Short story collections are like potato chips. Sometimes you sit and eat a few and can put them away, spreading out your treat to enjoy on another day. Other times you sit and eat an entire bag in one sitting because the chips are just that good and you can’t help yourself. How Long ’til Black Future Month?, N.K. Jemisin’s new collection of short stories, is the perfect example of the second kind of collection. Each of the pieces held within is masterfully written and beautifully imagined, making the book difficult to put down even as it flits from dragons in Earth’s ruined sky to predators among us to the relationship between machines and reality.
At the same time as she builds different worlds, Jemisin experiments with different narrative structures, points of view and story forms. In another collection of short stories, this sort of exploration to the limits of speculative fiction could feel like experimentation for experimentation’s sake. However, the way Jemisin plays with the structural elements of her short stories feels necessary, helping pull readers into the hopelessness of being stuck in your own fractal universe or the feeling of power and powerlessness that comes alongside the birth of a great city. Each story grabs you by the collar, sometimes whispering in your ear before letting you go and other times pulling you a breakneck speed.
Readers of Jemisin’s other works will recognize some of the worlds (she describes a few of the forays into fictional worlds as “proofs of concept” in the introduction) but these short stories aren’t short drabbles exploring a not-yet-full-realized fantasy realm. They are powerful stories that deal with issues of race, gender and religion. They give readers windows into worlds that feel so real that you could slip inside them—not that you would want to—and inhabit her characters’ lives. Anyone who appreciates Jemisin’s work, speculative fiction or simply the art of the short story shouldn’t miss this collection. But beware: Once you get started, you might not be able to put it down. It’s just that good.