Most striking in Albert Wendt’s fictional thriller thus far, for me, has been the constant question of what in the narration is “real” and how much that matters for the characters and the readers. “How strange. All this is like a dream” is repeated a few times in the first half of Black Rainbow, and it seems to be a good indication of how the characters are responding to this futuristic societal model. As we discussed while reading Invisible Cities, “reality” has many layers, and it’s possible to be so immersed in a world that you stop seeing it for what it truly is. In Wendt’s novel, we see our protagonist confronting this dilemma as he converses with the street kids, struggling to understand how the world he lives in is viewed from the outside, and possibly starting to see the subjectivity of “reality.”
Fantail’s perspective of the President and the Tribunal is unquestionably hostile, and while the protagonist sees the Tribunal as his family because of what they have provided for him, Fantail offers an alternative model of family through the story of Manu. “You see your society as you believe it is,” Fantail tells him, and pointing out that the reality he takes for granted is not a universal one. Based on his submission and loyalty to the Tribunal, the protagonist can craft a very different reality for himself than Fantail can, and this angers her because of the manipulation she sees through creating this pleasurable existence. “Why don’t you get good and honestly angry?” she screams at him. “Break out of your otherwolder conditioning and brainwashing? Why don’t you?” From the vantage point of being a reader of this novel, it’s fairly easy to side with Fantail. The Tribunal is manipulative, clearly, and though we’ve predominantly heard this narrative from the protagonist’s pro-Tribunal perspective, we’ve been shown enough to know not to completely trust them. Outside of this novel, it is much harder to recognize the lenses we wear while viewing our own reality and the realities that exist outside our sphere of comfort. It’s harder to admit that we’ve been conditioned, and even brainwashed, to see and think in ways that conform to our society because of the benefits that provides. “I’m—I’m sorry,” the protagonist mumbles, hurrying away upon hearing her testimony, but while avoidance of differences is often a first reaction when crossing cultural boundaries, it prevents authentic communion and an understanding of multiple realities.