Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, March 30, 2012

1950: Gather, Darkness! (Leiber, Fritz)

Science, Magic and Religion without the Fantasy (4/5)
From November 15, 2009

I was skeptical of a "science fiction" book which read on the cover, "An epic struggle between science and magic" with an illustration of an old lady, a cat and a monkey. If it wasn't for my prior research into the book, I never would have even touched the book.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Brother Jarles was afraid. Everyone was afraid. The power base of the false religion was crumbling as its scientific miracles proved to be fakes. Now mankind was in the depths of a new dark age, but the priests could offer no hope. Angels and devils warred in the skies, and the witches were stirring up new and terrible marvels. So Brother Jarles turned to the Dark Man, with a last faint hope in his renegade heart. There was no haven for him in this future world locked in turmoil between decadent science and what seemed to be resurgent superstition. Jarles was essentially a simple man, but there were no simple answers. Even the Great God of the temple was no longer safe. Then the great warships began to land from Heaven."

I'm allergic to fantasy, so I have a most difficult time swallowing magic, witches and spells. One book which repressed my gag reflex was Trapped by James Alan Gardner. In his novel, the characters exhibit their magic in the form of manipulating nanites which are specific to each owns brain chemistry... or whatever. Anyway, it was readable. Now when I pick up a classic like Gather Darkness, which includes elements of magic AND religion, I was suspicious. Fritz weaves a decent tale though without causing me to spew.

In the era the novel takes place, a Hierarchy has been long established which uses masqueraded high-technology to mimic miracles of God and powers granted to the priests. The commoners are draconian yokels left in the dark about the secret affairs of the church. Yet, there is a secret resistance invoking Witchcraft (so says the Church, but it is in fact technology which the Church doesn't have). The story follows the resistance of the Witches and heretics, the escalating war between the two, and friction which spills over into the populous city.

Considering the three later-combined short stories were penned in 1943, a number of remarkable technologies make their appearance. One could say that Fritz was, perhaps, visionary in his technological apparatuses and memes. His ideas were also original, something which is hard to sift through when going over pulp 40s and 50s science fiction. Even now, the novel stands as a one-of-a-kind science fiction novel which only touches base with very few other novels combing scientific magic and religion.

This quirkiness and ingenuity of Leiber's science/pseudo-science extends to Leiber's short stories, too. The Best of Fritz Leiber (1974) is a collection of twenty-two short stories and it a must for any fan of unique science fiction. It'll be worth your effort to track down anything Leiber has written, but my whole-hearted recommendation is to pick up both Gather, Darkness! and The Best of Fritz Leiber.


  1. Just finished this one, and thought it was terrible! While I like some of Fritz Leiber's short stories, this one left me disappointed. Why would a group as technologically advanced as the "priests" find their dominion over the commoners satisfying? How could they have maintained their deception? Why did Jarles change his mind about the Witchcraft halfway through the book? This book raises a lot more questions than it answers.

    If you haven't read it already, "A Canticle for Leibowitz" covers similar ground, and does so much better.

  2. A Canticle for Leibowitz is a great book but handled on a different platform that Gather, Darkess; some consider Canticle to be illustrious SF, but I somehow found humor in the absurdity of it all. Considering that Gather, Darkess was written by the quirky Leiber, approaching the novel with something less than mischievous zest is not recommended. This had been on my re-read list for a while... perhaps your insight will lead me back to Leiber's charms! Try some of his zany hits and misses in The Best of Fritz Leiber (1974).

  3. Hello... I like what's written in your blog (the follow-up comments too) regarding Fritz Leiber's "Gather Darkness." Would you mind if I directed student readers towards it for the opinions you and your followers gave? I don't just want them searching the synopsis, but something more to chew on, a little thinking material. They are learning about critical analysis and yours is a good example easy to digest. Thank you.

  4. You're most certainly welcome to direct inquisitive minds this way... anything I can do to help students because I'm a teacher, too!