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.
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