I gave this its own post because I listened to three short stories read by LeVar Burton all right after each other and thought it deserved to be its own little tribute to how great LeVar Burton is. It’s a podcast, you should check it out, and if anything by one of your favorite authors is read by him, rush straight to it and listen. Since listening to these three, I’ve listened to an Ursula K. Leguin short (The Fliers of Gy) that he read live, and it too was amazing.
This trio represents three award-winning shorts, though I didn’t realize it at the time, because I just knew the authors and gravitated to them. All of them have a blend of fantasy and reality that leave you just a little unsure of what’s happening. There’s a broad similarity in The Truth About Owls and The Paper Menagerie in that “old” magic intrudes on the real world, where as Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience is more near future, virtual reality leaving questions about, you know, real reality. I enjoyed that quality about them as a group.
Also, I was absolutely destroyed by The Paper Menagerie and have a looooooot to say about it.
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse
So I grew up in Oklahoma, aka “Everyone here is kind of Cherokee” Land. I left before the casino boom was a thing so I don’t necessarily identify it that way, but I did in fact at one point (true story!) learn to fancy dance and participated in pow-wows. I was almost good at it, in fact, which will come to shock a lot of people since I absolutely refuse to dance at weddings and generally dislike dancing. There were also the normal run of questions growing up about whether I had Native American ancestry and how much- but given that I was raised by two thoroughly white parents, I kind of found the whole thing a little distasteful by the end. I knew a lot of kids who leveraged their ancestry for benefits in Oklahoma, so for better or worse I learned to dislike appropriation as a teenager.
Welcome to… is thoroughly, completely, devastatingly about not only appropriation, but the treatment of native people and tribes by America across our history. It takes its title quite seriously (and literally?) and if you imagine that the VR operator who serves as our main character is treated exactly the way you expect him to be treated?
You won’t be wrong.
Excellent work, and I already own can’t wait to read Trail of Lightning, the author’s debut novel.
The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar
Amal El-Mohtar is wonderful.
I don’t know when exactly I first became aware of that- probably in The Starlit Wood, which contained her 2017 Hugo Award-winning short “Seasons of Glass and Iron.” Or it was her Twitter account, the favorite part of which is when she becomes the Oracle of Buses and takes questions. She’s been a guest-host on Writing Excuses this season, and listening to her and Maurice Broaddus has been so great.
So when I say the Truth About Owls is wonderful, I truly, truly mean wonder. There’s an element of unreality to the wonder, and the story doesn’t leave you a firm answer on whether or not there’s magic in it. But as a story, the ultimate moment is about making a decision – about pushing past an assumption or past fear and doing something. You have no idea whether or not any of it’s real, or I don’t anyway, but of course I have faith that what Anisa did made the difference and that the magic was real.
That’s what I choose to believe, but of course, you should just read all the things by Amal and enjoy them. And then you can ask why on earth the United States of America won’t ever let her (or her mom) into the country without the most harassment we can muster.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
This absolutely wrecked me. I thought I could just bury it here, third in a separate post about shorts, and that would be enough, but I’m going to have to write a lot more about this one, in a separate post. This one caught me at an almost.. prophetic time? The timing was a bit wild. I cried a lot, which I say without any shame at all because it’s heartbreaking and sad and really speaks to me and my life in 2018. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this, especially if you’ve ever had a strained relationship with a parent, or you’ve ever had to abandon your culture or identity to fit in, or if you ever stopped believing in magic because it was just stupid and gotta grow up, amiright? Stick around for LeVar’s commentary at the end, because I think it adds a lot. Utterly fantastic, and someday I’m going to post some much deeper thoughts on it.