N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.

Learn more.

Scattered Post-Hugo Thoughts

These will be scattered because I’m in the middle of today’s wordcount, and therefore I don’t have time to make them clear or organized in any way. Book 3 proceeds!

I’ve had time to process the Hugo win, a little. Mostly I did it by spending yesterday introverting and writing, because that’s how I chew on momentous things. Didn’t quite hit my target — only 2000 words instead of 3 — but still did okay.

But now I’m finding my thoughts wandering in directions both personal and contextual. Partly that’s because people keep asking me how I feel. I’m not sure how to answer this question, when it’s asked. Fine? Happy. A little hungry, though it’s too early for dinner. A few key points of information have pushed me to actually think about The Meaning of The Hugo, though. First off, an interviewer today pointed out an old interview I did back in June of 2011 that asked me where I’d like to be in 5 years. I jokingly said a Hugo would be nice. WELP. Gonna have to come up with a new 5-year goal, huh? Then Orbit’s publicist pointed out to me that I am apparently the first black woman to win a Hugo for a novel. No, OEB didn’t; she got hers for short stories. Folks who like to fact-check, can you confirm? But if that’s true…

Well, what if it is? What does that mean? In practical terms, it means I can look forward to years more of being confused with Nnedi Okorafor (and every other black woman in SFFdom), who also won a Hugo on Saturday for her marvelous novella “Binti.” The Puppies would have you think it’s a sign of the oncoming white guy apocalypse, or Affirmative Action Gone Wild, or some conspiracy to pick a random writer, because she’s a black woman, and give her a coveted honor that she cannot possibly have earned, because she’s a black woman. I started to write an Open Letter to them, calling for them to finally wake up and realize they’re a laughingstock as well as ineffective, but… man, fuck those guys. They’re never going to change. And I’ve got shit to do.

Meanwhile there’s a swath of SFFdom that would have you think the opposite — that my identity has no bearing on me winning, or on my writing, or anything — because race and gender have no bearing on white male writers so why should it re me? (Hint: it has bearing on white male writers.) That’s the segment of SFFdom that is generally bewildered by the whole discussion of diversity because Colorblindness ™ and I Never Ask What The Gender Of The Writer Is Before I Buy A Book ™ even though their personal bookshelves contain 90% white guys. These are the folks who really don’t get the readership’s calls for diversity, but eh, they can at least try to give the market what it wants, so they then send me yet another magazine invite rather than do anything to change or improve themselves. (Gotten two more in the past few days, pre-Hugo, but post-rant.)

Both of these ways of looking at the genre are useless. But I can’t do anything to change them, other than continuing to do what I do — write the best I can, share it with as many people as I can, and talk about what all of it means. I’ve passed off some invites toward other black authors who are awesome but under-read. Otherwise I’m business as usual.

So that part of my life isn’t going to change. What will? Well, I imagine all my books will soon have stickers on them saying “HUGO WINNER,” in bookstores everywhere. That’s nice, but doesn’t really have a lot of impact on me, directly. I’ll probably end up on a few more college syllabi, so my sales might get a positive bump. That’s good too. Beyond that? Well, now I’ve got a reason to get that second tattoo. Right shoulder, stylized black rose. I think now I can work up the nerve to ask Elise Matthesen about commissioning a necklace with all my nominee pins and such, as I’ve always wanted to do. Might wait ’til I’ve got more money, though, because good artists don’t do good work for cheap and she deserves anything she asks for it. Also, I’m gonna eat that slice of Key Lime Pie I got from Butter & Scotch on Saturday night, because I’ve been saving it. Gonna call my Mom, too.

And then I’m gonna finish my wordcount. Because at the end of the day, that’s all the Hugo means: that I’m a good writer. But I knew that already. The external validation is nice, but at this stage of my career, I didn’t need it. I know who and what I am.

So back to work.

