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Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction

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In this first-ever anthology of Indigenous science fiction Grace Dillon collects some of the finest examples of the craft with contributions by Native American, First Nations, Aboriginal Australian, and New Zealand Maori authors. The collection includes seminal authors such as Gerald Vizenor, historically important contributions often categorized as "magical realism" by authors like Leslie Marmon Silko and Sherman Alexie, and authors more recognizable to science fiction fans like William Sanders and Stephen Graham Jones. Dillon's engaging introduction situates the pieces in the larger context of science fiction and its conventions.

Organized by sub-genre, the book starts with Native slipstream, stories infused with time travel, alternate realities and alternative history like Vizenor's "Custer on the Slipstream." Next up are stories about contact with other beings featuring, among others, an excerpt from Gerry William's The Black Ship. Dillon includes stories that highlight Indigenous science like a piece from Archie Weller's Land of the Golden Clouds, asserting that one of the roles of Native science fiction is to disentangle that science from notions of "primitive" knowledge and myth. The fourth section calls out stories of apocalypse like William Sanders' "When This World Is All on Fire" and a piece from Zainab Amadahy's The Moons of Palmares. The anthology closes with examples of biskaabiiyang, or "returning to ourselves," bringing together stories like Eden Robinson's "Terminal Avenue" and a piece from Robert Sullivan's Star Waka.

An essential book for readers and students of both Native literature and science fiction, Walking the Clouds is an invaluable collection. It brings together not only great examples of Native science fiction from an internationally-known cast of authors, but Dillon's insightful scholarship sheds new light on the traditions of imagining an Indigenous future.

262 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 2012

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Grace L. Dillon

9 books20 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews
Profile Image for Haliation.
92 reviews42 followers
Want to read
December 6, 2012
AWW YEAH. This will be read after finals.
A quick gripe:
Really, REALLY side-eyeing Charles De Lint's "review" on the back.
"Though I'm not usually a fan of anthologies compiled by race, sex, etc., this book is so good that I'm happy to have these stories collected together however it came about. Don't read this because they're stories by Native American writers. Read them because they're damn good stories by damn good writers."

Did he actually read it? Does he know that "Indigenous" doesn't just mean "Native American"? (this anthology also includes Maori, Caribbean, Taíno, and Australian Aboriginal authors) Does he not understand the importance of "race" in this particular context and post-colonial writing? Disregarding the fact that they are Indigenous writers kind of misses the point of this book...so disappointed in him, man.
Profile Image for autumn.
273 reviews44 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 15, 2018
dnf at 170 pgs

i just think this went over my head - the language in the prefaces to each story was VERY academic. the stories i read were all either barely science fiction or nearly incomprehensibly science fiction. it didnt help that the majority of the stories were selections from longer books (rather than short stories) that required a LOT of context to parse

TLDR unfortunately, this collection wasn't for me. someone looking for an academic science fiction anthology might love it though!
Profile Image for Kyle Aisteach.
Author 8 books19 followers
May 1, 2013
This is a fascinating academic text. Dillion does a beautiful job creating a survey of Native American speculative fiction, weaving insightful commentary throughout.

Unfortunately, this book's greatest weakness is as an anthology. Very few of the included works are standalone short stories. The overwhelming majority are excerpts from longer works. And although Dillon did a good job of selecting excerpts that make sense out of context, the book feels like a series of pointers to novels that we should all be reading as part of a seminar rather than as a satisfying collection of short fiction. I feel Dillon's pain, of course, as there really isn't a large body of short fiction by Native authors that would fit the narrowly defined parameters of her own narrative, but the choice limits the usefulness of this book to those with an academic interest and, unfortunately, makes it less accessible to the pleasure reader.

I do, however, hope that this anthology sparks interest in Native American science fiction, because SF could really use more Indigenous voices.
Profile Image for ❄Elsa Frost❄.
477 reviews
March 26, 2018
This is a fantastic idea for an anthology, no doubt about it. It's a collection of Indigenous Science Fiction. This means that it includes Native Americans, First Nations, Aboriginal Australian, and New Zealand Maoris. A great thing, to be certain. I wanted to read not only from the perspectives I'm more familiar with--such as Native American groups from the U.S. and Tainos from the Caribbean--, but also from other Natives of other locations. This offered that variety of perspectives, and I'm grateful for the extended perspective. As always, each of us can benefit greatly from other perspectives aside from those we have been exposed to.

