Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Short Story - "The City Born Great", by N.K. Jemisin

"The City Born Great", by N.K. Jemisin is about how a city grows up and comes into its own.

I try not to be a prude, but language is important to me and a lot of use of the f-word can turn me off, even if it's proper in context and used realistically. In the case of this story, it's used to set up the situation and the personality of the characters, and it works... but I still find it irritating. Yeah, I know... prudish. I blame my upbringing.

The good: A confusing story that describes a confusing event. Births are messy and traumatic and sometimes don't go as planned, and the birth of a city wouldn't be an exception. The language really sets the scene and pushes the concept nicely for the reader, and the action, although limited, gives everything a sense of New York that's pretty much required for this to work at all. The concept itself is fairly awe-inspiring - cities are born and live and die, and some fail while other become shells of their former selves (The use of New Orleans as a city that failed makes for an interesting counterpoint and drives home the sense of urgency for the story). A person born in the city is the avatar and midwife, a person who will live or die if the city lives or dies. A person who lives the city and is the city in every sense.

The bad: And that's the bad, because it hurts that cops are the parasites. I understand the angle being taken, and I understand the why, but cops *should* be a part of the system and a help, not the form the enemy takes when trying to snuff out the new life. While it could be taken as a cop-hating story, I'm going more with the thought that, as the avatar becomes the city more and more, the cops notice him less and less because they are becoming part of him as well.

The other question I have is the nature of the enemy. Why does it want to snuff out this new form of life? What is it? And what the heck happened in New Orleans - was that a failed birth, and how did the avatar get caught? I almost want to read that tale.

Conclusion: A powerful little story with problematic bits that are mostly due to the nature of the real world, not the story itself. Currently in the second spot on my ballot.

Best Short Story: I've read "That Game We Played During the War" and "The City Born Great". I need to read "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies", and "Seasons of Glass and Iron". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.