Sometimes, you bump into an audiobook that’s performed so well you have to hit pause to check out who the performer is so you can check out the other books they’ve performed. In the case of How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, that turns out to be four different performers—but in the case of this particular story, “The City Born Great,” it’s Shayna Small, and I bookmarked her mid-way through the story.
Jemisin says in the introduction of this collection that sometimes her short fiction is a way to explore proof of concept, and oh wow did I love this concept. We meet a young man in New York who is living right on the edge—he’s hungry, homeless, street-smart, saavy, and more than aware that mistakes can be fatal. He’s willing to turn tricks and look beyond the cigarettes a particular man smokes in exchange for a warm bed and a hot meal, but this particular trick doesn’t seem to be interested in more than talk.
And the talk is full of impossibilities: of cities becoming somehow more than cities, and how they need help to make it happen, and how he might very well be just that person for New York, which would be the first city to reach this new level of existence in America. The kid writes this off, at first, but then he starts to hear and feel things, and an encounter with something shadowy and deadly nudges him to understand this is a truth—he’s here to help New York attain… something. And New York will help him fight off the infection of the dark things, if he figures out how.
I cannot tell you how captivated I was in this, in the voice, the performance, the character, and the particular twist of spec-fic used in setting. Gah. Amazing.