Now, this next thing I'm going to mention is somewhat a positive, yet somewhat a negative. Y'see, most of the works included here are from larger works. This is a positive thing in the sense that you can be exposed to more Indigenous writers through this book, and pursue their works after reading the excerpts. However, this is somewhat a negative too. Usually, an anthology may include a few pieces that are excerpts from larger works, but this one features a lot of excerpts (13/19, to be more exact). I think that's too many. Again, I understand that it's exposing the larger audience to the vast amount of Indigenous writers out there. But you gotta admit, this isn't very common to do in anthologies, mainly because you don't want to have the reader bugged down by the enormous number of excerpts that don't really have satisfactory endings because they aren't ended.

As for the stories... something I did not like is that this is a science fiction anthology. Some of these stories... aren't science fiction, by any means. And so I'm trying to figure out how some non-science-fiction stories managed to be included here...? Is there something I'm missing in the interpretation...?

Some of the works here are strong pieces. I absolutely loved the story "Men on the Moon" by Simon Ortiz, for example. Some works, however, I wasn't really fond of--which is to be expected from an anthology. It's rare to find someone who loves absolutely every work featured in it.

Overall, this is pretty good. Personally, I give it 3.75 stars.
Profile Image for Cait.
1,073 reviews30 followers
November 8, 2015

:\ Was really hoping to like this a lot more!!! It is so, so, so off-puttingly disjointedly academic in a weird way; I kept having to reread passages in the intro and intros because I just could not make head nor tail of what was being said. It felt messy, like someone's thesis that could have stood a SIGHT more editing. And, as many other people have stated, don't be fooled: this is not actually a short story anthology; MOST of the entries are excerpts from longer novels, and most of those selections do not work as standalones.

I think the way in which this worked best for me was as a sort of primer/intro type of thing like 'hey, there's a whole bunch of indigenous speculative fiction out there!!' and I was introduced to authors I hadn't heard of and blah blah etc, so now my next task is to go through the book's recs and decide which of those texts might work out better for me than this one, which tbh felt like reading a book for school (tbh I was skimming at times!!), which is never a good thing. It's like, take the already unpredictable nature of the anthology, which is often super uneven to begin with, and then make it further unpalatable by having a bunch of academics (the people who edited this are really lovely and earnest and passionate and good people, I feel certain!! just...a little...misguided) render it nigh incomprehensible. I don't know, it was such a disappointment! But, again, going to be using this as a jumping-off point to get into what I am sure is a totally awesome sphere of writing.

Some standout entries, for me:

"Aunt Parnetta's Electric Blisters," by Diane Glancy, wasn't bad at all
"Flight," by Sherman Alexie, wasn't bad either
"Men on the Moon," by Simon Ortiz, was quite excellent, and likely my favorite from the whole thing
"When This World Is All on Fire," by William Sanders, was very compelling although indicative of how much of a dude-skewed viewpoint even a collection like this can have!! (12 entries by men, 7 by women)

(also fuck charles de lint for that back-cover review lol)
Profile Image for Ed Erwin.
959 reviews98 followers
March 30, 2019
Took me ages and I still never finished it. I guess the problem is that it is mostly excerpts from longer works rather than complete stories. Or maybe I've just had too many other things grabbing my attention.

I'm glad to have read the excerpt from "Midnight Robber". I don't think I'll read the rest of that book. The only author here I will likely seek out in future is Sherman Alexie.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
92 reviews
August 20, 2021
This was incredible. It was kind of like a buffet or a trailer reel of so much incredible indigenous sf in that you had carefully-chosen passages from a lot of other amazing full-length works by various authors, which then gives you a sense of what you're interested in reading more of (in my case, everything, which is saying something since I'm not always interested in contact narratives and other sub-genres of sf). At first, I worried the book might be too academic for pleasure reading for me in that each excerpt is introduced with some commentary, but once I actually started reading it, I felt that those passages gave so much context and situation for what I was reading that it really added to the enjoyment.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
315 reviews
March 14, 2022
Most anthologies I've read are collections of short stories, but this one differs in that it is a collection of excerpts from longer pieces of fiction, rather than self contained short stories. Each story had a good introduction which, in addition to describing who the author was and why they like writing science fiction, gave some background to the stories and major plot points that would be important to understanding the excerpt.

