Reading the Hugos: The City Born Great, by N. K. Jemisin

The City Born Great” is one the finalists for this year (2017) Hugo Awards in the short story category. The Hugo Awards are the highest honor than can be bestowed to a science fiction or fantasy author.

The story is about a young (the age is not specified)  black, gay, and homeless ¿boy? who yells at buildings and his relationship with an older, chain-smoking mentor who spouts cryptic shit and tells him he is the Chosen One and how The Enemy is ready to destroy New York City. The Enemy is some sort of Eldrich abomination only he can see or sense, which gives credence to the theory that the protagonist is suffering from schizophrenia and his delusions manifest in extreme paranoia, which includes seeing (white) policemen as the pseudopods of Yog-Sototh while in truth he is just being abused by an old man who gives him sandwiches in exchange for sex.

The writing style follows the contemporary, free-form style of hip, socially aware and cool urban fantasism, which consists of excessive coprolalia, references to consumerism, fashion, and music, and a creative use of punctuation interspersed with random strings of free-flow expressionistic penmanship like this:

over the barrier and through the grass into fucking hell I go one lane silver car two lanes horns horns horns three lanes SEMI WHAT’S A FUCKING SEMI DOING ON THE FDR IT’S TOO TALL YOU STUPID UPSTATE HICK screaming four lanes GREEN TAXI screaming Smart Car hahaha cute five lanes moving truck six lanes and the blue Lexus actually brushes up against my clothes as it blares past screaming screaming screaming

This represents, I believe, part of a chase scene, but it may very well be a brain tumor. This chase scene ends with the eldritch abomination (which happens to be a fusion of various ¿blonde? white cops)  being run over by passing cars even though nobody sees it anyway, which means this is the most useless monster in existence as it can be killed by people who don’t even know it exists. Apparently, it’s not even people but the cars, who are somehow aware of the creature and unconsciously swerve to kill it.

A recurrent theme of the story is the idea of childbirth and the protagonist as the midwife of NY City, a metropolis that here is not the New York we know and loathe, an accretion of ugly concrete and hipsters, but a real, breathing, foul-mouthed being that the Enemy (which, incidentally, uses racist white cops as its invisible -but still material- vessel) wants to destroy, control… or perhaps rape with tentacles? I don’t know, it’s complicated, but it’s called The Enemy, so he must be evil. Also, he may be related to Colombus somehow. Still, reading this story was as painful as what I presume must be childbirth but without the feeling of having done anything of value, so I guess that’s a literary success because there is no reason to assume the protagonist has done anything or helped anybody or even that what he saw was real in the first place.

Finally, the protagonist, suffering from another bout of psychotic mysticism, becomes one with New York City and battles The Enemy… somehow. It’s a very conceptual fight, but he apparently raises his arm and the city fights for him:

I raise my arms and avenues leap. (It’s real but it’s not. The ground jolts and people think, Huh, subway’s really shaky today.)

So, using whole neighborhoods, rivers, and urban landscapes as his weapons, the Enemy is bullied and cries before the might of our multicultural protagonist. Years later, we discover that the boy has somehow become a millionaire –thanks to all that money from the settlement of his sexual abuse case, I presume.

All in all, in a scale of Hugo to 10, I give this short story a HugoHugo and hope it wins the Prize because it’s a great example of what contemporary science fiction is all about.

You can read this short story at

5 thoughts on “Reading the Hugos: The City Born Great, by N. K. Jemisin

  1. Pingback: Reading the Hugos: A First in Permutations of Lightning and Wildflowers, by Alyssa Wong. – The Frisky Pagan

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  3. Pingback: These foking fockers focking focked language again: on swearing and fiction. – Emperor's Notepad

  4. Henry Gasko

    Yes, a great (grate?) example of what science fiction has become these days. I would weep (and sometines I do). But fortunately horror has stayed relatively true to its origins.


  5. Pingback: Reading the Hugos (2020): A Catalog of Storms – Emperor's Notepad

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