Cascade Mountain Publishing / 200 pages / January 1999
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, South Dakota might just as well be a black hole. It’s one of those places that — unless you spend some time there — is as foreign and unknown as any spot in the galaxy. Certainly, you’d be hard-pressed to name other science fiction authors from that state. Many people could come up with the name of author Vine Deloria, Jr. The storytellers of the Dakotas have traditionally been the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people of the region, with their spoken-word tales. True, many of these narratives fit well into the fantasy genre (especially the “Trickster” stories) if you take them as fiction, rather than mythology. But, to find another SF/fantasy author with ties to South Dakota, you would have to reach way back to L. Frank Baum, and he only lived there briefly.
Add to that list author Bill Johnson. Dakota Dreamin’ is not going to be a travel guide to the state, although these short stories are a reflection of the influence of the place on the man, not a simple backdrop. The ancient sway of the territory is indelible, but subtle, in Johnson’s vision of the future.
“Every Choice Has A Price” is one of those stories just gunning for controversy. This is the dilemma of women’s conflict between family and career taken to extremes. Whatever Johnson’s views on the matter, he maintains an effortless impartiality, balancing the arguments of both sides. Not an easy juggling trick, but carried off beautifully.
And as if he weren’t asking for enough trouble, there is the disturbing “One Quiet Night.” Here is an idea that raises the gooseflesh on your arms as you reflect on it. As appalling as the actions are, the worst part is the fact — people being people — that this solution would probably seem all too reasonable to some of us. (Pachinko addiction ring any bells?)
After such intense stories, it’s time to come up for air. Lighten up with a playfully cynical tribute to Buckminster Fuller. “Streetwise” may be a story of the future, but send an alien race to Earth, and it could happen tomorrow. Oh no! Doesn’t that mean people will never change? Damn. There goes that Utopia we had planned. If the aliens of “Motivational Engineers” are anything to judge by, they’re not going to be much help in that area, either.
I take that back. Show the alien race in “Respect” some, well… respect.
Dakota Dreamin’ is a sophisticated collection, palatable to a wide variety of tastes. The writing is of the caliber you should expect from a Hugo Award winning author. Perhaps the deep, visceral response commanded by some other authors is not present here, but not every story must evoke that reaction. Sometimes, it’s up to the readers to supply the emotion, to feel it for themselves. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s about what’s inside you.