Walking Awake

Review of: Walking Awake

Reviewed by:
On June 19, 2014
Last modified:June 19, 2014


Walking-AwakeTitle: Walking Awake
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Science Fiction, dystopia

This is the part of my 100 Short Stories in 2014 challenge. Part of Lightspeed Magazine: Women Destroy Science Fiction.

This is a very dark story or rather it turns out to be a rather dark story. As in so many short stories it drops you right into the middle of things and let you figure out what is going on mostly by your self.

N. K. Jemisin manages to put a lot of world building into the story without it feeling forced. The structure of the story means that you get the world building in tiny droplets, just enough for you as a reader to figure out what is going on.

The story has multiple characters who are not neurotypical or with disabilities. So this year’s theme of diversity caries though into this story. At this rate there will come a point where it isn’t any longer something I notice, because it will be normal, but we are not there yet so it is great to see. This is by no means central to the story. The POV character, Sadie,  just happens to be bipolar. It might be what give her the ability to dream the way she does, it might not be the explanation. I like that is is left ambiguous.

This is very much a story about being trapped in a system that you know is wrong. That you know is so wrong that you barely dare to think about the wrongness because making the wrongness explicit renders you incapable of continuing your life without doing something about it – and that is too dangerous to think about.

She had never let herself imagine this. Never, not once. These were the dangerous thoughts, the ones that threatened her ability to keep doing what the Masters wanted or to keep from screaming while she did those things. If she even thought the wordfree, she usually made herself immediately think about something else. She should not be dreaming about this.

I of course came to think of household slaves – trapped in a situation that for them personal is bearable but where they know they are part of a system that is inherently wrong. Sadie feels powerless to do something about the situation. Even the idea of freedom is so powerful that is too dangerous to think about. I really like that the story also showed how it is not only the masters who uphold such a system but also the oppressed, who might have a stake in upholding the status quo – which is safer than the alternative.

 She had never told him—she never told any of the children, because she was their caregiver and there was nothing of care in the truth […]

It is also very much a story about the power of dehumanization. The children in the stories have no official names, just numbers. The terms used about them are the terms we use about livestock. They do not get “food”, they get “feed”. They talk about their breeding as if they were horses. The dehumanization is part of the strategy used by the caregivers to make their actions bearable. To dull the compassion Sandie feels for the children.

And I better stop talking about the story and let you go read it for yourself. It is a good story and you should read it.

The stats

Published: June 1st by Lightspeed Magazine
Read: June 4th 2013
Length: 5723 words, short story
Format: Free online fiction

The author: poc, female, USA resident
The protagonist: female, adult, bipolar

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