- "I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE AND I WON'T GO"The Comic Vision of Craig Strete's Science Fiction Stories
I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE AND I WON'T GO.(popular folksong from 2074.)(Crazy Horse, his dying words, 1876.)—Craig Strete, "A Horse of a Different Technicolor"
Indigenous science fiction (SF) is not a new genre. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Indigenous speculative voices presented an Indigenous-centered take on time travel, apocalypse, and other worlds with publications such as Gerald Vizenor's "Custer on the Slipstream" (1978) and Darkness in Saint Louis: Bearheart (1978), and Craig Kee Strete's The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories (1977) and If All Else Fails. … (1980).1 As Anishinaabe scholar Grace Dillon has pointed out, "Indigenous sf [science fiction] is not so new—just overlooked" (2). With her 2012 anthology Walking the Clouds, Dillon has introduced the term Indigenous futurisms for Indigenous-centered SF: spanning almost three decades of Indigenous speculative writing, from 1978 (Vizenor) to 2006 (Andrea Hairston's Mindscape), the collection exhibits how Indigenous writers reimagine SF tropes and alter their audience's perception of "what 'serious' Native authors are supposed to write" (3). Notably absent from Dillon's canon, however, is Cherokee writer Craig Strete—arguably the first Indigenous author widely recognized within the science fiction community. Strete's fiction was three times shortlisted for the Nebula Award and drew the attention and praise of renowned writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Virginia Hamilton, who provided forewords to Strete's short story collections.2 Strete's fanzine Red Planet Earth (1974) was the first SF magazine dedicated to Indigenous-authored speculative fiction. Since [End Page 76] the early 1980s, however, Strete has been largely forgotten: his collections are out of print, and mentions of his work in academic publications on SF throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s are rare.
Strete's identity is hard to pinpoint, and not only because his fame as a writer ebbed away three decades ago. He has also admitted to using multiple pseudonyms ("Strete, Craig"), and the attempt to verify facts about his personality and works has proven to be difficult at best: his most successful book, Burn Down the Night (1982), in which Strete depicts a wild party night with the Doors frontman Jim Morrison, is either autobiographical or entirely made up; his biographical statement in If All Else Fails … indicates that Strete has been nominated for a Hugo Award, but Strete's name is not on the shortlists for any year; the introduction for Strete's short story collection Death Chants (1988) is attributed to Salvador Dalí, but whether this means that the poem was written by the legendary painter for Strete personally or whether "Salvador Dalí" is in this case one of Strete's pseudonyms remains unclear. Strete has been praised as brilliant and denounced as a fraud (Manzarek and Moddemann), which should make scholars cautious regarding the egregious issues of ethnic fraud currently under discussion within the Indigenous North American literature and arts communities. However, when attempting to unearth facts about Strete's Indigenous heritage one comes up equally empty-handed: Strete positioned himself as a Cherokee author during the 1970s but does not seem to be affiliated with one of the Cherokee tribes; his claims to an Indigenous ancestry have, to this day, been neither confirmed nor refuted. Strete's fiction was received as Indigenous-authored SF and was a source of inspiration to Indigenous scholars and writers of the 1980s and 1990s. The enigmatic identity of this author notwithstanding, I believe that his works and their reception require revisiting in light of the present turn within Indigenous literary studies toward Indigenous speculative fictions.
This article collects critical voices on Strete's SF and explores reasons for the academic silence that followed in the track of his acclaim as an aspiring SF author of the 1970s. Approaching Strete's fiction with the help of paradigms for Indigenous literature, most notably, Lawrence Gross's comic vision, Vizenor's trickster discourse and survivance, Dillon's Indigenous futurism, and Gross's, Daniel Heath Justice's, and Sidner Larson's Native apocalypse, I will explore what...