#9: First Nation Sci-Fi & Technology Resources


Image courtesy of Kory Lynn Hubbell

One of the interesting challenges non-Eurocentric steampunk faces is how technology can be re-imagined for peoples that did not develop industrialized technology during the nineteenth century. Case in point this week: First Nation peoples. There has also been the assumption that First Nation peoples “lack” technology, and so therefore what role can they play in any science fiction genre, nevermind steampunk?

Notwithstanding the imaginative block (and racist subtext) implied by those who say FN peoples didn’t have technologywhich is argued against by Kay Marie Porterfield in her article Ten Lies About Indigenous Science – How to Talk Back concepts like time travel, tech, and alternative histories aren’t confined to any particular culture. This week is a linkspam featuring discussions concerning First Nation peoples in sci-fi and reading suggestions to get those mental gears turning.

For research resources, I have included a selection of articles concerning FN sci-fi, history, and technology at hand; for reading suggestions, I’ve listed examples that can also be considered under general sci-fi, alternative history, or Weird West.

UPDATED 15 February 2010: I’ve updated this post with the most relevant suggestions given by readers included below. Enjoy!


Some Facts
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American Indians at the Final Frontiers of Imperial SF

The Possibilities (and Problems) of Indigenizing SF

Excellent articles from the online speculative magazine Expanded Horizons

The First Americans – G.D. Falksen’s general article about First Nation peoples on steamfashion LJ

steampunk and Native Americans - Addendum article by Michael RedTurtle on steamfashion

American Indian Contributions to the World

Amazon.com description:

“This reference work contains over 450 entries providing a panorama of little-known information about the rich inventiveness of the American Indians. For many years, they were not given credit for the numerous creations that stemmed from their cultures. For example, the Olmec of the Yucatan Peninsula developed a way to treat raw latex in order to make usable items from rubber as early as 1700 BCE, and expert American Indian surgeons performed operations such as plastic surgery, skin grafts and thoracentesis to remove fluid from the chest cavity. Each entry, many of which include photographs, covers a single invention or innovation. To be included in the book each item or process originated in North, Central or South America, was used by the Indian people and has been adopted in some way by other cultures. Entries include cigars, diabetes medication, geometry, hydraulics, scalpels, tax system, trousers and urban planning.”

NativeTech.org – An excellent website that describes themselves as “An internet resource for indigenous ethno-technology focusing on the arts of Eastern Woodland Indian Peoples, providing historical & contemporary background with instructional how-to’s & references.”

Native ingenuity – Boston Globe article highlighting “native ingenuity” and the ignored history about the Pilgrims’ admiration for Native American technology. Updated

The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest by Francis Jennings.

Book Description:

In this iconoclastic book, Jennings recasts the story of American colonization as a territorial invasion. Shorn of old mythology and rationalizations, Puritan actions are seen in the cold light of material interest and naked expansion.
Check out the rest of her bibliography about Native Americans:

The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire
Empire of Fortune
The Founders of America

The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers & the Rush to Colorado by Elliot West

Book Description:

Deftly retracing a pivotal chapter in one of America’s most dramatic stories, Elliott West chronicles the struggles, triumphs, and defeats of both Indians and whites as they pursued their clashing dreams of greatness in the heart of the continent.

The Contested Plains recounts the rise of the Native American horse culture, white Americans’ discovery and pursuit of gold in the Rocky Mountains, and the wrenching changes and bitter conflicts that ensued. After centuries of many peoples fashioning many cultures on the plains, the Cheyennes and other tribes found in the horse the power to create a heroic way of life that dominated one of the world’s great grasslands. Then the discovery of gold challenged that way of life and led finally to the infamous massacre at Sand Creek and the Indian Wars of the late 1860s.

Illuminating both the ancient and more recent history of the plainsand eastern Rocky Mountains, West weaves together a brilliant tapestry interlaced with environmental, social, and military history. He treats the “frontier” not as a morally loaded term–either in the traditional celebratory sense or the more recent critical sense–but as a powerfully unsettling process that shattered an old world. He shows how Indians, goldseekers, haulers, merchants, ranchers, and farmers all contributed to and in turn were consumed by this process, even as the plains themselves were uttlerly transformed by the clash of cultures and competing visions.

Exciting and enormously engaging, The Contested Plains is the first book to examine the Colorado gold rush as the key event in the modern transformation of the central great plains. It also exemplifies a kind of history that respects more fully our rich and ambiguous past–a past in which there are many actors but no simple lessons.

1491: New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

Book Description:

In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. From the astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, which had running water, immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city, to the Mexican corn that was so carefully created in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction Edited by William H. Katerberg

Book Description:

The frontier has long fostered America’s persistent desire to leave the past behind and begin anew—a desire that has nurtured the utopian dreams of westerners from Progressives to Earth First!ers. Katerberg revisits the frontier mythos (and iconic figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and Frederick Jackson Turner) and explores the West of future-oriented novels and films, in which the frontier is long past and American society is aging. He suggests powerful new ways to think critically and hopefully about American history—and about politics and civic life in the present.

