Some of the best SF&F books out there right now are written by indie authors.
Don’t believe me?
Traditional publishing has a long and glorious history of taking the safest route possible into customers (that’s readers!) pockets. They don’t like to take chances, try new things, explore risque themes and ideas. They don’t like to support writers they deem as “too niche.”
Which means the traditional publishing industry pumps out a lot of same old, same old books. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
You get the idea.
I am fortunate to know many fantastic indie authors, writing in every genre from non-fiction and memoir, to romance and history, to–my favourite–science fiction and fantasy.
So to wrap up my How Long ’til Black Future Month? series, I give you Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NO!: The Indie Edition!
If you’re looking to spice up your reading list with something totally different and out of this worlds, be sure to check out The Ballade of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson.
This novella is an offshoot of Wilson’s upcoming SpaceWizards! novel, and this teaser does not disappoint! I love the irreverent blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes, the vibrant characters, and magically intergalactic setting. The dialogue is smart and funny (I’ll be adding fuckmelon to my list of curse words), and all the little details make this snapshot of Wilson’s world building come to life.
Xenobia the Blue is a magic blade swinging Space Wizard trying to lay low by posing as a backup singer for the famous cyborg songstress, Tronix. But when her cover is blown, all hell breaks loose on the luxury spaceship she’s been hiding out on…
Because this is a novella and not a full length novel I can’t give away too much more than that without ruining the plot. However, if you love spaceships, magic, creative alien species, and high stakes espionage, you’re going to love this book!
Ballad of the Bladesinger has a kind of Fifth Element / Guardians of the Galaxy vibe that is fun, feisty, and action packed. I highly recommend checking it out.
The Fadian Experiment sucked me in from the first page. It starts out tough and gritty, you jump into some high-stakes action right off the bat, and it really doesn’t let up the whole way through.
The main character, Kaleigha, is living a brutal life. After failing a childhood assessment that would have placed her in a job, she now wanders the streets looking for temp work or hustling as a fortune teller while dodging the unwanted advances and abuses of police and other citizens. As if that’s not bad enough, Kaleigha hears voices in her head. That’s why she failed her assessment, and it’s getting worse instead of better.
I loved the set up for this novel. The way Ford describes the world and city, I was reminded of N.K. Jemisin’s settings where the city is almost a character in its own right. There is nothing kind about this world, and Ford’s depictions of future class division are frighteningly realistic.
As we get deeper into the story, the plot spirals and everything we think we understand from the beginning of the book is turned upside down. The characters are intense, the pace is relentless, and the world is complex. You just have to keep reading to see what’s coming.
The Fadian Experimentblends science and magic, reality and fantasy, dreams and memory with so many twists and turns you never know what is going to happen next. At its core, though, this is the story about a poor young women who will do anything to help her city and improve the lives of her people.
Book Two in the trilogy, The Fadian Escape is coming soon, so be sure to follow W.A. Ford for updates!
If you love fast paced, urban fantasy with a Sci-Fi twist have I got a book for you!
In Awakening, Book One in the Evolved Ones trilogy we meet Rox.
Rox is on the run, desperate to escape the people chasing her and to find out who she really is. From the very first page, we are sucked into Rox’s quest to rescue herself from a personal hell. She is stuck in limbo, being used by everyone who promised to help her find her identity, and she doesn’t even know if there is anything to discover. The unknown threatens to destroy her.
I am a sucker for great characterization. Oliver takes this skill to the extreme. She handles a large cast of characters with in-depth, emotionally driven character arcs. Each of the characters is fully developed, with a unique personality, compelling backstory, and complex motivations. You’ll even love the unlikable ones!
This book grabs you, shakes you, and drags you along with it. Break-neck pacing, fever-pitched emotions, and non-stop action, Awakeninghas “Blockbuster Movie” written all over it.
This is an absolute must read for anyone who likes action-packed Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of raw emotion and character depth to go with it.
You can easily pick this book up and read it straight through. It is hard to put down, even if you know you have to wake up early. I might have had a rough morning or two because I was up reading after the kids went to bed!
Are you looking for a rip-roaring adventure with magic, pirates on the high seas, snarky dialogue, and a little sexual tension?
That’s a stupid question. Of course you are.
Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff is the perfect beach read book or–if, like me, you are locked in an eternal winter–the perfect “wishing you were on a beach” read. Either way, this fast-paced YA pirate fantasy is going to spirit you away to a tropical paradise filled with white sand beaches, handsome rogues, badass heroines…
… and an evil magical serpent bent on destroying the world!
Trust me. You’re going to have fun.
McGriff’s characters are smart and sassy, make all kinds of hilarious bad decisions, and are simply a joy to go adventuring with.
