The City We Became

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

I recently learned that N.K. Jemisin is a big deal in science fiction. When I saw her new book about New York, I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

1) “Miracles exist, Ralph Ellison was right, any NYPD you can walk away from, hallelujah.”

For better or worse, recent events have nudged me to read more books by African American writers, and it’s saddening to see how long they’ve been talking about policing issues.

2) “The Enemy tries some kind of fucked-up wiggly shit – it’s all tentacles – and I snarl and bite into it ’cause New Yorkers eat damn near as much sushi as Tokyo, mercury and all.

I quickly started to wonder whether this book was YA (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but the language suggests otherwise.

3) “And just to add insult to injury? I backhand its ass with Hoboken, raining the drunk rage of ten thousand dudebros down on it like the hammer of God.”

I get what the author is trying to do, but it’s too much for me.

4) “‘Goddamn techies keep trying to take over, and they’ll probably win eventually, but for now all they got’s a polluted-ass neighborhood called Long Island City. Which is on Long Island because Queens is on Long Island, but isn’t part of Long Island. You follow?'” – Brooklyn

I stayed at LIC once for the US Open. It was indeed confusing.

5) “‘Something has made it more Queens, so to speak, than the rest of Queens.'” – Manny

The whole book is full of cringe dialogue like this.

6) “You thinking I should go high? Nah! I go low.”

This must be a reference to Michelle Obama.

7) “The goal, Jess explains, is something that will look like a spontaneous show of support from the public.”

I thought it was intriguing that the author deliberately showed how both sides manipulated our beloved YouTube and social media.

8) “Everything that happens everywhere else happens on Staten Island, too, but here people try not to see the indecencies, the domestic violence, the drug use. And then, having denied what’s right in front of their eyes, they tell themselves that at least they’re living in a good place full of good people. At least it’s not the city.”

America’s superpower is to ignore the foreclosure sign on its big house with the green lawn and the white picket fence.

9) “‘Weeeeelllll, an adapter usually connects one way of doing a thing to a different way of doing a thing, right?'” – the Woman

Honestly I’ve never thought of an adapter in this way, but it is exactly what an adapter is.

10) “He shakes his head, muttering in Cantonese about barbaric American health care for a moment before resuming English.”

This is quintessential Hong Kong behavior. I found Hong the character extremely underdeveloped. I’m assuming he shows up in the sequels.

This book was SJW sci-fi through and through, and it was way too in-your-face for me. Perhaps that was the point. I still like the concept of building a fantasy world around real cities like New York, but the plot and – in particular – the dialogue were very cringey. The story felt like a blend of Power Rangers and Sailor Moon. Despite this disappointing introduction, I might still try Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy at some point.

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