N.K. Jemisin

Out now!

The Killing Moon

The Kingdom of Gods

In the desert city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Along its ancient stone streets, there is no crime or violence. Priests of the dream-goddess, known as Gatherers, maintain order: harvesting the dreams of the citizens, healing the injured, and guiding the dreamers into the afterlife. . .

When Ehiru-the most famous of the city's Gatherers-is sent to harvest the dreams of a diplomatic envoy, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that threatens to drag the dreaming city into war.

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Tis the Season

Awards season, that is. Now that 2012 has passed into honored and unlamented history — happy New Year, everybody — people are looking back and thinking about what was best in the year, what was worst, and everything in between. And because I keep getting asked about it, here’s what I’ve got that’s eligible for awards consideration this year. It’s not much, alas; writing novels on deadline plus working a full time job has made me a much less prolific woman of late.

Short Story

Although I had a lot of reprints published this year, there was only one truly new story. That’s “Valedictorian”, which came out in the YA dystopian anthology After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. 5700 words.

Novels

Both The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun were published in 2012 — one month apart, in May and June respectively, from Orbit Books. Given that they are, much like my Inheritance Trilogy, series books that nevertheless can stand alone, technically either or both could be nominated. But as I explained so some folks on Facebook who were discussing my eligibility, these books should not be nominated together as a single work, a la Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear which won several awards as a set last year. As I understand it, Ms. Willis originally wrote those books as a single unit and was asked by her publisher to split them; they really were one work. The Dreamblood books are two very separate stories that just happen to be set in the same world and feature the same characters.

Likewise, although both books could be nominated for awards, I’d rather not get into the habit of competing with myself — no more than I usually do, anyway — so if you gotta pick one, pick The Killing Moon, please.

“Best Of”s and Reviews

To help your awards thinking along, I’ve been trying to keep track of the various “Best of 2012″ lists that the Dreambloods have been spotted on thus far. I’ve been sloppier about tracking reviews — hey, I’m busy — but as always, you can see the ones I’ve found here on Delicious. There’s also good reviews at those first couple of links below.

I think that’s all of them? Folks, if you know of any others, let me know in the comments.

…And on an unrelated but still awesome sidenote, SFF industry ‘zine Locus just did its “All Century” poll, looking at the Best Ofs not just of the past year, but of the 20th and 21st centuries. (Because when it comes to “best of” lists, Locus don’t play.) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms came in 18th in the ranking of 21st Century novels (so far), which was unbelievably flattering and humbling. Thanks, everyone who voted, for that unexpected holiday gift!

Consent is Sexy

Writer Beth Bernobich started this, after hearing complaints that it’s somehow unsexy to seek or confirm consent during sex (or during fictional sex). So far she and Martha Wells have posted examples of sex scenes showing clear consent, so I figured I’d join in. Three posts make a meme, and all that.

This one’s probably familiar to many of you; it’s from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Consent was an ongoing theme of the relationship between Yeine and the god Nahadoth, in part because Nahadoth actually can’t do anything to her without her consent, and in part because Yeine is effectively a master to Nahadoth’s slave and there can be no true consent in such situations. She could command him to do what she wants, although the results would likely be less than optimal. Nahadoth has managed to win a modicum of power for himself despite his enslavement by deliberately twisting the meaning of consent; he entices potential lovers to give him permission or bad commands, and he uses that to kill them. Yeine knows this, but she hopes — she believes, and belief is power when you’re dealing with gods and magic — that he won’t kill her. The consent that needs to be given in this case is multilayered.

Warning for sexiness!
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Holiday Gifts for Publishers

This is something I didn’t know about before I became a published author: it’s kind of traditional to give your publishers a gift at the holidays.

I followed tradition unknowingly that first year after the Inheritance Trilogy was contracted, because in my day job life I’m a career counselor and I know it’s always a good idea to give gifts to people you’re doing business with, or who are professionally valuable to you. But lest this sound mercenary, I also just genuinely liked the folks at Orbit, and wanted to show them how pleased I was to be working with them. So that year, the gift was some of the more… hmm, unusual… vintages from the Nashoba Valley Winery. I picked that one because I was still relatively new to NYC, after spending 10 years in Massachusetts, and the Nashoba winery had been one of my favorite hangouts while I lived there. Also, they had really good raspberry, pear, and blueberry wine, among other interesting stuff. And who wouldn’t miss a chance to give a bunch of book lovers dandelion wine?

