Will we some day invent super-intelligent computers capable of absorbing and destroying the human race?
It’s a question that science fiction writers have loved to explore since the early days of computing. It’s an evolution of the fear that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, really.
Will human beings take their desire to “play God” too far and end up being destroyed by their own creation?
We have had similar fears about cloning, gene hacking, and weather manipulation. But there is something about computers and artificial intelligence that rings louder alarm bells for many of today’s top scientists working in the field. And while AI and robotics continues to be one of the fastest advancing branches of scientific research–and recent developments promise to bring human quality of life to new, higher standards–the cold, hard truth of the matter is that this technology could be very dangerous.
What is the singularity?
The technological singularity is a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.
What will the singularity look like?
Because “the singularity” is a hypothetical situation, we don’t really know.
The concept is not based on any one scientific or technological fact but rather is the product of a kind of guesswork–guesses made by some of the most brilliant minds of this century, mind you, but guesses nonetheless–based on what we currently know about the limits of computing, coding, and the human brain.
At what point in machine learning do we consider a computer/program/robot to be sentient or sapient?
Is sapience required for singularity? Does a machine have to be self-aware to be a danger to human beings.
What if computers learn to think differently from humans and we don’t recognize their self-awareness?
We don’t know.
But it helps to understand how machines are currently being taught to think, and how that differs from the way human beings think.
What is the difference between machine learning and deep learning?
These two terms are tossed around a lot when people discuss developments in artificial intelligence.
Machine learning implies the kind of pre-programmed code that teaches machines how to behave in certain situations.
It can be as simple as your phone knowing the difference between a tap and a swipe or as complex as the algorithms that drive facial recognition software or the “You May Also Like…” feature on your favourite online shopping store.
Machine learning is basically a way of describing the way machines observe, interpret, and apply data and they way they learn from that process.
Machine learning allows for automation in many industries, and is something we take for granted in most of our personal tech, including the software and apps we use every day.
Deep learning implies something a little more mystical than “just coding,” and is often likened to the way human brains process data. Indeed, deep learning is an attempt to create human-like thought processes in computers.
But deep learning is machine learning, it’s simply layered machine learning, designed to mimic the neural networks in organic brains.
With simple machine learning, an algorithm uses existing data to interpret new data, such as a music recommendation on a playlist. The machine knows that many listeners of Song A also liked Song B. If you listen to it, like it, and add it to a playlist, the algorithm as more information with which to make suggestions. If you don’t like it, you tell your app “don’t show me this song” and it adds that information to its database.
But if you don’t TELL the app you don’t like the song, you will probably see the same bad recommendation over and over again. It requires human input to decide if its choice was right or wrong.
When algorithms are layered, the machine’s need for human intervention is reduced. The simple yes/no of selecting a song for your playlist can be added to another algorithm that interprets a lack of input (when you ignore a suggestion) as its own type of data, and the songs you don’t listen to or only listen to once for 15 seconds, and it can make its own decision not to show you more of that or similar songs in order to increase the efficacy of its suggestions.
This type of deep machine learning is the closest we have come to teaching machines to think for themselves, and has created such AI marvels as Google’s AlphaGo which is the first computer program to defeat a human champion Go player.
How does the human brain work?
The biggest challenge to artificial intelligence today is our limited understanding of how the human brain actually works. We are starting to unravel the mysteries of the human mind, and our knowledge of our own neural networks has given us the ability to create deep learning in machines.
However, there is much we don’t know about consciousness, and we have yet to decide on a satisfactory way to prove sentience or sapience in any other living creature. Some philosophers argue that we cannot truly prove that anyone exists out of our own mind.
But there is a chance that our deep learning machines will unravel their own mysteries before we get a chance to and this moment will be the beginning of the singularity.
Once machines become capable of learning and teaching without human input, they will likely be running circles around us before we even realize what has happened.
When will the singularity happen?
Most experts put the early stages of the technological singularity within this century. Many suggest we will be seeing AI take off by 2045.
Current advances in AI seem to support this “sooner rather than later” prediction.
As these “thinking” robots spend more and more time with humans their programming is likely to improve exponentially.
What about transhumanism?
Transhumanism, the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology, complicates the issue of the singularity.
We have already entered the transhumanist age with cybernetics and biocomputing changing the lives of people all around the world. It will also change the way we interact with computers. As technologies are developed that make more and more computing an integral part of our physical existence–implants that help us control smart houses, or access email without a phone or computer–we may well already be a part of computers as they become self-aware. Our own brains may passively teach the deep learning computer programs more efficiently than we can ever do consciously.
