Earlier this year, N.K. Jemisin's novel The Fifth Season was chosen as the book of the month by Now Read This, the joint book club by PBS NewsHour and the New York Times. The book club is not specifically geared towards science fiction and fantasy, which makes the inclusion of a speculative fiction title all the more notable. Science fiction and fantasy stories are largely dismissed by mainstream readers as irrelevant stories about rocket ships and dragons. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Science fiction can be every bit as powerful as any other kind of literature, usually by removing us from the world we recognize thereby letting us see it as outsiders. The Fifth Seasonaccomplishes this by setting the story on a seismically active planet in which a select few have the power to tame its violence. Those people are feared and shunned for being different, even as the environment around their persecutors is collapsing. (Here's a video interview with the author in which she discusses the book.)
The parallels with Earth’s climate situation should be obvious, but there are even more elements that mark its relevance. Jemisin herself notes that the story was shaped by the protests against racial injustice unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, at the time she began writing the book. She starts her story of oppression with a shocking death, a trauma that Jemisin says is sometimes necessary to grab reader attention. Such events pull us into the setting of another planet. But the true power of science fiction lies in its ability to recast the world around us as something else entirely, giving readers the powerful perspective of being as objective as possible.
The inclusion of a science fiction novel in a popular book club helps legitimize the genre in the eyes of readers who may see it as unworthy. Not that The Fifth Season needs that respect; it's been nominated for multiple awards and picked up a Hugo award. It's also been optioned as a television series. Its inclusion by Now Read This, which boasts more than 1.3 million subscribers on its YouTube channel, can only help get speculative fiction in front of more readers who otherwise dismiss it.