I picked this book up purely on the strength of my love for N.K. Jemisin. I’m generally not a fan of the short story format. The only short story collections I’ve read cover to cover are the ones written by Neil Gaiman, who is very high on my favorite author list. N.K. Jemisin is an incredible author who creates fantastic worlds so I anticipated enjoying the book, but I was blown away at how her short fiction thoroughly engaged me in a way that the form usually doesn’t. Every time I put down How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? I looked forward to when I would be able to continue reading.
The breadth of stories and range of voices is amazing. She spans time from past to far future, dipping into cyberpunk, re-imagined history, fairy tales and other genres along the way. Front and center are the characters who are predominantly people of color because Jemisin was tired of “excluding myself from my own damn fiction”. To quote her introduction, “[The title is] a shameless paean to an Afrofuturist icon, the artist Janelle Monae, but it’s also a meditation on how hard it’s been for me to love science fiction and fantasy as a black woman. How much I’ve had to fight my own internalize racism in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business. How terrifying it’s been to realize no one thinks my people have a future. And how gratifying to finally accept myself and begin spinning the futures I want to see.” I am becoming more uncomfortably aware of my default assumption that characters are white, and that the characters are predominantly white, in my favorite genres of fantasy and fiction. These collected works by Jemisin are another reminder of how those genres have been lacking due to the historically narrow scope of their view points.
I cried, I was chilled, I was awed, my emotions were all over the place and I wished that each story was longer to spend more time in these tiny creations. But I suppose that is what the best short fiction does, immediately hook you and leave you wanting more. A few weeks ago something I read, or maybe listened to on NPR, suggested this book being the perfect read for Black History Month. At the time I was looking for my next book and so started reading. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is an excellent read any month of year and I’ll be recommending it for some time to come.