HOLY FUCKING SHIT I WON A HUGO

In realtime, I am speechless. Fortunately, I wrote a speech ahead of time, which was read beautifully by Campbell nominee Alyssa Wong in my stead at the ceremony. Here’s the text:

My apologies for not being present this evening; I’m deep in Deadline Hell right now on book 3 of the Broken Earth trilogy.

I’ve thanked them already in the acknowledgements, but I really want to thank the people who talked me down from quitting this book. At the nadir of my Chasm of Doubt — hat-tip to Kate Elliott for the term — I thought THE FIFTH SEASON was beyond my skill to write. I thought no one would want to read it. When it got nominated, I wondered how many of my fellow SFF fans, in a year headlined by reactionary pushback against the presence and performance of people like me in the genre, would choose to vote for the story of a fortysomething big-boned dredlocked woman of color waging an epic struggle against the forces of oppression.

But I forgot: only a small number of ideologues have attempted to game the Hugo Awards. That small number can easily be overwhelmed, their regressive clamor stilled, if the rest of SFF fandom simply stands up to be counted. Stands up to say that yes, they do want literary innovation, and realistic representation. Stands up to say that yes, they do just want to read good stories — but what makes a story good is skill, and audacity, and the ability to consider the future clearly rather than through the foggy lenses of nostalgia and privilege.

So thank you to my fellow category nominees for your excellence: I would have been happy to lose to any of you. Your work truly represents the breadth and depth and potential of this genre and I am honored to stand among you.

Thank you to my editor and agent, and all the people at Orbit Books, and all the people in the SFF media sphere, and those members of my family, who’ve supported what I’ve been trying to do.

But most of all thank you, Hugo Voters, for standing up for me.

It’s not real for me yet. Still processing. But holy shit, y’all. Holy shit.

hugo

Sample first chapter of THE OBELISK GATE

Well, it’s just about a month until The Obelisk Gate releases in print and ebook — August 16th in the US, August 18th in the UK, no idea why it’s different — and per my usual pre-publication tradition, I’m now posting the uncopyedited first chapter of the book for people to peruse (and if you like, preorder)! Alas, I have no information yet on the audiobook version, or whether it will again be read by the amazing Robin Miles.

Cover shows a stone floral motif embossed into a stone wall.

Normally I would post the second chapter a month later, but I’ve belatedly realized that Amazon routinely includes the first two chapters in its “Look Inside” previews (I previously thought it was only one), so that would mean me posting uncopyedited text when a beautifully-formatted, copyedited version of the same material is also available, which makes no sense. So this will be the only one posted here at Epiphany.

(However, just to give something extra to the folks supporting my Patreon, I’m going to be posting the second chapter there today. Again, if you don’t want to or can’t join the Patreon, this will be available for free online once Amazon posts its “Look Inside!” Patrons are just getting an early look.)

Please don’t discuss spoilers online, for the sake of folks who would prefer not to read the preview!

Turn and Face the Strange

So, internets. Big changes in Noraland.

For the few of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and FB, I Did A Thing. Specifically, last Friday I started a Patreon campaign with the specific goal of breaking free of the 9 to 5 life. I launched it officially at 5:35 pm on Friday afternoon, thinking nobody would much care since Friday News Dump, and thinking that would give me time to fix bugs and work out any kinks in the campaign over the weekend. Instead, to my absolute shock, I hit my baseline goal within 24 hours, and my stretch goal within 48. And it’s still going. People really, really want me to have a retirement plan, apparently.

(For those of you wondering, since I’ve gotten lots of worried feedback — yes, I’ve accounted for roughly 30% taxes in my planning. The amount you see on the Patreon page is already sans the company’s 5% fee, and sans an estimated amount for people whose credit cards are declined, etc. Yes, I’m going to find out how to safely roll over my existing 403b retirement plan into something else. Yes, I’ve got a recommendation for a good accountant. Yes, I’ve already opened an LLC. Chillax, y’all. It’s lovely that you care, but I think I’ll be okay.)

