski
Satire is my favorite genre. And this book is a gem.
Nowhere have I ever found a better description of homo sapiens’s boundless greed, bigotry, stunning thoughtlessness,... Read more
One of those great books that nobody has heard of. I got to know of it from a Russian guy that read it at school in the USSR.Published 7 months ago by William Ferguson Logan
Very unique book. I would recommend it to anyone who likes reading.Published 7 months ago by Reid Brown
So he does what anyone would do and tells somebody with money. The Newts are then put to work building harbors and extending coastlines, and hilarity ensues. Read morePublished 8 months ago by C. Ada
Brilliant speculative fiction satire. Still cutting after all these years. From the author who coined the term "robot".Published 9 months ago by George Russell
Very boring and disappointing. I pity the person who had to translate this from Czech.Published 16 months ago by Dick Marti
Written in 1936 as Hitler was beginning to demand lebensraum for the Third Reich, "War With the Newts" by Czech writer Karel Capek (best remembered for inventing the word... Read morePublished 17 months ago by jrmspnc