The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Coming back to Jemisin, my expectations are extraordinarily high. After reading the short fiction that this novel was based on, it made me wonder and scheme and imagine where it would go.
I mean, hey! This is all about human avatars being created out of a City, FOR the City's own protection and soul! It's like crossing American Gods with a NY monster movie with the SOUL of xenophobia (or any other kind of prejudice).
Coming into this, however, I should recommend that you manage your expectations.
This isn't a full-on monster bash although it has certain elements that recommend it to be a video game with a party of D&D adventurers complete with twisty-turny characterizations and betrayals and a big bad with a truly awesome universe-spanning motivation a-la Lovecraft.
Nor is it a full-on love-letter (or hate-letter) to NYC, although the whole novel truly concerns itself with the multiple burroughs and soul of the different parts of the city and its people.
It is both. And both are awesome.
So why did I give it only 4 stars? I mean, for ideas alone and the rich characters, this SHOULD deserve all the marks, right?
Well... it's also preachy. Heavily so.
It tackles prejudice and battles it with tooth and nail. I can't find fault in that. Not really. BUT it DOES come across rather heavy and constant and while the normal, everyday prejudice fits nicely with the extradimensional themes, the over-the-top presentation is somewhat too-oppressive. It was also hard to LIKE the whole "yeah, these guys are jerks, but they're OUR jerks" mentality. This, by itself, isn't that bad, but when we got into the whole art scene (and more) that catered to the war/counter-war that seemed to be all about portraying all whites as outright combatants against everyone else with very little distinction and a lot of sneering condemnation (I'm thinking of a certain announcement with a march full of white men), I get the impression that this is actually a resumption of hostilities in RL. As in the hostilities in the SF/F fandom or gamergate or the whole use of the term SJW.
I sided with everyone who believed in inclusiveness. I should appreciate what this book is trying to accomplish. Shouldn't I?
But this book is a new salvo aimed at all those angry white men who love to use the term SJW and it doesn't fear taking out its swords, knives, or bazookas. It's a resumption of hostilities that may or may not target non-combatants and people like me who believe that everyone should have a right to get along with everyone else. I don't want to fight an ideological war. I want to ENJOY the company of so many kinds of people. Not get riled up and be forced to pick a side where there will NOT be any winners.
I can feel the anger here and I cannot countenance the amazing levels of s**t that goes on with either side. Not the death threats, not the doxing, not the HATE. Nor can I feel comfortable when I'm targeted, even obliquely, because I fight my own way. I'm white. I'm male. But I don't believe in hate or exclusion. I don't believe in the resumptions of hostilities. I may agree with the core... but not with the amount of force or aggression it takes.
Others might argue that it's too little, too late, that the only thing that some people understand is force... but this is what it really is: Escalation.
If the City needs to be whole to fight the great universal exclusionary monster, then it needs to be truly inclusive. That means putting down the guns.
Otherwise, I very much would have rated this book a full and hearty five stars.
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