Now, I’ve had mixed feelings about Patreon, and to a degree I still do. I do think it’s a great concept in principle — a modern update of the ancient model of patronage, where “impressing some wealthy person who will support you” has been replaced by “impressing a crowd of regular folks who’ll give you $5 a pop”. Thing is, I also see nothing wrong with complete self-sufficiency as an artist. Supporting myself via my day job means that I’ve always had the freedom to just walk away, if I wasn’t happy with my publisher or agent or the industry, no matter how my writing career was going. And I also see nothing wrong with having a day job and being an artist at the same time. See, the patronage model is based on the idea that an artist should be “pure” and unsullied by the world, their basic needs taken care of by the patron so that they are free to channel Art unfettered straight from the Id. Nah, eff that. I’ve worked in education for 20 years; there are few fields better-suited for understanding (and changing, in however small a way) the world. Quitting my day job has never been an aspiration for me because I’ve always known that artists need rich lives to make good art.

Still, artists need sleep, too — and my writing career has become demanding enough that something had to give. Rich lives change when they must. I’ve informed my boss, and I’ll be leaving the day job in about a month.

This is actually going to be a bittersweet transition for me. I like my day job. I briefly tried being a full time writer once before, back in 2009 or so, and I hated it then. I’ve always enjoyed working like I said, plus I wasn’t good at organizing my life without the outside structure imposed by a 9 to 5. I don’t think that’s going to happen this time because my career has progressed a lot more since those pre-The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms days. Now I’ve got eighty bajillion balls in the air, and the only way I can handle them all is by imposing my own structure on the mess. Still, I’m gonna miss my students and colleagues. Some of you may miss them too, since I’ve frequently Tweeted about them under the tag #StuffMyCoworkersSay, and I’ve entertained people on FB for years with tales of my boss, who has the magical ability to find anything we need somewhere in her office. (Strangest find so far: wax lips. Don’t ask why we needed them.) It has been a privilege to work with friends, and with students who brought so much light into my life. Gonna miss ’em all.

But I’ve got big, full-time writer plans, too, starting with a short story collection. As sad as I am about leaving 9 to 5 life, I’m pretty excited about the future.

What does all this mean for you? Well, book 3 of the Broken Earth trilogy is very likely to come out on time, now. I’ll also be putting out a lot more short stories, soon, and probably getting started on my next novel project before the end of the year! It also means I’m going to be semi-retiring this blog. I haven’t been posting frequently anyway, due to lack of time, but now I’m going to be posting infrequently because I’ve promised blog posts to my patrons. (Just $1-and-up, for as long as the total patronage stays above $3K/mo.) I will still put announcements and the occasional rant here, as well as sample chapters — though patrons will get those first. But yeah. Ch-ch-ch-changes.

Thanks, everyone, for supporting my writing career in whatever way you’ve done thus far. I think these are all changes for the better.

So, this happened

screenshot of Hugo Awards website, showing THE FIFTH SEASON among the Best Novel finalists

Yeah, so. Cool. This makes Hugo nom number three. Going to be an interesting year. But all things considered, I’m pleased; I’m actually going to have a hard time voting in my category because I like some of my competitors better than I like my own work.

Congrats to those of my fellow nominees who earned their spots with skill, creativity, and fair play!

Hello! You just used the “damned if you do/don’t” fallacy!

Hello! If you’ve been directed to this blog post, it’s because you just said something akin to “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t” (DIYD2) in a discussion about bigotry, misrepresentation, or cultural misappropriation in fiction. I’ve written this blog post to save me time so that in the future I won’t have to write a unique comment on each of the endless occasions that I hear this fallacy repeated. As you can probably guess, it happens a lot. So let’s get started!

Here are some common conversation topics which might spur the DIYD2 response:

  • White writers who write about PoC tend to get more attention than PoC who write about PoC.
  • This story setting should contain a lot more women than it does.
  • This queer character is a stereotype or suffers from overused bigoted tropes (e.g. Bury Your Gays [warning: TV Tropes]).
  • There are some depictions of marginalized groups that readers are simply tired of seeing (e.g. women being sexually assaulted).
  • Out-group writers shouldn’t pretend to be members of marginalized groups, for any reason.

