Remember a while back when I did a listicle promoting Black rom-coms? I’ve had this list of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors percolating in the back of my brain since then. Actually, I’ve had the skeleton of this post written since then, but you know, LIFE. I was spurred to finally get this post out in the internet because I’ve had a couple of occasions recently where I’ve found myself recommending these books. It’s time to give them the love they deserve, since I read most of them during that pesky 2 year blog maternity leave I gave myself. Science Fiction and Fantasy circles have been dominated by white men since forever, and they have a long history of excluding women and authors of color. Maybe the white dudes have felt threatened into being obnoxious gatekeepers? I mean, I’ve NEVER been bored when reading Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel written by a Black author, but I’ve found a number of, uh, “foundational” white dude novels in these genres to be complete snooze fests. Just saying. Let’s boost some kick-ass Black voices, shall we?
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler- Alright, this one is kind of an unconventional choice when it comes to Octavia E. Butler, first of her name, brilliant pioneering Black woman in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I mean, I could have gone with the intense time travel social commentary of Kindred. Or the wildly original outer space aliens series, Lilith’s Brood (The Xenogenesis Trilogy). Or even the disturbingly prophetic Parable of the Sower Series. Instead, I went with Vampires. What can I say? Fledgling is by far the most innovative take on vampires I’ve ever read and even when it’s really creepy it’s excellent. It begins with a young girl who appears to have lost her memory. As the story progresses, we discover that our protagonist is actually a 53 year old genetically modified vampire. Which, frankly, is kind of a relief because none of what happens up to that point is in any way appropriate for a 10 year old human girl. Then again, she’s still technically a baby vampire even though she’s 53, but I shan’t judge one species by the standards of another. The point I’m trying to make here is that this book is amazing, Octavia Butler doesn’t get the recognition she deserves, and if you haven’t read her work yet, you should start right now.
Akata Witch & Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor- I know, I know I put Okorafor on this list and didn’t choose Binti. EVERYONE loves Binti. And Binti is great (especially if you love Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy). But I happen to prefer this middle grade/YA series. 12-year-old Sunny was born in New York, but her family recently relocated to Nigeria, where they were originally from. She is the only member of her family born in the US, and she struggles with her language skills and feelings of not quite belonging. It doesn’t help that Sunny is albino and super sensitive to the sun- a condition about which the local population is superstitious. Sunny soon discovers (with the help of some new friends) that she has magical powers. They embark on a quest to stop the evil Black Hat Otokoto whose twisted magical practices involve kidnapping and maiming children. Something about that coming of age, discovering secret worlds of magic thing will never not intrigue me. Everything about the magical world of the Leopard People is so different than those placed in a Eurocentric magical tradition, and it is incredibly cool to explore magic from an African perspective.
The Broken Earth Trilogy: The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin- Jemisin won three consecutive Hugo awards for this series for good reason. It’s. That. Good. The books are set in a world that is no stranger to upheaval. Like, literal upheaval. Earthquakes are always threatening to tear civilization apart. However, certain people are born with the ability to control the shaking. Civilization fears and ostracizes this group while attempting to control their powers for their own gain. It’s a very complex and troubling power structure. I bet you never thought that magical powers rooted in geology would be compelling, but that’s NK Jemisin for you. Her writing is so imaginative and her world building so enthralling that she literally made rocks fascinating. Honestly, I can’t figure out a good way to describe these books other than to demand that you read them.
Children of Blood and Bone & Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi- What’s this? Another series of books set in an African mythological tradition? And somehow it manages to be wholly unique from anything else I’ve read? Why yes, yes it is! In this world, Zélie Adebola and people like her once possessed magic. The un-magical ruling classes sought to control their powers, and somehow managed to neutralize all the magic in Orïsha. After the maji are relegated powerless, many are slaughtered, and the remainder are brutally ostracized and subjugated. Zélie dreams of finding a way to bring magic back in order to retaliate against an unjust and cruel monarchy. But, of course, magic is rarely uncomplicated. This is a heart pounding and gut wrenching adventure story and I cannot WAIT to see where it goes next.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon- Who wants to live in a dystopian space society? Yeah, me neither, especially not after reading the haunting tale spun by one Rivers Solomon. The HSS Matilda started its journey through space in an attempt to preserve at least a portion of the human race when the Earth is no longer hospitable. The vessel is traveling in hopes of finding a new planet to colonize. Unfortunately, throughout the voyage, the society within the spacecraft devolves into the ugliest version of society humans on Earth ever managed to conjure. Social stratification is largely race-based, and while those on the upper decks live lives of luxury, those below decks are forced into manual labor. It’s slavery, but there’s not even a hope for escape because they’re stuck on a freaking space ship. The book not only tackles the abhorrent caste system on the ship, but also challenges traditional concepts of gender, explores neuro divergence, and tackles the mental toll institutionalized trauma takes on its victims. It does ALL THE THINGS and it does them VERY WELL. Rivers Solomon is a force to be reckoned with. Read their work. Soak it in.
A Blade So Black by LL McKinney- Alice in Wonderland fans, take note! LL McKinney has created a nightmare version of Wonderland starring a Black teenage girl from Atlanta. Wonderland is an alternate realm, a dream reality, if you will. Unfortunately, it’s also plagued by Nightmares, and since it’s a dream realm, you can’t just wake up from these. Nightmares are physical creatures that will 100% try to kill you. After Alice is accidentally introduced to this world, she trains like a bad ass nightmare ninja to fight the Nightmares and keep them from invading the “real” world. Of course, she’s also got to continue going to high school, maintain friendships, and remember to defrost the chicken for dinner. It’s a LOT. And it’s super imaginative and fun. I haven’t yet read the second book in the series, but it’s only a matter of time.
Dread Nation & Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland- I really don’t know at what point zombie novels start being horror and not science fiction, but this is my list so I’m defining the categories. MUAHAHAHA. These novels are set during the aftermath of the US Civil War. With the minor complication that the dead started reanimating at the battle of Gettysburg. Formerly enslaved and indigenous people are deemed by white folks to be somehow immune to zombie bites, and therefore involuntarily forced to attend battle schools so they can become bodyguards and soldiers in the war against the dead. They are not actually immune to zombie bites, but a society that thought it was cool to literally OWN humans is loath to give up any more of their power. The books are infuriating and exciting and really freaking cool.
Whew, what a list! I could have gone on longer because there is just so much excellent Sci-Fi and Fantasy out there by Black authors, but this post is already super long. If you’re interested in reading any of these novels, I’d highly recommend trying the audio book versions, particularly for those set in Africa. I like to hear the names of things pronounced the way the authors intended. I do that a lot with fantasy novels in general, honestly. It adds a lot to the experience. Go forth and READ, my dear friends!
OK, Bookworms. I know I haven’t even scratched the surface here. Hit me with your recommendations!
If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Links in the post above direct to Amazon, but if you’re interested and in a position to do so, please consider making a purchase from a local independent bookstore. IndieBound and Bookshop make it easy to do just that without having to leave your home!
I would also recommend Nalo Hopkinson and Tananarive Due.
Katie Words for Worms
Thanks! I’ll check them out!
Jenny @ Reading the End
“I’ve found a number of, uh, “foundational” white dude novels in these genres to be complete snooze fests. Just saying.” Giiiiiiiiiirl, hard same. I am actually currently working on a post about this! It’s not very fascinating; it’s just like “don’t read Heinlein, canon is stupid, good night.” 😛
I love this list! The City We Became is my new go-to Jemisin book (despite saying some shit about New Orleans I did not appreciate), but all of her work is amazing. I would act Victor Lavalle’s The Changeling to this list, which I adored, and also Nisi Shawl’s excellent Everfair, which is like a steampunk alternate history of the Congo. A++
Katie Words for Worms
Jenny, I read The Changeling at your recommendation and it freaked me the heck out. I’d almost put it in a pure horror category. It took a while before I felt OK about reading Sammers Sednak bedtime stories after that! I will absolutely check out Everfair though, because THAT sounds awesome. But I will be holding you accountable for any nightmares that result from the reading of it.