Genre : Fantasy, Science fiction
Publisher : Orbit
Length : 400 pages
Format : Ebook
Rating : 3 stars
Publication Date: November 27th 2018
In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.
I have been a huge fan of Jemisin since 2015 when I binge-read both her Inheritance trilogy and her Dreamblood duology. Since then, I have read all of Jemisin’s books and really liked them all, the Broken Earth trilogy being my favorite series of hers.
As you may know by now, I love short fiction. I read short stories all the time and I love them. However, even if I love Jemisin’s works enough to want to read everything she has written (including her grocery list!), I was hesitant to pick her first collection up. She’s so good at writing novels that I was afraid her shorter works wouldn’t live up to her longer works. And my fear proved to be true.
Don’t get me wrong, some stories in How long ‘til Black Future Month are amazing. The City Born Great, the short story that inspired N.K. Jemisin to write The City We Became is fantastic. It was my third time reading this particular story and it gets better with each re-read. I also loved Stone Eater, a story set in her Broken Earth world. On The Banks of the River Lex was another hit, it follows Death living in New York City with other gods and legends now that humans have disappeared from Earth. I never imagined Death to be such a fun character to follow!
However, if I really liked four or five stories, I was pretty underwhelmed with the rest of the collection. First of all, if instead of 22 stories, Jemisin had picked ten or twelve of the best ones, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I like collections that feel cohesive but I didn’t think it was the case with How long ‘til Black Future Month. Also, even if Jemisin experimented with a lot of different styles and stories, they all felt a bit too similar thematically. If the collection had been shorter, it wouldn’t have been this obvious.
Jemisin’s novels discuss motherhood, race and colonialism in subtle ways and I love that. Her short fiction centers around the exact same themes but mostly lack the subtlety of her longer works. I like understanding what the author is trying to convey without being spoon-fed the entire thing. Reading this collection, I could almost heard Jemisin shouting: “Colonialism sucks! People are racist! The road to freedom is long! Being a mother is hard!” and yes, I agree with everything, I just wish I could come to those conclusions on my own.
Also, one of my bookish pet peeves in books in when authors try to incorporate other languages without even checking if they are writing correct sentences instead of nonsense. I usually love stories about magical food so, both L’Alchemista and Cuisine des Mémoires should have been favorites. However, I couldn’t get into them because in both stories Jemisin managed to butcher Italian (even I who doesn’t speak Italian no that “Mi scuza” is not how you say “Excuse-me”) and French (even the title “Cuisine des mémoires” is wrong, the correct French would be “Cuisine des souvenirs” or better “Souvenirs de cuisine”). Just a quick Google/Deepl translation would have fixed that…
In her introduction, Jemisin states that short fiction was a way for her to improve her writing and to experiment new styles and voices. I’m glad that short fiction helped her become a better writer but I would rather read her novels that her short stories. And that’s okay, not every author is good at both.
If you’re a fan of N.K. Jemisin and you would like to see her experiment with ideas that she later used in her novels, then you may enjoy this collection more than I did. However, if you’re looking for a really good short story collection, I would recommend Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah or The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories over this one.