Six Essential Fantasy and Science Fiction Books Written By Black Authors

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I think that I’ve told my awakening story before: Some years ago, I existed as a slightly chubby and extremely black fan of fantasy, comic books, role playing games, and anime. I experimented with MTG and D&D. I stayed up all night through a semi-hurricane to finish Final Fantasy VII. I sulked along with my best friend when a girl ripped his valuable Aquaman comic book into pieces.

My dad hated to see me reading what he called “that fake stuff.” They had no real-world application, he said. I couldn’t make money doing any of it, he warned. But he didn’t actively try to stop me. One day I was pestering him to buy me a comic book while we were out on household errands. He picked up a Batman comic and thumbed through it, then turned to me and asked,

Where all the black folks at? Ain’t no [expletive redacted] in this book.”

What can I say? My father wasn’t a scholar. He was just a regular dude who had good sense.

Now, I want you to do something. Google “Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Books”. You do it yet? Huh? Never mind, I did it for you. Now, what did you see?

That’s right. Lists.

Lists for Gamers.

Lists for books including Dinosaurs.

Sparkly brand new lists.

Now count the people of color on these lists. Newer lists might include books from David Anthony Durham or N.K. Jemisin or Saladin Ahmed. But out of all the lists I looked at for this post, I saw authors of color listed only infrequently.

So, how are lists full of white male authors helpful for black folks who love science fiction but are wanting to read work from black authors?

Um.

They’re not.

So, I’ve come up with a list of my own. However, since:

1.) I don’t have a lot of time to read as much as I want, and

2.) I don’t have as much time to write about reading as I want

I’m going to narrow my list down to six. An odd number, I know. Work with me. What follows will be a list of six books by Black authors that any fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction absolutely has to read. And, if you’re new to the genre, welcome aboard.   These books will be some that are essential to understanding the conventions of the genre, with stories that tackle themes salient to the black experience, and also are all just great stories. So, without anymore delay, here are:

 SIX ESSENTIAL SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY BOOKS WRITTEN BY BLACK AUTHORS.

1.) The Conjure Woman – Charles Chestnutt.

From Wikipedia:

The stories in The Conjure Woman deal with the racial issues facing the South after the war, often through the comments of the character of Uncle Julius McAdoo. A freed slave, he tells the stories to John and Annie, a white couple from the North, who are visiting in their search for property, as they are thinking of moving south (because of Annie’s health) and of buying an old plantation in “Patesville”, North Carolina.

Uncle Julius’s stories are derived from African-American folk tales and include many supernatural occurrences built around hoodoo conjuring traditions. They are less idealistic and romanticized than John’s understanding of Southern culture. They tell of black resistance to and revenge against white culture.

The Conjure Woman is a collection of short stories that deal with major themes through the lens of an African-American man living in Antebellum south. The prose is a bit dated, and very 19th century, but it establishes the genre very well. Chestnutt’s work is one of the first collections to be truly considered black speculative fiction/sci-fi/fantasy. Also, The Conjure Woman collection is 100% free on Project Gutenburg. So why aren’t you reading it yet?

2.) Kindred Octavia Butler

kindred_cover

 

I know that most people have read this. If you’ve taken a Women’s Studies course, or an African American literature course, you’ve read this. You’ve at least been exposed to it. My challenge is this: READ IT AGAIN. Read it without the labels that come with it. Take some time and just read it without any of the weight, read it just as a book that stands alone. It will have a different meaning to you.

If the two Charles’ can be considered Fathers (or at least Uncles) of Black Fantasy and Science Fiction, then Butler is definitely the Mother. I can’t think of any Speculative Fiction work by a black author that I read before reading Kindred. It was my introduction to the other world, to black people timeslipping. It is a seminal work, and you should give it another chance. (Especially if it becomes a graphic novel!)

3.) Imaro – Charles Saunders

I’ve talked about Imaro quite a few times already. It is the foundation on which Sword and Soul (and all other genres that sprang from it) is built. My love for Black Fantasy and Science Fiction would not exist without this book. It is Fantasy, pulpy and violent and full of muscles and monsters and it is everything that is, in my mind, right about the genre. Imaro will never leave my library, and I don’t think I will ever make a comprehensive list like this and not include it.

4.) Dhalgren – Samuel Delany

I don’t know where to begin with this book. It’s a feat of writing, a feat of craft, of plot, of syntax, of…everything. Delany is a genius, and it shows in his work, which is second to none. I literally read Dhalgren and feel like I need to go back to writing 101 classes. He’s written tons of other stuff, but this one sticks with me as the best work of his that I’ve ever read…besides Aye and Gomorrah.

5.) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin

I was torn between including this book on the list versus David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Trilogy. In the end, this one won out because…well, because I’ve read it more recently and I remember it better. It’s got Flawed Gods and royal intrigue and awesome moments of destruction. It’s paced and written amazingly. If nothing else, read it to experience one of the most compelling characters ever created

6.) Who Fears Death Nnedi Okorafor

If I had a spirit animal…Nnedi Okorafor probably wouldn’t be it. But, she’s still an amazing author. Everything I’ve read of hers has been phenomenal, but none more so than this novel. Be warned: It’s heavy stuff. There are themes in this work (rape and female circumcision are critical elements of the plot) but the heavy themes take nothing away from the singularly amazing story, wonderful prose, superior characterization, and spectacular worldbuilding.

So, there you have it. If you’re new to SF/F written by black folks, or you’re a pro but looking to check out some books that you might not have read, here are six (plus some extras! Don’t thank me) perfectly lined up for you.

Now, I know that I missed a lot. Other I didn’t feature any other PoC authors  (and don’t get it twisted: I love books by more than just black authors), but this is an Afro-relevant™ blog.

That doesn’t stop you from dropping some suggestions, though. Feel like I missed something? Leave a comment. Recommendation for a Filipino spec fic author? Drop me a line. I’m always open to suggestions.

P.S.: Speaking of lists, check out 13 Black Superhero Comics You Should Read in 2013, and a different, but no less important post, 13 Black Superhero Comics You Should Read in 2013, Indie Edition. Both great lists.

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58 thoughts on “Six Essential Fantasy and Science Fiction Books Written By Black Authors

  1. This one is peculiar. It was written by a White author. It is not about the writing, it is about a future.

    Black Man’s Burden (1961) by Mack Reynolds
    http://sfgospel.typepad.com/sf_gospel/2008/08/mack-reynolds-on-africa-islam-utopia-and-progress.html
    http://www.feedbooks.com/book/4826/black-man-s-burden

    MX and MLK could have read it. Wonder what they would have thought. Does it bring Arab Spring to mind. Are we waiting for a global Internet Revolution. The Revolution will be Networked. LOL

  2. Where are Black writers doing what is commonly called “Hard SF”?

    That is one of the conflicts in SF lit. Some advocate the writing but dismiss the science but still want to keep the name “science fiction”.

    • You know, that is a great question. While I did not include him on the list, there is one author that I know of writing some great hard SF in the vein of Dick, Heinlein, and others. His name is Thaddeus Howze, and you can read his work here:

      http://hubcityblues.com

      And thanks for posting that article. I will check it out right now.

      • I love sci-fi, but not really into what they call “Hard Sci-Fi”. Sometimes I think taking time to explain how everything works, and making sure it’s within the realm of the known laws of physics takes away the joy of it. I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, original Battlestar Galactica and, of course, comic-books. So I’m okay with “technobabble.” The Enterprises warp drive works because they have dilithium crystals, and they have artificial gravity in the ships because at some point between now and then SOMEBODY invented SOME WAY to make artificial gravity work. That works for me.

      • Yeah, Hard Sci-Fi, done right, is great reading. But some authors get extremely caught up in the technology and the physical laws and let the writing slip, or let the science override the writing. I prefer balance, as fiction is art.

        Plus, why do all the work of creating laws and rules for the reader when we can just let the reader fill in the blanks like you did? 😉

        But I guess I’m a bit biased, because I have no qualms about getting invested in an overly complex system of Magic in a fantasy novel.

      • I agree on that. I’ve found that intense How factor in both SF and F. Have you read Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of magic? It’s about fantasy, not strictly SF related, but it was interesting because he compared magic when it’s used to create wonder in the reader (okay, basic example… LOTR) and magic when it’s used to solve problems in the story (… idk, Harry Potter I guess. Depending.) and writers use magic for one or the other.
        I think it’s kinda getting to that stage with SF where the interest is starting to be lost in the awe-some “novice” stuff and devoted SF fans are tipping the scales to the other side. Only, that kinda puts me off.
        I used to watch Star Trek and Stargate Atlantis aaaall the time :3

      • Yes, I’ve read Sanderson’s magic laws. I’m betting that his deep thought about what should make magical systems tick is the very reason why the magic in his books is so off-beat and fun. Sanderson’s “laws” bring a science-y approach to creating magic that I think, when adhered to properly, can really serve to blur the line between magical realism and magic in fantasy as a genre. I think that I’ll post more about this later.

        Re: the tipping of the sci-fi scales, I’d like to hear more about that. A friend of mine yesterday wondered why so many people were talking about Philip K. Dick all of a sudden. When I see sci-fi lists, I don’t notice more hard sci-fi on them, but I haven’t read a sci-fi novel in a long while. These things (reader and market tastes) do turn out to be cyclical, and maybe it’s just time for a Hard SF resurgence?

        And I, too, love Star Trek. I prefered SG-1 to Atlantis, though. 😉

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  4. Does science fiction have anything to do with reality? Science and technology create options for the future from which people must select. People who do not know the science and technology will be stuck with the decisions made by the people who know. Knowledge of science is power. Knowledge of fantasy is not.

    Isn’t the state of the world today the result of who had technology for the last 500 years and who did not? So how do we use this technology to distribute knowledge today.

  5. This is a great list. Nnedi Okorafor has quickly become one of my new favorite authors and I’ve always enjoyed and respected Octavia Butler’s writing. “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is still on my summer reading list. By the way, is that a still image from Pumzi?!? I fell in love with this movie after seeing the Filmmaker’s special of it on the Africa Channel.

  6. Hey, Troy. I know I’m late in coming across this engaging topic. You and your fans should check out the new fiction fantasy series “The Credara Trilogy” by J E Henderson. The first book entitled “CREDARA: Rise of the Kraylen” is published and available online. Okay, I’m a bit biased because I wrote it. Check out what folks are saying at Amazon, Goodreads, etc. You can get a preview/peek at Netgalley and Google Books. The website is http://www.credara.com and my blog (which I just recently started) is http://www.arc-penpublishing.com/jeauthorblog. Would be nice to know what you and your fans think.

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  9. “1.) I don’t have a lot of time to read as much as I want, and 2.) I don’t have as much time to write about reading as I want”
    This made me laugh out loud (with irony) because that’s EXACTLY the predicament I’m in. As I’m writing a fantasy book now and I’m also at university, if it’s not on my module reading list or a non-fiction fantasy reference book, I don’t have the time to fit it in right now. I haven’t been able to read a good epicF in a while, which is a lil tragic. 😥

    But besides that, when the semester finishes I’m doing a fantasy book Reading Challenge and these six books are going to be first! I can’t wait.

    As I scrolled down, I prayed I would know at least ONE author and thankfully I knew two; Octavia Butler (Orson Scott Card talked about her in a book) and N.K. Jemisin (ended up on her blog a few month back to learn how to improve writing about people of colour. I remember seeing an interesting debate about whether describing a black person’s skin as ‘chocolate’ was culturally insensitive or not).

    “Other I didn’t feature any other PoC authors […]”
    I would love if you did a post on that too. I have been searching for quite some time and my results are pitiful. Thank you very much for sharing. I wonder if any of these authors are Black British too… that would be awesome.

    • Re: the bit about other PoC authors, I’m really delving into World SF and non-Western/non-American SF and Fantasy because WOW is there some good stuff there. Not exactly non-western, but Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series is my favorite non-American fantasy series at the moment. Once I feel like I’ve been properly exposed, I’ll make a list and share it.

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  11. I just wanted to say, as someone who has loved science fiction since I was little but never read much more than comic books, thank you for this blog and the comments from the “pros”. I have a lot of reading to do lol. Semi off topic question: is there any movement to push for any of these stories to go to the big or small screen? I’m looking at Oprah. Sure she has room on her network to take a flyer on a project. No?

    • Hi, and thanks for stopping by!

      Re: your question, I don’t know if any of the works that I’ve listed here are being considered for a screen treatment. I, too, think that Oprah has the capital to back a film based on one of these properties, but I don’t know if she has the inclination.

      There are a lot of indie movements making this happen, though. Check out Tananarive Due’s “Danger Word”, for starters.

  12. I love Black Science Fiction and Fantasy, I have read Octavia Butler ( almost everything I can find by her), Nnedi Okorafar and Nalo Hopkinson. My favorite however has to be Tananarive Due. I could not put down her series starting with My Soul to Keep. I will definitely try books on the list that I have not yet read. My kids also love science fiction and love The Marvelous World by Cle (not sure if this is first or last name). Thank you all for suggestions and I will definitely try our new writers. I am headed to the bookstore.

    • That’s awesome, Ron! I hope you find something that’s really awesome at the bookstore. If I may suggest, try some Anthologies, (Like Long Hidden), because they often contain new authors who have great work!

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  15. I just finished the second installment of William Hayashi’s Darkside Trilogy. His story is of modern day African Americans who were discovered to have been living secretly on the backside of the moon since the 1960s. The first installment, Discovery, blew me away. He writes long, the first book is 500 pages and the second, Conception, is 600 pages, (and even better than Discovery) but they go by fast. I can easily see this series adapted to movies. I’m really looking forward to the last volume to see how he concludes the story.

  16. I agree that some SF writers get caught up in the science of their writing. But, sometimes you have to explain the how the science works in your stories or else your writing become unrealistic. Which leads to people no longer reading your work. Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama Revealed is a perfect example of how it can be done. Thanks for letting me know about Thaddeus Howze I am reading his stuff now.
    I love Octavia Butler and Dahlgren.

  17. Pingback: Black History Month: A Resource Guide To Black Science Fiction & Fantasy | The Bookeaters

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