Review: “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?: Stories” by N.K. Jemisin

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Release Date: November 27, 2018
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Fantasy

Description

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 city of New Orleans 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 figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-winning novella “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.” (via Goodreads)

 

My Thoughts

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Jemisin’s stories crack open humanity and rummage around in the messy insides. She exposes the worst of us and the best of us and everything gray in between. From the vast to the intimate, each story explores a different world, different people, different ways of being. Jemisin can tell a sad story about the ghost trains of the MTA (“The You Train”) just as easily as she can return to the dense fantasy of the Dreamblood duology (“The Narcomancer”) or the science fiction of genetically modified parasites (“Walking Awake”). She can do it all, and do it to near perfection.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? isn’t just a collection of short stories. Here Jemisin delves into systems of oppression, both those that create dystopias and those that create utopias. How do we create these systems and why do we keep overthrowing them only to reestablish them once we’ve forgotten how much we hated living under the old ones? How do people resist under oppression? How do they support the oppressors? How do communities band together to push back against more powerful forces?

One of the best examples of this also happens to be my favorite story of the bunch: “Red Dirt Witch.” Set in pre-WWII Birmingham, Alabama, this tells of an encounter between Em, a Black witch, and the White Lady, an Old World fairy. I won’t spoil the details, but Jemisin imbues a whole lotta social commentary on racism, misogynoir, bigotry, and the power of resistance in just a few pages.

As shocking as this may sound coming from someone who reads almost exclusively in science fiction and fantasy, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? was the first thing I’ve ever read by N.K. Jemisin. Not for lack of interest – the Broken Earth trilogy has been on my To Read queue for years. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s taken me so long, but given how utterly fantastic How Long is, I’ll be reading a whole lot more of her work from now on.

So it was the K today.

It didn’t come out of the tunnel, actually. I was at Fifty-Seventh, on my way home from work. I looked down the N tunnel and there was a K there. Just sitting there, maybe fifty feet in. It must’ve been on a side track, because when the N came and went, the K was gone.

I looked it up this time. The K stopped running in ’88. Not that it ever ran on this line at all.

I think it was checking me out, y’know?

Yeah. That’s what I think.

Thanks to Orbit for sending me a review copy.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.

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