Why is it a fallacy to respond to topics like these with DIYD2?

a. Because it’s not true, for one thing. You aren’t damned if you do; you’re damned if you do badly or in a way that hurts people. You won’t be damned if you don’t think and do research and do all the other things that good writers are supposed to do, but people will probably hesitate to apply the label “good writer” to you. You aren’t even damned — look, I like a hyperbole as much as the next storyteller, but what we’re talking about here is literary criticism, not the Spanish Inquisition. You will not be subjected to eternal hellfire, or even an internet “hate mob,” if you include a stereotype in your fiction. Have you ever really paid attention to how anti-bigotry shitstorms work? They don’t start simply because somebody fucked up; they start because the person who fucked up doubled down on it or got defensive rather than listening to the critique being offered.

b. Because it’s the wrong answer, to questions that haven’t been asked. See, you — the DIYD2-er — are making a number of assumptions that simply aren’t true. Such as:

  • The conversation is about you. It isn’t. It’s really about becoming a better writer, period, by understanding how things like colonialism and representation affect literature as a whole, and gaining knowledge about how the media and unquestioned biases work. These are things that all writers, of whatever background, should understand — but especially re those subjects where you have privilege, because you’re working against societal pressure that discourages thought on these matters. It’s also about raising awareness of issues faced by marginalized groups so that, for half a minute, we can turn our attention toward that group, and bring its issues from the margins to the center for consideration. But if (you’re not part of that group and) your first thought is, “Well, how does this affect me?” then you have missed the point. You have airballed it. You have ridden a supersonic jet away while the point is still slowly proceeding on foot over arid, rocky terrain. Get your head out of your own navel and come back to the actual discussion at hand.
  • This conversation is trying to put restraints on me, I mean, art! I have, very very occasionally, seen someone suggest that members of X group shouldn’t write about Y group, unequivocally and forever. That does happen, but it’s incredibly rare, and statements like that rarely go unchallenged by members of Y group so shouldn’t be taken as definitive or a consensus. That’s beside the point, though. What’s actually being said in these conversations is that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and good artists need to engage with the context in which their work exists. Are you taking opportunities away from underrepresented people and giving nothing back in return? Then your art is exploitative and probably inauthentic, and the people in question probably won’t think it’s good. Are you adding to a fallacy-laden Zeitgeist that is already harming real people in the real world? Then your art sucks because you’re not saying or doing anything new. (Also you suck at research.) And so on. Nobody’s trying to restrict art as a whole. They’re trying to minimize bad, harmful art. There’s a difference.
  • This isn’t actually a complex topic, it’s just [insert simplistic knee-jerk rhetorical obfuscation of complex topic]. Take “white writers who write about PoC tend to get more attention than PoC who write about PoC.” This is a statement of context. A number of complex issues create this context: colonialism and history, lifelong societal discrimination that makes it harder for writers of color to get that crucial “room of one’s own”, underrepresentation of PoC in the publishing industry and retail, unexamined racial bias on the part of reviewers, fallacies of marketing which suggest that PoC are a greater financial risk when there’s no proof of that, plain old racism. A good way to respond to a statement of context is to acknowledge that context, and to consider ways of changing each part. (Yell at publishers so they’ll know you want fiction with PoC protagonists by PoC authors; ask why they don’t have any editors of color; post your own “best of” lists and reviews featuring PoC to counter all the media that ignores PoC; take the Tempest Challenge or otherwise consciously shake up your own reading habits…) To reduce the topic down to “Well, does that mean white writers should, or shouldn’t, write about PoC? DIYD2!” shows that the person asking that question fundamentally does not understand the issue. And maybe doesn’t want to understand, because it’s a lot easier to toss forth the strawman of “Those People ™ are always making unreasonable demands!” than it is to acknowledge that white writers get extra attention because of white privilege, or to think about the years’ worth of work it will take to fix the problem.

