Eleanor Arnason’s novelette/novella Mammoths of the Great Plains is an alternate history story where mammoths survived into the last century and Native Americans led tours so that visitors can gawk and hunt. The latter ultimately resulting in the mammoth extinction. The story is narrated by an Indigenous family charged with preserving the mammoth.
The story reads more like a short story than a novel (it’s about things people do rather than about people who are doing things) and it’s very direct. We follow along, learn about this alternate Native culture (not too different) and the women who save the mammoths, and we’re done.
The culture reflections are quite interesting and it’s nice to see someone showing Indigenous People in a positive light. I was a bit underwhelmed by the story, although I liked what it was saying.
This would be my same reaction to the interview with the author. I’ll be honest – I don’t know much about the author except that she’s written some short stories I’ve liked, she’s written some novels that I want to read, and she’s from Minnesota (so am I). Learning a little about her background (family from Iceland and she grew up living in an experimental house behind the Walker Art Center) was quite interesting, but these are the things that stuck with me, and nothing about her writing.
Of the three pieces in the book, the essay (initially a speech at a convention) “Writing Science Fiction During World War Three” was the strongest work and feels somewhat prescient today and sentences such as this, which are quite frightening, are the kinds of things I suspect we’ll look back on in the next couple of years and thing, “Well, if we knew that, why didn’t anybody do anything about it.” Arnason says/writes:
Earth’s farmers have not produced enough food to feed humanity for the past four years. We’ve been making up the difference with stockpiled food. This cannot continue indefinitely or for long.
Most disturbing, global warming is happening more rapidly than predicted. The environmental, social and political consequences of climate change will be huge. The American Pentagon is now doing global warming war games. As rivers dry and farmland is lost to drought, there will be wars over scarce resources.
But given some recent events in Texas as I write this, this comment really struck me: “The kind of theocracy described in Native Tongue and The Handmaid’s Tale seem much more possible to me than it did a few years ago.”
This was written in 2004, updated in 2005, and again in 2010.
The book is part of the PM’s Outspoken Authors collection.
Looking for a good book? Mammoths of the Great Plains by Eleanor Arnason is a good sample of Arnason’s work (fiction, non-fiction, and memoir by way of an interview) and may encourage you to read more of her writing, but the book is not necessarily the best example of her work.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, though Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Mammoths of the Great Plains
author: Eleanor Arnason
series: PM’s Outspoken Authors
publisher: PM Press
paperback, 144 pages