Book Review: How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

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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 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 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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Jemisin is a phenomenal writer and every story of hers reflects her talent. She has a knack for telling stories and creating worlds with a lot of depth and meaning and lot of parallels to our real world. This collection of short stories has its own share of some great ones and some not so good ones, but my main problem was that there were a few I just didn’t understand. I’ve felt this before about the author’s works – she writes on a whole other level which is very complicated and not easy for me to comprehend. However, the writing is beautiful and few of the stories have a profound meaning to them. I would recommend this book to all adult sci-fi lovers.

I’ve taken an average of the ratings for all the stories and rounded it up to 4. Please find my individual ratings and reviews below:

The Ones who stay and fight -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It took me a while to get into this but then it was so interesting. It focuses on showing us a post colonial utopian world (or simply an alternate universe) where diverse groups of people live in true harmony. This story is a commentary on how we are so used to living in a world so full of divisions and hate and all kinds of discrimination, we can’t even imagine that such a utopia can exist.

 The City born great -⭐️

I don’t think I really understood this story 😔

Red Dirt Witch -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A story set (I think) during the Jim Crow era Alabama or earlier, this shows the lengths to which a woman will sacrifice herself to ensure that her daughter’s dream of a more prosperous future for Black people comes true.

L’Alchimista -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The story of a master chef capable of creating magic through her delicious cooking, this was beautifully written and features a woman who is extremely sure of her capabilities despite being denied her due.

The Effluent Engine -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The tale of two young women – one a very capable scientist from New Orleans and another a spy from Haiti trying to keep her country free – this story is about these women taking control of their futures despite the discriminatory systems in which they live. With the hint of the beginning of a love story between the two, I completely fell in love with these characters.

Cloud Dragon Skies -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Depicting the struggle a woman faces when having to choose between her family or her love, set against the backdrop of a dystopian future where Earth has been drastically affected due to climate change, this is a very fascinating story.

The Trojan Girl -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Even though I didn’t completely understand the technical jargon in the story, it wonderfully depicts the importance of empathy and compassion, that these qualities are a source of tremendous strength. Beautifully written.

Valedictorian – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is an amazing dystopian story about a very intelligent young Black woman who just wants to be herself and live life to her fullest potential, but the world around her doesn’t accept her uniqueness and just wants her to conform. I loved the parallels to our current society where anyone who doesn’t conform to the “rules” is discriminated against.

The Storyteller’s Replacement -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I can’t really explain what this story was about properly but I absolutely loved it. It has dragons and some very creepy and eerie elements. And the moral that if you destroy someone else to gain power, you will get destroyed someday.

The Brides of Heaven -⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a story about two women with varied ideas – one almost fanatic in her faith and the other just trying to be as pragmatic as possible to survive in their harsh environment where only women existed. It was very well written but I wasn’t sure how to interpret the ending.

The Evaluators -⭐️⭐️⭐️

This sci-fi story had a lot of talk about overpopulation, sustainability of the planet and super predators. It’s also written in an epistolary format which made it quite interesting.

Walking Awake -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Wow just wow. I don’t want to give anything away but this is a story about the oppressed finally deciding to revolt against their oppressors. It’s such a painful tale but wonderfully written.

The Elevator Dancer  -⭐️⭐️⭐️

A world that seemed to have some similarities to Gilead, the women in this story are bound by the rules of the faithful government but this is about a man who starts to feel temptation. I’m not sure I completely understood it though.

Cuisine des Mémoires -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a story about getting lost in memories of the past and trying to recreate them rather than living for the present. It felt very profound and deep and featured some great character development.

Stone Hunger -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Now this is story which eventually led to the writing of The Broken Earth trilogy, so I loved reading it. It has a young girl trying to survive in a cruel world whichever way she can, while also wanting revenge for a past transgression committed against her. And finally realizing she can hope for more. I feel you’ll love this story more if you’ve read the trilogy.

On the Banks of the River Lex -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Another story which I didn’t totally understand but somehow just loved. It’s a world which has suffered a lot, but some people are trying to survive. And the existence of the Gods depends on how much they are worshipped by the survivors. This symbiotic relationship between the Gods and mortals reminded me a lot of the stories from Indian mythology, so it was interesting to read it in a New York setting.

The Narcomancer -⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This story is set in the author’s Dreamblood duology world and it’s another tale of people trying to maintain their faith and control their destiny against all odds. It’s beautifully written and made me very emotional. I also felt this was one story in this book that had a complete arc and is probably my favorite in this collection.

Henosis -⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

I felt quite sad reading this one, to realize how far the characters in the story are ready to go to preserve their legacy. And I can’t help but question if we are already there in our current society.

Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows -⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

A future with miniverses where every person lives in their own reality and every day is lived all over again – the only communication existing online. It was such a bittersweet story about isolation, trying to find a community and wanting more than what we are allowed.

The You Train -⭐️⭐️

I mean I think this was written well enough but I didn’t understand much of it. Maybe the point the author was trying to make was that we should grab an opportunity when it presents itself and not wait too long, but I could be wrong too..

Non-Zero Probabilities -⭐️⭐️

This is set in a New York where so many bad things are happening that people have come to believe the end times are coming. And everyone has their own way of coping. But I still didn’t understand the point of the story.

Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters -⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set during a hurricane, this was a story of survival and trying to not let hate takeover you during harrowing situations, but fight for the good.

Average Rating : ⭐️⭐️⭐️.77

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