How Long ’til Black Future Month? – N.K. Jemisin
Yoooooooooo it’s our pal N.K. Jemisin again! She’s the best, as we remember from last time, and this collection of her short stories is a very different experience but an equally awesome and perhaps more accessible one, which is of course the essential beauty and frustration of the short story experience: whether you love a particular story or hate it, it’ll be over soon. My only caveat beyond that is that several stories (The Ones Who Stay and Fight, The City Born Great, Stone Hunger, and The Narcomancer) are either related to or were later fleshed out into other complete works (The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin and Jemisin’s own novels The City We Became, The Fifth Season, and The Killing Moon, respectively), and that does sometimes present a roadblock to a reader. For my part I actually bounced really hard off of this collection a couple of times because I didn’t realize that the first story had, if not required reading, at least strongly-suggested and helpful supplementary reading from another author whose work I wasn’t familiar with, and even the ones related to her other books I’d already read were mildly confusing because I wasn’t sure where in the continuity they took place, but that’s a me-problem, not a this-book-problem.
I’m not gonna go over all the stories because you deserve most of the same surprises I was overjoyed to find, but I’ll choose I dunno, five at random. They’re mostly fantasy/magic realism and sci-fi/alternate history, but there are at least a couple…I don’t even know what you’d call the opposite, mundane fiction? Non-speculative fiction?
- The Trojan Girl: A found family of sentient computer programs try to save a Girl In Trouble in a virtual world that’s equal parts VR Troopers, Blade Runner, and Snow Crash, with maybe a soupçon of Ralph Wrecks The Internet. But when she turns out to be More Than She Seems, they’ll have to make a choice between their own safety and bringing a new kind of person into a dangerous life. Do they save the world, or save the girl?
- Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows: Okay so something has happened, as a result of which only a small handful of humanity is left, and they’re living the same day over and over again Groundhog Day-style, except they all remember everything every time. The story focuses on a group of survivors who communicate through blog posts, chat rooms and other means of e-communication in an effort to help one another stave off madness in a world where all evidence of yesterday vanishes as soon as it’s gone until, one by one, they begin to vanish from the Buddy List that says ‘online’.
- The You Train: An unnamed narrator writes either emails or some hella long texts to a friend describing the small, extremely relatable sadnesses and frustrations of her life, while noticing more and more strange subway trains arriving and passing by when the schedule explicitly lists no trains in service. (I will confess, none of the places I’ve ever lived were Train Places so I’m not 100% sure it’s subways, and if it isn’t I’m not sure what kind of difference that would make.)
- On The Banks of the River Lex: Ooh, this is a good one. Death–the Death–tours the half-submerged ruins of New York, musing on the nature of their work in a world without humans, which they discuss with a number of other Archetypes, and not always the ones you would expect. It’s not as grim–heh–as you might think, and ends with a surprising hopefulness for the future, from the most unlikely place.
- L’Alchemista: Every chef, now and then, gets That Diner: the one who Knows Better, the one who’s Been To [Insert Pretentious Foodie Destination Here], the one who bets You Couldn’t Make [Insert Mispronounced Cuisine Here], and our protagonist is ready at a moment’s notice to put That Diner through a fucking plate-glass window. That is, until she meets a diner with a real challenge, one she won’t find in any of her cookbooks, one with an ingredient list that has a few things that are hard to get, a few things that are impossible to get, and a few things she’s only read about…in myths and faerie tales. But chefs are a proud bunch, and she’s not about to back down from an order, even if could end up being the last one she ever fills.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 6: Sink or Swim