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Thrown to the Dogs
Hernando de Soto by David Ewing Duncan
© 2013 James LaFond
When I began doing reviews for this site I intended to forgo treatments of my research material. I have come to regard this as short-sighted. As a writer I have read this book cover-to-cover three times and have defaced it with research notes. When I decided to do a time-travel epic based on a Native American visionary faced with an alien invader I could think of no better sourcebook than the one on the most brutal and well-equipped conquistador to set sail for the New World. This was a book that I had already annotated as part of my life’s work, which is a project on the study of human bondage and the state of enforced servitude that most of humanity has endured for most of human history. This book therefore provided an overarching theme for the entire series of projected novels; people seeking freedom in the face of overwhelming force, from the viewpoint of those inflicting the terrible servitude.
The book below is in fact, the single most influential source—you might even say the fount—for The Sunset Saga.
Hernando de Soto
A Savage Quest in the Americas
David Ewing Duncan
1996, Crown, NY, 570 pages
If I could put six stars here I would.
When one looks at the dedication and the picture of this highly intelligent author with a kind curiosity in his eyes, one puts the two together and concludes that he is a compassionate, insightful, and gentle soul. One then looks at the subject of this massive book, the most savage conqueror of the most savage conquest ever conducted on Planet Earth, and wonders if there is a disconnect. There is not. Indeed a war author, a chronicler of wars past, would have missed the point entirely about Soto: namely the vast horrific scope of his mania. This book is a masterpiece on multiple levels.
Who was Soto?
My short answer is, “The most bloody-handed man of a bloody era; one of the single most violent men to ever walk the earth. Based on the work of Duncan and others, I place Soto among the top ten most prolific hands-on killers of all time.”
Mister Duncan may even disagree [We are not acquainted even though he is a Baltimorean.] But he does help point up this conclusion when he quotes blood-thirsty conquistadors and witch-burning priests who were horrified at Soto’s level of violence. It was said that the best soldier in Soto’s army was his dog, Bruto, and that Bruto was always first into battle ‘his master never third.’ What a crazy quest this had to have been.
One of the things I like about Duncan’s work is the horrific detail; not dwelling upon gore or any such lurid device, but the simple explanation of conquistador methodology. I have covered Soto and his expedition in Of The Sunset World, and I have no wish to spoil any of Duncan’s work for you, rather encourage you to read his book. What I would like to do is a mental exercise invoking a common sci-fi movie theme of our time: alien invasion. [The movie Avatar was basically a conquistador rehash; pretty much a sci-fi version of what happened with the Soto Entrada.] Rather than try and imagine yourself a Native American facing Soto and his army, imagine you being you, facing an alien invasion force today.
Imagine nine alien ships hovering in the skies above. They disgorge what are apparently human warriors. However, these human warriors, at least the foremost ones, have formed a symbiosis with some form of monstrous snorting life form, which they ride. [Cortez had 14 horses in Mexico. Soto brought 240 ‘primary’ mounts into Southeastern North America.] They also wield weapons—both missile and hand-to-hand varieties—that can defeat all of your military’s defenses. They also wear armor that renders them largely invulnerable to your military’s weapons. However, the most horrible thing about this army is the giant hounds. These are recognizably canine creatures, though many times larger than the largest dog known to us; and they are trained to hunt and eat earthlings; are given no other food to sustain them other than you and yours.
The invasion commences, and you soon discover—not surprisingly—that your military is helpless before this onslaught. Then the torture and rape begins, as the aliens seek a magical substance, which they have samples of, but which is not known to exist on earth. The best your leaders can do is point them to a neighboring region [preferably New Jersey, South Central LA, or Detroit]. Even as they make to leave you find that the alien mother ships have not brought provisions other than filthy mud-grubbing animals that destroy your crops and attack your children. So, as the alien invader heads out of town they take your strongest men and most attractive women with them as slaves, as well as your leaders as hostages and interpreters. They leave behind burned out residential areas—and sickness. Those left behind begin to die like flies in Autumn. Apparently these monstrous, not very bright, dirty, greedy humanoids poison the very air with their rank breath.
As bad as all that was, David Ewing Duncan, tells the tale compassionately from the viewpoint of the conquistadors themselves; those subordinates of Soto who are sucked into this insane quest to rape a virgin world. In the deft and fair hands of Mister Ewing Soto is not the hero of 1950s American History textbooks, or the evil redacted villain of revisionist history. Soto was a toxic force of counter-nature; man’s worst aspects at once corrupted and empowered by what was then the best man-hunting technology available, in the hands of one of the richest men in the world; grown fabulously rich on the rape of a fabled empire, and maniacally driven to find and plunder something bigger—and to do it brutally better…
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Ishmael     May 24, 2015

Thanks James ordered book, mush appreciated. Ishmael.
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