Pluralistic: Justin C Key's "The World Wasn't Ready For You" (19 Sep 2023)

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The cover of the Harpercollins edition of Justin C Key's 'The World Wasn't Ready For You.'

Justin C Key's "The World Wasn't Ready For You" (permalink)

The World Wasn't Ready For You is Justin C Key's first book. It's a short story collection, from a major publisher. This is basically unheard of. Big publishers rarely publish collections, and when they do, it's almost always after a string of extremely successful novels:

Yes, there are exceptions. Ted Chiang. Kelly Link.

And now, Justin C Key. To be in such company is, as they say, a big fucking deal.

I can't say I'm surprised. Key was my student at the Clarion West writing workshop – a year full of standout writers among whom Key was still a standout. I was immensely impressed with his work then, and when I found out that he was also an MD and a father, a young man juggling an unimaginably intense work and family schedule and still producing this polished, scary, precise work, I knew he could have great things ahead of him.

But to be honest, I wasn't sure he would write. Key was so obviously brilliant and competent, and had such an important day job, that I could easily have imagined him deciding that making up stories was fun, but that it was not nearly so rewarding as his other vocations.

I was wrong – and right. In the years since Clarion, Key's work has acquired a kind of medical precision. When Key stabs you, the knife slides right between your ribs and goes straight into the big arteries of your heart, slicing you so quickly that you hardly notice until you are slain.

These are all horror stories, though some of them are science fiction too, and more to the point, they're Black horror stories. In his afterword, Key writes about his early fascination with horror, the catharsis he felt in watching nightmares unspool on screen or off the page. And then, he writes, came the dawning recognition that the Black characters in these stories were always there as cannon-fodder, often nameless, usually picked off early.

These stories represent Key's long rumination on the conjunction of Blackness and horror. Of course, that gets back to racism, in the way that, say, Jordan Peele's work does, or in the manner of NK Jemisin's post-Lovecraft Cthulhoid tales:

But "Black horror" isn't merely parables about racism. In the deft hands of these writers – and now, Key – the stories are horror in which Blackness is a fact, sometimes a central one, and that fact is ever a complication, limiting how the characters move through space, interact with authority, and relate to one another.

The eight stories – mostly long – in The World Wasn't Ready For You deal with parenting, health, prison, corruption, and art – and they do so through hauntings and body horror and tension wound so tight you want to scream.

This is a brilliant and auspicious beginning from a brilliant and auspicious writer.

Key's book launches at LA's Book Soup on September 22, and I'll be there with him as interlocutor. I couldn't be more honored by this, and I hope you'll come out and see us:

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago You Might Be An Anti-Spam Kook If…

#20yrsago IEEE members: save democracy from a broken standards-committee!

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#10yrsago NSA contracted with notorious French spy-tech company VUPEN

#10yrsago Asbestos-bound first edition of Fahrenheit 451

#10yrsago Report shows how the anti-SOPA fight came from the bottom up

#5yrsago Ted Chiang lecture on interspecies communications

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#5yrsago My closing Decentralized Web Summit keynote: “Big Tech’s problem is Big, not Tech”

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#5yrsago 30 years after cyberpunk, Japan is still the (greying, insular, shrinking, climate-wracked) future

#5yrsago Rice University eliminates tuition for all but wealthiest students, makes housing free for poorest

#5yrsago Cloud computing and DRM: a match made in hell

#5yrsago 3D print this Harriet Tubman stamp and fix all those twenties that Mnuchin forgot to take Andrew Jackson off of

#5yrsago Anita Hill on how sexual harassment allegations should be handled

#5yrsago Kalamazoo criminalizes homelessness, arrests city commissioner and other activists

#5yrsago Denmark’s largest bank laundered €200B through its Estonian branch, ignoring glaring warning signs

#5yrsago Germany’s far-right top spy just lost his job after gaslighting the country about right-wing, violent mob

#1yrago How to ditch Facebook without ditching your friends

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

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  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla