Seeing as how February is Black History Month, I thought that reviewing N.K. Jemisin’s fantastic collection of short stories How Long ‘til Black Future Month? would be an excellent way to start off this month’s reviews and posts. I loved all of these stories, each of them engaging and thrilling, so much so that I read the entire book in a single sitting, despite the stories together comprising almost 400 pages. While I was in college, my tastes veered more toward nonfiction and realistic/ literary fiction, so I’m really happy to be diving into the science fiction and fantasy realm — and what a great time it’s been, especially with How Long ‘til Black Future Month?
While a couple stories take place in the same universe, each story is unique — some taking place in the present, some in the past, and some in worlds not quite our own. The stories vary wildly in time, place, and topic — for a few examples, consider that The Effluent Engine follows the narrative of a Haitian spy in 1800s New Orleans, who happens to fall in love with the woman who is the key to succeeding in her mission; in The Brides of Heaven a woman is caught sabotaging the water supply of a distant future colony wherein all the adult men died in coldsleep; and a personal favorite of mine, The Storyteller’s Replacement, uses a frame story with a rather dubious narrator to recount the tale of a king who ate a dragon’s heart in order that his wife and concubines might bear children, and got far more than he bargained for once his rather vicious daughters grew up.
Several of the stories experiment with alternative ways of storytelling — The Evaluators uses excerpts from logs, reports, and various forms of communication to show the eerie story behind a space exploration team establishing contact and potential trade with another world distinct from our own in the far future. Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows combines emails and blogster communications with the third person narration of a woman named Helen, who is among others trapped in a pocket universe set on a ten hour loop whose only interaction with anyone and anything outside of the immediate space they were in when the loop started is the limited people they can connect with on the internet, which doesn’t participate in the loop.
There are 22 short stories in this book, and I don’t want to spend this entire review recapping them all, but I do want to say that they are each intriguing takes on the eras they are either interpreting or imagining, and the characters in each story are so vivid and real in my mind that it makes my head spin a bit to have read all of them together in a row, because I now have what feels like solid constructions of so many different people running around in my brain. In her introduction Jemisin talks about how writing short stories helped her to hone her craft and become a better writer and novelist, and having read all 22 of these, I can get the sense that they were composed by someone who has spent time figuring herself out as a wordsmith, as the artistry of the prose is readily apparent throughout the text.
So, if you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy looking for your next read, this Black History Month is the perfect time (and really any time is the perfect time) to read How Long ‘til Black Future Month?