N. K. Jemisin is making history in the world of science fiction and fantasy. She is the first person - ever - to win the Hugo award for best novel three years in a row. The three novels are Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. Her prior trilogy, The Inheritance Trilogy, put her name in the spotlight of the SF/F world but this recent one has risen her to the pantheon of greatest SF/F writers of all time. She also holds other firsts - she is the first black person to win a Hugo for best novel, and the first black woman to win a Hugo for best novel (all of these are for the first book in this trilogy).
Her novels speak of oppressive structures, power, prejudice, and ignorance - the same forces that have kept SF/F primarily a white man’s game for so long. Jemisin is among a wave of diverse writers who have been changing SF/F for the better over the last several years through new ideas, incredible writing, and deep cultural critiques of the world we live in. Really, they are continuing and expanding what makes SF/F so good - they hold up a mirror to our world and imagine, “what if?”
Jemisin’s first novel, The Fifth Season, lays out the plot and the world of the Broken Earth Trilogy. The Stillness is a vast single continent making up the known world, surrounded by ocean. At random moments throughout history a fifth season occurs - one of widespread and massive destruction: earthquakes, eruptions, volcanos. The large majority of people die only to rebuild civilization again. The entire culture of humanity revolves around preparation for the fifth season. Your name is your use-caste (your job/role) in your comm (your village or city), for example: Strongbacks are laborers. Everyone is only as strong as their community when it comes to the inevitable fifth season.
There are also special kinds of humans called Orogenes. People who have the ability to control the earth - they work to diminish the powers of the fifth season, to control earthquakes, to try and prevent as much destruction as possible. Their role is of extreme important but their power is feared and they are cast out of any village as children and sent to the big city to study under the oppressive rule of academics and Guardians. Every Orogene is assigned one Guardian, who are as powerful to Orogenes as Orogenes are to the earth.
There are other people, characters, communities, etc. (all incredible and interesting) that show up throughout the trilogy but that is the start. The novels tell an incredible journey following the main character, Essun, an extremely powerful Orogene who we see at the beginning living in secret as a normal person. She has children who begin to develop Orogene powers and everything falls apart from there. The journey starts small and leads to truly epic proportions with a finale in the third book that rivals any fantastical story told. Her characters are amazing, diverse, and human. The world is so believable and detailed it’s hard to remember it isn’t a real place. Jemisin’s talent for crafting stories that speak to the complexities of humanity is astounding.
What makes Jemisin so impressive is that her previous trilogy, The Inheritance Trilogy, was already incredible and some of the best SF/F books in recent years. Jemisin is also only 46 years old and has written 6 of the best works of SF/F in the past 10 years. She released a collection of short stories at the end of 2018 titled How Long ‘til Black Future Month which has already gotten extremely positive reviews. Jemisin shows no signs of stopping. I had the chance to see her speak after her short story collection came out - she was funny, brilliant, and discussed, for a bit, her love of the Dragon Age games. She is awesome.
So go read her already! Read the Broken Earth trilogy. And if you have any doubts watch her now legendary speech at the Hugo awards when she became the first person to win 3 years in a row for best novel: