I didn’t realize that tor.com put free short stories up by, established authors (OMG N. K. Jemisin!!), on their website. I found out when The City Born Great popped up on my Goodreads wall. I hadn’t heard of it so I looked it up and there it was for free online! It had been posted since 09/2016!! You can find it here.
This story was only about 20 pages. Due to how compact it is I do not think I can fully review this story without touching on large parts of the story though I will avoid spoilers. So absolutely spoiler free my review is that I absolutely loved The City Born Great! It was fast paced, and had an intriguing concept. I loved the flavor of the city, and the voice of the hero. I hope that Jemisin revisits this in more detail soon.
Nothing I say from this point on would constitute a spoiler for me. I will not spoil plot specifics, and most of what I say is covered in the synopsis at the head of the story which I will post below. However I accept that spoilers mean different things to different people continue at your own risk.
In this standalone short story by N. K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Season, the winner of this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel, New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife… and how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song.
The concept of this story is that there are living cities. As a city evolves, and grows it must be born, or die. These cities choose midwives to birth/nurture/protect them. I loved the idea of these living cities, and the midwives that birth them! Technically this isn’t a spoiler as the synopsis tells you this much.
Also mentioned in the synopsis is an ancient enemy that our hero fights. Only I have no idea why they are fighting, or where they are coming from. I have no doubt this was omitted due to space, but I would love to know more!
As for the flavor of the NYC, I got the impression that if you’ve ever lived in NYC you’ll appreciate this much more. Proper nouns were being dropped left, right, and center. Being that if I ever did visit NYC I would only ever be one of those annoying tourists mentioned in the story I didn’t bother to look them u. I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not doing so. It just seemed like if you did know the area it would give the story an additional layer.
I don’t feel this next part is a SPOILER, but, again, everyone’s idea of spoiler is different.. I include it only to give context to what I’m about to say. Our hero is a young, black, homeless man. There is only one point of view, and so one perspective. The format basically demands this. His voice makes the story, but his experiences have very much shaped the way he sees the world. Particularly the way he views law enforcement. There is also some swearing, but this too fits his character.
Personally I enjoy stories that can help me see things from another perspective. Homelessness, and America’s current law enforcement culture (both actual, and sensationalized) are real issues in our society. Seeing these problems from all sides, and working toward understanding, and compromise are the only way I see them being resolved.
Saying all that I appreciate that people might not agree with the hero’s assessment, or the one sided nature of these issues in the story. Being told in the first person brings this out even more. And of course with all fiction sometimes you just want to forget about life, politics, and simply lose yourself for a time. Nothing at all wrong with that.
I’m including the actual links to both tor.com’s free stories, and the exact link to The City Born Great below:
My Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Edit: I originally gave this 5 stars, but the more I think about it the more the lack of another perspective for the hot topics it contains, and the complete lack of information about the bad guys (seriously who are they, and why do they want to destroy these cities before they are birthed?) really makes this 4 stars in my mind. I’m still thinking about it though after having read other things which says something for the story.