The whole idea of Indigenous sci-fi was so gripping that I felt I had to get my hands on this book, an international collection edited by Grace Dillon, associate professor in the Indigenous Nations Studies program at Portland State University in Oregon, who previously edited
Hive of Dreams: Contemporary Science Fiction from the Pacific Northwest.
These shimmering tales, mostly book excerpts, are reminiscent of the “new world” sense of discovery of older Western science fiction. The comparison is apt because much of the 1940s-50s-60s English-language sci-fi output focused not so much on science (though the settings were futuristic at times) but on human nature and how it compares to the nature of the universe and possible other occupants of that universe. The stories cited in Walking the Clouds, garnered from the writing craft of Native American, First Nations, Australian Aboriginal and New Zealand Maori creators, look at the depths of human longings and failings through a lens that includes paranormal and folkloric speculations in its scope.
Each contribution begins with an introduction to the author and his or her background, both in terms of writing experiences and ethnic slant. Cherokee author William Sanders, for example, penned an apocalyptic vision called
"When This World Is All on Fire." Dillon notes that “Native sf often points out that historically, the apocalypse has already occurred,” reminding us of the Trail of Tears in which the Cherokee nations were forced into a death march to “The Darkening Lands of the West, where spirits of the dead reside.” Sanders has created a disturbing portrait of a world being consumed by global warming, with tribal people in the Appalachian region learning to cope: “All that once-rich farm country in southern Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi, too hot and dry now to grow anything, harrowed by tornados and dust storms, while raging fires destroyed the last remains of the pine forests and the cypress groves of the dried-up swamplands.”
First Nations author Misha tackles the futuristic theme of the attrition of all rural life, with one central character declaring, “There’s nothing out there but those closed down reservations, frozen deserts, and howling winds.”
Aboriginal horror is the province of Eden Robinson, with this brutal image as seen through the eyes of Indian Wilson Wilson:
In the silence that stretches, Wil realizes that he always believed this moment would come. That he has been preparing himself for it. The smiling-faced lies from the TV haven’t fooled him, or anyone else. After the Uprisings, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to solve the Indian problem for once and for all.
In the above passage, we clearly see that Indigenous sci-fi is not just postulating a desolate future time, but inevitably recalling a grim, fractured and never completed past filled with unresolved terror, grief, and rage. As Dillon explicates, “Ultimately, all of the stories in this reader vacillate between the extremes of (post) colonial, postmodern Indigenous being, seeking balance."
The Peace Officer raises his club and brings it down.