Machines may teach us more about ourselves than we can teach them.
Hopefully, they will give us some time to enjoy the newfound knowledge before they destroy us!
Does the thought of a technological singularity terrify or excite you? Do you think it’s so far off that we needed worry? Is it a fantasy? A very real threat?
The cyberpunk genre loves to explore the liminal space between transhumanism and singularity, which is one of my favourite things about it. When I first started writing the Bubbles in Space series I meant for it to be a fun, tongue-in-cheek look at the way technology might help us and fail us in the future, and it didn’t take long for me to start exploring these ideas in my own way, too.
How much can we alter the human body and mind with technology before we are not really human anymore? What will we call Humanity v2.0?
Nnedi Okorafor is a writer that I stumbled upon completely by accident after a review I read called her YA trilogy, Akata Witch, the “Nigerian Harry Potter.”
I read and reviewed Akata Witch myself, here, and discussed the problem of minimizing the work of Black writers by comparing them to the (mostly white) literary canon as if all Black writing is derivative rather than existing in its own right. This experience really changed the way I think about literature in general, from comparing women’s writing to men’s, western writers to eastern, straight and queer, etc.
All of this is tangential to the fact that Nnedi Okorafor is a phenomenal writer. I loved the magic and friendship of Akata Witch. I loved the bravery and brilliance of Binti. I loved the raw power and energy of Who Fears Death. Okorafor’s writing just really clicks for me in a way I haven’t found with a lot of contemporary writers and I still struggle to define exactly what it is.
What I do know, is that she’s a writer that all SF&F fans need to read now! And there’s something for everyone, from YA to Adult, from novellas, to novels, to comics and graphic novels. Okorafor is a joy to read, even when she’s tearing your heart out (thanks, Who Fears Death…)
Here’s a little bit about the Author, and scroll down to see a selection of her most popular works.
Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (from Dark Horse) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriter the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.
Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world. [Note: The publisher is still using this description!]
Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
Ursula K. Le Guin and John Green are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too!
Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed first novel for middle grade readers introduces a boy who can access super powers with the help of the magical Ikenga.
Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers?
Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.
Binti Novellas (2015, 2017, 2018)
Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.
In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.
It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….
The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.
Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.
Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.
But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.
It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.
After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.
An alien artifact turns a young girl into Death’s adopted daughter in Remote Control, a thrilling sci-fi tale of community and female empowerment from Nebula and Hugo Award-winner Nnedi Okorafor
“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”
The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.
Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.
But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?
Have you read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s work? Which has been your favourite? I just bought Ikenga when it came out and plan to read it with my kids before we jump into Akata Witch and Akata Warrior. It’s great that Okorafor is putting out middle grade and YA fiction as well as SF&F for adults. This is so important for ensuring that diverse science fiction and fantasy books are available to kids from a young age, and hopefully will nurture a life long love of the genre of the future!
I’m really excited for Lagoon and Remote Control, too…
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:
February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seems like an unusual way to celebrate Black history, since science fiction is undeniably the realm of futuristic speculation rather than dwelling in the past. However, if you read my last post on N.K. Jemesin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? you’ll understand why science fiction is so important to Black people: past, present, and future.
Next up on the list of my favourite Black SF&F writers is Octavia E. Butler. I first started reading Butler about four years ago when I stumbled upon this article from TOR.com “8 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books Sexier than 50 Shades of Grey.” Granted, I’m not sure that’s such screaming praise… I’ve never read 50 Shades of anything, so I’m probably not the best judge. Anyway, Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy was the only item on the list that I was intrigued enough to download.
It completely blew my mind. Not just the sexy bits (and there were a few of them) but the in-depth exploration of themes like: slavery, colonialism, and transhumanism (via subsummation by an alien species). It’s still one of the coolest SF series I’ve ever read. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Butler’s SF works.
Octavia E. Butler
“Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.
After her father died, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer’s workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.
She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer’s workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.”
In an “epic, game-changing, moving and brilliant” story of love and hate, two immortals chase each other across continents and centuries, binding their fates together — and changing the destiny of the human race (Viola Davis).
Doro knows no higher authority than himself. An ancient spirit with boundless powers, he possesses humans, killing without remorse as he jumps from body to body to sustain his own life. With a lonely eternity ahead of him, Doro breeds supernaturally gifted humans into empires that obey his every desire. He fears no one — until he meets Anyanwu.
