by Fritz Leiber
Published electronically by e-reads in various formats
The year is 2305 and the world is ruled by a theocracy⁄technocracy that rules in the name of the Great God. Brother Jarles is a recently ordained priest⁄scientist, one of the privileged, who has found that the more he discovers about how his world works, the less he likes it. One day, while accompanying another priest to give commoners their work duties, a woman he was close to before being accepted into the priesthood is assigned to service the physical needs of the all-male elite. She refuses and, when his partner condemns her as a witch, Brother Jarles is pushed from discontent into open rebellion.
While it might be obvious to the reader that Jarles is being manipulated, in his anger he doesn't see it. A senior priest had noticed Jarles' dissatisfaction and decided the young priest could be used. Jarles was to provide others with an object lesson in the futility of opposing the powers that be and, perhaps, act as a stalking horse in the hunt for more serious and dangerous rebels. The manipulative senior priest gets more than he bargains for and Jarles finds himself at the centre of an uprising he's not entirely certain he believes in, or supports.
In Gather Darkness, Fritz Leiber provided a template of how an action novel should be written. Crisp, clean dialogue and narrative advance the story without getting in the way. The major characters are realistic, with believable human failings and strengths. While it works as pure entertainment, as with most of Leiber's fiction this novel has a dark edge. What starts off with pure intentions becomes warped, and those who mean well don't necessarily succeed in doing the good they intend--even when they do appear to win.
Leiber, however, does succeed. What at first seems straight-ahead leaves the reader with niggling questions. Can a society run smoothly without its leaders manipulating the masses? Do people want to be free to think for themselves, or would they rather be secure in their prejudices? Is it a basic human need to have someone to look down on and see as inferior to themselves?
These are questions Leiber asks without actually asking. His answers are clear, without being stated. While a novel of the future, Gather Darkness was written in what to most readers is the distant past, being first published in 1950. It is, however, timeless, fresh and original over fifty years later. Its publication in electronic form should gather Leiber yet another generation of fans.