Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain [book review]
PM Press, 2009.
Pretty sure I’m a bit politically disconnected because I was stunned to see an introduction to a science fiction book, Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal clarifies this, though, in his powerful but brief introduction: he is a self-described “sci-fi head” and “few works have moved me [him] as deeply, as thoroughly, as Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain.” Given that, what need is there for my book review? Mumia’s word should be enough props for plenty of anti-racists, leftists, and anti-authoritarians.
But that’s not enough. Fire on the Mountain is rich, nuanced, and brings form to an important and vital, but sadly limited, strand of alt-histories: histories where Nazi scum, racists, nationalists, and religious extremists of all stripes get the boot.
The past two months, I’ve attempted to complete this book review, discussing character, plot, and so on. I’d be lying if I said it was worth anything — much less relevant to my experience of the book. This book literally has changed my life. Not in the type of discovering punk rock or trying hash for the first time, but in the “I can actually have an impact, I can do something real not just theoretical” sense.
Relevant but tangential framing: In an interview in The Left Left Behind, Bisson is asked: “Is writing a political project for you, or an artistic project?” Bisson answers: “I reject the distinction, at least for fiction.” As such, Bisson achieves both with Fire on the Mountain.
Back to it: Like many autono-dilletantes, I was familiar with Mumia, Turner, Brown. But I really did not know, much less understand, some of the depths or history of anti-racist struggle. Much of my understanding was rooted in, and limited to, punk rock/Antifa positioning, like Oi Polloi. Bisson’s work has helped move me from comfortable, slightly informed ground into pro-actively working to understand more of the active and militant anti-racist struggle in the US.
So, while I could accurately assert that Fire on the Mountain’s character development and writing are strong and engaging, a more fair and balanced assessment is that Bisson helped me pull my head out and start to learn from a powerful tradition of anti-racist struggle.
This book is far more than it appears to be.