3 Favs from ‘How long ‘Til Black Future Month’ by N.K. Jemisin

Full disclosure, this will actually be my second time reading How Long ‘Til Black Future Month’. I read it once back in February of 2019 and then again, now, in 2023 when my book club suggested we give it a shot.

I’ve been writing more short fiction lately, and was excited to see what I might be able to learn from an author who’s won three back-to-back Hugo awards, and continues to get nomination after nomination.

Truth be told, I didn’t learn much. Jemisin makes everything look so effortless and easy that it was nearly impossible for me to study, and the stories are so intriguing and rich that all I wanted to do was just read.

So I let myself just do that . . . and it was wonderful.

I would love to talk about each story in this book, but with 22 stories I’ll limit myself to just 3 favorites.

All Time Fav: The Narcomancer

I think my favorite piece is definitely The Narcomancer. Of all the pieces, it feels the most like an epic fantasy, even more than Stone Hunger which Jemisin acknowledges as her testing ground for what eventually became The Broken Earth trilogy.

Of course these kind of fantasy stories are my favorite, and with its faux ancient African setting, and names like Cet, and Mehepi, it was not hard to imagine that the world of these Narcomancers might be something like our Ancient Egypt or Ancient Nubia (which appears to be her intent, from her website: “a secondary world which consciously evokes Ancient Egypt and Nubia”).

We all know that’s my jam.

But even discounting the setting, The Narcomancer stood out to me for the way it displays the failure of simplistic moral codes or ethics (perhaps comparable to religious dogma IRL) to encompass and guide people through the complexity of life. I’m sure I’ll be thinking through it all for quite some time yet.

It seems that perhaps this was another trial ground, as The Narcomancer seems to be set in the same world as the Dreamblood duology. Perhaps there are more answers there . . .

2nd Fav: L’Alchimista

My second favorite was probably L’Alchimista. I thought that because I’ve never watched The Great British Bake Off or lost a weekend to binging Kitchen Nightmares, that I was immune to the power of food as entertainment. Apparently if it’s FANTASY/MAGICAL FOOD then I’m no better than a kid in a (fantasy/magical) candy shop.

In all seriousness, in L’Alchimista, it feels like Jemisin lets her imagination have some fun (as opposed dreaming up soul crushing dystopias). It was both refreshing and delicious. I’m not sure if we get to see Franca (the MC) again in any other stories, but I hope we do!

3rd Fav: The Red Dirt Witch

I was having trouble picking a third favorite, but having more trouble trying to find somewhere in this post to talk about The Red Dirt Witch. So here we are.

This story just pulls on the heart strings. I do not want to spoil what happens but I think I was crying during this one. Sad tears? Happy tears? I think every kind of tears. I’m not really sure.

Honorable Mentions:

All of the stories in this anthology are good so it was really hard to pick favorites. These were perhaps not the stories that resonated with me the most, but were still interesting to me, for various other reasons:

  • Stone Hunger – As mentioned earlier, this story was a precursor to The Fifth Season and the rest of the Broken Earth trilogy. A good story on its own, but more interesting after because of its relationship to other titles.
  • The City Born Great – Again, and awesome story in its own right, but also cool know that it eventually grew into The City We Became
  • The Ones Who Stay and Fight – A pastiche/response to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.
  • Walking Awake – Sort of a clap back at Heinlein, although having read The Puppet Masters, I think she could have been harsher somehow.
  • On the Banks of the River Lex – Really interesting in its own right, but a little more resonant with me right now because it also personifies ‘Death’ which I’ve been talking a lot about recently
  • The Trojan Girl – Written back in 2011, reading it now seemed eerily prescient because of all the talk happening about AIGC. Specifically the story mentions an AI-type being having trouble forming their hands and I was convinced Jemisin had a time machine.

Give This One a Read?

In short? Yes!! I’ve now read it twice, and like any great book, I’m pulling more from it each time I do. And like any great book, I still have so much more to learn from it.

That’s all I have for this week. What are your thoughts? Have any of you read this one? What was your favorite story? Did you not like any? Leave your answers in the comments. Looking forward to chatting about this one!!


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