Walking the line between science fiction and something near-mystical, this latest story from How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is a beautiful example of world-building (and, I guess, off-world-building, too).
It’s set after a mass exodus. Humanity has mostly left Earth (after basically ruining the place) and moved to the asteroid belt to a ring habitat. Those who remained on Earth had a cultural shift: they would live simply, in balance, not taking more than they needed and not demanding more of the Earth than she could give, and though they might not live as long as those in the ring, they would do so on Earth, and they would do so with the pride of knowing they were guarding the Earth from future ruin, which also means protecting Earth as-is, which includes the new, red sky and the dragons (clouds) that seem to live there.
When “sky-people” return to her village, Nahatu strikes up a friendship with one of the young scientists, and they grow to know each other while they examine the sky and try to track down the reason for the change from blue to red. Nahatu is a woman who would be a great warrior were she a man, but is instead left in the strange position of being unmarried due to her penchant for strength, and as such cares for her father alone.
The twist comes at the end of this tale, and the nudging across from science fiction into something a bit more fantastical is done deftly and without ever losing verisimilitude, something Jemisin is freaking amazing at doing. Nahatu is left with a choice between duty and freedom (and love), and it plays out perfectly.
It’s a great story all around.