Gather, Darkness!

Fritz Leiber
Gather, Darkness! Cover

Gather, Darkness!


Fritz Leiber published Conjure Wife in 1943. It remains a classic American tale of modern witchcraft, still as effective any Val Lewton production for RKO pictures. Apparently Leiber was not ready to leave the witchcraft theme behind, because that same year he took it into a far future sf tale, Gather Darkness. The results were hardly another classic.

In this tale, Earth is ruled by a religious brotherhood that while enjoying some of the benefits of advanced technology themselves keep the populace living in a near medieval society, perpetually in fear of divine retribution. Social hierarchies are strictly maintained, and no greater honor can befall a family than to have one of its sons selected for the priesthood. But initiation into the priesthood could hardly go the way acolytes might expect. The first thing a novice learns is that the whole religion is a sham, kept in place to keep the populace in theirs. And this is a full time job. Not only do the orders of the priesthood fight constantly among themselves, there are disturbing accounts of witchcraft and worship of The Dark One taking hold of the hoi poloi. Of course the priests know that whoever is pulling off these feats of witchcraft have to be using technology the same way the priests use it themselves. But people are spooked and ready to switch alliances.

I worry that I am making this sound more interesting than it is. The story does have potential, but the writing is stiff and the dialog is terrible. There is a lot of not very interesting intrigue, and the resolution hardly comes as a surprise. I am baffled by other reader reviews who say this is Leiber's best novel. Both Conjure Wife and The Big Time far surpass it.