The Books and Writings of
Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

  Short Reviews
on The Year the Cloud Fell


A alternate-history/fantasy novel, this book combines Custer, Jules Verne, and dinosaurs to make a great page-turner. General, now President, Custer allows his son, George Jr., a captain in the Army, to fly an experimental dirigible over Indian territory. The dirigible crashes, killing all the crew except George, who is taken captive by the Cheyenne Alliance. President Custer still harbors a hatred of Indians, and instructs his men to rescue his son and eliminate the Cheyenne, opening the territory for settlement. But one Cheyenne woman, Speaks While Leaving, has had a vision in which George, now called One Who Flies, will be the savior of the Cheyenne, and, together, they stop the attack. George is incensed that the Army would attack innocent women while pretending to negotiate with the men, and plans a daring raid on Washington, D.C., taking the Cheyenne and their dinosaurs right up to the Capitol building. President Custer is ready to wash his hands of his son, and, up until the last page, is disappointed that George has joined the Cheyenne. The fact that the Cheyenne use dinosaurs as transportation and weapons (I think they are Tyrannosaurus that have been tamed somewhat) is a bit of a surprise at the start, but you soon get swept up in the action. George Jr. is a likeable character, and the Cheyenne are portrayed in an intelligent manner. Alternate history fans will love this book.

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The Year the Cloud Fell will please not only SF and fantasy fans, but also lovers of historical and revisionist Western fiction. In 1886, the U.S. Army experimental dirigible A. Lincoln is making a scouting flight above the Unorganized Territory when a terrific thunderstorm strikes the craft to earth. Now the mission commander, the president's only son, is a prisoner of the Cheyenne Alliance. The Indians have no reason to love the president, the implacable enemy they call Long Hair: General George Armstrong Custer. And only the strange shamanic vision of one young Cheyenne woman stands between Captain George Armstrong Custer Jr. and death.

With his debut novel, Kurt R.A. Giambastiani has created a fast-paced, imaginative, intelligent alternate history with a bold, breathtaking climax. The Year the Cloud Fell has "gotta" quality, as in "Honey, I'm coming right to bed, but first I just gotta finish this chapter." The novel ends conclusively, yet it also leaves the door open for a sequel that readers will eagerly await.

Unfortunately, whites who create historical fiction or movies about American Indians often end up producing a sort of noble-savage porn, and alternate history provides more possibilities than any other fiction for a simplistic approach to white/Indian interactions. However, Giambastiani has avoided such pitfalls. The Year the Cloud Fell provides no easy answers, noble-savage stereotypes, great-white-father saviors, or clichéd situations. Bravo.

—Cynthia Ward

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