Story Time Reviews “Valedictorian” by N. K. Jemisin

Story Time Reviews remembers the joy of listening to bedtime stories. Today Story Time Reviews “Valedictorian” by N. K. Jemisin read by LeVar Burton. For those who prefer the print version, you can find it in the December 2014 (Issue 55) of Lightspeed Magazine.

Image of a royal blue mortar-board with yellow trim and yellow tassel representing Story Time Reviews "Valedictorian"

Where to Find the Story

“Valedictorian” © 2012 by N. K. Jemisin. After: Nineteen Stories of Apocolapse and Dystopia, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. It also appears in N. K. Jemisin’s collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?

The February 3, 2020 episode of the reading lasts 56:21 minutes. It is available on the LeVar Burton podcast, Apple podcasts, and Stitcher.

The Story

A brief description: A smart, stubborn high school student sets her own rules in a near-future dystopia. 

This short story (5939 words) takes place in a complex future many years after a devastating war. Spare and powerful words describe a layered society and characters with conflicting desires.

Zinhle, a senior in high school, lives inside a “Firewall” with people like her. She excels in school and despairs that none of her classmates or teachers challenge her. Everyone strives to be mediocre because when graduation comes, there will be change. Her desire to be herself, to never do less than her best, drives the story. 

The characters in this story are recognizable and intriguing. Even the ones who only appear for a paragraph. 

The antagonist is strong and presents a compelling argument. So compelling that Zinhle and the reader have a lot to think about.

The Author 

Photograph of N. K. Jemisin taken by Laura Hanifin 2015.
Portrait of N. K. Jemisin by Laura Hanifin, 2015

N. K. Jemisin is a N.Y. Times best-selling, multiple award-winning author and recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship. She began writing at 8 years of age, but didn’t write for publication until after she turned thirty.

Sadly, readers weren’t ready for her first published book, an inclusive fantasy, The Killing Moon

In 2016, her novel, The Fifth Season, won the Hugo. That made N. K. Jemisin the first black person in history to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. (Well-deserved, but shameful that the genre and the world had waited so long to honor black authors.) The next two novels in The Broken Earth trilogy, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2017 and 2018 (respectively). She is the first person ever to win the that award in three consecutive years.

Read what N. K. Jemisin has to say about how this story came about.

The Voice Talent

LeVar Burton is an Actor, Director, Educator & Cofounder of the award-winning Skybrary App, host and Executive Producer of PBS’s Reading Rainbow and lifelong children’s literacy advocate.

What can I add? Most of you are familiar with LeVar through his roles on Roots or Star Trek or on Reading Rainbow. He’s an exceptional ad entertaining reader. 

He doesn’t always read the story how I would, but his voice talent always compels me to stay with him to the end. He never disappoints. 

My Opinion

Wow. Burton’s intro to the story is spot on. The story makes you think. And I love that. 

It speaks to me about oppression—on a personal level, on a diversity level, and on an admiring writer level. 

The story has a depth that N. K. Jemisin reveals in the slow peeling back of layers. Then, as a thinking reader, there are more layers to explore once you’ve finished the story. 

It’s a story you can read many times and glean deeper insights each time.

I love stories that entertain me and challenge me to think. 


Do you read short stories? Where do you find them? Did you listen to or read this story? Story Time Reviews “Valedictorian” by N. K. Jemisin as read by LeVar Burton. Story and voice talent get 5 out of 5 stars. Let us know if you agree or disagree by commenting below.

First Line Friday Full of SF and F Love Stories

February’s First Line Friday Full of SF and F Love Stories is part of a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?

Cover of Shades of Treason by Sandy Williams has a woman glaring at the camera and holding a futuristic weapon. The background shows a futuristic city. It's a story full of SF and F Love

When Commander Rhys “Rest in Peace” Rykus walked back into her life, Ash smiled because she knew it would piss him off.

Shades of Treason: An Anomaly Novel by Sandy Williams

“Lady Mother,” Adena whispered, lips barely moving. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Chosen by the Rakian Commander: Rakian Warrior Mates by Elin Wyn

Not long ago, the sweaty hand snaking up my skirt toward my ass would have turned to mummy dust on contact, but I restrained myself.

