NK Jemisin’s new book The World We Make involved unexpected pivots

“When you’re writing a story that’s mostly set in the real world, aside from the tentacled monsters,” says Nora K. Jemisin, “you have to be ready for change. The real world will not remain static. The process of writing her new novel, The world we create, resulted in unexpected pivots. Like the sequel to The city we have become (2020), in which superhero-like avatars of New York City and its individual boroughs battle the aforementioned monsters, was initially going to involve a conflict between the city and what Jemisin calls “a demagogue president who attacked New York in the media for elevate one’s political position. Then Donald Trump actually done that.”

Not wanting to appear influenced by the 45th president, Jemisin changed the plot point to a mayoral election. In the The world we createBrooklyn’s avatar, a middle-aged black hip-hop host turned lawyer, goes head-to-head with a far-right anti-immigrant candidate. Meanwhile, Brooklyn and the other avatars continue to try to thwart the monsters’ mission to turn New Yorkers into reactionary zombies. Together, the books make up a much lighter-toned duology than Jemisin’s celebrated post-apocalyptic trilogy Broken Earth (2015-17), which garnered her an unprecedented three Hugo Awards from the World Science Fiction Convention. On the phone from her Brooklyn home, Jemisin tells Oprah Daily about her clever new game, which tackles familiar and thorny social justice issues in adventurous ways.

In the The world we createyou’ve taken the familiar trope of “aliens trying to colonize earthlings” and presented it as gentrification.

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I grew up with discussions of gentrification all around me, but then I dated a bunch of black artists and revolutionaries. The problem is reaching critical mass in the 21st century because we are seeing the damage it does. Cities are the canaries in the coal mine. We are now seeing large companies buying starter homes in small towns and urban and rural areas, exactly the same thing that is happening in big cities. The systems in place will raise prices to the absolute maximum of what people can afford, or beyond, and screw everyone else over. I think people have forgotten that in the midst of all the urban versus rural rhetoric. There are a number of people in our society who genuinely perceive the Other as the enemy.

The avatars of the villages are all very different from each other, in terms of age, race, social class and more. They are tasked with bridging the gaps between them and fighting the homogenization of New York.

I was trying not to suggest that one district is better than another. They all think they are the best and that the other districts are terrible. This is what New Yorkers are like. At the end of the day, we all have to work together and it’s hard for some people to accept that. They are all from New York. I guess that’s the main message [of the books]- to the extent that I want to send a message.

Without giving too much away, Queens’ avatar is a theoretical physicist, and his view of the universe is important to how avatars go about their battle with monsters.

I don’t know if this is a scientific thing. More of it was, “Why don’t we try a paradigm shift in how we think about the problem?” Science is a means to that end, but I guess it probably reflects my perhaps naïve belief that many of the problems we have are caused by differences in perspective, and if we are able to step outside of ourselves and consider a different way of think, then we will at least understand the other person, even if we continue to disagree.

This book picks up on a theme you’ve explored in other works: what it would mean to ensure the safety of the many while sacrificing the well-being of the few. I think of Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “Those Who Turn Away from Omelas,” which famously deals with this issue, and to which you’ve already answered, in fiction.

I’m constantly grappling with the concept of “What does it take to create a society that cares for everyone?” A society where everyone is considered important, valid and worthy of life, health and happiness. Science fiction excels at being able to imagine other worlds and ways of being and ways of living, and I really have a hard time imagining a society that recognizes that people they are what make us strong. What would a world look like where everyone got enough food, everyone got a decent education? Our world imposes useless choices on us. Can we have a society where everyone is treated well or does someone have to suffer? Must there always be a subclass? Must there always be an oppressed?

The World We Create: A Novel (Big Cities, 2)

The World We Create: A Novel (Big Cities, 2)

The World We Create: A Novel (Big Cities, 2)

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As a writer, how interested are you in giving answers to these questions?

At the end of the day, I’m here to entertain people. It’s just that my idea of ​​entertainment involves difficult questions, so I answer to the extent that suits me. I suspect, ultimately, my entire career will be the answer. I’m throwing several examples of what that can be and the pros and cons of each. In the Broken Earth books, we see the detritus of a utopian society that, like Le Guin’s “Omelas,” depends on the oppression of a single group of people. And even when it doesn’t have that single group of people to oppress, it literally creates its own underclass. There is a tendency in science fiction to suggest that our technology will save us, that if we become environmentally friendly enough, all our problems will vanish. Even when our technology improves, if we haven’t fixed that part of ourselves, the world will still be completely messed up. I’m pitching the question, “What are you willing to do if you want a better way?” I will continue to explore it and this may take the rest of my life.

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