Things That You Don't Understand Will Mess You Up, Whether You Believe In Them Or Not

Illustration for article titled Things That You Don't Understand Will Mess You Up, Whether You Believe In Them Or Not

If you're superstitious, you may not want to read "Non-Zero Probability" by N.K. Jemisin, in the new issue of Clarkesworld. Its depiction of a New York where luck (including all the rules of bad luck) suddenly applies is seriously disturbing.


In "Non-Zero Probability," just the city of New York has mysteriously become a zone where both good luck and bad luck hold sway — including the most brutal bastardization of Murphy's Law, where anything that can go wrong does. I love Jemisin's clipped prose, especially as it shows her main character internalizing the sense that you can control your fate if you load up on lucky signifiers and avoid unlucky ones. Like this bit, after a freak train derailment that kills twenty people:

Adele goes to help, of course, but even as she and other good Samaritans pull bodies and screaming wounded from the wreckage, she cannot help but feel a measure of contempt. It is a cover, her anger; easier to feel that than horror at the shattered limbs, the truncated lives. She feels a bit ashamed too, but holds onto the anger because it makes a better shield.

They should have known better. The probability of a train derailment was infinitesimal. That meant it was only a matter of time.

Eventually, we get to the crux of it, which is that bad things happen all the time, in our world, whether you believe in luck or not. Why is a world where luck governs the probabilities of these events worse than one where it doesn't? And is it worth being blackmailed into an act of faith by escape from this trap? The whole thing is well checking out... unless you're already too scared of bad luck. [Clarkesworld Magazine]



i'm not sure i want to read a story set in a world where the ignorance of superstitious morons who contemptuously pull people from train wreckage is constantly validated. it would remind me too much of home.