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N.K. Jemisin: Pioneer of Diversity in Science Fiction/Fantasy
Here at BlakeWrites one of our favorite pastimes is advocating for the authors of the world that have touched us. We believe in spreading the word about the writers and the creators of worlds that spur thought and deep contemplation. Well, N.K. Jemisin fills just about every checklist I could come up with. Don’t trust me? Perhaps you should consider some of her accolades: she’s been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards; won the Locus and Sense of Gender awards; and is the first author in history to have won the Hugo award three years in a row!
And it’s not all fluff; she’s really that good. I recently listened to “The Fifth Season” on audiobook and before it ended I had purchased the following two books in “The Broken Earth” trilogy on audiobook, as well as her debut series, “The Inheritance Trilogy”, on paperback. Jemisin tackles heavy topics like oppression, racism, and gender head-on but through the lens of fantastical worlds. Her novels have featured gay, lesbian, and transgender characters, as well as large casts of people of color and complex female protagonists. Her work isn’t for the faint of heart though; be prepared to cry and feel your anxiety shoot through the roof.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Jemisin’s work so great. She’s a solid writer who tackles real world issues through a fantastical landscape, sure. But what I think really pushes her over the edge is how she handles gender. Take “The Fifth Season”, the first book of “The Broken Earth” trilogy, for example. The story is seemingly told entirely through the perspective of three women across three age gaps. Each of whom contends with being a woman in different ways: one is a child, another an ambitious young woman, and the third a mother and teacher. I won’t give away any spoilers but how each of these women survives or overcomes the barriers of gender and sexuality is startling. Jemisin doesn’t keep things clean-cut in “The Fifth Season”. Gender and sexuality get messy and we quickly find one of our main characters involved in a love triangle between a gay man and a bisexual one.
Race also plays heavily into Jemisin’s work. Some of the features of the people of the Stillness are fantastical but Jemisin seems to employ a cast of primarily dark skinned people. Additionally, the main focus of the story revolves around the persecution and enslavement of a group of individuals with remarkable abilities. The themes of persecution, oppression, and resistance are so strongly woven throughout “The Fifth Season”—and so completely mirror those we have struggled with for so long—that it’s hard to believe this world doesn’t exist somewhere in the cosmos.
N.K. Jemisin recently released a collection of short stories titled “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month”. It includes stories set in the worlds of her novels, as well as original pieces that carry all the meaning and depth of her other work. If you haven’t read N.K. Jemisin then you’re missing out on one of the biggest game changers of science fiction and fantasy.