Read Fire on the Mountain Online

Authors: Terry Bisson

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Fire on the Mountain

PRAISE FOR

FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN

“EXTRAORDINARY! Returning from Bisson’s 20th century to our own is a shock, leaving us to regret that it was only a story after all.” after all.”


Locus

“A fascinating world with its Egyptian automobiles and Mars landings and whiffs of utopian superscience.”


Thrust SF Review

“The writing is lyrical and seductive …”


Los Angeles Daily News

“A talent for evoking the joyful, vertiginous experiences of a world at fundamental turning points.”


Publishers Weekly

“The South has risen again—this time as a brilliantly illuminated Black Utopia.”

—Ed Bryant, Nebula Award winner.


Fire on the Mountain
does for the Civil War what Philip K. Dick’s
The Man in the High Castle
did for World War Two.”

—George Alec Effinger, Hugo Award winning author of “Schrodinger’s Kitten.”

PRAISE FOR

FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN

“EXTRAORDINARY! Returning from Bisson’s 20th century to our own is a shock, leaving us to regret that it was only a story after all.” after all.”


Locus

“A fascinating world with its Egyptian automobiles and Mars landings and whiffs of utopian superscience.”


Thrust SF Review

“The writing is lyrical and seductive …”


Los Angeles Daily News

“A talent for evoking the joyful, vertiginous experiences of a world at fundamental turning points.”


Publishers Weekly

“The South has risen again—this time as a brilliantly illuminated Black Utopia.”

—Ed Bryant, Nebula Award winner.


Fire on the Mountain
does for the Civil War what Philip K. Dick’s
The Man in the High Castle
did for World War Two.”

—George Alec Effinger, Hugo Award winning author of “Schrodinger’s Kitten.”

FIRE
ON THE
MOUNTAIN

A
LSO BY
T
ERRY
B
ISSON

Fiction:
Wyrldmaker
Talking Man
Voyage to the Red Planet
Bears Discover Fire
(stories)
Pirates of the Universe
In the Upper Room
(stories)
The Pick-up Artist
Greetings
(stories)
Dear Abbey
Numbers Don’t Lie
Planet of Mystery
Billy’s Book
(stories)
The Left Left Behind
(PM Outspoken Author)

Biography:
Tradin’ Paint: Raceway Rookies and Royalty
Nat Turner: Slave Revolt Leader
Ona Move: The Story of Mumia Abu Jamal

Screenplays:
“Kansas Brown”
“Live from Death Row”
“Robeson”

FIRE
ON THE
MOUNTAIN

T
ERRY
B
ISSON

PM PRESS
2009

Terry Bisson © 1988, 2009,
Introduction, Mumia Abu-Jamal © 2009
This edition © 2009 PM Press

ISBN: 978-1-60486-087-0
LCCN: 2009901384

PM Press
P.O. Box 23912
Oakland, CA 94623
PMPress.org

Printed in the USA on recycled paper.

Cover: John Yates/
Stealworks.com
Inside design: Josh MacPhee/
Justseeds.org

For Kuwasi Balagoon
and the Black Liberation Army
past, present and future

Contents

Introduction

Introduction

I am, by any measure, a sci-fi head.

I have read almost all the works of the Master—Isaac Asimov, the works of Frank Herbert (and indeed, several of his sons), Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, William Gibson, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin,
et al
.

I am a sci-fi head.

Yet few works have moved me as deeply, as thoroughly, as Terry Bisson’s
Fire On The Mountain
.

Part of it is sheer fascination, the fruit of all well done sci-fi, for if all fiction is creative, sci-fi goes another step further into worlds known and unknown, into that undiscovered country of the future.

But Bisson’s work breaks into a future that rarely raises its head in this genre.

Again, I say this as a true head, who has not only read classics, but viewed the film versions of such works with a critical eye. Have you noticed how much of sci-fi is not so much futuristic, as it is a projection of a future where whites are many and people of color are few? Have you ever watched a movie such as
Logan’s Run
, and spent the first two-thirds of the movie wondering where all the black folks are?