The next year, weird combinations of chocolate were all the rage around that time, so I visited another fave: the Chocolate Bar, which sold these awesome spicy chipotle brownies. (Bacon brownies were also popular, but it’s always a little hinky to give pork products as gifts when you don’t know folks’ religious or dietary practices, so I decided against that.)

The following year I was at a bit of a loss as to what to give, but I’d just concluded the Inheritance Trilogy with a blowout launch party, the SLEEPOVER OF THE GODS (say it in a booming announcer voice). Since only Devi, my editor, had been able to attend the party, I decided to bring the party to everyone else, by trying to recreate one of the most popular custom drinks from the party, the Rummy Bear. So I gave everybody a combo bag containing one giant gummy bear and a small flask of good rum.

This year I’ve found something I again think is kind of interesting and unique, and which also serves my attempts to be a localvore and to support businesses hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, so I’m about to head off to Orbit to play Santa again. It also makes great cocktails. ;) I’ll tell you how this year’s gift goes over later!

“The Next Big Thing” Meme

Last week I got tagged by buddy Kate Elliott to participate in The Next Big Thing, a meme that’s been going around. I’m slow, so only just now doing it (d’oh). But this looks fun, so here goes. I think it’s meant to be filled out by someone who’s got a soon-forthcoming novel, but I’m going to treat this as a between-series snack and just talk about everything I’ve ever written.

Cutting for brevity!
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Fantastic Profanity

So today I’d like to talk about fantastic profanity — by which I mean not “really good” profanity, but “made up for fantasy and science fiction” profanity. Therefore this post will contain quite a bit of cussin’. FOR ART AND SCIENCE. You are warned.

There are some words that are universally vulgar, in my opinion. I only speak 1.25 languages — English and just enough of a few other languages to mangle them all magnificently — but in my vast experience I haven’t yet found a language that doesn’t treat either the act or the product of defecation as something rude/crude to talk about.* Nobody likes shit.** But several languages that I’ve thus far encountered seem to have no vulgarization for the act or various by-products of sex. Not being a linguist, I can only speculate as to the reason for this, but my guess would be that Anglophone countries tend to be kind of sexually regressive and repressed, so naturally “fuck” is one of our harshest epithets. We don’t like sex. Many other cultures think it’s no biggie, and they find other things to malign in their slang. So when I’m creating a new fantasy world, if I want to include a fantasyism for “fuck”, I have to pause and do some deep thinking about whether this is a culture that’s got some issues with sex. And if so, then I have to think about why they might have issues with sex. In Anglophone cultures, most of our hangups about sex have to do with religion; Christianity doesn’t like sex. That’s because Christianity enshrines Western cultures’ various forms of patriarchy as doctrine — in England, frex, sex was the means through which men historically passed on property rights to their sons. In order to know who their sons were, men had to control the source of those children, i.e. women, which meant sex with women had to be rigidly controlled. (Ditto sex with men, actually, though to a lesser degree, and any other forms of non-procreative sex. While I’m at it, it’s kind of remarkable how many cultures’ religions have made statements about sex with farm animals. But I digress.)

But in cultures where property can be passed to anyone, sex doesn’t need to be regulated to the same degree. An example is ancient Egypt (researched this while writing the Dreamblood). Granted, ancient Egypt’s culture changed lots over its 3000+ year history, but as far as historians can tell, Egyptians regarded all property as belonging to the gods. It was merely overseen temporarily by the Pharaoh and officials for the benefit of the whole community. …So, naturally, the Pharaoh and high officials owned most land, and everybody else paid those folks rent. However, among landowners, anyone — male or female, firstborn or other, relative or some random schmoe the landowner chose — could inherit their parents’ property. In fact there was a special “land overseer” or judge/official in most Egyptian communities who made sure property was fairly distributed, precisely to prevent arguments among the children/acquaintances of property owners. This might be why — as far as I can tell — the Egyptians did not have a vulgar word for sex. They also didn’t particularly care who fucked whom or how said fucking occurred; their lore is rife with lurid tales of marathon oral sex sessions, hilarious anal sex follies (well, hilarious for the people hearing about it), and sex contests to honor the gods. (Seriously. As a harvest celebration, villagers would sometimes imitate Nut and Geb: a chosen couple would lie beside the river, and the woman would kneel over the man. The man would then try, using just his penis and while lying on his back, to have intercourse with her — generally while his fellow villagers were looking on and laughing it up. I think the idea was to give the gods a good laugh, too.)

Which means that before I toss off a “frak” or a “frell”, I have to decide whether and why the people of this society have such a problem with sex that they’ve made a curse of it. How do they handle property? Is it especially important that men know which children are theirs? If so, how have they codified this — does their religion mention sex? Do they listen to that religion, mostly? And so on. I didn’t use “fuck” in the Dreamblood because that was based on ancient Egypt. In the Inheritance Trilogy, though, most of the story takes place in the patriarchial parts of the world (Amn-controlled or -influenced nations, which is most of the world). I imagine there was no “fuck” in the Darre language because the Darre were matriarchial, and a woman always knows who her children are; there’s no question in primogeniture. But the Amn are slightly patriarchial — once more so, though they’ve egalitarianized over the ages — and the remnants of that patriarchial past linger in their language. Moreover, I had to consider what curses gods would use, since they exist as another culture in this world. That’s how I came up with “mortalfuck”, which Sieh used in The Kingdom of Gods. Gods have trouble having meaningless sex with mortals; they can’t quite help sharing something of themselves whenever they copulate, and catching feelings as a result. Mortals are painful to love, though, because they will inevitably die. So although gods fuck each other with abandon — sometimes even the abandonment of form and flesh altogether — fucking mortals is an altogether different thing, risky and potentially devastating. Worthy of an epithet or two.

“Damn” is worse, though. Goddamn it I hate the word “damn”. Because the instant I want to use it, I have to stop and consider a fantasy culture’s beliefs about the afterlife. Do they have a Bad Afterlife Place to which people can be damned? Who does this damning, and why? Why is being damned such a problem? I mean, if the culture has an afterlife that’s full of ice cream and rainbows — or if they don’t believe in an afterlife at all — there’s no reason for “damn” to exist as a word. But since I come from a culture that constantly rants about the afterlife, my own language is deeply permeated with damnation, and that one slips out even when I don’t want it to. Every time I write a short story I have to do a scan for damns, because I always include them, and they don’t always belong.

In my novels I’ve gotten around this thus far by writing worlds that have a Bad Afterlife Place — the infinite hells of the Inheritance Trilogy, the shadowlands of the Dreamblood. Right now, though, I’m working on the Untitled Magic Seismology Project, and it’s a very different beast. In this world of frequent catastrophic seismic events, life is pretty damn (argh) harsh, so they regard death as a relief, not something to fear. And most cultures of this world don’t have much religion, in part because every few centuries there’s an Extinction Level Event that reboots society. Not much time to develop or syncretize beliefs. The majority of nations at the time of the story have been influenced by the oldest country in the world, a sprawling Romanesque empire which views Father Earth as god — and they hate him, because he keeps trying to kill them. There’s a bit of self-blaming cosmogony around this: they believe that some of their ancestors pissed off the earth by becoming too numerous. But for the most part they just think the earth is an evil dickwad who is and will always be the Enemy. So these are the curses I’ve come up with thus far:

  • Evil Earth (e.g. “Evil Earth I’m tired. Let’s get some rest.”)
  • Earthfires/Underfires (e.g. “The town… it’s gone.” “Earthfires, no…”)
  • References to earthquakes or volcanic activity — which they call “shakes” and “blows”, and which allows me to use “blows” for a similar-yet-different reason to the way modern English does. (e.g. “What a shitshake.” “Yeah, that blows.”)

