(Karl Stuecklen’s cover for the 1st edition)
4/5 (collated rating: Good)
In 2015, I read and reviewed Craig Strete’s collection If All Else Fails…. (1980) and found it to be a spectacular vision “filled with gorgeous lines, evocative images” and palpable “despair at the loss of Native-American culture.” Strete, one of the few Native-American SF authors I know of, picked up three Nebula Award nominations for short SF over the 70s and early 80s (“Time Deer” in 1976, “The Bleeding Man” in 1976, and “A Sunday Visit With Great-Grandfather” in 1981 although it was withdrawn). The latter two are in this collection. The former two can be found in If All Else Fails….
Recommended for fans of experimental 70s SF. I suggest tracking down If All Else Fails… first due to “All My Statues Have Stone Wings” (1980), “To See the City Sitting on Its Buildings” (1975), and “A Horse of a Different Technicolor” (1975)—the best of Strete’s work I’ve read so far.
Brief Plot Summary/Analysis
“Into Every Rain, A Little Life Must Fall” (1975), 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good): The collection starts with the most straightforward science fiction story from Strete I’ve encountered so far. In film noir(ish) tones–urban setting, rain, a crime—Strete paints a city policed remotely by cops, ensconced in couches (“wombs”), synced in with the main computer. On duty, the narrator encounters an old man with “no identity card. no file tapes” (5)—an enigma in a highly-regulated world. The old man poses a mysterious question: “Have you seen a man on this street? […] I’ll see him killed for what he did to me” (13). The plot thickens as the impossibility of an undocumented individual registers… and a corpse is found on the streets. Even in a technological world, man is forced to make hard decisions on limited data….
Not one of Strete’s more memorable or intense stories—although still worth a read.
“White Brothers from the Place Where No Man Walks” (1974), 4/5 (Good): Uzmea the conjurer, “the taker of sacrifices,” “the throat spreader,” who lived “in the mountains among the strange gods and devices of his race,” arrives at Chota with a prophesy of impending change—the arrival of voyagers from space. Uzmea, in another incarnation or version of himself or perhaps a manifestation of undying prophetic force, suggests that he foretold the arrival of the white man hundreds of years in the past and warned of the nefarious promises the conquerors would make. Those that hid from the white man and preserved their culture and way of life might be delivered by their arrival.
Strete spins a tale with myth-drenched intensity and oblique references to realms beyond reach. Are the men from space transformed by their experiences among the stars? Is Uzmea’s prophesy the “truth”? Or, have the people forgotten his original words? Or perhaps, is Uzmea one of those from beyond the clouds? Concise. Intense. Evocative.
“When They Find You” (1977), 4.75/5 (Very Good) is a disquieting allegory of colonization on an alien world. Gantry, from the first generation of colonists on Kingane, tends and slaughters “stefel dogs” that produce fortune-making nerve tissue that regenerates human flesh. Kingane, a frontier world with a sparse and lonely population of male colonists, is inhabited by sentient natives—the Riyall—ravaged by new diseases and the encroachment on their land. Gantry, desperate for interaction, approaches a Riyall tribe and barters for a wife, which he “pays” for with his shirt.
“He was lonely, and she filled that void. She wasn’t human” (47). At first the distance seems minor as, in his loneliness, he desired comfort both carnal and mental. She seems to react to him rather than show her own emotions. He surgically modifies her to bear his children. Disturbing sequences ensue as Gantry can’t help but think of her as a pet, a dog, “that blank stare of hers, so guileless so direct […], unsuspecting, trusting” (49). A child is born, a boy. Gantry learns her tongue, poorly. She refuses, in her own passive way, to learn English.
As Earth women arrive, the first generation of colonists send their native wives back into the wilderness—those that keep theirs are judged by the communities. The half-breed children follow their mothers. Gantry watches his son grow up and mimic the ways of his wife instead of his. A storm of frustration and hate for customs and a world he can’t quite understand rears its ugly head.
Strete generates discomfort from depictions of the lack of resistance from both the stefel dogs killed for their medical properties and the natives who appear resigned to their fate (39). Of course, it’s a matter of Gantry’s perception—automatically assigning the unknown human characteristics. A deliberate and haunting story that explicitly parallels the western encounter with Native Americans. Highly Recommended.
“A Sunday Visit with Great-Grandfather” (1977), 3/5 (Average): Nominated for the 1981 Nebula Award for Best Short Story (withdrawn as it was published multiple years earlier). A more whimsical vision than the quiet despair of “When They Find You,” that explores similar territory—the contact, in this case via schools, of western and native culture. When a native family withdraws their grandson from school, aliens arrive rather than the government…. There’s a deeper meaning behind the slapstick sequences that unfold: levels of disconnect (Native American vs. Western, Earth vs. Alien, etc.) and inability to completely grasp the nature of the other. It’s still the weakest of the collection.
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1980 edition of New Dimensions 11, ed. Marta Randall and Robert Silverberg)
“Mother of Cloth, Heart of Clock,” (1975), 4/5 (Good): In the mold of Kafka’s “The Investigations of a Dog” (1922), “Mother of Cloth, Heart of Clock” is told from the perspective of a lab chimpanzee, experimented on, prone to extreme violence, unable to understand the world outside his cage. Until he killed his keeper, he “was sleek and well-petted” (81). Now, in his old age, he remembers his youth and events within his cage—how his mother was taken away and replaced with a cloth that covered a ticking clock. The blood that cakes his straw, the desire for attention, the violent impulses, the transformed mate with metal implements embedded in her skull…
Crete’s simple formulations of trauma and disconnect weep with power and beauty. Truncated sentences that sear and cut populate the pages: “His mouth twitches and his lips moved. He reach up through the branches and his hand touched my leg.” (86) The story’s last line still brings pins and needles: “I will dream that I am dead” (87).
“The Bleeding Man” (1974), 4.75/5 (Very Good): Nominated for the 1976 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.
“The medicine shaker, the bone breaker. I have seen and been all these. It is nothing but trouble. I have sat on the good side of the fire. I have cried over young women. It is nothing but trouble” (90).
A Native-American man, “we call him Joe” (92), lies on a doctor’s table, blood pouring from his chest despite the wonders of modern medicine. A physical manifestation of his people’s suffering, an open stigmata, a bleeding wrist… Dr. Santell, over oversees his patient, suggests “he’s a biological impossibility” (91). Miss Dow, sent by the government, butts head with Dr. Santell who feels for the mute man in his care. Nahtari, Joe’s uncle, who used to exhibit him in a carnival tells the tale of Joe’s birth–and how he killed his parents at his birth. Miss Dow dismisses his tale as “primitive” superstition (100).
The tension and mystery exponentially grows as Miss Dow enters Joe’s room and sees him consume his own blood: “Something strange has developed in the last few weeks. Our monitors have been picking up unusual activity levels” (107). Perhaps Joe is aware of the world around him. And the sinister secrets of Miss Dow’s mission emerge!
An intense experiment in body horror that throbs and pulsates with pent up anger and despair. As with many in the collection, the inability to understand elicits visceral reactions of hate—those that do grasp the immensity of its all are driven to madness.
Thankfully it was included in The 1975 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim (1975) which introduced Strete to a larger audience.
(Richard Corben’s cover for the 1st hardback edition of The 1975 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim)
(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1st edition of The 1975 Annual World’s Best SF, ed. Arthur W. Saha and Donald A. Wollheim)
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