Anyanwu is an entity like Doro and yet different. She can heal with a bite and transform her own body, mending injuries and reversing aging. She uses her powers to cure her neighbors and birth entire tribes, surrounding herself with kindred who both fear and respect her. No one poses a true threat to Anyanwu — until she meets Doro.
The moment Doro meets Anyanwu, he covets her; and from the villages of 17th-century Nigeria to 19th-century United States, their courtship becomes a power struggle that echoes through generations, irrevocably changing what it means to be human.
A young woman harnesses her newfound power to challenge the ruthless man who controls her, in this brilliant and provocative novel from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.
Mary is a treacherous experiment. Her creator, an immortal named Doro, has molded the human race for generations, seeking out those with unusual talents like telepathy and breeding them into a new subrace of humans who obey his every command. The result is Mary: a young black woman living on the rough outskirts of Los Angeles in the 1970s, who has no idea how much power she will soon wield.
Doro knows he must handle Mary carefully or risk her ending like his previous experiments: dead, either by her own hand or Doro’s. What he doesn’t suspect is that Mary’s maturing telepathic abilities may soon rival his own power. By linking telepaths with a viral pattern, she will create the potential to break free of his control once and for all-and shift the course of humanity.
A powerful story of survival in unprecedented times, from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.
In an alternate America marked by volatile class warfare, Blake Maslin is traveling with his teenage twin daughters when their car is ambushed. Their attackers appear sickly yet possess inhuman strength, and they transport Blake’s family to an isolated compound. There, the three captives discover that the compound’s residents have a highly contagious alien disease that has mutated their DNA to make them powerful, dangerous, and compelled to infect others. If Blake and his daughters do not escape, they will be infected with a virus that will either kill them outright or transform them into outcasts whose very existence is a threat to the world around them.
In the following hours, Blake and his daughters each must make a vital choice: risk everything to escape and warn the rest of the world, or accept their new reality — as well as the uncertain fate of the human race.
An all-powerful ruler’s son vies for control over the human race in this brilliant conclusion to the Patternist saga, from the critically acclaimed author of Parable of the Sower.
In the far future, the human race is divided into two groups striving for power. The Patternmaster rules over all, the leader of the telepathic Patternist race whose thoughts can destroy or heal at his whim. The only threat to his power are the Clayarks, mutant humans created by an alien pandemic, who now live either enslaved by the Patternists or in the wild.
Coransee, son of the ruling Patternmaster, wants the throne and will stop at nothing to get it, even if it means venturing into the wild mutant-infested hills to destroy a young apprentice — his equal and his brother.
One woman is called upon to rebuild the future of humankind after a nuclear war, in this revelatory post-apocalyptic tale from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.
When Lilith lyapo wakes from a centuries-long sleep, she finds herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. She discovers that the Oankali—a seemingly benevolent alien race—intervened in the fate of the humanity hundreds of years ago, saving everyone who survived a nuclear war from a dying, ruined Earth and then putting them into a deep sleep. After learning all they could about Earth and its beings, the Oankali healed the planet, cured cancer, increased human strength, and they now want Lilith to lead her people back to Earth—but salvation comes at a price.
Hopeful and thought-provoking, this post-apocalyptic narrative deftly explores gender and race through the eyes of characters struggling to adapt during a pivotal time of crisis and change.
From the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower: After the near-extinction of the human race, one young man with extraordinary gifts will reveal whether the human race can learn from its past and rebuild their future . . . or is doomed to self-destruction.
In the future, nuclear war has destroyed nearly all humankind. An alien race intervenes, saving the small group of survivors from certain death. But their salvation comes at a cost.
The Oankali are able to read and mutate genetic code, and they use these skills for their own survival, interbreeding with new species to constantly adapt and evolve. They value the intelligence they see in humankind but also know that the species-rigidly bound to destructive social hierarchies-is destined for failure. They are determined that the only way forward is for the two races to produce a new hybrid species – and they will not tolerate rebellion.
This acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from an award-winning author “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” and includes a foreword by N. K. Jemisin (John Green, New York Times).
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.
Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith . . . and a startling vision of human destiny.
Originally published in 1998, this shockingly prescient novel’s timely message of hope and resistance in the face of fanaticism is more relevant than ever.
