For me, the standout story is “Lost in Space,” a near-ish future tale of a quarter-Anishinabe man working in space and his reflections on what it means to be indigenous—to come from roots inextricably tied to a particular land—when you are separated not only from that land but Earth itself. I read this story right after completing Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which also treats, very differently, with the physical, psychological, and ecological dislocation that comes from trying to live away from Earth. Robinson’s story has very Western cultural roots, and I found myself wondering how indigenous experience might figure in this matrix. And here is Taylor with a piece of a reply: that it’s hard to imagine; it’s a whole other layer of separation.
The most thought-provoking story for me, however, may have been “I Am… Am I,” which discusses an AI whose search for personhood leads it to identifying with Native experience and ultimately to disillusion at the devastation of Native peoples. The story is entirely from the perspective of white people, the creators of the AI, and as a white reader, I found this fascinating. Taylor presents these white folks as… clueless? The most “woke” attitude seems to be, “Yes, bad stuff happened in the past.” (Not a direct quote.) That’s a pretty clear reflection of the ideology I was raised with in America in the 1980s. But today? My first thought was “Does he really think we’re that clueless?” And my second thought was “Are we really that clueless?” Judging by YouTube comments, yeah, yeah we are. There’s no shortage of white folks talking today about how Natives just need to stop “whining” about stuff that was over two hundred years ago. So yeah. It was interesting to read that characterization of whiteness, at once so stereotypical and so valid.
One theme across various stories, prominently including “I Am… Am I” and “Mr. Gizmo,” which features a sentient toy, is that everything has spirit or personhood or some sort of animate-ness. I love the emphasis on that perspective, and I hope it becomes far more pervasive across, well, the whole world. De-animating the world is probably the most harmful thing that Western civilization (with help from a few others) ever did to it.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for a quick, engaging read that focuses on contemporary First Nations experience. If you’re looking for “high concept” sci fi or far future, this may not be your cup of tea. If you’re looking for realistic psychological and cultural commentary, check it out.