And I was on the beta reading team for Book 2: The Secret Library and let me tell you… it only gets better!
If you’re looking to dip your toes into this world, check out M.J. McGriff’s website and sign up for her reading group via the popup to get a free copy of The Griffin, a fantasy novella set in the same world as these swashbuckling adventure stories.
Wow! This is quite a read. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one at almost 500 pages.
A Look Behind Lightning is a spooky urban fantasy with a ton of wonderful characters. It slowly builds suspense as we follow Jocasta and her students through their daily lives, with things getting stranger and stranger as the book progresses. Tensions rise, monsters emerge, and everything comes crashing together in an epic climax!
Ballentine does a superb job of immersing us in her characters’ lives so that we really care about them and the supernatural events that threaten to take over their lives.
This is a long book simmering with slow-burn tension, and Ballentine really uses the length well. You will be fully immersed in these characters lives so that when the book finishes… you’ll be itching to start Book 2!
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:
I haven’t done a book review in a long time, but since getting involved with the #bookstagram community on Instagram I have read so many wonderful indie and hybrid authors, and I think it’s time to share some of the wealth with you guys. I will try to reserve my end-of-week posts for Indie Feature Friday so that they are easy to find.
First up, is Prophecy by Caroline Noe, Book One in The Canellian Eye trilogy!
I have been following Caroline Noe on Instagram for a while now, and I have always been so impressed with how supportive she is of other authors. Her feed is full of beautiful photography, thoughts on life, and reviews of independently published books. If you’re on the gram, you should definitely check her out!
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from Noe’s Canellian Eye trilogy. I had seen the gorgeous covers many times when she posted about her work, but I hadn’t actually gone to creep the Amazon listing. In my head it was a post-apocalyptic SF because there’s a lot of that on Instagram. I also expected it to be YA.
Preconceptions aside, when Noe offered a promo on Book One, Prophecy, I bought the whole trilogy without worrying too much about the specifics. I had seen her help and support so many other authors, I knew I wanted to support her. So I jumped into the first book without having any idea what to expect.
I was blown away!
First of all, let me clear things up. It’s not YA, by my definition. The characters are young, and there’s no graphic sex or dirty talk, but the themes definitely skew toward an older crowd. New Adult, perhaps. But I think we can safely call this a book for adult readers.
Second of all, this is not a Post-Apocalyptic or Dystopian Sci-Fi. It’s a blend of Science Fiction and Science Fantasy (I never know where to draw the line between the two). It’s got aliens, space travel, the colonization of a new planet, and inter-species conflict galore. I was so pleasantly surprised by everything about this book.
The Canellian’s are an alien species from a dying planet. Following an ancient prophecy, they identify their Chosen One and send him and a handful of their best and brightest into the stars to find a new home. For those left behind, it is the ultimate sacrifice for their species. For those on the ship, the struggle for survival is only just beginning.
That’s all I’m going to say about that. But let’s just say that things don’t go exactly as planned. Like in any great book, Noe makes her character’s lives miserable. It all makes for some fantastic reading!
Prophecy starts off slow and atmospheric. There is a bit of back story the reader needs to become acquainted with. We have a large cast of characters to meet and become familiar with. Readers of SF will likely be comfortable with this slow and steady world building. And once the action starts, you will be glad you spent so much time getting to know the world and the people in it!
Then shit hits the fan, first in outer space and then on the planet they must make an emergency landing on. And when the action starts, it doesn’t let up until the end.
Prophecy is exquisitely complex. Noe’s characters are all so wonderfully developed that, even though there are many of them, they each leap off the page as individuals. Even the baddies are relatable on some level. The emotional undercurrents driving the plot are so strong, you can’t help feeling completely invested in the outcome.
Many Indie books suffer a little in the design, formatting, and editing aspects of publication. It’s tough to be an indie and have to pay out of pocket for all of these services (which are NOT cheap! It can cost thousands of dollars to produce a book you buy for a couple of bucks or download for free during a promo!) I am willing to look past a few Indie quirks for this reason. It is very difficult to compete with the teams of people who work on books from Big House publishers.
Prophecy is a work of pure professionalism, though. It is easily as well edited and designed as any book put out by one of the Big Guys. You would never know Noe was an indie writer if I didn’t tell you! I’m very, very impressed with her work and I cannot wait to dive into Books Two and Three in The Canellian Eye trilogy!
My Rating: * * * * *
I’m giving this book and easy 5 Stars. If you love true SF, with space ships, aliens, and interspecies warfare, this is the book for you. If you love books with complex characters, richly developed relationships, a little romance and adventure, this is the book for you!
If you decide to pick up Prophecy please let me know what you think! More importantly, leave a review wherever you purchase it from so that other readers can find it and fall in love, too.