by Ernest Hogan
Ay! What a wild ride! Blake M. Hausman’s Riding the Trail of Tears is just the sort of novel that this sci-fi Chicano loves. It’s hard to describe in the conventional language of book reviewing, but then, that’s part of the fun.
The back cover blurb says: “Sherman Alexi meets William Gibson. Louise Erdich meets Franz Kafka. Leslie Marmon Silko meets Philip K. Dick.” I took it for hyperbole at first, but it's true. I would even add Ishmael Reed and myself to that list, if I could be so bold.
And the title is accurate. It literally is about riding the Trail of Tears. In a near future north Georgia, there’s a tourist attraction -- the Tsalgai Removal Exodus Point Park, or TREPP, where the price of admission buys the experience of being a Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, in virtual reality, of course.
The main character is Tallulah Wilson, a one-third Cherokee guide at TREPP. The viewpoint character is -- well, problematic to say the least. It says it’s a Nunnehi -- a Little Little Person, but then we are warned about Homeland Security, and the possibility of terrorists -- or others hacking into the system . . . readers with different backgrounds will end up arguing about it.
Which is why Riding the Trail of Tears is so hard to categorize. As a writer who’s sold to Analog Science Fiction & Fact, I find Hausman’s technical conceptualizations to be state of the art for that genre. The word “surrealistic” appears on the back cover, but I’ve found from living in Aztlán, reality is often close to surrealistic satire: An Elvis impersonator gives helicopter tours of mystical sites in Sedona, other tours feature New Age guides who plug distortions of Hopi beliefs into the 2012 Mayanoid delusions, tribal-owned casinos suggest that their gambling will be a mystical experience . . .
Combine that with an honest, and often hilarious, portrayal of impure Cherokee characters -- the East Coast equivalent of mestizos -- and the border between Native American Lit and sci-fi has been breached. I’ve dealt with this when writing about modern technology hooking up with ancient belief systems -- it gets hard to sort out. Fantasy? Reality? Myth? Religion? Politics?
Looks like another 21st century identity crisis. Better call Homeland Security, or the Nunnehi.
And maybe for marketing’s sake we should call it dystopia, because the kids dig dystopia these days. It would make a kick-ass movie, and we do have the technology. And so many Americanos carry Cherokee DNA -- people who are now classified as “white” and “black” could discover a new common identiy as Cherokee Americans.
See? Reading this book gets the imagination raging -- ideas erupt. Yeah, I know. Dangerous.
Maybe I should just put on my HOMELAND SECURITY -- FIGHTING TERRORISM SINCE 1492 T-shirt, shut my mouth, and await further instructions from headquarters.
Ernest Hogan’s first novel, Cortez on Jupiter, will very soon be available as an ebook. And that is only the beginning.