Release Date: August 8, 2017, issue 99
Publisher: Apex Magazine
Genre: Science Fiction
Welcome to Short Fiction Week, a biannual feature of five days of reviews of short stories and novelettes from across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum. All of the short fiction highlighted in this series is available free online, but please support the author and publications hosting this incredible work.
Well, if that wasn’t a cutting piece of sci-fi social commentary, then I don’t know what is. Written in second person POV, You are Jesse Turnblatt, an Indigenous person working for a VR company that provides virtual experiences of Native life to rich white people. And by authentic, I mean ““““authentic””””. The experiences You – and the company you work for – offer are anything but authentic. They peddle Hollywood Native-ness. Iron Eyes Cody and Kevin Costner in buckskins are the foundations here, not the rez.
You are very good at faux authenticity, the best in fact. You’re Indigenous but have mastered the fake realness the white New Ager and hipsters want, from spirit animals to “Indian” names to vision quests. So when a new client insists on getting to know the real You, it’s too tempting to pass up. You want to believe this white man isn’t just a pretendian but a genuine ally. You don’t realize he’s not until it’s too late.
This short story won Rebecca Roanhorse a Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon, as well as awards from Locus and Apex Magazines, and it’s not hard to see why. It takes on cultural appropriators, Hollywood whitewashing, and people who think they’re Native simply because they have some mysterious Cherokee relative. (As a side note, I actually do have a great great great grandmother who was Cherokee. While I claim that part of my ancestry, I do not call myself Cherokee, nor am I a tribal member. To reiterate what actual Indigenous unfortunately have to remind the rest of us over and over again, DNA isn’t the same thing as culture.)
Roanhorse is particularly skilled at pushing her characters to the brink, then pushing once more. She isn’t afraid of a dark ending. But while her story is bleak, the blame rests solely on appropriators, not Indigenous people. As most people of color who have survived colonialism will tell you, we all have to make sacrifices to survive in a white patriarchal capitalist society. Hattie McDaniel may be most famous for her roles as the sassy maid and the mammy, surely she would’ve taken other roles if she could have. She was open about her reasons for taking such shitty acting parts, because she knew the second she tried to push back against the system, the system would crush her. Hate on you/Jesse all you want, but even though he’s a participant in a terrible system, he doesn’t deserve the reader’s shame.
So yeah, you should read this twisty little tale. Or, better yet, let LeVar Burton read it to you.
You maintain a menu of a half dozen Experiences on your digital blackboard, but Vision Quest is the one the Tourists choose the most. That certainly makes your workday easy. All a Vision Quest requires is a dash of mystical shaman, a spirit animal (wolf usually, but birds of prey are on the upswing this year), and the approximation of a peyote experience. Tourists always come out of the Experience feeling spiritually transformed. (You’ve never actually tried peyote, but you did smoke your share of weed during that one year at Arizona State, and who’s going to call you on the difference?) It’s all 101 stuff, really, these Quests. But no other Indian working at Sedona Sweats can do it better. Your sales numbers are tops.
Read the full story online.