Dakota Dreamin’

There are not a lot South Dakota writers of the fantastic. There aren’t a lot of South Dakotans period.

Yes, yes, there’s Frank L. Baum and The Wizard of Oz written in Aberdeen, South Dakota. But Baum was just passing through the state.

As far as I know, Aaron B. Larson was a native South Dakotan and wrote The Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones while living in the state. Hardly a renowned classic, like Baum’s, but I thought it worth reading.

Bill Johnson, like many of us, left the state. But he did sort of return for one story … which is why you get this November 1, 2000 retro review.

Review: Dakota Dreamin’, Bill Johnson, 1999.Dakota Dreamin

I’ll admit I bought this collection because I expected Johnson to be sort of a Clifford Simak for South Dakota, but the state only shows up as a setting in Johnson’s most famous story, the Hugo-winning “We Will Drink a Fish Together“. Now, I’m from South Dakota too, but I’m not familiar with fish drinking or the idea of “lines”, sort of clans of not necessarily related people. But, then, I’m from the Black Hills, the other end of the state from the town of Summit where the story takes place. And, as Johnson notes in the collection’s introduction, that’s a different geography and a different culture. The story is like Simak in its mixture of aliens and rural America and quirky characters though its plot, involving an alien ambassador fleeing assassins and the narrator attending the funeral of the head of his line, is a bit hard edged for Simak. Johnson’s perceptions match mine when he talks about Dakota weather and the easy acceptance of strangers there.

Aliens show up frequently in these stories as they do in Simak’s work. Continue reading

Black Hills

It was time for one of my visits to family in the Black Hills of South Dakota, so I decided to pull Dan Simmons’ Black Hills off the shelf.

I bought it a couple of years in a Hill City gallery. (You may know Hill City as the site of the Black Hills Institute of Geology which was at the center of a custody battle over a T. Rex skeleton.) I’ve been impressed enough by the few Dan Simmons works I’ve read — Song of Kali, Lovedeath, Carrion Comfort, and The Terror — to decide, eventually, to read the rest.

Review: Black Hills by Dan Simmons, 2011.

Like Frederik Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, this is a thriller whose plot is bounded by the historical record. In the Forsyth novel, we know the Jackal’s plot is not going to succeed. Charles de Gaulle is not going to be assassinated. And here we know that our hero, Paha Sapa (“Black Hills” in Lakota) is not going to destroy Mount Rushmore.

0316006998.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_This is not an alternate history. It is not a secret history in the style of Tim Powers with secret groups and motives of historical characters not those on record.

It is the sort of historical novel in which our hero careens through some iconic and important historic events or hears about them secondhand: the Battles of the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Continue reading