So when should I say DIYD2?

Here is Prince from the afterlife, throwing shade because you obviously haven't been listening to anything I've said.

Here is Prince from the afterlife, throwing shade because you obviously haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said so far.

Whenever you aren’t interested in an actual conversation.

DIYD2 is just a garbage thing to say, really. It’s a bromide tossed forth in response to, often, someone’s expression of real pain or justified anger. It’s the kind of thing you say when you don’t actually give a shit, but you want to sound engaged and worldly-wise. Most people who actually care about these topics will see right through it, and either dismiss you as unworthy of engagement, or be annoyed by your callousness.

Yikes! But that’s not fair. I actually do care; I just can’t think of anything better to say!

Then say nothing. Not like you’re required to offer your $.02 on everything. Listen, and learn, and think. Do that for awhile, and eventually you will have something useful to say.


Okay! This has been a public service message from N. K. Jemisin. Hope it helps!

The More You Know logo from old NBC TV

HAMILTON

I got a surprise opportunity to go see Hamilton last weekend — friend of mine got lucky with the ticket lottery, so there we were on the FRONT ROW, literally looking up the actors’ noses and screaming our heads off in squeeful delight. It was fully as amazing as everyone says. So amazing, in fact, that I needed a few days to process it, because otherwise the only thing I could’ve managed to say about it would’ve been AAAAAAAMYGODWHATISTHISIT’SSOHOLYSHITASDFJKL;WHAAARGARBL, which really wouldn’t have been any use to anyone.

There are an astronomical number’s worth of analyses and reviews of this musical already, and I’m not going to rehash most of what they’ve covered. Just to simple this up: go see it as soon as you can. If you can’t afford it and/or if you can’t wait the months it will take to get a seat via the regular route, try the lottery. If you can afford it and can wait that long, the creators of this masterpiece deserve every dime, as well as your patience. If you’re not in NYC, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to live in a city that the tour will go to. Whether you can see it or not, though, buy the soundtrack, though I do think it lacks a little something without the visuals and stage effects. Only a little something; you’ll still get a lot of the awesomeness by sound alone.

Anyway, here’s why I’m devoting blog space to talking about this history-based musical: because it is actually fantasy as fuck. (And yes, in my head “fantasy as fuck” has the same connotations as “metal as fuck.” Because it does.) Lemme ‘splain:

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It could’ve been great

You know, the thing I always try to remember when I’m borrowing from mythology is to be a shit-ton more careful with still-living traditions than I am with those long gone or transformed away from their roots. I feel relatively safe treading on the threads of Egyptian myth because there isn’t a centuries-long-and-ongoing history of using, say, the worship of Bast as an excuse to steal people’s ancestral land and children in the name of Christianity. But you know what? I’m still careful, even with “dead” faiths, because I don’t know how playing with these things might hurt real people. Nations have been built upon and torn down by the concepts I’m playing with. The least I can do is research the hell out of a thing before I put a toe in that ancient water.

It’s even more crucial for religions that are alive, and whose adherents still suffer for misconceptions and misappropriations. But these are easier to research, and it’s often much easier to figure out when you’re about to put a foot right into a morass of discrimination and objectification. All the evidence is there, sometimes still wet with blood. You just need to read. You just need to ask people. You just need to think.

And whether I believe in a thing or not, I always try to recognize that these concepts, these names, these words, have power. Power is always to be respected, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, present or past.

(For example, I was careful as hell with the Inheritance Trilogy, because so much of that was inspired by real, living traditions. Sieh is a combo of Loki and Anansi and Coyote and Japanese foxes and more, but I did everything I could to strip recognizable elements of those actual gods from him, leaving only the archetypal bones. It’s never wise to antagonize trickster gods.)

