The Ones Who Stay and Fight • 2018 • Utopia short story by N. K. Jemisin


Synopsis: The people of Um-Helat live in a Africanfuturism utopia – everyone is happy, people fly around with their wings, everyone is equally valued, life is full of you.

But dystopia is near, as that world is connected to ours, and curious people can eavesdrop, listen to our social media, watch our TV. This infects them, they turn away from their happy state and spread the bad ways like a virus.

People notice this, but they don’t ignore it or walk away – they stay and fight.


The story is a parallel to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and a response or even rebuttal to it at the same time. Where people in Omelas ignored the scapegoat or walked away, Jemisin elaborated a third way.

The story structure, its narrative voice, and philosphical richness follows Le Guin’s one-to-one, and Jemisin adapted it where needed to express her own voice. Where Le Guin’s original was extrapolated from a U.S. point of view, Jemisin added her typical Africanfuturism flavor, first of all expressed in the city’s name “Um-Helat” which is just a variant of Omelas. Where Le Guin talked about religion and sex, Jemisin’s topic is diversity, including Karl Popper’s “Paradox of tolerance” to the discussion (the term is in fact directly addressed in the story):

This is the paradox of tolerance, the treason of free speech: we hesitate to admit that some people are just fucking evil and need to be stopped.

Jemisin’s story adds yet another take to the long tradition of teaching Le Guin’s story – I’m pretty sure that her solution has been found several times by a multitude of students. But I found it nice and entertaining to read her voice in the Omelas conversation.

There is also this interview with the author at Paris Review about her motivation to write that counter story in an endless stream of “Omelian” stories to fix that third way in a separate narration.

While hitting the original story’s topic askew, it inherited the deficits: it isn’t a story, has no plot, no protagonist. It is concept-driven per excellence. I’d be happy as can be, if it were authentic and original. But it is just an answer standing on the shoulder of a giant and doesn’t look much further. While Jemisin perfectly mimicked Le Guin, I’d rather read her own style.

In summary, we have a valid contribution to Omelas. Just do yourself a favour and read Le Guin’s story first.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Lightspeed. Published in Jemisin’s collection “How Long ’til Black Future Month?“.


This entry was posted in Science Fiction, Story. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to The Ones Who Stay and Fight • 2018 • Utopia short story by N. K. Jemisin

  1. Jina Bazzar says:

    Never read either, and don’t think I will. I need to have a protagonist that I’ll come to love and relate, perhaps even hate. But concept alone is something I don’t think I’ll enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cathepsut says:

    Interesting… didn‘t know this version existed!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ola G says:

    Huh; I think I’ll stick with Le Guin 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Same with me. But it’s more a matter of finding your own answers – for this, the really short addition by Jemisin is worth the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ola G says:

        I think let Guin’s argument was that third choice is impossible; any change would kill Omelas’s lifestyle and in turn Omelas as it was. It was a moral choice of either accepting that one’s good fortune is based on other’s suffering, or rejecting it in entirety. If you start fiddling with the story, which is really just a literary moral argument, it stops making sense. The internal logic is simple: one suffers for others, by others’ choice. I always felt it had strong Christian flavor, but in reality the scapegoat is an institution present in many different cultures 😉.


        • Andreas says:

          Everyone shouts instantly „save the child“; and you’re right, that’s not an option at all. Maybe out of frustration, this story has been written just to have another way.
          I don’t know if Christian flavor is an attribute I‘d tag Le Guin‘s story with, as she was Taoist. She often went long ways to break the white European religious background (what an outcry when readers found out that Eartsea‘s protagonists are coloured people! Le Guin breathed diversity during her whole long writing career).
          Sorry to sound strange there. Yes, I love Jemisin‘s story. But she is a dwarf in comparison to Le Guin for a long time in my humble opinion. Disclaimer: I’m a Le Guin fanboi 😍🤪

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ola G says:

            Oh, what I meant was that she criticized Christianity as effectively based on the institution of scapegoat. There is a great book by Rene Girard called The Violence and the Sacred (1972) in which he first elaborated on that mechanism. (There is another, later, called The Scapegoat, which is even better!) I’m not saying she knew that book, but as Kroeber’s daughter, le Guin must have had certain knowledge of religions and cultures (remember Ishi, who was a clear influence for her and whom she could have known about only through her parents).

            Good to find a like-minded soul! 😀

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Yep…what Ola said! 😀


  5. Pingback: Best 16 the ones who stay and fight –

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s