War With the Newts

KAREL_CAPEK_War_With_the_Newts_1998It’s a pretty basic sci-fi conceit (today): What would real people do if they started interacting with another intelligent race?

In this novel, Capek simply creates a very basic race–salamander-people–puts them in the ocean, and then tries to let events play out as they will. What sort of people would be the first to find these newts? What would they do? How would they react? How many minutes before violence started? How would economies react? How would labor react? How would politics react? Individual people? Religions? Hollywood? Science?Newts.1

It’s exhaustive, and I think it’s meant to be so. Pages and pages of documentation, of news reports and private memos, of footnotes and sub-footnotes make up the middle of the book. It’s boring as hell, with occasional macabre notes, and it’s meant to be so. It’s meant to convey monotony, exhaustion, the ordinariness of this race, and the ways they were taken for granted.200px-WarWithTheNewts-BantamA1292

Then, of course, there’s a turn. The kind that everyone familiar with the genre can see coming, and yet still has a sort of inevitable pain that you can’t stop reading, like when watching an avalanche or a crash and not being able to tear your eyes away. You know how it’ll turn out, but you can’t stop.

It’s not a hopeful book, but it’s one of those books that makes you remember human nature, and the importance of not discounting it. Because despite the occasional regional touches, and despite the time removal, it feels like it was written yesterday.

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3 thoughts on “War With the Newts

  1. Book Blather says:

    Exhaustive beginnings tend to loose me, probably why I haven’t read much in the genre. It’s good to know it hooks you later on fairly well. 🙂

    • I try to draw a line where I’ll stop an exhaustive beginning, but I’ve given the book an extra 10 page chance and ended up in love so many times I try to get at least to the middle now!

      • Book Blather says:

        My problem is once I get as far as the middle of a book I feel like I have to finish it… Which just wastes more of my time if the book’s really not that good. 😦 I even you your rational attitude! 🙂

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