But then I had to also consider what they would value in this world. Property’s not much of an issue; most parts of this world are essentially socialist, with a central authority in every community apportioning property in ways that will best-benefit everyone. This does cause problems in times of plenty and ordinary seasons, but it’s a lifesafer during the years-long volcanic winters, when nobody has the time or wherewithal to waste on arguments about inheritance or paternity. So if land doesn’t matter, what does? The answer I came up with was stability. This is a world in which people avoid coastlines (because of frequent tsunami) and faultlines whenever possible; only the poorest people are forced to live in such areas. The ideal community is built on good solid bedrock; the biggest cities are located at the center of a tectonic plate. And given that early metallurgy would not provide especially useful building materials — most primitive metals have relatively low flexiblity and are quite brittle — this is a society which values stone over metal. Most metal rusts, after all, and even wood was more reliable at certain points in our own world’s history. And since this is a world littered with the remains of past civilizations, it’s easy to see that certain kinds of building materials and techniques stand the test of time better than others. In this world no one spends a lot of time wondering why a past civilization died. They just note that it did, and they figure it’s best not to repeat past mistakes.

So they swear by stone and curse by metal. A kept promise is “stonebound”; an unreliable or unlikeable person is a “rusting [cockcrack/daughter of a moocher/son of a cannibal/etc]“. When Essun (the story’s main protagonist) is feeling especially creative or pissed off, she says “Rust it and burn it in the earth’s steaming hot ass crack”, and so forth.

…I’m having a lot of fun with this, if you’re wondering.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. You?

* If you know of a language that doesn’t have a vulgarity for shit, tell me.

** If you do like shit, don’t tell me.

Assorted Awesomeness

Sorry for the silence lately; holidays, travel, the usual. Back now and getting into the swing of things again, so here’s a little of what I’ve been up to:

The folks at Open Road Media have created a series of advertisements for Octavia Butler’s novels, which are being released in ebook form at last now that it’s the 25th anniversary of Dawn — not her first novel, but arguably her first hit. (If you haven’t read the Lilith’s Brood books, read them. They’re my favorites of hers.) The first one came out a few months ago, showcasing Butler’s agent, some of her friends, and… er… me:

Recently they’ve released a new video that’s all me. ::wibble::

Considering that they took about an hour’s worth of footage — yeah, that’s my apartment in the background, they came and set up a little studio, it was all kind of weird, but they really liked my blueberry-mint lemonade — I’m amused by how carefully they edited these to trim out my babbling and “um”-ing. They make me sound so smart! I spoke as much about race as about gender, and a lot about the state of science fiction in the aftermath of Butler’s presence, so there might be more of these.

In other news, The Killing Moon is up for a Goodreads Choice Award! It’s got some stiff competition, including books I’ve enjoyed lots, so it’s definitely an honor to be nominated (and reach the semifinals).

And in social networking news, just a quick update: as you know readers, I keep track of most of the reviews I find on my novels over at Del.icio.us. There are new reviews of the Dreamblood books linked now. And I now have a Pinterest account, if you follow such things. Not much in it yet.

And to end on a lovely note, just saw this piece of fanart from sqbr on DeviantArt, based on the characters from my steampunk short “The Effluent Engine”. Isn’t it so cute and sweet? Go tell sqbr so!

two women in 1800s dresses, one in tophat and other in glasses, sharing a romantic moment

Toodles!

Predators, the GOP, and you

People sick of American politics and American media, you might want to look away from this one. Or not. Also, I reserve the right to use copious profanity throughout this post… because it involves American politics and media.

Still from the movie Predators. Shows all main cast members, including one black guy, one woman, etc.

Guess who lives? Guess who dies? YOU CAN PREDICT THE WHOLE MOVIE’S SCRIPT FROM THIS ONE IMAGE.

For various reasons on Sunday night — mostly having to do with the fact that I can’t beat that one hidden boss in the Dragon Age 2: Legacy DLC wtf why doesn’t Anders heal faster he’s so damn useless and seriously why is Sebastian even in this game — I found myself watching Predators (2010) on TV. I’d been vaguely interested in seeing the film back when it was out in theaters, but something warned me not to, so I didn’t. So I got to see it on cable, sans the first 20 minutes in which I wasn’t paying attention while I made dinner… and wow. What an utter mess. My instincts were completely correct.
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More Awesome Compilations I’m In

I’ve been remiss in not talking about this one here, but I have to admit I’m a little disorganized and frankly I just forgot about it — until editor and anthologist extraordinaire John Joseph Adams reminded the world that this baby is out now:

Cover of EPIC, showing some of the names published.

