Website of N.K. Jemisin
My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of South Florida, one of the most culturally rich places in the world. I will continue posting as Irma threatens treasured members of the Reading Life family in the path of Irma. My posts will be brief in this dark period but blogging is what I do and it shows my belief in the future. This post is dedicated to Florida loving writers like Marjorie Rawlings, Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Andersen and Elizabeth Bishop.
"This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.".
Duh, right? Everyone who’s visited a real city feels that, one way or another. All those rural people who hate cities are afraid of something legit; cities really are different. They make a weight on the world, a tear in the fabric of reality, like . . . like black holes, maybe. Yeah. (I go to museums sometimes. They’re cool inside, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is hot.) As more and more people come in and deposit their strangeness and leave and get replaced by others, the tear widens. Eventually it gets so deep that it forms a pocket, connected only by the thinnest thread of . . . something to . . . something. Whatever cities are made of.
But the separation starts a process, and in that pocket the many parts of the city begin to multiply and differentiate. Its sewers extend into places where there is no need for water. Its slums grow teeth; its art centers, claws. Ordinary things within it, traffic and construction and stuff like that, start to have a rhythm like a heartbeat, if you record their sounds and play them back fast. The city . . . quickens.
Not all cities make it this far. There used to be a couple of great cities on this continent, but that was before Columbus fucked the Indians’ shit up, so we had to start over. New Orleans failed, like Paulo said, but it survived, and that’s something. It can try again. Mexico City’s well on its way. But New York is the first American city to reach this point."
Long ago read a good bit of science fiction/fantasy literature. Then I quit for forty years or so. Recently I have been slowly getting back into this genre. Not really surprisingly, a lot has happened in my forty or so year reading hiatus. I knew that winning a Hugo Award means you are a very skilled imaginative artist. N. K. Jemisin won back to back Hugo awards in 2016 and 2017 for best novel, unprecedented as far as I know. Today I will post on a brand new short story by Jemisin that I greatly enjoyed. I read it three times, it can be read online.
At first I thought the narrator of the story was a young man, a street artist, living from his wits in New York City. He is African American and is hustling a gay man, Paulo, who has grandiose ideas about the coming death of the city but we discover the narrator is really an old man, now rich and living in Los Angeles. There is a fifty year gap and we know nothing about how he got rich, maybe it was his art. We follow him as he transverses the city, a city in decay. We are not sure if the city is really a living organism or if this is the fantasy of the narrator, kicked out by his mother and abused by her boyfriend.
"The City Born Great" is a wonderful work of art, as far as it might be from anything Frank O'Connor might have imagined when he taught us that the best short stories were often about marginalized persons, it exemplifies his thesis. The narrator is tough, a survivor, seeing through the detritus of the culture of New York City. I loved the ending, for sure you are left wanting more.
I hope to read N. K. Jemisin' two Hugo Award Winning novels soon.
Image by Laura Hanifin