The Fifth Head of Cerberus – A Review

productThe Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe
When I walked into the Multnomah County Library a few days ago,I stumbled upon The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolfe’s first novel, published in 1972. It had been over ten years since I read a Gene Wolfe book, and I had somehow passed this one by, so I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.

Those who know me, know that I am a s-f fan. I’m not particularly enamored of the hard science variety of sci-fi. Nor do I particularly like that very popular sub-genre which features swashbuckling, castles and medieval fiefdoms set on other planets. But mostly, I like any good writing which explores social, political or philosophical issues with depth. At the top of my list is Ursula K. LeGuin, followed by Philip K. Dick (what is it with those Ks?), Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Octavia Butler, and others, including Gene Wolfe. Wolfe is my exception to the ancient history on planet X type of sci-fi because his writing is just so damn good, so deep and complex, that I can’t put his books down once I’ve started.

This remarkable novel began as a novella in Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology. Consisting of three closely related stories, the book explores the subject of identity, particularly in terms of the relationship between colonialists and aboriginal people, and touches on post-colonial theory. I was particularly struck by how the stories resonated with my recent reading of Edouard Glissant and his ideas about “Creolism.”

The setting is the twin planets of St. Croix and Ste. Anne, settled by the French, and later defeated by English speaking Earthlings. St. Croix is the more settled planet which has an aristocratic society based on slavery. Ste. Anne is inhabited by small settlements, but still contains much wild and unexplored terrain. Officially, all the indigenous people have been subjugated on Ste. Anne. However, there is a theory, called Veil’s Hypothesis, which postulates that the original colonialist have been killed and taken over by aboriginal shapeshifters.

Wolfe’s books are never pat, or easy to understand, and require some work from the reader. Each story takes a different narrative approach, exploring the subtleties of identity from another perspective. This is not a light Twilight Zone type of cleverness, but an important novel with literary depth.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 5.0 stars

Support our sisters and brothers from the south – no walls, no borders!

Before the Europeans conquered and divided up the Americas there were no borders. Unless you were entering the territory of an enemy tribe, there was no border patrol to prevent you from travelling from the tip of South America to Alaska. Our white ancestors changed all of that by murdering and raping the indigenous people and introducing the nation state.

Isn’t it enough that we have impoverished and isolated the few remaining natives in our own country, without now turning our hatred toward those indigenous people to our south, who only want the right to survive on this earth which once belonged to them?

A wall? We should be tearing down the walls, not building them up.

Those of us who are of indigenous descent need to support the struggle of our sisters and brothers from the south. No walls, no borders!

Big Mountain, Black Mesa in the news again – urgent

I recieved an email this morning from the Northwest Peltier Support Committee, forwarding this urgent message about the plight of Navaho families on Black Mesa. Congress needs to be contacted immediately.

Urgent! Navajo Communities Face Forced Relocation

Something critical is about to happen concerning the traditional
communities on Big Mountain and surrounding areas on Black Mesa. Today, more than 30 years after the passage of Public Law 93 – 531, the original Navajo-Hopi Relocation bill, a new bill is before Congress that sets a new timetable for the forced relocation of a number of Navajo families on Black Mesa. Senate bill S. 1003 is now on the Senate Calenda r and may be passed at anytime without deba! te or se rious consideration unless the public acts now. The last major relocation bill was approved by the Senate within a month after being placed on the Senate Calendar and stayed in the House of Representatives less than a week before becoming law. It’s difficult to convey the serious nature of these new developments. The passage of this bill would effectively devastate these traditional communities of Navajo, or Dineh, stripping them of their identity and way of life which is tied into the land itself.

Native people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line!


CALL CONGRESS!! Background and Talking Points, from the words of the People affected & contact list for appropriate public officials:

[Congressional Switchboard TOLL-FREE: 800-426-8073, 800-614-2803, or 800-839-5276]

Support first nations at Grassy Narrows

In Ontario, Canada, an indigenous community called the Grassy Narrows First Nation are being subjected to human rights abuses. Logging companies, Weyerhaeuser and Abitibi are clear-cut logging their land without the community’s consent. This exploitation is poisoning their waters with toxins, robbing the community of economic opportunities, and destroying their way of life.

Sign the petition. Home


The Cherokee place a high importance on the concept of “balance” which refers to both balance with Mother Earth, and balance within the tribe, the clan, and the individual. And, of course, these are all related to one another.

Much has been out of balance lately, and I have grappled with how I can keep balance in my personal life, when everything around me seems so out of kilter. It has been difficult!

For the first time in over a year I have decided to attend a demonstration against the Iraq war on its 3rd anniversary. It’s not that my opposition to the war has lagged, in fact Roadside Bomb, the anti-war poetry group I perform with, has been actively ambushing innocent bystanders on a regular basis. It’s just that personal balance has taken priority.

Politically and environmentally, there is much to despair about in the world today. For most of my 3 decades as an activist-writer, I have swung like a manic-depressive between periods of 25-hour work days to sitting on my ass for weeks at a time, paralyzed by a feeling of hopelessness.

For the last few years, I have shifted my focus from activism to writing, deliberately avoiding any kind of commitment to social change organizations. This has brought me guilt, so I have made up for that by putting my politics into my writing.

It seems to me that demonstrations have been ineffective, largely due to the corporate control of the news media, which has become nothing more than cheerleaders for the Republican agenda. Perhaps I can make more of a difference by becoming the media which we so desperately need in this country. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself.

In any case, we do what we can do. Without some balance in our lives, that is very little.

thanksgiving (in the spirit of Mark Twain)

Dear God,

We owe You thanks for being our light in the darkness. We have so much to be thankful for today.

Thank You, Lord, for this beautiful land we live in, which our forefathers have rescued from the idle and savage heathens by smiting them with Your Righteous Sword.

Thank You, Lord, for our wealth and power, which You have bestowed upon us, your Chosen Ones, with the help of our poor workers (bless them), and our black and Indian slaves (bless them too).

Thank You for this bounty which we have plundered from the earth in Your Holy Name, and in other names, such as Manifest Destiny, the Free Market, and Wise Use.

Thank You for SUVs and XBoxes and Ipods, Lord. And help us silence the naysayers, who would stop all progress in the name of satan.

Thank You, Lord, for global warming, which will make the whole world a vacation spot like Tahiti, or Cancun.

Thank You for our troops in the middle east who are protecting Your precious oil, Lord, for the American people, who truly deserve it.

And Lord, thank you for this Holy Season, an endless feast of consumption, which once began on this day of thankgiving and continued through the birthday of your Son, Jesus Christ, but now remains year around, in glorious tribute to You, Lord.

And when we have drunk the blood of the world dry, Lord, we know that we will soon be reunited with You, Our Dear Father in Heaven.

It is in Your Name we pray.