I wish to thank Nazia from Orbit Books for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Orbit
Published – Out Now
Price - £8.99
Record-breaking. Three-time Hugo Award Winning and New York Times Bestselling Author N. K. Jemisin sharply examines modern society in her first short story collection including several never-before seen pieces.
One of the limitations cited at the science fiction and fantasy genre is that all the stories can be labelled the same – ‘ooh it’s all medieval dungeons and dragons or Star Wars rip offs’. Any reader of the genre knows that is not the case lots of writers all contribute different facets and explore myriad worlds and ideas, but a rarer type of author is the one who can take aim at everything and in each case create a gem. N K Jemisin has in my view written the best fantasy trilogy of the decade in her Broken Earth trilogy which is one of the most refreshing, smart and passionate series of books I’ve ever read (there is a reason it won the Subjective Chaos Award for Best Series this year) but Jemisin has also been a short story writer and in this her first collection we have some of her stories produced over 2004-17. It’s a virtuoso performance which offers a successive series of different worlds and characters - these are some of my highlights
The Ones Who Stay and Fight - some of the hardest types of stories to imagine (especially in 2018) is a utopia. Here we are told about an amazing world and in one slight glimpse of humanity’s dark side how should a utopia be maintained
The City Born Great – A homeless gay man is chosen as New York’s protector ss it starts to gain sentience. A mysterious entity is trying to wipe it out and our hero must run from a monstrous demonic cop. This one is brimming with ideas and is a very different type of urban fantasy with a fantastic conclusion. Very much looking to see the novel that is now being developed from this story.
Red Dirt Witch – a mother gets into a battle with one of the fair folk to save her kids. A folk tale that explores the progress of civil right in America. A truly creepy villain and yet also hopeful for the future.
L’Achimista – a chef is given a challenging recipe using ingredients that may not actually exist. A whirling and very tasty take on a folk tale. Great to see a woman being smart and capable taking the all knowing magical male character by surprise.
Cloud Dragon Skies – this is a haunting SF tale where a future Earth has seen most people move to live in the space stations and those who remain on the earth damaged by pollution are living a very simple life. Scientists however have a cunning plan to restore balance. A story weaving attitudes to women, falling in love and humanity’s arrogance towards nature into a very startling conclusion
Valedictorian – a girl is despised by her classmates (notably she is black) for her desire to be the best in school. She finds out a lot more about the world she is in and what if she is chosen by her world’s victors what will happen to her. Working out what is going on in this world is a highlight of the story about the value of knowledge.
The Evaluators - an SF horror story told via a web of recorded conversations and posts. Here the mystery of a strange alien race is being teased out until you see the whole picture and it packs a punch.
Stone Hunger – this tale very easily seems to fit into the world of the Broken Earth as a young girl hunting a man for vengeance discovers a whole city of people like her.
On the Banks of the River Lex – all the earth’s gods are trying to live on now that humanity is extinct. Death ponders what his function will be. Heart-warming in a very strange way
Non-Zero Probabilities – New York is hit by a strange world where the most extreme chances of things be it lottery wins, train crashes etc all happen frequently. A woman is trying to live her life and a religious group may be offering a way out. This is a warm story of how the world changes with a very weird event. One of my favourites and a sense of optimism in extreme times is always welcome
This was easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. The range of stories and the worlds explored are fresh, modern and instant classics. You can see a novel in so many of these worlds but at no point do the short stories feel short-changed. If there was a running theme its of the people that are often under-estimated by society being shown to be far more capable and competent than those in positions of power expected. Giving centre stage to women and people of colour makes this a series of tales relevant to the 21st century. If you’ve enjoyed Jemisin’s work before these underlines she is a leading figure in the genre and a brilliant story teller. If you’ve not read her before then stop now go pick this up and prepare for a delight as you travel through her imagination.