It is Black History Month, but how long ’til Black Future Month? N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy is one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. I’ve been slowly making my way through her other books and series, and I’ve honestly liked or loved everything, so I decided to pick up her new-ish short story collection. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised with so many great stories that feel familiar but are at the same time completely outside of the box.
Many of the stories deal with very old but very important themes, like love, family, loss, loneliness, etc. But I’ve never read stories that look at these themes from such different and unique perspectives. If I had to say one central theme that permeates all of the stories to some extent, I might go with the word survival. There are stories about hurricanes destroying towns and dragons helping out, a story based on her Broken Earth series where the land itself is shattered and unstable, stories about making sacrifices for the greater good, survival of alien species and other planets, and even a story about humans dying out completely (from the perspective of Death no less)!
Obviously, you could also comb through it and discuss the social, political, and environmental themes and how they relate to being African American or just any person of color. As I said, a lot of these stories contain things we can all relate to, but seeing it all through a lens of primarily characters of color was eye-opening to me on a social, political, and historical level, and it changed how I view sci-fi and fantasy by authors of color. Things have gotten a bit better in recent years, but it is still a struggle for authors of color to even get published, let alone become famous enough to tell the stories they want to tell (see Jemisin’s introduction to the collection in which she explains feeling like she had to write standard Western fantasy to get her foot in the publishing door).
Getting back to the collection, I did not fall in love with every single story, but the majority of them were very entertaining and have kept me thinking about them long after I turned the last page. If you’ve read the collection, my favorite stories were probably “Red Dirt Witch,” “The Effluent Engine,” “Walking Awake,” “On the Banks of the River Lex,” and of course the stories based on her other fantasy series, “Stone Hunger” and “The Narcomancer.” Many of her characters are fully rounded and memorable, and many of her plots were engaging and inspiring. The collection has moments of humor, sadness, justice being served, and a whole lot of heart. I’ve read several short story collections, but this one stands out to me. It is rare for me to give short story collections five stars (I feel as if I have to love every single story to give the whole collections a 5), but many of the individual stories in here blew me away, so I would give How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? a well-deserved 4.5 star rating on my blog, but I had to round up to 5 stars on Goodreads because it was that good.