Some of the stories I found a bit confusing, but many of them were super interesting and made me want to pick up and read the full novel that the story came from.
Profile Image for Jenny.
101 reviews7 followers
December 11, 2021
I was interested to find that this is a very academic text. The editor has collected stories and excerpts as examples of five common themes in Indigenous sf, and the book's introduction (as well as mini-intros to each story) are not written in layperson's terms. Without having read more on these topics, I felt that I got the gist of the ideas but not the full nuance.

I found the anthology to be very interesting (although I wish I understood more!) and also enjoyed most of the stories.
Profile Image for Anne-Marie.
502 reviews2 followers
July 4, 2021
This was a really good anthology introduction to a number of sci-fi themes, topics, and stories from a variety of Indigenous perspectives. The anthology collects writings from a variety of Indigenous authors living across what is now known as Canada, the United States (including Afro/Black-Native American), Australia, and New Zealand. It further compiles them into five broad categories: Native Slipstream, Contact, Indigenous Science and Sustainability, Native Apocalypse, and Biskaaiiyang/"Returning to Ourselves."

For me personally, I enjoyed the Contact and Indigenous Science and Sustainability sections the most, but there were (subjective) gems in each section.

I finally got to read some writings from Stephen Graham Jones and Nalo Hopkinson - two authors I've been meaning to read. I was also introduced to a number of new-to-me authors (and one familiar, Eden Robinson) and several novels that I'd be interested in checking out one day.

One of the strengths of the collection was the introduction to each piece - (presumably) the editor wrote a brief description of how this story fits into the section's theme with a bit of literary analysis, and in the case of novel excerpts, a summary of relevant info preceding the excerpt's text.

If you're a fan of sci-fi short stories/anthologies, I highly recommend checking out this collection (or others) - especially if you've been mostly focused (like I was) to mainstream/Western sci-fi.
Profile Image for Ai Miller.
576 reviews36 followers
February 2, 2019
A solid collection and introduction to indigenous sci-fi. It's worth noting that at this stage, this functions maybe more as a kind of potential space for foundations for indigenous sci-fi, rather than necessarily a place to explore new works or authors; there's been a huge amount of work put out after this (especially in the young adult arenas) that might be worth checking out if you're looking to avoid, say, Sherman Alexie's work. Nevertheless, Dillon's analysis and introductions are very solid, and the excerpts are great places to move towards the larger works. I definitely came away from this with many more books and stories to look for. I couldn't necessarily name a "favorite" among these--they were all so different and interesting and good, and I think you get a good taste of the number of different themes and kinds of stories.
Profile Image for Collin.
1,000 reviews36 followers
June 12, 2022
Enough people have said that they find it dissatisfying or disappointing that the majority of stories in this collection are excerpts from novels instead of short stories, that I don't feel the need to belabor the point. Yeah, it felt a little pointless after a while, engaging with a fantastic self-contained short story and then diving straight back into three or four contextless excerpts that are so much harder for me to get invested in, but "Anthology" is on the cover of this book so I can't really put the blame on the editor. I just really found it hard to become emotionally involved with so many of the entries here.

That said, the actual short stories were fantastic! "When This World Is All On Fire" was probably my favorite.
Profile Image for Feral Academic.
163 reviews5 followers
April 28, 2020
This anthology opened worlds to me. Grace Dillon takes us across a broad landscape of subgenres and perspectives and offers commentary I found enlightening and just thorough enough. She sent me scurrying to add books to my "to read" list every few stories.
Profile Image for Full Stop.
275 reviews130 followers
June 12, 2014

Review by Lindsey Catherine Cornum

For the geeky Indian tired of reading and watching science fiction about white heroes conquering red planets, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction is what the recent release of The New Yorker Science Fiction Issue was for other nerdy types—the validation of something that has for too long been ignored. In this case, not just the perennially-overlooked Indigenous voices but the weird Indigenous voices of speculative and science fiction.

