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Gather Darkness (SF) - Fritz Leiber ****

Gather Darkness! has the wonderful premise that, taking religion as the opium of the masses literally, a future world government creates an artificial religion based on science that the masses don't understand, which is used to rule and control society. Our hero, a minor priest by the name of Jarles, is an idealist who wants to tell the people the truth - but faces being destroyed. Meanwhile a rebellion, armed with some technology slightly in advance of the religious hierarchy (how they manage this is explained) sets up as a pseudo-witchcraft to oppose the religion and destroy its hold on the populous.

Along the way our hero is mentally programmed by the bad guys to change his behaviour, but manages to escape his conditioning. As well as the rather fun pseudo-magic, there's a bit of biology thrown in: the witches have 'familiars' that are creatures made from their cells but relying on them to provide blood.

This isn't the only science fiction book to cover pseudo-religion as a cover for superior science. Robert Heinlein, for instance, had a cracking little number where the (US) locals fought off an (Asian) invasion using advanced technology posing as religious/magical power. I can't remember the title off-hand, but it suffered from rather advanced racism, I think. But Leiber's book is the daddy of them all and does it very well.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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