William Katerberg takes a new look at works of utopian, dystopian, and apocalyptic sciencefiction to show how narratives of the past and future powerfully shape our understanding of the present-day West. Combining intellectual history, literary analysis, and political philosophy, his study boldly encourages readers to reframe their understanding of both popular Western culture and American political culture. Ranging widely over science fiction subgenres—from alternative futures to cyberpunk—Katerberg takes us on a tour of utopias of all stripes, whether exclusivist, reactionary, or progressive. Here are Douglas Coupland’s postindustrial West, Callenbach’s eco-utopian Pacific Northwest, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s critical utopian view of OrangeCounty. He considers how Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead ties revitalized Native American traditions to their hopes for the future, and he uses such stories of race wars as The Turner Diaries to compare reactionary visions to progressive utopianism.

By looking at how American frontier mythology plays out in the imagined West of the future, Katerberg offers a new approach to understanding the region’s popular culture. Through this artful juxtaposition of history and projected futures, he reminds us that what’s to come is not yet determined—and that, even for a nation desperate to leave the past behind, history holds ideas that can light the way to a brighter society.

Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1942-2000 by Peter Nabokov

Book Description:

In a series of powerful and moving documents, anthropologist Peter Nabokov presents a history of Native American and white relations as seen through Indian eyes and told through Indian voices: a record spanning more than five hundred years of interchange between the two peoples. Drawing from a wide range of sources – traditional narratives, Indian autobiographies, government transcripts, firsthand interviews, and more – Nabokov has assembled a remarkably rich and vivid collection, representing nothing less than an alternative history of North America.. “Beginning with the Indian’s first encounters with the earliest explorers, traders, missionaries, settlers, and soldiers and continuing to the present, Native American Testimony presents an authentic, challenging picture of an important, tragic, and frequently misunderstood aspect of American history.

Some Fictions:

American Indian Victories by Dale R. Cozort

Amazon.com description:

American Indian Victories presents over twenty realistic, well-researched alternate history scenarios where the American Indians fare significantly better than they did historically. For example, one scenario explores what might have happened if the advanced Indian civilizations of Mexico and Peru had exchanged ideas and technology before Columbus. Another scenario looks at what it would have taken to get a civilization equivalent to the Aztecs and Incas in Eastern North America, and what might have happened to that civilization when the Europeans arrived. What would have happened if Carthage had colonized Mexico, or if the Spanish conquistadores had established independent kingdoms, or if more of the ice age animals of the New World had survived? This book explores all of those possibilities, and many more. This book should appeal to history buffs and science fiction fans alike.”

Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card – This is the second book in the Tales of Alvin Maker series, but can be read as a standalone.

Wikipedia description:

Red Prophet won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1989 was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1988, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1989. When Alvin Miller and his older brother Measure travel to the place of his birth (where Alvin is expected to become apprenticed to the Hatrack River blacksmith) the two brothers are captured by ‘Reds’ (Native Americans) and caught up into a plot with ramifications on the entire future of America involving the Prophet, Ta-Kumsaw, William Henry Harrison, and even napoleon and Le Fayette.

Has also been made into a 12-issue limited comic book series by Marvel.

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Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Amazon.com description

Anyone who’s read Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong knows about the devastating consequences that Columbus’s voyage and ensuing colonization had on the native people of the Americas and Africa. In a thought-provoking work that is part science fiction, part historical drama, Orson Scott Card writes about scientists in a fearful future who study that tragic past, then attempt to actually intervene and change it into something better.

Tagiri and Hassan are members of Pastwatch, an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus. They eventually marry and their daughter Diko joins them in their quest to discover what drove Columbus west.

Columbus, with whom readers become acquainted through both images in the Pastwatch machines and personal narrative, is portrayed as a religious man with both strengths and weaknesses, a charismatic leader who sometimes rose above but often fell beneath the mores of his times. As usual, Orson Scott Card uses his formidable writing skills to create likable, complex characters who face gripping problems; he also provides an entertaining and thoughtful history lesson in Pastwatch. –Bonnie Bouman

Climb the Wind by Pamela Sargent

Amazon.com description:

“The Civil War is finally over and a weakened America is struggling to rebuild. The white man is sweeping across the continent, driving native peoples on the prairies and plains from their lands. But time is about to stand still, the map of history rewritten . . .

Something is wrong out West. The Buffalo Soldiers sent to subdue the Cheyenne are deserting and joining their former enemy. The Sioux are leaving their reservations in hordes. And armed bands of Apaches have been sighted riding east of the Mississippi!

Lemuel Rowland, formerly Poyeshao, a son of the Seneca, has spent his life learning the white man’s ways. A Washington bureaucrat, he must now choose between his successful career and his ancient heritage, for the dreams of his native people are about to come true. An obscure Lakota chief, inspired by visions of a female soothsayer and armed by a foreign spy, is uniting the Indian nations into an awesome fighting force that will thunder eastward and try to reclaim all of America for its peoples.”

