The best fiction keeps your undivided attention. It holds you in the moment, simultaneously letting you savor every word and creating anticipation for what happens next.
N.K. Jemisin’s short story “Emergency Skin” does these things and more. The story of a human foot soldier on a mission to a decimated Earth is almost immediately flipped on its head. The Earth is thriving when it shouldn’t be since the ‘best’ of the species hightailed it off-planet with as many resources as possible centuries ago when they saw everything circling the drain. Everyone else be damned.
Jemisin cheekily uses the AI embedded in the soldier’s suit to show how wrong our ‘superior’ cousins got things. The planet survived the catastrophic damage that people inflicted on it and society didn’t crumble. We rebuilt.
The story could almost be a standup comedy routine (the audio story is excellent) the way it’s delivered and how exasperated the AI is at not being able to explain things.
But Jemisin does something more here than entertain; she creates multiple layers speaking basic truths about civility and compassion without beating you over the head. It ultimately made me reflect deeply on how we think we have the solutions to everything and he we might be deeply flawed in some of these assumptions.
It’s hilarious, it’s thoughtful, and it shows Jemisin at the top of her writing game.
(Part of the Amazon Prime Reading collection “Forward“)