To Catch a Stolen Soul: A djinn haven story by R.L. Naquin

“Mom?” I pushed my headphones off my ears and looked at my bedroom door. I could have sworn I heard a scream.

Defy the Ravaged: Matron’s Watchmen Book 1 by E.M. Raegan

Last month, Cupid shot my size-six ass with an arrow and saddled me with the soul mate from hell.

Struck By Eros: Redeeming Cupid: Book 1 by Jenn Windrow

The ash gathered on an empty road road that ran through the desert. It fell with a muffling effect, like heavy, dense snowstorms.

To The North by Bruce W. Perry

Humanity was dying but it seemed like no one else could see it.

Leaving Earth: Leaving Earth Series by J. W. Scarpacci

Zayn worked the chains fastened around his wrists, feeling the weak spot he’d made over the past few weeks with a loose shard of steel.

Exposed: Tribute Brides of the Drexian Warriors Book 3 by Tana Stone

Please Note

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. These titles are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Of Course, if you buy one of my books… that will put a little money in my pocket. And a gigantic smile on my face. I love my readers.

Do You Want to Read More?

I hope you enjoyed this First Line Friday Full of SF&F Love Stories for February. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. In the comments, let me know which first lines appealed to you. Want more? Check out previous First Line Friday posts. And come back next month.

First Lines Friday Salute

 This month it’s a First Lines Friday Salute in science fiction and fantasy novels. In these stories, the heroines battle to save the day. And this post is intended to allow you to find fun fiction to read.

Image of the U.S. Flag superimposed over the image of soldiers marching toward the camera--a first lines friday salute to veterans and military SF& F novels

But in the real world, Wednesday, November 11, 2020 is Veterans Day. A day to salute, to honor, our veterans. The real men and women—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons—who fought in World War I and all wars—made real-life sacrifices. Salute to you—one and all.

First Lines in Military SF&F

If you enjoy strong female characters AND a science fiction or fantasy story about military folk, take a gander. You’re sure to find one or two titles to your liking. (Note: these posts never have any affiliate links. They are for your convenience and pleasure.)

“Where do you think you’re going, little green man?”

The Dark of Light: Epic Interstellar Adventure

(Starhawke Rising Book 1) by Audrey Sharpe 

The flight attendant stepped up to her seat—4E—which had never been her favorite on a 767-300. 

Drone: an NTSB / military technothriller (Miranda Chase Book 1)

 by M. L. Buchman  Book 1 of 4

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Yulda grumbled. 

Pain of Betrayal (Wallkeeper trilogy Book 2) 

by Caren Hahn   

Tortured metal screeched as the ship shook under the pounding of another broadside. 

No Honor in Death (Siobhan Dunmoore Book 1) 

by Eric Thomson 

At last, the iron sky cracked, pouring out a torrent of snow.

The Killing Light (The Sacred Throne Book 3) 

by Myke Cole

The burned-out wreckage of the alien spaceship drifted in a halo of its own debris.

Rules of Redemption (The Firebird Chronicles Book 1)

by T.A. White

The Front-Line reverberated not just from the impact, but the sound. 

Grains of Sand (The Front-Line Book 1) 

by Varian Morn  

Sumi-ness immediately recognized the sound of the older model android as it entered the lobby to the Presidential office.

The Rising (Star Saga Book 2) 

by Ken McConnell   

Emiko arrived on campus at the PAC Academy knowing she was different than the other students.

New Blood: Chains of Command Book 1 

by Zen DiPietro  

On a luxury skiff named Lucia, slowly making its way to the station, Awfa Terracydes, fifty-five citizens of the planet Arisani were dancing and drinking to a talented Meluvian band.

Angel of the Alliance (Lady Hellgate Book 4)

by Greg Dragon  

One week. Seven days spent praying enemy reinforcements didn’t arrive.

Risen from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 6) 

by Sam Schall and Amanda S. Green 

First Lines Friday Salute

Did find a book you want to read? If you haven’t see the previous First Lines Friday posts, check them out. Plenty of first lines to choose from.

I hope you enjoyed this First Lines Friday Salute to military science fiction and fantasy stories. I try to find a variety of stories within the topic. Finding the stories that feature female leads is easier than it has been in the past, but I’d could use your help. Comment below or email me with titles and authors whose first lines stood out to you. Bonus points if the protagonist is a female. In the meantime, try to be patient with the world and yourself. Stay safe. Mask up, stay home when you can, stay 6 feet apart always, and wash your hand.

Pearls of Wisdom From Science Fiction

No matter what we experience in life there is always someone who has shared a pearl of wisdom that we can apply. The same is true of our pandemic life today. Here are some pearls of wisdom from science fiction books and authors. 

A space shot of sunrise over the blue planet is in it's own way is one of the pearls of wisdom for pandemic life


At war

Or at peace,

More people die

Of unenlightened self-interest

Than of any other disease”

― Octavia Butler

Nobody dares to solve the problems-because the solution might contradict your philosophy, and for most people clinging to beliefs is more important than succeeding in the world.

― Michael Crichton, State of Fear

The monsters don’t live in the belly of the world like they all say. The monsters live inside of us. We make the monsters.

 Kameron Hurley, The Stars are Legion 

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.

― Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

Arrogance and Conceit are the mother and father of a closed mind.

Richard Nance, “Journey of the Chosen”

Just as every villain imagines themselves a hero, few heroes see when they’ve become the villain.

― Nicholas Tana

Fire is catching!” I am shouting now, determined he will not miss a word of it, “And if we burnyou burn with us!

Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

Isaac Asimov, Foundation

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real,

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I, for one, bet on science as helping us. I have yet to see how it fundamentally endangers us, even with the H-bomb lurking about. Science has given us more lives than it has taken; we must remember that.

—Philip K. Dick, The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings

You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.

Robert A. Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth

 “If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others.”

Philip K. Dick

Now it’s your turn. Have you found a quote or quotes that give you some guidance or encouragement in this time? They don’t have to be science fiction pearls of wisdom for pandemic life. Add your quotes below. Let’s string a necklace of wisdom.

What Reader Holly Wants

Reader Questionnaire: What Reader Holly Wants

(With a tip of the hat to the Inside the Actor’s Studio)



First Name: Holly

Age: 43

Occupation: writer, editor, printing/publishing account manager

What occupation (other than yours) would you like to try? milliner 

What sound or noise do you love? rain

What sound or noise do you hate? mouth noises

What is your favorite word? le bon mot, whatever that may be in a given moment.

Fiction or Nonfiction? Mostly nonfiction these days. Once I got fiction sufficiently deconstructed to where I could write it, it kind of lost its appeal.

Genre? What’s that?

Ebook, audio book, or physical book? Physical, always. For fiction I like paperbacks because they’re light and compact and I don’t have to worry about tearing them up. But for research/nonfiction books I like hardbacks because I want them to last. I will sometimes read short fiction or articles digitally but I find I don’t retain the content well.

What makes you choose a book to read? For fiction, the voice of the prose. I choose nonfic based on subject matter, but a more readable title is preferable over a dry flavorless title on the same subject. No need to suffer while I’m learning.

Recommendation? The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

What makes you put down a book? Clunky prose. Being talked down to. Gaffes in logic.

What are you reading now? White Trash: The 400‑Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

Do you re-read books? Yes. Fiction-wise I mostly reread things I read years ago.

All time favorite book? Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones.

I write gothic westerns, dark fantasy, and noir.

Literary representation by Jennifer Jackson at Donald Maass Literary Agency.


Hi, Lynette here. Thank you, Holly! Interesting that re-read books are ones you read years ago. Mine, too.

Readers, if you are into gothic westerns Holly’s prequel and book are sure to please. I love her main characters and their interactions. Click on one of the images below to check them out on Amazon. (No, these are not affiliate links)

Did you enjoy this reader interview? Have you read the previous ones? If not visit them now. Mine, Rob ChilsonSarah Worrell, Jess Witkins, and Cindy Baker.

This finishes up the reader interviews. I hope you found it fun and interesting.

Thank you for visiting!