Jennifer Marie Brissett holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine and a Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Engineering from the College of Engineering at Boston University. She has published stories in Warrior Wisewoman 2, The Future Fire, and Halfway Down the Stairs, for which her work was nominated for the Dzanc Best of the Web Series.
Jorge Luis Borges called the stories of Craig Strete “shattered chains of brilliance.” Salvador Dali said, “like a new dream, his writings seizes the mind.” First published in1974 and then again in 1977, this book has its foreward written by none other than the great Virginia Hamilton who dubs him “the first American Indian to become a successful Science Fiction writer” and says that “the writing is smooth and unassuming, and yet the fabric of it is always richly textured.” The Bleeding Man and many other out-of-print titles by Strete are available in eBook format for free. Reading this book has made me a true lover of eBooks, since they seem to have the power to bring a long-silent voice back from the great beyond.
The Bleeding Man is a powerful introduction to an author who is, for me, brand new. In this short book, peppered with tiny typos, I found a welcome dish for my hungry reading palate. Strete’s words are not written in the clean overly-polished prose of today. They are sparse and firm. Strete says in his stories what he means and means what he says. And that is totally refreshing. Both mainstream and genre authors alike, I find, are too infatuated with the perfectly balanced sentence. It has relegated storytelling to the realm of the dead. Stories should be alive. Stories should haunt you and stay with you long after you finish reading them. Stories should, to quote Gioia Timpanelli, “show you the way.”
In Strete’s worlds, colonization is not idealized as it often is in most science fiction stories. He gives you the other side–the dark side–of capturing a land and its people and claiming them for your own. Yet, these are not the words of a victim. On the contrary, these are the words of a seer and a conjurer of dreams.
The story that opens the book, “Into Every Rain, a Little Life Must Fall,” is a eerie prediction of the surveillance culture that we have now entered. A future police officer finds himself with the impossibility of encountering a person who cannot be found in the computer system. This makes for an exciting night for the once bored out-of-his-mind Wombcop.
“White Brothers from the Place Where No Man Walks” may be the most terrifying of the collection. In this story, Uzmea the storyteller tells a people that they have no future. Uzmea is of another race and speaks in a strange language to strange gods. He prophesies what awaits the people: “The white man will take your land. He will point you to the West, but there is no home for you there.”
“When They Find You” is a bitter love story. It is a tale of loneliness and family and racism and conformity. A man lives alone on a new world, making money from a valuable commodity found only there. He swears he will never touch an alien woman until he sees her. She is traded to him for a shirt and they live together peacefully for a long time. They never speak a word that the other understands, yet they seem to understand one another. She even bears him a child after surgery allows her to do so. Are they man and wife? Is there love between them? I’m not sure. But one thing is for sure, their lives are forever altered when his people begin to arrive.
“A Sunday Visit with Great-grandfather” is, in my opinion, the weakest story in the bunch. It is about a great-grandfather objecting to the teachings his great-grandson receives in school. I understand that this is supposed to be a humorous take on the forced re-education that indigenous children once had to endure from colonizing peoples. But the twist in the end comes across as obvious. This story pales in comparison to the others in the collection.
The story “Mother of Cloth, Heart of Clock” broke my heart and was my personal favorite. We are never told what kind of creature the protagonist is. I envision him to be a chimpanzee. In any case, it doesn’t really matter. The point of view is what makes this a powerful tale. When he was young he was petted and adored, but no more. His fur has gotten matted. No one cares for him anymore. He is isolated and alone. The harshness of his existence among humans comes through strongly. He is a creature at our mercy. He doesn’t understand us and the things that we do. He has given up trying to understand and now just wants to sleep and dream. He senses his own mortality. He has accepted his fate.
The title story, “The Bleeding Man,” is a haunting tale that is, at times, quite grotesque. As the title suggests, the main character bleeds profusely and has since birth. He doesn’t speak. He only sits menacingly and bleeds. Researchers are studying him and when they fail to understand him, they decide to dissect him. This is not a good idea.
These are truly wonder tales and I totally enjoyed my first venture into the world of Craig Strete. But if the work of Craig Strete (or Craig Kee Strete) is so great, why is he a forgotten author? How is it possible that a writer such as this could disappear and be dropped from memory? Well, I did a little digging and the answer is kind of ugly. The short version of it is told in an io9 article:
Two writers, Ron Montana and Craig Strete, collaborated for a time, and then Montana later accused Strete of ripping off his novel, Death In The Spirit House. The case became a huge brou-ha-ha, with writers taking both sides, but author Sheldon Teitelbaum investigated and decided that it was more a misunderstanding than a case of out-and-out theft.
I don’t know what exactly went on here. This all happened when I would have still been a kid in high school, but I will say this, I personally don’t believe Strete stole anything. The idea that Strete (or anyone) would ruin his successful career after two Nebula nominations* in order to steal someone else’s work so blatantly doesn’t pass the smell test. I do get a whiff of something, though, and it stinks. What makes me really sad about this situation is that an entire generation (possibly two) have been deprived of this excellent work. I have no idea how it would have affected me to have read the work of Craig Strete when I was younger. And I can only imagine how a Native American science fiction writer of this caliber could have inspired writers of color over the years.
So go rediscover Craig Strete! It’s almost a sin not to…