starlady: (do i dare disturb)
[personal profile] starlady
I am not yet finished reading this book, but I wanted to toss my hat into the ring, so to speak, before WisCon (and thanks again to nojojojo for giving me the ARC).

Wrede, Patricia C. Thirteenth Child. New York: Scholastic, 2009.

Absolutely the first thing I noticed was that it says quite clearly on the title page, "Frontier Magic, Book One." I admit I'm curious as to what could spook a steam dragon.

After a week and more of reading thoughts, discussion, and rants about this book (I point people to the [community profile] linkspam community for a full record), I really cannot subscribe to the interpretation that Wrede has actually erased the Native Americans from her alternate-historical landscape. I think that in Thirteenth Child the megafauna fulfill the role that "Indians" traditionally have in Westerns and in pioneer narratives. To put it differently, Wrede hasn't erased the Native peoples; she's transformed them into adversarial wildlife. A lot of the passages in the book in which Eff, Lan and their friends and family talk about the megafauna could, if "Indians" was substituted for the species names in question, be comfortably at home in books such as the Little House on the Prarie series.

This isn't actually an unknown subterfuge in sff media--along with [personal profile] copperbadge, I think that Joss Whedon's Firefly could be placed at the top of a list, if such a list were made (Firefly not only has the Reavers standing in for Indians in Whedon's space western, but it also almost completely erases the Chinese, who evidently gave their culture, language, and dress to the Alliance and then disappeared). But there are a lot of words in this book. Some of them could have been diverted from faffing about in Mill City to talking about Native peoples. Wrede chose not to use her words that way, which is her choice; what she does do terribly effectively is evoke the feel of Little House on the Prarie, right down to the strong, affectionate parents and the sister in music school, and I can't think the similarity is unintentional. 

I might have enjoyed this book if I had come to it without prior knowledge (though I hope I would have picked up on the utter absence of indigenous populations). Wrede is an excellent writer; I was amused right from the first chapter. But, as cool as megafauna undoubtedly are, her story would have been much richer had she not chosen to take the intellectual primrose path of erasing the Native peoples of the Americas. One thing Thirteenth Child makes painfully clear is the richness those who inhabited this continent first have bequeathed to those of us who live here now, though it's still all too easy to ignore their contributions, and even their descendants' presence. "Chicago" is a far better name than "Mill City,"  for example, and "Helvan Shores" sounds like an ugly font instead of a name for a city.

The way to deal with a legacy of genocide, racism and slavery is not to ignore it, because that legacy has made America what it is now, for better and for worse. I'm not even going to go into all the ways that Wrede's historical premises would actually have changed the history of this continent; the consequences she envisions are, as far as I'm concerned, as far beyond the plausbile as the premise of this book is problematic. And the story's resolution through Eff's discovering the strengths of her hybrid "Columbian" magic is emotionally cheap, in my opinion, if Columbia is as ethnically and culturally whitewashed as Wrede writes it, regardless of the presence of a few Aphrikan wizards.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-21 02:10 (UTC)
elf: Another link in the chain (Linkspam)
From: [personal profile] elf
Your post has been added to a Linkspam roundup.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-21 14:23 (UTC)
spiralsheep: Sheep wearing an eyepatch (spiralsheep Ram Raider mpfc)
From: [personal profile] spiralsheep
Firefly not only has the Reavers standing in for Indians in Whedon's space western, but it also almost completely erases the Chinese, who evidently gave their culture, language, and dress to the Alliance and then disappeared

(To continue your thought....) Like the Chinese who built the railroads and owned the trading posts were subsequently erased from Western history after their specific usefulness to white people the dominant culture was over? (If you'll excuse my simplifications and generalisations for the sake of brevity.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-21 15:19 (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
:: To put it differently, Wrede hasn't erased the Native peoples; she's transformed them into adversarial wildlife. ::

And goodness knows, that stereotype doesn't have a long, rich, and ugly history.

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