Edited by the ever-insightful Grace L. Dillon, Walking the Clouds is the first anthology to bring together writers from around the world representing not only their own tribal literature but also the burgeoning movement of Indigenous futurism. This inherently radical literature dares to project the Vanishing Indian, victim of genocide or modern despondency, far into the future and onto a genre that re-envisions the world through uniquely Indigenous perspectives. 

Walking the Clouds is not just an introduction to what Indigenous Futurism is, but a continuous attempt to create the subject of its study. To that end, the stories and excerpts are rather short with Dillon’s introduction and analysis defining and guiding us through the conceptual framework of each brief piece. The book is more an encyclopedia of ideas than a true collection of stories, providing a useful road map thorough previously scattered works while pointing out valuable sources to revisit.

The driving tension of this exploration is between what Indigenous futurism shares with science fiction and what it subverts. For Stephen Graham Jones, a self-proclaimed follower of “Blackfeet physics,” the time-bending, multidimensional quality of science fiction is simply an extension of tribal tradition. Neither Dillon nor I would go so far as to say all Indigenous literature is inherently science fiction, but what this anthology does reveal is that Indigenous science fiction is not new: it is simply a new way to group aspects that have shot through certain Indigenous literature and perceptions for a very long time.

Read more here: http://www.full-stop.net/2012/08/30/r...
Profile Image for Dan Clore.
Author 9 books42 followers
September 3, 2016
Not just a science fiction anthology on a particular theme, as the editor used her expertise in Science Fiction Studies and Indigenous Nations Studies to take a cross-disciplinary approach that allowed her to put together a selection of first-rate science fiction (or science fictional) short stories and novel excerpts whose theme broadens the scope of the genre.

The authors come from various Indigenous backgrounds (Native American, First Nations, Aboriginal, Maori, sometimes intersecting with African, just as Indigenous Futurism intersects with Afro-Futurism), but the book is not simply a selection of SF stories by writers from a particular group "identity", or even simply informed by the social position that comes with that background (though such "Skin thinking" is one theme of the volume, but not just between Indigenous peoples and Eurowestern colonizers but in a network of relations between different tribes, nonhumans, post-cyberpunk neotribalists, etc).

Above all, this is an anthology of work informed by the authors' multi-cultural perspectives, of science fiction informed by Indigenous models of reality and Indigenous narrative techniques. In some cases, the Indigenous SF included actually anticipates mainstream SF. For example, a form now recognizable as Native Slipstream, based on cultural models similar to scientific models of non-linear time, the multiverse, alternative histories, etc., not only anticipates the mainstream SF subgenre slipstream, the first example here, Gerald Vizenor's "Custer on the Slipstream", includes the word in its title.

The anthology is divided into five sections: The Native Slipstream; Contact; Indigenous Science and Sustainability; Native Apocalypse; and Biskaabiiyang, "Returning to Ourselves", but most of the selections could fit in more than one category.

The one major criticism I have is that two-thirds of the selections are novel excerpts, but I trust the editor's decision based on her knowledge of the material, and actually didn't really mind much in this case. Several excerpts definitely make me think I want to read the whole novel, such as the piece from Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber.
Profile Image for Emma Gerts.
297 reviews24 followers
January 29, 2020
This was sadly a little middle of the road for me. That's not necessarily because of any weakness of the stories themselves, but more the way this was structured. Because more often than not, these actually weren't short stories, but many of them were excerpts from novels. Which I feel like is not quite the same reading experience as a collection of short stories, and not one I'm specifically fond of. Scenes from a novel are meant to be read as part of a novel, where short stories are designed to be read in isolation. On top of that, I felt like many of these stories were over-explained (possibly necessitated by having so many excerpts that needed context). The introduction to each story seemed to me to be telling me why I should like it, how clever or subversive it was, instead of just letting me enjoy the stories for themselves. As a result, this felt like a bit of a slog. Some of the stories were really good, which is why I gaave it a 3 star rating, but on the whole this wasn't the best reading experience. I think I would have preferred to just read the stories on their own, without the length prologues.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,181 reviews36 followers
November 15, 2017
"I don't read a lot of sci-fi" is a lie I tell people. In reality, I don't read a lot of the typical (white male) sci-fi canon.

This anthology is made up of stories from communities I am not privy to, communities my knowledge of is pretty shallow, even though I live on land that belonged to the Dakota people before it was stolen by white settlers.

So this is a warning for white people: this book will not be kind to us. This is a book about contact and land and scars. Some stories are harder than others. All of them are fascinating in their own right. The point of reading this book was to make myself uncomfortable. But it was also really deeply fulfilling to read stories written by voices, some familiar, some new to me, that tell me things about communities I need to learn more about.

Profile Image for Adrienne.
372 reviews5 followers
January 8, 2021
This reads like a fleshed out dissertation. It claims to be an anthology but literally half of it is lengthy "introductions" to the pieces that are extremely academic and not particularly enjoyable to read. Worse, the selections themselves are nearly all taken from the middle of complex books, and are only given a couple pages. The result is that you don't really get a good feel for any of the writers, and you don't really get any true stories, just confusing excerpts (with one or two exceptions). What a massive disappointment.
Profile Image for Valerie Gazelle.
22 reviews5 followers
August 30, 2017
I was really excited to get my hands on this book and get a glimpse of speculative fiction and sci fi from a different perspective.

Unfortunately, this anthology mostly includes exceprts from novels and in the end just comes across as disjointed and kind of a chore to slog through. Instead of inspiring one to search further and read the source material, I felt disinterested by the vast majority of the works, and I feel like that may be the antithesis of an anthology
76 reviews
July 23, 2017
Great collection. Really well organized, with great framing in the introductions to the volume and the individual selections. My one complaint is that it's a little heavy on novel excerpts rather than short stories, and I often felt that I wasn't getting enough context to fully appreciate the excerpts. On the other hand I now have a dozen new novels on my "to read" list.
Profile Image for A..
3 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2020
There are some incredible stories in this anthology. 'Custer on the Slipstream' and 'Men on the Moon' are two extremely powerful and fascinating examples. Unfortunately, Grace L. Dillon's forewards do little to provide the necessary context for understanding the excerpts from novels. This makes reading the excerpts provided frequently frustrating and confusing.
Profile Image for Daggry.
808 reviews
Shelved as 'dnf'
December 5, 2020
Rather than an anthology of short stories--standalone works of Indigenous SF--this is a collection of readings that illustrate various categories of indigenous futurisms. Some of the readings are short stories; most are excerpts from novels. Since some of the novels were already on my TBR, I'll be skipping much of this book.
Profile Image for Sérgio Pelado.
62 reviews9 followers
March 30, 2018
"Walking the Clouds" provides a quintessential point-of-view to the sci-fi lover, focusing entirely on fiction written by those to whom the Apocalypse has already happened: Indigenous people.

Indigenous North-American, Caribbean and even Maori sci-fi writers reflect, on their futurist tales and novels, on the centuries of oppression at the hands of the self-proclaimed superior civilization, i.e. Euro/Western colonizers, and how Indigenous knowledge has so much to offer to a World which rapidly plunges towards self-destruction. On that topic, "Walking the Clouds"' contributors walk much more closely to the original, cautionary purpose of science fiction than many of their much more marketed counterparts.

Some have complained about the excess of novels' snippets in the anthology, and therefore lack of complete short stories, but I found the cuts made by the editor to the bigger works quite well-trimmed, and so much of those snippets work as short stories themselves, contributing to a sense of unity that pervades "Walking the Clouds". If there’s a minor repair to be made to this anthology, it is the fact that the literary merit of some of the selected fiction is somewhat questionable, but given all the different authors featured in the book, I was not expecting all of them to be my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Weedleeedle.
14 reviews
November 12, 2022
Looking through the other reviews here, I think other people have hit the nail on the head. I really had a hard time feeling like I understood or was invested in these stories, and I think a large part of that is due to the fact that these are excerpts from longer works, not stand-alone short stories. In addition, I think other reviewers accurately describe this book as "academic". That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I did feel like it made the book overall, as well as the stories within, a little more inaccessible. A few of these stories intrigue me, and I definitely will have to explore them further and see if the confusion I felt was just because of the lack of context I had for the story.

I wouldn't not recommend it I think, but maybe for anyone else who is interested in reading it, don't feel pressured to read every story. When This World Is All On Fire by William Sanders is probably my favorite. I liked Terminal Adventure by Eden Robinson and Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, it reminded me of A Case of Conscience by James Blish. Those would probably be my top three!
Profile Image for Pat MacEwen.
Author 18 books7 followers
June 29, 2018
An interesting introduction to spec fic by indigenous authors, mostly North American but also including Maori, Australian Aboriginal and Caribbean voices. Some of it was enthralling, to me, though I don't normally care that much for the slipstream approach in anybody's fiction. Magic realism sometimes works for me, and sometimes doesn't, which is probably more a reflection on me and my addiction to traditional story structure than the works themselves. I was especially impressed with work by Nalo Hopkinson and Andrea Hairston, Simon Ortiz, William Sanders, and Misha. All of the entries come with introductory material of great interest, but most of the entries themselves are not complete stories. They are, instead, chapters selected from longer works, usually novels. If you are looking for a place to start, this book will give you a lot of pointers, but be prepared for frustration when you get into a story and there is no ending available here. So go find the whole book it came from, right? Now that you know it's out there!
Profile Image for Kelly.
61 reviews3 followers
April 21, 2022
This anthology introduces key elements of indigenous science fiction (slipstream, contact, apocalypse and reclamation-of-self), giving the reader both context for recurring themes and practice feeling into the texture of this work. It features a wide variety of forms and styles (like the epistolary Afrofuturist piece by Andrea Hairston called Mindspace... the poem by Maori writer Robert Sullivan called "Star Waka") that inspire a deep need to read more by each of the authors.

Yes, the introductions (of both the book and each section) are academic in tone. Dillon is a scholar, and I imagine she wrote this with an academic audience in mind. That said, it feels accessible even if those sections require a different quality of vision and processing to receive them. Looping back to re-read after absorbing the pieces helps, I think.
Profile Image for Savannah Rain.
13 reviews
July 19, 2021
Please do not be discouraged by the reviews that dismiss this book for including excerpts from novels or for having introductions that are too "academic" or lack context. The stories, excerpts included, and introductions in this anthology highlight how SF (science fiction / speculative fiction) is used to reimagine the past, reframe the present and envision possible futures for indigenous communities.
Dillon does a wonderful job of grounding the stories in the context of resilience and resistance, and each story is a powerful work of literature that all readers should experience.
Profile Image for Layne Ainsworth.
12 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2022
This is a great overview of Indigenous Science Fiction. I had not realized it would have excerpts of longer works, but now I feel like I want to read those longer novels.

A wide range of styles from near-future cyberpunk style, alien civilizations, pure metaphor, alternative interpretations of present-day events, etc.

It works great as a survey of what is out there for indigenous literature.
Profile Image for Luna.
35 reviews
February 16, 2023
"Walking the Clouds" had some enjoyable sci-fi, but as others have pointed out, it's not a true anthology of short stories. It's an academic study of Indigenous sci-fi from around the world, primarily made up of excerpts from books. While the editor provided a helpful short intro for each piece, it was far from providing sufficient context to understand most of the pieces. I struggled to finish many of them, as I was unacquainted with the characters, settings, and universes they took place in. Given the importance of solid Worldbuilding to sci-fi stories, it was especially difficult to find my bearings in some of the stories because I lacked enough background to make sense of them. The one excerpt that made me want to read the rest of the book was Midnight Robber.

Also, Charles De Lint's back-cover review is such disrespectful trash-- he either didn't read the book or is bizarrely ignorant of the existence of Indigenous folks outside of North America. Ugh made my blood boil.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews

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