Tag: "N.K. Jemisin"

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EP450: Valedictorian

by N.K. Jemisin
Read by Stephanie Morris

Author N.K. Jemisin

about the author…

N(ora). K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo (three times), the Nebula (four times), and the World Fantasy Award (twice); shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar, and the Tiptree; and she has won a Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award (three times).

Her short fiction has been published in pro markets such as Clarkesworld, Postscripts, Strange Horizons, and Baen’s Universe; semipro markets such as Ideomancer and Abyss & Apex; and podcast markets and print anthologies.

Her first five novels, the Inheritance Trilogy and the Dreamblood (duology), are out now from Orbit Books. (Samples available in the Books section; see top navigation buttons.) Her novels are represented by Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency.

She is currently a member of the Altered Fluid writing group. In addition to writing, she is a counseling psychologist and educator (specializing in career counseling and student development), a sometime hiker and biker, and a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger.

You can reach her at njem at earthlink dot net.

about the narrator…

Stephanie is a librarian-in-training, a voracious biblio- and audiophile, an occasional writer of short stories, and a voice and stage actor. She has narrated short stories for PseudoPod, PodCastle, and Cast of Wonders, guest-blogged on subjects ranging from creative writing to zombie turkeys, and performed Shakespeare in a handful of weird churches. She is currently working toward a degree in Media Studies, which is really just a sneaky way for her to discuss her favorite fandoms in an academic context. She blogs at Scribbleomania.

 

 

Valedictorian
by N. K. Jemisin
There are three things Zinhle decides, when she is old enough to understand. The first is that she will never, ever, give less than her best to anything she tries to do. The second is that she will not live in fear. The third, which is perhaps meaningless given the first two and yet comes to define her existence most powerfully, is this: she will be herself. No matter what.
For however brief a time.
#
“Have you considered getting pregnant?” her mother blurts one morning, over breakfast.
Zinhle’s father drops his fork, though he recovers and picks it up again quickly. This is how Zinhle knows that what her mother has said is not a spontaneous burst of insanity. They have discussed the matter, her parents. They are in agreement. Her father was just caught off-guard by the timing.
But Zinhle, too, has considered the matter in depth. Do they really think she wouldn’t have? “No,” she says.
Zinhle’s mother is stubborn. This is where Zinhle herself gets the trait. “The Sandersens’ boy — you used to play with him, when you were little, remember? — he’s decent. Discreet. He got three girls pregnant last year, and doesn’t charge much. The babies aren’t bad-looking. And we’d help you with the raising, of course.” She hesitates, then adds with obvious discomfort, “A friend of mine at work — Charlotte, you’ve met her — she says he’s, ah, he’s not rough or anything, doesn’t try to hurt girls — ”
“No,” Zinhle says again, more firmly. She does not raise her voice. Her parents raised her to be respectful of her elders. She believes respect includes being very, very clear about some things.
Zinhle’s mother looks at her father, seeking an ally. Her father is a gentle, soft-spoken man in a family of strong-willed women. Stupid people think he is weak; he isn’t. He just knows when a battle isn’t worth fighting. So he looks at Zinhle now, and after a moment he shakes his head. “Let it go,” he says to her mother, and her mother subsides.
They resume breakfast in silence.
#
Zinhle earns top marks in all her classes. The teachers exclaim over this, her parents fawn, the school officials nod their heads sagely and try not to too-obviously bask in her reflected glory. There are articles about her in the papers and on Securenet. She wins awards.
She hates this. It’s easy to perform well; all she has to do is try. What she wants is to be the best, and this is difficult when she has no real competition. Beating the others doesn’t mean anything because they’re not really trying. This leaves Zinhle with no choice but to compete against herself. Each paper she writes must be more brilliant than the last. She tries to finish every test faster than she did the last one. It isn’t the victory she craves, not exactly; the satisfaction she gains from success is minimal. Barely worth it. But it’s all she has.
The only times she ever gets in trouble are when she argues with her teachers, because they’re so often wrong. Infuriatingly, frustratingly _wrong_. In the smallest part of her heart, she concedes that there is a reason for this: a youth spent striving for mediocrity does not a brilliant adult make. Old habits are hard to break, old fears are hard to shed, all that. Still — arguing with them, looking up information and showing it to them to prove their wrongness, becomes her favorite pastime. She is polite, always, because they expect her to be uncivilized, and because they are also her elders. But it’s hard. They’re old enough that they don’t have to worry, damn it; why can’t they at least try to be worthy of her effort? She would kill for one good teacher. She is dying for one good teacher.
In the end, the power struggle, too, is barely worth it. But it is all she has.
#