In 2032, Lauren Olamina has survived the destruction of her home and family, and realized her vision of a peaceful community in northern California based on her newly founded faith, Earthseed. The fledgling community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s subversive colony–a minority religious faction led by a young black woman–becomes a target for President Jarret’s reign of terror and oppression.
Years later, Asha Vere reads the journals of a mother she never knew, Lauren Olamina. As she searches for answers about her own past, she also struggles to reconcile with the legacy of a mother caught between her duty to her chosen family and her calling to lead humankind into a better future.
The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
“A master storyteller, Butler casts an unflinching eye on racism, sexism, poverty, and ignorance and lets the reader see the terror and beauty of human nature.” — The Washington Post
This is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted-and still wants-to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself.
A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?
Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.
Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism—but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renée Thomas.
“Those concerned with justice and liberation must always persuade the mass of people that a better world is possible. Our job begins with speculative fictions that fire society’s imagination and its desire for change. In adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha’s visionary conception, and by its activist-artists’ often stunning acts of creative inception, Octavia’s Brood makes for great thinking and damn good reading. The rest will be up to us.” —Jeff Chang, Who We Be: The Colorization of America
Indie Book Bonus!
A writer friend of mine who is featured in Octavia’s Brood (above) has his own SF novella out right now, and I highly recommend checking it out. You can buy The Ballad of the Bladesinger directly from Jelani Wilson by clicking HERE! I’ll be doing a review of it this month, but for now suffice it to say: Read it now! It’s so much fun! You’re going to love it!
“Space Wizards! tells the story of five cosmic mages a dozen years after a failed attempt to topple a technocratic regime that ruthlessly controls all interstellar travel and activity for dominion and profit. After their defeat, our heroes have been left scattered across a cluster of star systems known as the Constellation.
Demoralized, these five survivors embark on cruel, lonely journeys to a destination of last resort. Through acts of bravery, a philosophy of intelligent combat, and feats of cosmic sorcery, they face certain death in a desperate attempt to catalyze liberation for all.”
Have you read any Octavia E. Butler? So far I’ve read the Lilith’s Brood trilogy, Parable of the Sower, and Fledgling and I’ve loved all of them. They’re all very different! Lilith’s Brood is science fiction in the aliens and spaceships kind of way, though it feels a bit like pioneer/colonization SF at times. Parable of the Sower is a brutally dark post-apocalyptic novel that is definitely not for the faint of heart, but there is a thread of hope running through it that saves it from being a Cormac McCarthy style depression fest (I’m looking at you, The Road…) And Fledgling is a SF vampire story unlike anything you’ve ever read! I can’t wait to dig into the Patternmaster series next.
Who’s your favourite Black science fiction writer?
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:
The introduction to N.K. Jemisin’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month?, holds a truth bomb that I had somehow evaded until that moment. Jemisin explains how she began writing short stories in general and speculative fiction in particular. Her words solidified for me not only the reason that I have been drawn to writing Science Fiction as a woman, but suddenly made me realize how bloody important Science Fiction is to all marginalized people, and how grateful I am to be writing today rather than 20, 30, 50, or 100 years ago.
February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seem like an unusual way to celebrate Black history, since science fiction is undeniably the realm of futuristic speculation rather than dwelling in the past. However, if you read this excerpt from Jemisin’s introduction, I think you’ll understand why I have chosen to do this.
“In an attempt to resolve frustration with the state of my life, I finally [in 2002] decided to see whether my lifelong writing hobby could be turned into a side hustle worth maybe a few hundred dollars. If I could make that much (or even just one hundred a year!), I might be able to cover some of my utility bills or something. Then I could get out of debt in twelve or thirteen years, instead of fifteen.
I wasn’t expecting more than that, for reasons beyond pessimism. At the time, it was clear that the speculative genres had stagnated to a dangerous degree. Science fiction claimed to be the fiction of the future, but it still mostly celebrated the faces and voices and stories of the past. In a few more years there would come the Slush-bomb, an attempt by women writers to improve one of the most sexist bastions among the Big Three; the Great Cultural Appropriation Debates of DOOM; and Racefail, a thousand-blog storm of fannish protest against institutional and individual racism within the genre. These things collectively would open a bit more room within the genre for people who weren’t cishet white guys—just in time for the release of my first published novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But back in 2002 there was none of that. In 2002, I knew that as a black woman drawn to science fiction and fantasy, I had almost no chance of getting my work published, noticed by reviewers, or accepted by a readership that seemed to want nothing more than endless variations on medieval Europe and American colonization…
… How Long ‘til Black Future Month takes its name from an essay that I wrote in 2013… It’s a shameless paean to an Afrofuturist icon, the artist Janelle Monáe, but it’s also a meditation on how hard it’s been for me to love science fiction and fantasy as a black woman. How much I’ve had to fight my own internalized racism in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business. How terrifyin it’s been to realize no one thinks my people have a future. And how gratifying to finally accept myself and being spinning the futures I want to see.”
