How long 'til black future month?

N. K. Jemisin

Book - 2018

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption. In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Or...leans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story "The City Born Great," a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis's soul.

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Short stories
Fantasy fiction
New York, NY : Orbit 2018.
First edition
Physical Description
xii, 400 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
N. K. Jemisin (author)
  • The ones who stay and fight
  • The city born great
  • Red dirt witch
  • L'Alchimista
  • The effluent engine
  • Cloud dragon skies
  • The Trojan girl
  • Valedictorian
  • The storyteller's replacement
  • The brides of heaven
  • The evaluators
  • Walking awake
  • The elevator dancer
  • Cuisine des mémoires
  • Stone hunger
  • On the banks of the River Lex
  • The narcomancer
  • Henosis
  • Too many yesterdays, not enough tomorrows
  • The you train
  • Non-zero probabilities
  • Sinners, saints, dragons, and haints, in the city beneath the still waters.
Review by New York Times Review

SCIENCE FICTION HAS a long history of honoring the short story form, dating back to when pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction were effectively the only way to publish in the genre. Today, when most prizes for literary fiction are limited to book-length works, the major science fiction awards - the Hugos and the Nebulas - include short fiction categories. The short story, however, often seems at odds with one of the great allurements of both science fiction and fantasy: world-building, the power of a written narrative to immerse its readers in imaginary realms, histories and cultures. This - no way around it - takes up a lot of pages that a short story doesn't have. A story can allude, hint, call upon the reader's memory of other works, but it can only ever be a small window into what may or may not be the vast canvas in its author's mind. World-building is the glory of N.K. Jemisin's fiction, a gift best savored in her two series, the Inheritance trilogy and the Broken Earth trilogy. So it comes as no surprise that she begins her introduction to "How Long 'til Black Future Month?," a collection of her short fiction, by explaining that once she didn't think she could write short stories at all. The most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writer of her generation - all three volumes in the Broken Earth series won the Hugo Award for best novel, three years in a row, a first - Jemisin seems able to do just about anything, but you can see her point. Her visions are epic, full of cosmic battles, ruptured societies and (literally) earth-moving powers. You might as well try to squeeze a blue whale into a fishbowl; even if you succeeded, you'd ruin the majesty of the thing. Several astute teachers urged Jemisin to try writing stories anyway, and now, she says, she's glad. Her readers might be a bit more ambivalent. Some of the pieces are simple yet highly enjoyable. Jemisin, the former Otherworldly columnist for the Book Review who is also the first African-American writer to win the Hugo for best novel, has an affinity for familiar devices and story lines; she freshens them by inserting underrepresented characters and themes. "The Effluent Engine," a sexy steampunk yarn set in an alternate 19th-century New Orleans, offers a fine example of this. The heroine, Jessaline Dumonde, is a dashing lesbian spy with a stiletto concealed in her hat, a master of disguise in the secret service of the fledgling Haitian Republic, here depicted as "the foremost manufacturers of dirigibles in the Americas" and eager to obtain the technological expertise of a Creole scientist. The story's characters say deliciously hokey things like "We have word the Order of the White Camellia is active in the city," and it is irresistible. If Jemisin has a weakness, however, it's a propensity for didacticism. "The Ones Who Stay and Fight," which she describes as "pastiche of and reaction to [Ursula] Le Guin's 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Ornelas,' " takes an already preachy story as its springboard - let no one pretend that the genre isn't soapbox-prone - to argue with both the past master and the rabble of reactionaries who have harried efforts to diversify science fiction. It posits a sort of utopia while firing salvos at offstage skeptics ("It's almost as if you feel threatened by the very idea of equality. Almost as if some part of you needs to be angry"). The result makes for a lifeless exercise from a writer known for her ferocious and sorrowful vitality. Inexplicably, this piece opens the book, and it would be a shame if browsers unfamiliar with Jemisin's work were to conclude that it is representative of the whole collection. It isn't, although it does sometimes seem that Jemisin worries overmuch about getting her message across. One of her fortes, as she notes herself in her introduction, is "playing with genii locorum... places with minds of their own." Two of the stories in this collection depict young men - poor, dark-skinned and overlooked - who embody their cities, New York and New Orleans. The near-perfect "Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters" recounts how Tookie, left behind because he wouldn't fit in the family car, and an elderly neighbor cope during Hurricane Katrina, aided occasionally by a wisecracking, bat-winged "lizard." Their antagonist is a big, dark thing moving beneath the floodwaters. The events of the story itself make the nature of this thing quite clear, yet Jemisin feels obliged to double down on its allegorical nature by having Tookie label it "the Hate" and the "lizard" explain "this thing make people so ugly they don' even want to help each other." This unnecessary exposition kills the shiver of the sublime in a story otherwise marked by honed descriptions, winning characters and captivating New Orleanian dialogue. There is, fortunately, much more to love in this collection. Some of the stories are good old-fashioned science-fiction yarns shot from new angles, like "Walking Awake," a response to Robert A. Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters," in which a middleaged caregiver raising human children whose bodies will eventually be taken over by parasitical aliens experiences a moment of revolutionary awakening. "The Trojan Girl," a fleet-footed cyberpunk thriller, conjures a gang of digital entities, artificial intelligences gone rogue, roaming a virtual universe and seeking access to a greater reality. "Valedictorian," a follow-up set in the same world but much later, after the AIs have merged with some of humanity, features one of the determined, defiant girls that often turn up in Jemisin's work, then flips her view of her society upside down. Any fan of the Broken Earth novels will eagerly seize upon "Stone Hunger," set in that series' universe, in which another fierce girl, an "orogene" with the power to stoke or subdue geological tensions, pursues the man who destroyed her city. The nameless heroine of "Stone Hunger" encounters a "stone eater" (a type of being Jemisin invented for the Broken Earth series), a living statue, human in shape and able to speak without using its mouth, with a voice emanating from inside its body. "The stone-eater moves," the girl observes, "and seeing this causes chilly sweat to rise on the girl's skin. It is slow, stiff. She hears a faint sound like the grind of a tomb's cover-stone." This collection features many similarly uncanny moments in which the human integrates with what feels profoundly inhuman. (Jemisin does creepy so well, it's enough to make you wish she'd try a straight-up horror novel - another genre that could really use more black writers.) The stories here teem with impostors, parasites and hybrids. Sometimes they must be fought off, but this is one science-fiction author who does not take that stance reflexively. Expand your notion of what we can be, she suggests. Recognize that change is inevitable and often strengthening. Don't kid yourself that the alternative is safety; the alternative is death. LAURA MILLER is a books and culture columnist for Slate.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 11, 2019] Review by Booklist Review

The first short story collection from the widely acclaimed Jemisin (The Stone Sky, 2017) showcases a wide range of fantasy and sf united by her particular vision. There are stories where magic bursts into the real world, as in "L'Alchimista," about a chef whose art draws the attention of a man bearing wondrous ingredients, or in "The City, Born Great," where a young man becomes the living, beating heart of New York City. Some stories take place in sf futures, such as "The Evaluators," where transcripts and messages from a first-contact mission reveal a dangerous and seductive threat, or "Walking Awake," which revisits the classic trope of alien parasites and human hosts and the grim requirements of freedom. There are also short visits to worlds familiar to fans of Jemisin's, such as "The Narcomancer" and "Stone Hunger," which return to the worlds of her Dreamblood and Broken Earth series, respectively. Established fans of Jemisin's work and general fantasy and sf readers alike should check out this collection of diverse and exciting new speculative fiction. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Jemisin's news-making three-time Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy opened her fan base up to nongenre readers, too.--Alan Keep Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In 22 powerful and mind-expanding stories, several of which appear for the first time here, Hugo winner Jemisin (The Stone Sky) pushes boundaries, experiments with format and theme, and challenges expectations. While her tales span science fiction and fantasy, certain themes of defiance, feminism, and self-acceptance shine through no matter what the setting or premise. A king devours a dragon's heart to restore his virility in "The Storyteller's Replacement," only to experience unexpected consequences. A gifted chef is challenged to test new recipes by a mysterious benefactor in "L'Alchimista." In "The Effluent Engine," a Haitian spy meets her match in an American inventor. In "Walking Awake," a tale inspired by Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, a woman enslaved by parasitic aliens is given a chance to both avenge and free humankind. Throughout these stories, Jemisin's versatility is on full display, giving her diverse protagonists numerous chances to shine. Though not every story will resonate with every reader, there's something in this collection for just about everyone, and many of the works are memorable gems. Those who only know Jemisin for her groundbreaking novels will be impressed all over again by her short fiction, and it serves as an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with her work. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

In this career-spanning collection, Jemisin ("The Broken Earth" trilogy) delivers 22 thrilling stories of black strength in the face of worldly and otherworldly adversity. In "The Ones Who Stay and Fight," guardians of a thriving world parallel to ours watch over humans and toil with ruthless compassion to avoid falling prey to common prejudices or repeating mistakes. In "The Valedictorian," a girl who has always defied convention to pursue greatness in the shadow of war learns the true cost of failure and the terrifying burden of success. In "The Storyteller's Replacement," an unnamed narrator tells of a foolish king who consumes a dragon's heart in the hope of siring sons and the cunning, dragon-hearted daughters he fathers instead. In "The Effluent Engine," a Haitian spy infiltrates slavery-shackled America in search of technology to safeguard free Haiti against threatening French influence. There she meets a beautiful Creole chemist who could secure Haiti's future and steal her heart in the process. VERDICT This robust collection is a worthy introduction to three-time Hugo Award winner Jemisin's powerful work for curious newcomers and is sure to delight the author's many fans.-Idris Grey, Houston © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

This collection of short stories by Jemisin, the first person to win the Hugo award for best novel three years in a row (most recently for The Stone Sky, 2017), eloquently develops a series of passionately felt themes.Many of these science-fiction and fantasy tales explore the nature of resistance. Some do so on a personal scale: In "The Elevator Dancer," an office worker and a security guard separately search for the tiniest drop of joy in a grim theocratic future, while in "Valedictorian," a high school student fiercely challenges herself to excel while knowing that alien forces outside her community take a specific interest in the best and brightest. Other stories fight back with a wider scope. "Red Dirt Witch" begins with a mother's struggle to protect her children but ends with a family's commitment to the civil rights movement. "The Effluent Engine" takes place in an alternate 19th-century New Orleans where a Haitian spy seeks technological support for her island's resistance to the French. In contrast, "The Trojan Girl" is set in a virtual future where rogue bits of code quest for freedom and enhanced capabilities. "Cloud Dragon Skies" is a cautionary tale about pollution and the dangers of ignoring local culture, while "L'Alchimista" and "Cuisine des Mmoires" celebrate the pleasures and profound power of food. Others are specific and defiant responses to classic sf stories. The collection also includes an early version of the Broken Earth universe and a lovely tragedy set in the lands of the Dreamblood duology.These stories span Jemisin's career; they demonstrate both the growth and active flourishing of one of speculative fiction's most thoughtful and exciting writers. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.