EPIC, the ultimate anthology of short-form epic fantasy, from some of the biggest names in the genre and also newbies like li’l ol’ me.

Here’s the Table of Contents. Yeah, just bask in that for awhile. Then if you’re interested, it’s shipping already from Amazon and B&N in the US, and I suspect other retailers will have it up soon. My story in the volume is The Narcomancer, which, granted, is up free. But it’s also a sample of what kind of stuff you can find in this volume — self-contained short fiction set in some of your favorite epic fantasy story worlds, and maybe some new worlds you’ve never seen before.

I do think it’s hard to do epic fantasy well in short form. I’ve done it, a few times, but I have to admit that one of the reasons I write so many novels is because short stories frustrate the hell out of me sometimes. I mean, once you’ve invested so much in creating a complex, detailed world, it’s frustrating to just… stop. But every big world has little stories, and some of them can be quite powerful and profound.

I talk more about “The Narcomancer”‘s creation here. An excerpt:

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It kind of wrote itself, actually! I do wish I’d done more research before I wrote Ginnem, the male Sister. I’d intended for Ginnem to be a trans woman, but I worried that it wouldn’t seem plausible for a Bronze Age society to so readily accept a person with male organs who identifies as female. But if I’d done my research, I would’ve realized many ancient societies did just fine with transgender issues; it’s our (American in my case) modern society that’s hinky about it. So instead Ginnem is a transvestite–identifying as male, “performing” a female role because that’s what he has to do to belong to the Sisters. Still gotta do some learning in that area.

Check it out!

Oree: Pinup Style

This is amazesome, you guys. I’m not even gonna shrink it down; you’re just gonna have to look at it in its full magnificence. Though I will cut for slightly NSFW artful nudity.
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YAY Dystopia!

Whenever I see the phrase “YA dystopian”, it scans as “Yay! Dystopia!” in my head.

I say this because I am perhaps not the best person to write dystopian stories. For one thing, I’m generally a cheery soul. For another, I don’t really believe in most of what SFF posits as dystopia. All societies have good and bad aspects, and any society that proves stable for the long term is one that works for the majority of its people, however horrific it might seem to outsiders. One person’s nightmare is another person’s Tuesday. That’s the thing, though; most dystopian fiction doesn’t depict the kind of society that would be stable in the long term — not without some sort of artificial engineering of human sociology or external pressure keeping it going. Most of the dystopias I’ve read are so unrealistic, so extreme, that most of their citizens would be miserable; no one would put up with that. There’d be a revolution, for good or for ill. So sometimes I write dystopias that feature artificial/external pressures — like human colonies struggling to survive on a hostile planet, in the case of my story “Bittersweet” (which unfortunately seems to not be posted at Abyss & Apex anymore… I’ll post it here shortly if I can’t find a way to link it there). Most of the time, though, I write dystopias set right here in America, or in recognizable variations on future America. “Valedictorian” is an example of the latter. It’s also my first YA dystopian, and it appears in After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia (eds Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), which is out today.

Cover of anthology. Person's silhouette against image of a burning city.

“Valedictorian” is set in an ordinary high school in a middle American town, and it follows an ordinary teenage girl, Zinhle Nkosi, as she strives to become the top student. Except, no one else is striving against her. There’s a reason for that.

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.

AFTER has gotten a lot of positive buzz already, including an elusive and rare positive review from Kirkus. Last Short Story also did a podcast review of the anth, with some intensive discussion of several stories — including mine! — along with an overall review. So check these out. Also, for those of you who are in the NYC area, I and some of the other authors in the anth will be doing a reading/talk at Books of Wonder on Thursday night.

And then if you’re feeling all “Yay! Dystopia!”, buy it — and tell me what you think!


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