Then along comes Bisson. His works ripple with Black life, with voices and opinions and ideas as real as the paper you’re reading these words on (assuming, of course, that you’re reading on paper!).

I admit to more than being a sci-fi head. I’m hopelessly sentimental, so much so that to read
Fire
today wrings tears from me, not just at the sheer beauty of his prose, his fertile turn of phrase, but above all, for his vision, one born in a revolutionary, and profoundly humanistic, consciousness.

Over these long years in the gulag, I have heard some men deprecate fiction as literature not worthy of one’s time and attention. “I don’t do fiction, man,” some have said. But fiction has a power that we often ignore, for did not Lincoln remark, upon meeting the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
), “So, you’re the little lady who started this big war?”

Of course, this was the rhetoric of an astute politician, but as with all rhetoric, there was a grain of truth in it, for Stowe’s work forced millions to think about something they didn’t want to ponder—American slavery. It is in this fecund spirit that Bisson’s
Fire
rages in the dark night of Black American life.

All great fiction borrows from what might have been: but what world might have we been born into had John Brown succeeded?

With this single poignant story, Bisson molds a world as sweet as banana cream pies, and as briny as hot tears.

As these words are penned, the elections are in full swing, and a Black person may, or may not, be elected president. But, as time is our teacher, such a development means little when it comes to the freedom and independence of millions of Black people, even as the emergence of Black mayors has meant little more than their presiding over cities that mark our fall, rather than our ascendance.

Bisson’s narrative, here and elsewhere, uses fiction to answer the “What ifs” of human nature with brilliance and insight.

According to classic multi-dimensional theory, there are thousands (millions?) of alternative universes where every probability has its potential fruition. If that is so, there is one where
Fire On The Mountain
is not sci-fi but a history book on what was.

This is a splendid work of imagination, guaranteed to make your spine tingle.

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Death Row, U.S.A. (Summer 2008)

Most of the good things in this book are from
Cheikh Anta Diop, W.E.B. DuBois, Leonard Ehrlich,
R.A. Lafferty, Truman Nelson, Mark Twain and
Malcolm X.
The bad things are, without exception, the author’s own.

“The present, due to its staggering complexities, is almost as conjectural as the past.”

—George Jackson

“Dawn also has its terrors.”

—Victor Hugo

“America is our country, more than it is the whites’ . . . we have enriched it with our blood and tears.”

—David Walker

“My love to all who love their neighbors.”

—John Brown

In 1859 the abolitionist John Brown, fresh from a successful guerrilla war that kept Kansas from entering the Union as a slave state, attacked the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, with a small force of armed men. Brown came to Virginia to fulfill a lifelong dream: to carry the war against slavery “into Africa” (as he put it) by putting a small army of runaway slaves and abolitionists onto the Blue Ridge, and heading south. Brown’s idea was that such a force, even if militarily weak, would terrorize the slave owners, embolden the slaves, and hasten the polarization which was already splitting the nation apart. Others obviously agreed: he had raised funds to buy the most modern weaponry, and recruited the experienced Black slavery-fighter, Harriet Tubman, to be his second-in-command.

The raid was symbolically timed for Independence Day, July 4, 1859; but Tubman fell sick and key supplies were delayed. After a three-month delay, Brown and twenty-one men struck Harper’s Ferry on October 16, without Tubman. Through a combination of military errors and bad luck, they were cut off in the town and defeated by U.S. Marines led by a West Point graduate named Robert E. Lee. Brown and five others were hanged for “treason” and entered legend as martyrs instead of liberators. Even at the gallows they were dignified and unrepentant; even in failure, their raid terrorized the South, electrified the nation, and precipitated the Civil War, which broke out less than a year later.

Fire on the Mountain
is a story of what might have happened if John Brown’s raid had succeeded.

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