The Year the Cloud Fell by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani

Book description:
The year is 1886. The United States has been in a state of undeclared war with the Cheyenne Alliance for decades. Custer’s son was last seen in a newfangled flying machine. And giant lizards wander the plains. This is not history. This is the American West as it might have been…

Amazon.com Review: (which says a lot more about the book)
The Year the Cloud Fell will please not only SF and fantasy fans, but also lovers of historical and revisionist Western fiction. In 1886, the U.S. Army experimental dirigible A. Lincoln is making a scouting flight above the Unorganized Territory when a terrific thunderstorm strikes the craft to earth. Now the mission commander, the president’s only son, is a prisoner of the Cheyenne Alliance. The Indians have no reason to love the president, the implacable enemy they call Long Hair: General George Armstrong Custer. And only the strange shamanic vision of one young Cheyenne woman stands between Captain George Armstrong Custer Jr. and death.

With his debut novel, Kurt R.A. Giambastiani has created a fast-paced, imaginative, intelligent alternate history with a bold, breathtaking climax. The Year the Cloud Fell has “gotta” quality, as in “Honey, I’m coming right to bed, but first I just gotta finish this chapter.” The novel ends conclusively, yet it also leaves the door open for a sequel that readers will eagerly await.

Unfortunately, whites who create historical fiction or movies about American Indians often end up producing a sort of noble-savage porn, and alternate history provides more possibilities than any other fiction for a simplistic approach to white/Indian interactions. However, Giambastiani has avoided such pitfalls. The Year the Cloud Fell provides no easy answers, noble-savage stereotypes, great-white-father saviors, or cliched situations. Bravo. – Cynthia Ward

See also the rest of Kurt R. A. Giambastiani’s series: The Spirit of Thunder, The Shadow of the Storm and From the Heart of the Storm.

Svaha by Charles de Lint

Book description:

Out beyond the Enclaves, in the desolation between the cities, an Indian flyer hasbeen downed. A chip encoded with vital secrets is missing. Only Gahzee can venture forth to find himwalking the line between the Dreamtime and the Realtime, bringing his peoples ancient magic to bear on the poisoned world of tomorrow. Bringing hope, perhaps, for a new dawn. This is Charles de Lints classic novel of native magic in a North American future.

The Haunted Mesa by Louis D’Amour
Louis D’Amour is a well-known Western writer, and this book particularly stands out from his usual bibliography: Native Americans and time traveling!

Book description:

The Navajo called them the Anasazi: an enigmatic race of southwestern cliff dwellers. For centuries, the sudden disappearance of this proud and noble people has baffled historians. Summoned to a dark desert plateau by a desperate letter form an old friend, renowned investigator Mike Raglan is drawn into a world of mystery, violence, and explosive revaltion. Crossing the border beyond the laws of man and nature, he will learn the astonishing legacy of the Anasazi — but not without a price. Set in the contemporary Southwest, The Haunted Mesa draws on Louis L’Amour’s extensive knowledge of Indian lore and mysticism. In this extraordinary book L’Amour tells a tale of epic adventure that takes his readers across the most extraordinary frontier they have ever encountered.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “#9: First Nation Sci-Fi & Technology Resources

  1. Thanks–I’ve now got several new entries on my to-read list!

    • You’re very welcome!
      I highly recommend the Expanded Horizons articles myself. Can’t say much for the listed fiction readings, since I haven’t had a personal chance to read them (was going by Amazon.com reviews & others to check for racefail potential).
      I do have other FN steampunky books coming out in 2010 which I’m lucky enough to get ARCs for. Will post proper reviews for those ^_^

  2. Be sure to also check out ‘1491: American Before Columbus’ by Charles Mann, which covers a number of American Indian nations in both North and South America. Inca woven boats and binary code-like ‘writing’ in the form of the quipu would be awesome steampunk additions.

  3. Ay-leen, you may want to add Orson Scott Card’s “Pastwatch” to this list. It’s a time-travel tale, but it definitely fits with an SF investigation of First Nations history, in regards to Christopher Columbus and first contact.

  4. Dr. Curiosity

    The article you linked to brought to mind similar fictions I’ve heard about our indigenous Maori people in New Zealand.

    People still sometimes refer to pre-Colonial Maori as a “Stone Age” culture, when the country doesn’t have the same environmental and demographic context as Western technological development. Maori culture may not have had significant mining and smelting technology, but it was significantly more advanced and mature in other areas. Advanced stone, bone and woodworking techniques filled many of the niches that metal could have filled, for example. They also acclimated _very_ rapidly to the introduction of Western technologies, too.

    In my world-building I try hard to avoid Western-normative views when characterising other cultures. While there are some things that are difficult to wrap your head around well from outside a culture, I believe it’s important to have due care – putting in the hard yards when it comes to research and consultation – to improve your chances of Getting It Right.

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