REVIEW: “Bury Me in the Rainbow” by Bill Johnson

Review of Bill Johnson, “Bury Me in the Rainbow”, Asimov’s Science Fiction March/April (2018): 140-196 — Read Excerpt Online or Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

The walls of the chapel, from top to bottom, on all sides, were made of thousands of little medicine bottles, test tubes, small glass containers. A rare few were clear, but most were red or rose or orange or yellow or green or blue or indigo or violet. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and through the bottles and into the chapel, in arcs and bands and mixtures and spilled across the floor and the altar and the pews and us.

Johnson returns to the world from his Hugo Award-winning novelette We Will Drink a Fish Together to present this sequel novella.

An unknown alien assassin dies in Summit, trying to kill the alien ambassador, Foremost. Tony, the new mayor, must manage the politics between the different lodges making up Summit to determine the fate of his people: how should they deal with the assassin’s body? How long can their way of life last? Should they take the ambassador’s offer and join the Ship? And will Summit and the individual lodges survive the transition if they do?

At the centre of this story is the idea and motif of the Rainbow – the central resting place a small piece of everyone who has ever died in Summit. Through this Johnson looks at history, ancestry and connection with a place and people over time, something which is valuable to everyone in Summit and challenged by the Ship’s arrival and offer.

The world is full and Johnson’s experiences from living on Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota permeate the piece’s perceptions of community, independence and land.

This novella is small and thoughtful rather than action-packed. It spends a lot of time developing a sense of place and people, rather than pushing the narrative forward which made it feel like it ran a bit long in places. Where the story could have focused on the ambassadorial interactions happening between the ground and the Ship, Johnson instead looks at the different communities within Summit and Tony’s frustrated attempts and negotiations to get them all agreeing on the Ship issue.