'Indigenous Futurism' comes home in Gilbert's five-part sci-fi odyssey - KCAW (2024)

Posted by Robert Woolsey, KCAW | May 22, 2024

'Indigenous Futurism' comes home in Gilbert's five-part sci-fi odyssey - KCAW (1)

What was originally the Chandera Trilogy is now – after two years of nonstop writing – the five-part Wilkes Chronicles. And the arc has evolved as well, from sword & sorcery into galactic science fiction. Author Matt Gilbert is marketing the stories both online and directly to schools with significant indigenous populations, including Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.

“I knew there were going to be a lot of fans, and there are now, all over the country,” said Gilbert. “I made phone calls all winter to mostly Native American schools… Five schools have already ordered class sets.”

Gilbert is by no means the only Indigenous science fiction/fantasy writer, but he’s the first to propel a Gwich’in protagonist across the galaxy far into the future, in a genre that’s now called “Indigenous Futurism.”

Gilbert realized that he had to finish the story, and settle his heroes back at home in Alaska, in a teeming metropolis called Birchville that has emerged over three hundred years in the Yukon Flats area . But in fiction things don’t always go as planned. Gilbert says he heeded the advice of suspense novelist Stephen King and kept writing.

“He said, if an idea is sticking around and not leaving you alone, then write it,” said Gilbert. “He said it needs to be written, you know. And so that’s what happened with this villain. And book five was like an evil version of Max, and that was a perfect ending, too.”

By the fifth book, The Last Gron War, Maxwell Wilkes is studying to be a medical doctor, and raising a family with his co-protagonist Alexandra Parks. But the author has given the pair one final antagonist to vanquish. He’s Darkeen Staggon, who is also of Indigenous heritage – and a sociopath. Gilbert says many Native Americans have an inherent duality, a conflict between a desire to live peacefully, to work and raise families like everyone else, which is sometimes balanced against anger and bitterness over colonization and genocide. Even 300 years in the future, cultural trauma fuels Staggon’s desire for revenge – on the entire planet.

“For the last story I thought I’d tackle that duality,” said Gilbert, “so that’s how I made Darkeen Staggon the evil villain, like an evil version of Max, who wants to obliterate the Earth to avenge Native American people. And his dad was killed by Federation officials when they raided his farm, so I carefully constructed Max’s villain’s, character, Darkeen, and he has Max’s competency as a military leader. However, he’s using it for evil.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Gilbert says the hero’s journey has been recounted thousands of times since Homer brought Odysseus back to Ithaca after twenty years. Even modern-day epics like Star Wars are rooted in Homeric sensibilities. Gilbert’s stories don’t stray far from these ideas, but his heroes use a much different lens – one that is pointed squarely at Native culture.

“They’re tired themes, but they could be quickly reawakened from the perspective of a Native American person,” Gilbert said, “because we have our own attitudes based on our unique spirituality, the way we approach everything, and the way we do everything – it’s a little different, you know. We have nuances that aren’t really seen.”

Gilbert has pitched his ideas to publishers and to Hollywood, but frequently hears that an Indigenous lead is just too risky. His biggest bite yet was for a screenplay of a buddy film starring a pair of Native American policewomen, but the pandemic put the production company out of business.

So, Maxwell Wilkes’ last battle is also Gilbert’s. The 44-year old has published several non-fiction books on climate change and Gwich’in culture, in addition to the self-published Wilkes Chronicles. The writing has been rewarding in all ways but monetary. He says it’s time to move on creatively. In addition to being an author, Gilbert is a musician, photographer, and filmmaker, and hopes to build a career that capitalizes on his talents. “I will always be an artist at heart,” he says. Matt Gilbert’s Wilkes Chronicles are available on Amazon. His sci-fi pen name is Wolf Golan.

Note: This story was updated to reflect the fact that in Gilbert’s future Alaska of 2344, “Birchville” is not a village, but a large city in what is now the Yukon Flats region.

'Indigenous Futurism' comes home in Gilbert's five-part sci-fi odyssey - KCAW (2024)
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