So this month I’m going to dedicate my posts to a handful of my favourite Black science fiction writers. These lists will by no means be exhaustive. I first made a concerted effort to read more Black SF writers back in 2017 when I discovered that October is Black Speculative Fiction Month (how cool is that?) and I have been thrilled with all the new authors I’ve found since swerving off the path beaten path by decades of exploration of “classics” and “the Canon.” However, there is a world of wonderful writers out there who deserve recognition. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too!
(Interestingly, I also wrote about my love of Janelle Monáe on this blog. You can check that article out HERE.)
So, without further ado. Let’s meet N.K. Jemisin, the first of my favourite Black SF&F writers, and someone I think all SF fans should add to their TBR piles right now!
N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her work has won the Nebula and Locus Awards, and she is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. The first book in her current Great Cities trilogy, THE CITY WE BECAME, is a New York Times bestseller. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She’s been an instructor for Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. Among other critical work, she was formerly the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer at the New York Times. In her spare time she’s a gamer and gardener, responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her dangerously intelligent ginger cat, and his destructive sidekick, the Marvelous Master Magpie.
Jemisin wrote an essay called “How Long ’til Black Future Month,” which does not appear in the short story collection, but which you can read for free on her website by clicking THIS LINK.
After her mother’s mysterious death, a young woman is summoned to the floating city of Sky in order to claim a royal inheritance she never knew existed in the first book in this award-winning fantasy trilogy from the NYT bestselling author of The Fifth Season.
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.
With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate — and gods and mortals — are bound inseparably together.
A man with no memory of his past and a struggling, blind street artist will face off against the will of the gods as the secrets of this stranger’s past are revealed in the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the debut novel of NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .
Shahar and the godling Sieh must face off against the terrible magic threatening to consume their world in the incredible conclusion to the Inheritance Trilogy, from Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.
For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri’s ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.
Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.
As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom — which even gods fear — is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?
Includes a never before seen story set in the world of the Inheritance Trilogy.
Assassin priests, mad kings, and the goddess of death collide in the first book of the Dreamblood Duology by NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin.
The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.
In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers — the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.
But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru — the most famous of the city’s Gatherers — must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill — or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.
In the final book of NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood Duology, a priestess and an exiled prince must join together to free the city of dreams from imperial rule.
Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up — but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.
Someone must show them the way.
Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess’ priesthood and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams. . . before Gujaareh is lost forever.
Continuing the trilogy that began with the award-winning The Fifth Season
This is the way the world ends, for the last time.
The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night.
Essun — once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger — has found shelter, but not her daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request. But if Essun does what he asks, it would seal the fate of the Stillness forever.
Far away, her daughter Nassun is growing in power – and her choices will break the world.
Humanity will finally be saved or destroyed in the shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed NYT bestselling trilogy that won the Hugo Award three years in a row.
The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.
One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Best Fantasy Books of all time One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020 One of Vanity Fair‘s 15 Best Books of 2020 One of Amazon’s Best Books of 2020
Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.
In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.
In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.
In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.
And they’re not the only ones.
Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.
Three-time Hugo Award winner and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption that sharply examine modern society in her first collection of short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories.
“Marvelous and wide-ranging.” — Los Angeles Times“Gorgeous” — NPR Books“Breathtakingly imaginative and narratively bold.” — Entertainment Weekly
Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.
Have you read any N.K. Jemisin yet? I admit, I haven’t read all of these. I have read the Inheritance trilogy, Book One in the Dreamblood duology, and all of the short stories in How Long ’til Black Future Month?. I’m most looking forward to The City We Became because I love the way Jemisin is able to anthropomorphise Cities until they become characters in their own right. She’s got a couple of great short stories in her collection that got my gears turning. I have read enough of her work that I am confident in recommending you pick up anything of hers that you come across!
Do you have a favourite Black science fiction writer? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!
Want more Black SF&F Writers?
Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers: