Review: Take Us to Your Chief and Other Stories, by Drew Hayden Taylor (2016)

~ Take Us to Your Chief and Other Stories, by Drew Hayden Taylor (Douglas & McIntyre, 2016). ~

~

I picked this up as a palate cleanser during a break in reading a very long, very inaccurate and very tedious historical novel (which I might not return to). And… it was nearly the perfect antidote. Take Us to Your Chief
is a collection of nine short stories by the Native Canadian writer Drew Hayden Taylor, written mostly in reaction to the near-impossibility of bringing together an anthology of science fiction stories by different Native Canadian writers. A feasible, original, idea, though sadly not a very marketable one; so Taylor just wrote the stories on his own. This is the result.

The stories are, in essence, a catalogue of science fiction clichés. There’s an alien contact story; a post-apocalypse story; a sentient AI story; a superhero story. They’re all set, however, in Canada, against various backgrounds of Native/Aboriginal characters and contexts. It’s a very organic, very effective meshing, sensitive to the contemporary problems and preoccupations of Native communities but at the same time refracting them through the speculative lens of science fiction. What would a Native superhero actually look like? What would happen if an advanced alien species made first contact on reservation land, with only patchy knowledge of ‘Earth’ beliefs and customs? What would Native spaceflight look like? And so forth.

The pleasures are entirely cerebral – ‘speculative,’ in the proper sense of the word. A heavy undercurrent of irony runs through all the stories in Take Us to Your Chief: the stories are both darkly funny and chillingly realistic. The superhero wants to do superheroics, but instead gets embroiled in legal battles and unshakeable structural inertia and discrimination against his Native heritage. The alien species makes contact with three Native men rather too fond of beer… but who also share a kind of telepathic mutual understanding which the aliens find fascinating. These are not stories to immerse yourself in, but carefully conceived pieces exploring intersections of certain themes that aren’t often considered in parallel. I very much enjoyed them, and they should be great reading for any SF connoiseur who’s interested in alternate, diverse takes on staples of the genre.

Verdict: recommended.

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