by Clare Bell
Wow, this book. It really had me riveted. Very interesting- it\’s sci-fi set in a future where the ends of a Native American population had taken the chance to colonize a new planet. They barely survived and generations later were nearly forgotten by the humans left on Earth. The protagonist, a woman from Earth named Kesbe, is descendant of a pueblo group- Hopi, Zuni and Havasupai are mentioned- come together in a final move to preserve some of their heritage. Kesbe learns bits and pieces of it from her grandfather, but forges ahead in her dream to reach the stars as a pilot.
She ends up with a job on one of the new planets flying an archaic, refurbished plane to deliver it to a wealthy collector. Runs into a dangerous thunderstorm and makes an emergency landing on a ledge in a steep canyon- in an uncharted area. She is rescued by an isolated group of people who live on a remote, hidden mesa. They\’ve never been contacted by the outside world- in fact they don\’t even believe the world exists beyond their canyons. They are just as baffled by Kesbe\’s differences- mannerisms, speaking patterns, habits etc- as she is by theirs. Strangely- and thrilling at first to Kesbe- these people have a symbiotic relationship with a native animal- a creature something like a dragonfly- which their young people ride in order to hunt, carry water, etc. Kesbe finds the creatures beautiful and fascinating, and wants to learn more about them, and how they enabled the people to survive in their hostile environment. As she shares with them some Native American roots, they find it easy enough to assimilate, but when Kesbe learns the true nature of the people\’s intimacy with their alien fliers, everything changes.
There is so much going on in this book, and it has such interesting shifts of focus. First you\’re reading about the details navigating an ancient aircraft, then about riding flying alien beasts (which really reminded me of Anne McCaffrey\’s dragon/rider relationships), then about customs and legends of a re-imagined pubelo culture, then about women\’s identity and control of their bodies, then about the power belief systems can wield, and so on. There is a young boy initiate among the natives who befriends Kesbe at the cost of his standing in the tribe- some are very suspicious of her. There\’s an interesting man on another part of the planet -descendant of Maori and some African tribe- who is re-creating a safari experience on his vast land (he needs the airplane). Some of the most fascinating writing was about how Kesbe adapted her very body- via a drug the people made from a plant- to enhance her senses- especially that of scent- so she could communicate with one of the fliers- it is hard to imagine how a sense we consciously use very little of could carry so much information and messages; I think the author did a remarkable thing here.
I won\’t say more or I might spoil the story for someone else- it really is full of surprises, daring discovery and horror, later reconciliation and hope. Also some very tender and gentle moments. I want to read it all over again. I have a copy of this one on my e-reader.
Rating: 4/5 345 pages, 1989
more opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales