How Long 'til Black Future Month?

N.K. Jemisin

Book cover

I almost never buy books, but I did get a hardback copy of this one because I went to a release event with the author at the Strand (and got it signed by her!).

Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy were among the best books I’ve read over the past few years, and were absolutely worthy of the unprecedented three consecutive Hugo awards she received for them. This book is a collection of Jemisin’s short stories published between 2004 and 2017 (I think most of them previously published elsewhere, but some new). Much like Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life and Others,” this volume contains stories covering an incredibly wide tonal range of sf: steampunk (“The Effluent Engine”), cyberpunk (“The Trojan Girl”), dystopian (“The Elevator Dancer”), weird fiction (“Non-Zero Probabilities”), and so on. One of the stories, “Stone Hunger,” is set in the same world as the “Broken Earth” books, and according to interviews Jemisin has given, one of them (“The City Born Great”) is the germ of the novel she’s currently working on.

This last is too bad in my opinion, as TCBG was one of the stories in the collection I enjoyed less. I think maybe it’s difficult to write “about New York” in a way that doesn’t strike me as a little navel-gazing (although I think Jemisin does it better in other stories, such as “On the Banks of the River Lex”), but maybe that’s my own bias as someone living there. After all, I didn’t feel the same about the New Orleans-centric stories in this collection (“The Effluent Engine,” “Cuisine des Memoires,” “Sinners, Saints…”).

As with any collection, and particularly any collection with such a wide stylistic range, there were a range of hits and misses for me. My favorites were those with a very rich but non-traditional sf setting, including “Red Dirt Witch,” “L’Alchimista,” “The Effluent Engine,” and “Sinners, Saints…”. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” is a thoughtful and interesting response to the classic Ursula Le Guin short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” Jemisin talked quite a bit about this story in the talk I went to, and it was interesting to hear her discuss her views on how the world has changed since the original story and how that impacted her version.

Finally, I want to say that I think Jemisin discovered (or perhaps I discovered through her) an awesome new sub-genre: food-oriented sf! “L’Alchimista” and “Cuisine des Memoires” are two of my favorites in the collection. I wonder if there are any other good food-oriented sf short stories? The only other one that comes to mind is “Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus” by Jeremiah Tolbert (Lightspeed Magazine, 2016), which is also pretty good! I would totally buy that hypothetical collection.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars