It’s Black History Month! While we should celebrate diversity all year round, we’re especially reminded of it at times like this.
“‘Diversity’ should just be called ‘reality.’ Your books, your TV shows, your movies, your articles, your curricula, need to reflect reality.” — Tananarive Due, author and American Book Award winner
Here’s a list of our favorite sci-fi and fantasy books written by Black authors:
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is about a Black woman forced to travel back in time to save her white ancestor. The heart of the book is how slavery warps the soul of the enslaver and threatens to crush the spirit of the enslaved.
Butler’s Parable of the Sower imagines an America that has collapsed into anarchy, continued in Parable of the Talents with the rise of a demagogue. Lauren, a young woman with hyperempathy, has to leave her safe compound in Los Angeles and navigate a dangerous world. Along the way she conceives a revolutionary idea that might save humanity.
Butler’s short story collection Bloodchild: And Other Stories has aliens who are VERY alien, not just green humans. Children forced to become hosts for alien offspring, humans robbed of speech after an apocalyptic event, and other tales taking place on Earth and in the stars.
N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy is set in a fantasy world where humans have conquered the gods and keep them in chains. Our heroine, Yeine, is an outcast from the barbarian north who’s summoned to the capital city and, shockingly, named heiress to the king.
I (Laura) have heard good things about Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, but haven’t read it yet. It’s a dystopian series that takes place on a futuristic Earth ravaged by semi-apocalyptic earthquakes. Themes include the consequences of systemic racism and the effects of climate change.
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson is urban fantasy that draws on Voudou and other Caribbean lore. The wealthy and privileged have abandoned Toronto and barricaded everyone else inside. A new society forms, but when the rich start preying on the community, a young mother must turn to magic to save her family.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is set in a post-apocalyptic Africa. Onye, as a child of rape, is expected to live a life of violence, but instead she grows up to manifest magic powers. Warning: the violence is so intense that I (Laura) almost stopped reading 40 pages in, but by then I’d gotten so attached to the characters that I kept reading, and I’m glad I did.
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden blends fantasy, horror, and science fiction. In a future South Africa, a small group of heroes has to stop not only an AI uprising but also a blood-thirsty demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status.
Nova and Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany are both classic, highly praised sci-fi. The former is about a spaceship crew on a perilous mission: flying through an exploded star in order to obtain a rare and profitable element . . . but the captain has his own mission: revenge. The latter is about a prodigious poet called in by the military to decipher mysterious broadcasts that have been heralding random attacks. She discovers that it’s a strange language and decodes it, but then is tempted to join the enemy’s side.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow is a coming-of-age story told from the alternating points-of-view of Tavia and Effie, two high-school girls who have a strong bond of sisterhood. Themes include identity (both have a magical identity, too) and the difficulties of growing up as a Black girl in a culture that often tries to silence and erase Black voices.
What speculative books by Black authors would you add to this list?
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