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Book Review: “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin

Every now and then, you hear about a book by an author you’ve heard of. The book has a great title, gets good reviews, and is generally well-received. You see it on Amazon, but the price is a little higher than you’re willing to pay. So you decide to wait until it goes on sale.

Then it goes on sale. You buy it. You start reading it. And you wish you’d just kept on waiting.

That was my experience with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.

Kingdoms takes place on an alternate Earth, where… well… 100,000 kingdoms are led by the Arameri family, who lives within a Space-Needle-like palace called Sky. The current leader of the Arameri, Dekarta, is getting on in years and wants to pass the mantle of leadership to one of his full-blooded Arameri heirs, Scimina and Relad.

But there’s a third Arameri heir, Yeine, warrior-princess of the far-off land of Darr — and the main character of Kingdoms. Brought to Sky by Dekarta, her grandfather, she finds herself embroiled in a power struggle for the leadership of the Arameri — and the entire world — as she becomes increasingly aware of exactly why she was ordered to Sky in the first place: the Arameri want her to die.

I think my main problems with Kingdoms stemmed from the tropes used and the storytelling style. The tropes included:

  • Young woman comes to town and is suddenly the most important person there.
  • Supernatural creatures try to recruit young woman to their side.
  • Young woman turns out to have some sort of connection to the supernatural creatures.

In this case, the creatures in question are the gods of the planet — Itempas, Nahadoth, and Enefa, roughly corresponding to God, Satan, and Eve/Lilith. Nahadoth lives among the Arameri; Itempas appears when the Arameri passes leadership on to the next heir. Unlike the real world, these gods actually provably exist, and can do godlike things. There are others, including the childlike Sieh, but it’s really all about Nahadoth.

Once Yeine gets situated in Sky, the story turns into a fantastical soap opera, with plots and counterplots, and in the middle of it all a single character who things just seem to happen to. Yeine does act upon her environment, but usually not until the environment has acted upon her.

To go back to my comment on storytelling style — the best way to explain it is that I felt like I was reading Anita Blake: God Hunter. The same problems I have with Laurell K. Hamilton’s storytelling, I had with Kingdoms (although this book was well-edited, whereas some of Hamilton’s novels unfortunately contain grammatical errors and spelling inconsistencies). I also didn’t really care for the digressions into Yeine’s dreams about what the gods were doing, or had done. They didn’t hold my interest.

There is an unexpected twist at the end — I’ll give it that — but unfortunately I felt as though the amount of talking and exposition that came right after, to support the twist, lessened its effect.

Despite my problems with the tropes and the style, I did find the main characters to be well-rounded and interesting. Even though I didn’t really like Yeine, I was on her side throughout the whole story. In the afterword of the digital copy of the novel that I read, an interview with the author indicated that Yeine was a version of herself taken “to the extreme”. I’ve never met or spoken to the author, but I’ve written enough stories with “a version of myself” as the main character that I saw the hallmarks of it, and they drew me out of the story a little. But despite that, I still wanted her, maybe if not to win, then to at least not lose. Some of the villains felt a little flat — and one of the characters who betrays our heroes, I don’t think I really had enough clues to appreciate the level of betrayal — but I was pleased with the sheer level of detail and attention paid to the main players. Especially Nahadoth and T’vril. I found T’vril to be the most relatable character in the story, and Nahadoth the most interesting. In fact, Nahadoth is really the character I think most people will be rooting for — bound by the Arameri, he nonetheless finds ways to rebel. I watched Watchmen last night, and I found myself drawing parallels to Dr. Manhattan’s immense power and his battle to control it for the people he cared about.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in the “Inheritance” trilogy, according to the cover. I’m not sure I’m going to read the second book anytime soon, but I think the first one was well-received enough that the sequels will be enjoyed by those who liked Kingdoms. Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the book that much. Despite the author’s clear talent and ability for worldbuilding and characterization, the story didn’t hold my interest — possibly because, at least in my mind, it didn’t bring anything new to an oft-told tale of a young warrior-trained woman upon whom rests the fate of the entire world.

Maybe next time.

Note to Parents: This novel contains violence and a couple of sexual situations, one explicit. Mature teens will be able to handle it; younger ones may become distracted by the imagery. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

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EP244: Non-Zero Probabilities

By N.K. Jemisin
Originally recorded by Kate Baker for Clarkesworld Magazine, and is used here with their expressed permission.
Discuss on our forums.
Guest Host: Dave Thompson of Podcastle
All stories by N.K. Jemisin
All stories read by Kate Baker

Her neighbor — the other one, across the hall — helped her figure it out, long before the math geeks finished crunching their numbers.

“Watch,” he’d said, and laid a deck of cards facedown on her coffee table. (There was coffee in the cups, with a generous dollop of Bailey’s. He was a nice-enough guy that Adele felt comfortable offering this.) He shuffled it with the blurring speed of an expert, cut the deck, shuffled again, then picked up the whole deck and spread it, still facedown. “Pick a card.”

Adele picked. The Joker.

“Only two of those in the deck,” he said, then shuffled and spread again. “Pick another.”

She did, and got the other Joker.

“Coincidence,” she said. (This had been months ago, when she was still skeptical.)

Rated R: for Lucky Streaks and Getting Lucky.

Show Notes:

  • Enter the Escape Pod Flash Contest! It runs June 1- July 4, stories must be under 500 words. More information at the link.
  • Editor’s note: Thanks so much to Dave Thompson and Peter Wood for taking on this project of securing all five Hugo stories during the hiatus of Escape Pod. Most of the work was done before I joined, and this wouldn’t have happened without them stepping up.

Next week… Another Hugo-nominated story!

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EP114: Cloud Dragon Skies

By N.K. Jemisin.
Read by Máia Whitaker (of Knitwitch’s Scifi/Fantasy Zone).
Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in Strange Horizons, August 2005.
Closing music: “The Fall,” by Red Hunter.
All stories by N.K. Jemisin
All stories read by Máia Whitaker

I was a child when the sky changed. I can still remember days when it was endlessly blue, the clouds passive and gentle. The change occurred without warning: one morning we awoke and the sky was a pale, blushing rose. We began to see intention in the slow, ceaseless movements of the clouds. Instead of floating, they swam spirals in the sky. They gathered in knots, trailing wisps like feet and tails. We felt them watching us.

We adapted. We had never taken more than we needed from the land, and we always kept our animals far from water. Now we moistened wild cotton and stretched this across our smoke holes as filters. Sometimes the clouds would gather over fires that were out in the open. A tendril would stretch down, weaving like a snake’s head, opening delicate mist jaws to nip the plume of smoke. Even the bravest warriors would quickly put such fires out.

Rated PG. Contains passing nudity and apocalyptic themes.

Referenced Sites:

Superior Audio Works

Serve It Cold

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EP038: L’Alchimista

By N.K. Jemisin.
Read by Paul Tevis (of Have Games, Will Travel).
Discuss on our forums.
Guest host: Salim Fadhley.
All stories by N.K. Jemisin.
All stories read by Paul Tevis.

She did not particularly care whether he paid; it wasn’t her inn. But
at his words she lifted an eyebrow. “What sort of challenge?”

“A very special one.” He slipped a hand into his coat like an
old-fashioned pistolero, but before Franca could worry he pulled out a
bulging sack made of what looked like deerhide. He set this on the table — carefully, Franca noted.

“You are willing to follow a recipe? So many chefs of your caliber
think themselves above the direction of others.”

She lifted her chin. “I was head chef for Parliament once — before
that bastard Berlusconi, anyhow. While I was there I had to make Florentine
dishes like a Florentine and Venetian dishes like a Venetian and the Madonna
help me if I did them wrong. If the recipe is sound, I can follow it.”

Rated G. Warning: Food descriptions may be intoxicating. Do not listen before grocery shopping.

Referenced sites:
Resonance FM
The Exciting Hellebore Shew