Yet . . . how else can I convey Um-Helat to you, when even the thought of a happy, just society raises your ire so? Though I confess I am puzzled as to why you are so angry. 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. Needs unhappiness and injustice. But . . . do you?
Do you? That is one of many questions asked (and sometimes answered) in N.K. Jemisin’s latest book, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, a book of 22 brilliant short stories, all set in different times, all very different.
I could not wait to get my hands on this book for several reasons. For starters, this is my first time reading Ms. Jemisin’s work (I know, I know, go ahead and drag me). Her imagination is breathtaking and I admit I was a little envious at how she crafted her stories. But not in a “she ain’t all that” kind of way. More like “I really hope I can write a story like that one day.” Ms. Jemisin’s writing at times is not for the faint of heart, as her descriptions can be very spot on about the ugliness in the world. In the story “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters,” she writes about Hurricane Katrina and how hate and human kindness battle it out for the soul of New Orleans. No one can ever forget how the people in the Ninth Ward were left to fend for themselves while the waters swallowed the city whole. That was a time (of many) when human kindness battled hate for its very survival.
My favorite story in the collection is “The Narcomancer,” which moved me to tears. The story, which tests the faith of a Gatherer (one who bestows peace using narcomancy, or dream magic), roiled my emotions for so many reasons. It not only made me think about my own faith, especially now that it seems like we are living in the End Times, but also what it means to have dominion over your own body and life. I’ve read many stories and novels that talk of faith, but too many times they come off as preachy or judgmental. Ms. Jemisin did neither, she just wrote a lovely, beautiful story that made my throat tighten and my eyes water until tears ran down my face.
Other notable stories in the collection are “The City Born Great,” “Red Dirt Witch,” “Valedictorian,” “The Brides of Heaven,” “The Evaluators,” “Cuisine des Mémoires,” and “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows.” The last story I mention is another one that truly messed me up at the end. I have a very vivid imagination so when I got to the last paragraph, all I could think about was that ending and how I would feel if that were me. It moved and frightened me.
Now that I’ve read How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, I will always keep a look out for more of N.K. Jemisin’s work. I’ve already been scolded for not reading her Broken Earth series, so I will order it when I’m done with this post. In the meantime, make sure you pick up a copy of her amazing short story collection. I highly recommend it.