|Art by Dana Tiger|
“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience®” by Rebecca Roanhorse (5800 words)
This is a complicated story about appropriation and about identity, about fear and erasure and stereotypes. Jesse is a man working for a company that specializes in virtual reality experiences. More specifically, he tailors “Vision Quests” for tourists to connect with their own idea of an “Authentic Indian Experience.” It’s something he doesn’t really mind doing, even though it reduces and simplifies and leans on the television and other media portrayals of what being Pueblo or Cherokee or Navajo means, creating this single identity that he slips on for the benefits of tourists. Only there’s also a part of him that is comfortable with the clichés and the stereotypes, that finds a sort of comfort in it, even as it harms him, limits his opportunities, put a strain on his relationships. He’s desperate to fit into a world that offers no place for him, and so he attempts to change himself for the benefit of the role he plays, hoping he can do enough to maintain his situation. Only he meets a man who acts as a sort of twisted mirror, who becomes a sort of embodiment of this idea of being Indian. This man, who Jesse in some ways creates and validates by playing into this prejudices and ignorance, reveals just how dangerous what he’s doing is. That he is, essentially, contributing to his own exploitation and vulnerability. Not that he has good options—I like how the story remains tied to him, showing a man who just wants to have his small pleasures and some measure of security. And yet that’s not something that he’s allowed, not in the world where whiteness seeks to steal his identity, replace him even if he’s trying to be a “good Indian.” It’s a wrenching and complex story that understates so much to build to a powerful, almost muted ending. It is an amazing way to kick off the issue!
“If a Bird Can Be a Ghost” by Allison Mills (5000 words)
This is a touching that for me is about grief and about ghosts, about the weight of the dead and the living and everything in between. It centers Shelly, a young woman being taught about ghosts by her Grandma, who’s something of a ghostbuster. Which is great, because it reveals a kind of haunting, a kind of ghost, that is much different than those normally portrayed in media. These ghosts are lost, not really all that dangerous though there is a feeling they could be, if pressed. These are ghosts of pets and ghosts of birds that fly into buildings and get confused. And Shelly begins to learn about them and interact with them and finds out how to bind them and how to release them. How to exorcise them. FOr her it starts as something of a game that slowly becomes something else, and infinitely more personal when she starts wanting to find one particular ghost, to heal one particular grief in herself. And yet the story explores how that’s not what ghosts are about. The ghosts don’t really exist for the living. Most of the time they don’t even remember the living that much. The ghosts are their own people with their own ways, and Shelly learns (slowly, with a few hiccups) that though she can interact with the dead, can help the dead, their presence or lack isn’t about her desires and demands. And that some griefs cannot just be patched and mended. Some griefs have to have time and space to heal on their own. It’s a tender story, about growing up and about patience, about loss and about finding something through that loss. A strength to continue and to find purpose. A will to do good for those who seem to have no other allies. Plus there are ghost birds and they are the best. It’s a fantastic story!
“Skinny Charlie’s Orbiting Teepee” by Pamela Rentz (4500 words)
This is another story that deals in some ways with appropriation and authenticity, with the distance between what is authentic and what is “authentic!” It’s also, though, a story that has a very clear vision of the way that bureaucracy can be used as a weapon, especially against those who already well know not to trust those in power. The story unfolds in a ship, a sort of Indian Territory in space, where Charlie is trying to get a sign for his historical plank house, where he will show tourists artifacts from Earth. Having been born back on Earth, the traditions are still very much a part of who Charlie is, and yet at every turn he finds that he has to deal with endless forms and endless grief. As an Original, and as an Elder, Charlie wants to help the younger generations connect back to a shared heritage, and yet that is at risk because he cannot properly navigate the layers of paperwork and corruption that are at work to make sure that nothing advances through the system without first being properly greased. Until, at least, a younger man with some respect for his elders, Zane, begins helping Charlie to get what he wants. And I love how even that respect is tinged with a sort of pitying condescension, that for all that Zane wants to help and wants to feel a connection to his past, he also views Charlie as somehow stupid, or at least not cunning enough to master the system. Charlie, though, is very sharp, for all that in the sea of selfish corruption his goals seem naive. And when the opportunity comes to mix things up a bit, it’s Charlie who sees his chance and wants to take it, and everyone else who find they greatly underestimated him. It’s a fun story that carries with it the very real ways that paperwork and forms have been used against indigenous populations, how bureaucracy is very much a weapon of colonization. It’s a story that peers through the corruption and the red tape and reaches for something better, and it’s a great read!
“The Trip” by Mari Kurisato (5200 words)
This is another story that for me has a lot to do with loss and life and death. It finds Corie and her partner, Amy, on a Seed Ship, one bound to colonize a distant planet. Corie is there as one of the leaders of the mission, the most skilled at creating virtual environments. Amy is there as her “plus one,” but there’s a bit of a problem—Amy is dying of cancer. The trip itself was something of a longshot, Corie hoping that perhaps a cure would be discovered in transit, but things aren’t exactly going that way, and Corie’s growing desperate. The story does a great deal with memory and the difference between the artificial and the real. Corie’s job is to create virtual environments for the minds of the people on the Seed Ship to exist in while their bodies are in deep cryosleep, and yet it’s reality that she’s drawn to, the tactile and the sensual. I love the relationship between Corie and Amy, too, really only felt through memory and regret, the two never in the same place at the same time because of the nature of the ship. There’s this great longing on Corie’s part, a desire to bridge the gap between them, and yet time and circumstance have stolen away whatever hope she had. And there’s a lot going on in the story. Moving along with Corie is also the ship itself, which is aware that something is going on and yet is dealing with its own longing, the draw of having a more limited perspective and perception. The story moves with the strength of Corie’s determination to act cut with moments of recollection and worry. It’s not a tragedy exactly, but it’s not the happiest of stories either. It points to this central distance between Corie and Amy, Corie never quite satisfied but ultimately very much in love with Amy, willing to sacrifice everything for a chance that they can still be together, if not ever how Corie wants. A fine way to close out the issue!