Anyway. This is just to say that there’s a number of ways Rowling could’ve made her Magical North America work without causing real harm to a lot of real people. That would be for her to have treated American peoples — all of us — with the same respect that she did European. Pretty sure she would never have dreamt of reducing all of Europe’s cultures to “European wizarding tradition”; instead she created Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and so on to capture the unique flavor of each of those cultures. It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?

Sigh. She just shouldn’t have touched North America if she was going to gloss over everything that makes this part of the world what it is — the grotesque along with the sweet. This is who we are, for better or worse. Our history — all Americans’ history — needs respect, not pablum and stereotypes.

I’m a HP fan. It’s been tough over the years, as I’ve realized just how representationally flawed the books are (the real UK is far, far more diverse than Hogwarts, for example), but mostly I stuck it out for the seven books. Hadn’t paid attention to the whole Pottermore thing before now, though, because tooth-gritting frustration does not make for lifelong loyalty, surprisingly. But my interest in HP could’ve been reawakened by good worldbuilding. That would’ve shown me that Rowling has grown in the years since the books’ end, and that her afterthoughts are sincere, if belated. Also, this could’ve made for a much better story.

Oh well. Coulda woulda shoulda.

What I’ve Been Up To For the Past Week

So, I went on a boat.

camera photo of an island against a sunset sky, boats in harbor and lights glowing against its silhouette

St Thomas at dusk

This was my first time on a cruise ship, and while I have to admit that cruise travel isn’t for me — it was intensely frustrating to visit an interesting place for only a few hours, when I prefer to immerse for days or weeks — I did enjoy doing it with a buncha nerds, a.k.a. the SeaMonkeys of the JoCoCruise. The whole thing is a massive, 7-day-long immersive science fiction convention, except it’s also got cool stuff like comedy shows and performances by amazing musicians, so really it’s a thing all its own. Not cheap, and not extraordinarily diverse, and I did hear one woman mentioning some accessibility issues… though I get the sense they’re working on all these things. But if you’re looking for a nice nerdy vacation? This is the thing. I went snorkeling! I had conch fritters! Too many highlights to name.

I was there as a performer, part of the writing track run by John Scalzi and Pat Rothfuss. Giving a reading on a boat is a fascinating experience, not the least because your reading might be interrupted at dramatic moments by a shipwide safety drill complete with klaxons and the captain’s voice droning “BRAVO. BRAVO. BRAVO. ECHO. ECHO. ECHO,” et cetera, at the story’s climax. There’s really nothing to do but laugh at something like that. But I rallied and read the damn thing anyway, as loudly as I could, and most of the people in attendance tell me they were able to hear it. And they were so appreciative of my perseverance that they gifted me with this adorable, glorious creature, whom I have dubbed Bravo the Dolphin. Thanks, folks! ::still tickled pink::

stuffed dolphin decorated with sparkly things and a button that reads BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!

So, that was my week. Today is recovery day, while I regain my land legs — really disconcerting to feel like an apartment building is swaying beneath you, hope that goes away soon — and get used to the northern winter sun again. How’s your week been, folks?

Gaming as connection: Thank you, stranger

Haven’t talked about gaming in a while. I still play, all the time, but with deadline after deadline looming I don’t dare buy anything new that might actually be good. (Side-eyes Fallout 4, warily.) I’ve been settling for comfort-gaming instead. You know, some soothing State of Decay and Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer, and my favorite real estate investment simulator, Skyrim (with Hearthfire DLC).

But I did buy a new, old game that I’ve been wanting to play for ages, which I could finally get now that I have a PS4: Journey. If you’ve never played the game, it’s haunting and beautiful and cute and terrifying and any number of things for which its studio, thatgamecompany, should be commended… but alas, the studio broke apart after producing this game. Anyway, I can’t describe Journey partly because it’s just hard to describe. But I also can’t describe it to you because it’s literally a different gaming experience every time I play it. See — oh, spoilers from here on, though this game has been out since 2012 so I think we’re kind of past the statute of spoilerations —
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