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The Silent
Jack Dann
Bantam Books, 279 pages

The Silent
Jack Dann
Jack Dann was born in Johnson City, New York, in 1945. He received his BA from Binghamton University in 1967. He has taught at Cornell University and Broome Community College, and has run an advertising agency. He still retains big business links as a director of a New York insurance company. He is perhaps best known for his short fiction, which has appeared in Omni, Playboy, Asimov's SF and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and for his anthologies, including the multi-volume Magic Tales fantasy series with Gardner Dozois from Ace. Jack Dann is also a consulting editor for Tor Books. His work has resulted in him being a finalist for the Nebula Award eleven times and a World Fantasy Award finalist three times.

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A review by Stephen M. Davis

The Silent is more a historical novel than anything else. It certainly isn't fantasy -- unless a character's occasional delusions qualify a work for that genre. Jack Dann's book is instead an after-the-fact journal written by the main character, Edmund McDowell, a teenager in 1862.

Edmund wanders out one morning to see some of the action from a nearby Civil War battle, only to find himself a little too close to the action. He returns home in time to see Union looters burning down his family's farm, and raping and killing his mother. The experience leaves him unable to speak for the remainder of the book.

Jack Dann uses Edmund to show us the brutality of war from both the Union and Confederate sides. Edmund sees first-hand what happens in a surgical tent during battle. He also experiences the horror of the battlefield.

The first fifty pages of this novel are in fact quite riveting. After this point, however, the book loses its flow and becomes a long series of not terribly interesting occurrences, as Edmund wanders around Virginia.

The fantasy element in the novel is provided by what Edmund describes as a "spirit dog," which apparently represents the spirit of war. The reader doesn't really know what to make of the dog, as it wanders around Virginia with the same apparent aimlessness as the protagonist.

Edmund meets a young black woman named Lucy who provides some erotic interest, but their relationship isn't consummated until the end of the book and by then, the reader can do little more than give a shrug of the shoulders.

The writing in the book is consistently excellent, demonstrating that even authors with excellent technique can write ho-hum books. Mr. Dann consistently works for the reader's attention by making use of all the senses, but I think other readers will come away with the same impression I did: the individual scenes are often wonderful, but moving from scene to scene can be a laborious process, leaving the reader apathetic to the novel itself.

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.

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