Book Review: Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin



What will become of our self-destructed planet? The answer shatters all expectations in this subversive speculation from the Hugo Award–winning author of the Broken Earth trilogy.
An explorer returns to gather information from a climate-ravaged Earth that his ancestors, and others among the planet’s finest, fled centuries ago. The mission comes with a warning: a graveyard world awaits him. But so do those left behind—hopeless and unbeautiful wastes of humanity who should have died out eons ago. After all this time, there’s no telling how they’ve devolved. Steel yourself, soldier. Get in. Get out. And try not to stare.


This is one of six short stories published by Amazon and all of them deal with some sort of technological advancement which is not my usual kind of genre, so I don’t think these would have even been on my radar if not for this short story by N. K. Jemisin. And she never disappoints.


I’ve actually come to associate second person POV with the author, so I wasn’t at all surprised when this story began the same way. As per the premise, I was expecting the space explorer to find a much destroyed Earth but what he encounters is something completely unexpected. The author tells most of the story through the AI which lives inside his head (if we could even call it that), giving instructions to him about what to do on Earth and what rewards await. In just this short story, we get a great glimpse of the kind of new society these so-called Founders have built in a far away galaxy – a white homogeneous male world in which only the rich and privileged have access to skin and all other pleasures, whereas the majority live in composite suits.


The major theme of the story is the belief in a socialist utopian society, the idea that all the earth’s problems would be solved if all human beings worked towards the betterment of everybody and not just themselves. In a story that’s just about 33 pages, we get excellent commentary on misogyny, fat shaming, racism, classism, ableism and capitalist greed and while the author’s solution to save the world might not feel realistic, the underlying problems she talks about are nevertheless completely true. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong in envisioning a world that’s better for every one of its inhabitants.


In the end, all I can say is that Jemisin packs a powerful punch in just a few words, and it’s overall hopeful message is brilliantly done. It’s a very short, enjoyable and thought provoking read and I think everyone should give it a try. You’ll of course enjoy it more if you are familiar with the author’s writing style (and like it) and lean more left liberal in your politics. I haven’t still decided if I should try the remaining five stories in this collection, but maybe someday.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin

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  1. Great review! I’ve only come across these stories recently, but I’m very interested in checking them out – especially this one, because I loved The Broken Earth trilogy. I’m so glad to hear this one’s told in second person, too – Jemisin writes second person so well! – so I’ll definitely be checking these stories out. 🙂

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