N. K. Jemisin is a Brooklyn author whose short fiction and novels have been nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula, shortlisted for the Crawford and the Tiptree, and have won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her latest novel, The Shadowed Sun, was published in June 2012 from Orbit Books. Her website is nkjemisin.com.
SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with several authors involved in the new anthology, After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and featuring stories asking: If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.
CHARLES TAN: Hi Nora! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For you, how would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?
NK JEMISIN: I think of it as post-postapocalyptic fiction. And I’m using that description both to suggest an artistic sensibility a la postmodern, and a necessary factor of dystopias that work, which is that they’re *us gone wrong.* Usually that means Something Happened To Us — maybe not the apocalypse, but there had to be some trigger event that caused our world to hare off into the weeds. So dystopian lit is not simply about messed-up societies, it’s necessarily about messed-up societies that exist in the shadow of, or in reaction to, our own.
It’s possible to write a dystopia that isn’t related to the present day or the current world, of course — half of science fiction and fantasy showcases such worlds (e.g. Mordor). But what makes these terrible places dystopian is when readers can see institutions they respect, twisted; societal roles they understand, subverted; ideologies they empathize with taken to an extreme. Seeing all that makes you twitch with a weird, intimate kind of horror — like the first time you see yourself in a funhouse mirror. You know what you’re seeing, and you know it’s *you*, but everything you know about yourself is all *wrong.*