The Ones Who Stay and Fight is the opening story in N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ‘Til Black Future Month.
I fell hard in love with this story. It is a response to Ursula La Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. I had never read that story so I did the lazy thing and read the Wikipedia entry on it. It is the story of a utopian city where the good fortune is predicated on the suffering of one child. People learn about this as adults and most chose to ignore the fact and live their happy lives. Some leave because they can’t stand the suffering this city is built on.
The Ones Who Stay and Fight describes my perfect town, Um-Helat. Everyone is full of joy. Reading the description of walking through the town brought tears to my eyes. It was so uplifting and light. Everyone is accepted where they are at this time without needing to change themselves to fit into society. Everyone, except for a small group of people who have learned that there can be societies built on greed and that there are people who take advantage of feeling superior to others. In the story one of these people is killed for spreading this ideology. He has a daughter who is taken in to be raised to learn not to hate. She will be given a choice when she is older and she can leave if she continues to espouse the ideology that her father taught her.
To me the story said that you can have a society built on fairness and social justice if you both envision it and be willing to fight for it.
I loved this story so much that I shared it with the husband. Do you know what he said when I finished reading?
“Well, that’s a cautionary tale.”
Excuse me? I asked him to explain himself. He said, “That story is saying that there can never be a utopia.”
I was taken aback. I started wondering how I had ever let that man kiss me with that mouth. Then we went on to say that obviously the girl would grow up to tear down the whole system because hate and revenge are more powerful motivations than love so the enforcers should have killed her too.
This started an argument that lead to me telling him that he was no longer invited to move with me to Um-Helat and he said he didn’t want to go. I swear, I almost had to disown him.
So, read The Ones Who Stay and Fight as a Rorschach test to see what side of the divide that you fall on. Just know that it can lead to squabbles.
I’ll be posting more about this wonderful collection later. I’ve been taking my time with it but I think the library is going to start demanding that I bring it back.