- Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by Grace L. Dillon
Walking the Clouds ventures a competent exploration into the infrequently discussed area of Indigenous literary genre. Dillon posits that science fiction (SF) "provides an equally valid way to renew, recover, and extend First Nations peoples' voices and traditions" (1), a position that contributes to a celebration of these authors' artistic accomplishments as well as opening up a refreshingly new realm of study for Indigenous literary critics. Her central question, as stated in her introduction, asks, "[W]hat exactly is science fiction? Does sf have the capacity to envision Native futures, Indigenous hopes, and dreams recovered by rethinking the past in a new framework?" (2). Even readers unfamiliar with science fiction and skeptical of its juxtaposition with Indigenous literature may find themselves likewise convinced that both fields "have much to gain by the exchange" (2).
Dillon's anthology represents an international array of Indigenous writers, from familiar authors such as Sherman Alexie to less familiar writers such as Celu Amberstone. Her introductions to each selection of fiction provide a critical framework in that she helpfully places the selection in relation to the rest of the anthology, as well as providing its contextualization within the more general realm of the science fiction genre. Particularly enjoyable in the introduction to each piece of fiction are occasional passages from the particular authors, commenting on the connection between their work and the science fiction category. Some, [End Page 100] like Diane Glancy, openly acknowledge that their work was not originally conceived within science fiction, as she states: "I was happy 'Aunt Parnetta's Electric Blisters' was in the Norton sf reader. I hadn't thought of the story in terms of sf, but after it appeared there, I understood. The story is about . . . that combination of tradition and technology" (27). Another writer, Stephen Graham Jones, commenting on the genre and his own work, expresses: "it's got to be science fiction . . . that's what I grew up reading, what I still read, what I aspire to write when and if I ever get good enough. Science fiction, it can instill a sense of wonder in you like no other mode, no other genre" (233). These personal connections between authors and texts further convey to the reader the importance of the critical lens of science fiction as an additional tool in which to read and share Indigenous literature, even if at first the combination seems like an odd pairing. Celu Amberstone stresses this importance, saying, "For me, Aboriginal sf isn't about robots and sterile Euro-American physics and astronomy. . . . It is our responsibility to offer humanity a new vision of the universe" (63).
Dillon divides the anthology into five sections, the first of which she entitles "The Native Slipstream." This section addresses the alternative ways in which science fiction represents time, and offers selections by Gerald Vizenor, Diane Glancy, Stephen Graham Jones, and Sherman Alexie in which they use the conventions of the genre to experiment with Indigenous nonlinear concepts of temporality. Dillon emphasizes within this subgenre the possibilities of alternative histories and creative, futuristic imaginings for Indigenous writers. Readers of this first section will begin to make connections between the slipstream and the experimentations of other Indigenous literature, such as Blake M. Hausman's Riding the Trail of Tears, an acclaimed work of fiction perhaps too recent to be included in the anthology, that also defies linear expectations of time.
The next section, "Contact," notes the potential play within the titular concept as Indigenous science fiction writers confront the genre's common trope of cosmological imperialism. Selections from Celu Amberstone, Gerry William, and Simon Ortiz highlight their revisions of the genre's typical Self/Other representations, complicating mainstream notions of what is human and what is alien. Doing so thus calls into question through Indigenous perspectives the space odyssey's mission of contact, discovery, and conquest. The inclusion of Ortiz's short story...