Published this month, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin is a collection of short stories spanning the career of the acclaimed scifi author. The collection emphasizes Jemisin’s success in breaking into the traditionally white and male scifi/fantasy writing market as a woman of color writing about people of color. The collection also shows Jemisin’s growth as a writer through her experiments with shorter fiction as she continued to work on novels. At first, she writes, she balked at the advice that she should master the short story, but taking the advice paid off:
Along the way, I learned that short stories were good for my longer-form fiction. Writing short stories taught me about the quick hook and the deep character. Shorts gave me space to experiment with unusual plots and story forms–future tense, epistolic format, black characters–which otherwise I would’ve considered too risky for the lengthy investment of a novel. (ix)
I am not really the target audience for this collection, because I have not read any of Jemisin’s novels, largely because I am not a big reader of scifi or fantasy. Still, I enjoy good short stories, so I thought I would give it a try.
In the collection, my favorite stories included “Red Dirt Witch” which focuses on the fading power of an old order of witches and intersects with the Civil Rights Movement; the romantic “Cloud Dragon Skies”; “Valedictorian,” a dystopian story kind of reminiscent of YA fantasy, in which the lowest 10% plus the valedictorian are “culled” from each graduating class; “The Storyteller’s Replacement,” a dark fairytale about some tricky dragons and a king’s desire for a son; and “Cuisine des Memoires,” which features a restaurant that recreates meals that are historically or personally significant.
Although I did not love a lot of the stories as a matter of taste, I did enjoy seeing Jemisin play with some themes over and over. Frequently, she come back to the relationships between parents and children, the difficulty of being different, New York, New Orleans, and various imaginations of dystopian futures. I think that you can really see her growing as a writer throughout the collection and fans of her novels are bound to like this collection.