In this novel, a young man in a future Pacific Northwest finds his purpose in a homoerotic culture that combines Native American–derived spirituality with militarism.
The first book in this series, Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites (2015), introduced the Elk Creek Tribe in the state of Lincoln, once southwestern Oregon. It’s 2115, 75 years after the Fall of 2040. Jamari, a young white man—his blond hair and blue eyes are unusual among the Native American and Pacific Islander–looking Tribe—begins to find his place. Now about 17, Jamari decides it’s time to leave childhood behind, meaning he must prove his maturity. In his society, men and women live strictly apart, coming together only to mate (for most, reluctantly and as a duty owed the Tribe). Women raise the children until the boys are old enough to join all-male, age-segregated hearths. Young men are trained according to an organized, hierarchical system that includes regular sexual contact with older “Night Studies” mentors. Although the Tribe’s religious customs incorporate many traditional Native American practices, such as sage smudging (purifying a space with the smoke of sacred plants), Gnosticism is important as well. Jamari considers himself Christian because “I like to be on the winning team…the Christian God is the one who threw down every other over the millenniums.” Jamari discovers more about the Tribe, its lands, and its history and begins learning how to be a shaman, showing remarkable aptitude. A long, dangerous expedition tests his skills and commitment, earning respect from others and allowing him to prove his worth to the group.
Speculative fiction often provides a way to question contemporary mores by upending them, and Rowe (Paradigm Lost: Eros Times, 2017, etc.) certainly accomplishes this. In his world, “straight” means “homosexual,” and heterosexuality is a problem: a character who prefers women “faces a significant challenge in molding himself into the tribal culture. We’ve been working with him to help him fight it.” Also thought-provoking is how the author mixes genres in unexpected ways, blending sci-fi with erotica, military life, and philosophical and spiritual musings, although his tone can be rather dry: “Anyone who interacts sexually with [uncircumcised] Kenny will need to be willing to allow Kenny the time to take some extra steps in establishing and maintaining cleanliness,” instructs a mentor. Unfortunately, the many unnecessary details concerning logistics, sightseeing, and work assignments slow down the story. Great attention is given to militia ranks and everyone’s physical appearance, whether this contributes to the plot or not. In addition, the tale’s racial views are disconcerting. For example, the Tribe has no African-Americans because the founding members selected no one from the inner city (apparently the only place blacks live), adopting the rule “No Asians. No Irish. No Russians. No Africans.” The almost total absence of women, whose lives are a mystery, is also a drawback, making it difficult to see how this society works as a totality.
An inventive tribal tale hampered by problematic racial attitudes and extraneous details.