HomeNovelTop 20 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books by BIPOC Authors
Top 20 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books by BIPOC Authors
January 15, 2023
The 12-year-old me is finally fulfilling my craving for high-fantasy books centered around non-European mythology. Sometimes it was hard to ignore that I had more in common with aliens or monsters than with elven creatures with pale faces and impossibly blue eyes. More than a decade later, the books I’ve been craving have finally arrived, so I’m going to shove them down everyone’s throats as much as I can.
And can we all do everyone a favor and stop comparing these books to white stories? Thank you.
The deep from the Solomon River
Remember inside Black Panther when Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger said, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped off ships, because they knew death was better than slavery.” Well, River Solomon’s The deep explore just that.
In this world, enslaved people who were lost at sea turned into what can easily be described as mermaids. The truth is that they are much more. A person who lives in water is a keeper of memories for people of her about how they came to be. It’s his burden to remember, that becomes too much to bear.
The Dark Star trilogy is currently ongoing. The narrative revolves around the fate of a boy and an unlikely group who are sworn to protect him. There are kingdoms, magic, chaos, sex and betrayal. These books are largely inspired by Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, X-Menand more.
What makes this series different is that it’s not chronological like most. Instead, the central storyline features the same events told from different perspectives. The series took Marlon James years of research before he started writing the book. This is one of the few fantasy novels in the Western canon that focus on African mythologies without centering on Eurocentric stories or narrative structures.
Mind control powers are always OP. It’s almost cathartic to watch a BIPOC figure take revenge for his colonizing captures who brutally murdered his family, who just happened to be part of a royal line on his island.
This young adult book has a fun side with a surprising amount of whimsy and political espionage.
Trilogy Between Earth and Sky (Black Sun & Fever star) by Rebecca Roanhorse
This fantasy series is set in pre-Columbian South America. the first book, Black Sun, is an eerie introduction to this world. This is a great book for those intimidated by high fantasy and tired of Eurocentric fantasy novels. This is an ongoing series, with the sequel just released in 2022 and the third novel yet to be announced.
The magical realism in this book is haunting. This follows a large cast of characters, so if you get confused easily, you’ll need a character map to get through this. This is a cross-generational novel that follows the slow “death” of a matriarch and how her gifts were passed down to other family members. This is a story of family inheritance, mourning, and little acts of magic (aka love).
Set in 1930s Hollywood, we follow Luli Wei, who would do anything to become a star. She is headstrong and undeniably beautiful as she enters the dark and powerful world of Hollywood. She quickly learns that the studios will do anything to control you and your image through dark rituals and blood magic. This is what you want to pick up if you’ve ever been lightly entertained by Illuminati conspiracy theories.
This might be cheating, but what is horror, if not dark fantasy?
Themes of greed, revenge, internalized oppression, and intergenerational trauma are expertly woven into the text. There is an interesting subversion of expectations that occurs in the novel. This is a refreshing critique of waste of resources and sport hunting. If animal abuse/cruelty isn’t your thing, you won’t like this book. He’s bloodied. This is a good spooky read. It went by pretty quickly, mostly because, at times, it felt more like a collection of short stories. Read this during Halloween. You will not be disappointed.
Babel by RF Kuang
In this blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction, the reader follows Robin, who, as a Chinese, must come to terms with the fact that her work at Babel supports British colonialism in China. This book has strong dark academia vibes, but readers beware: the long-winded paragraphs exploring linguistics and etymology are not for the faint-hearted.
Okay, what if a city became a person? After all, anyone who has ever lived in at least one major city knows that every city has the pulse and rhythm of a living being. NK Jemisin The city we have become take this to the next level by having city souls reside in physical avatars to protect their domain from threats.
There is a metaphysical threat rumbling in New York. There’s a little undercurrent following national grocery chains, corner stores charging $8 for a bacon and cheese egg, and the judgmental stares of transplants turning the city into a carbon copy of their bland suburbs. The five boroughs of New York must fight this physical embodiment of neocolonialism, i.e. gentrification in this duology.
Ok, so I have a little bias against NK Jemisin. Oops. I also have a soft spot for short story collections. The title of the collection makes a big nod to Afrofuturism, which will be included later in the list.
This is a mix of fantasy and soft science fiction. Some stories feature an early version of The city we have become, which is about a mother in the Jim Crow South trying to save her daughter from goblins, a utopian society that watches us make our own mistakes and aliens. There is a story for everyone in this collection.
People are destroying themselves through war and destruction (sound familiar?) when an intergalactic alien race arrives to try and save humanity. Lilith is one of the few resurrected and is offered the chance to live again if she merges with the alien race.
Affine by Octavia E. Butler
If you don’t already know, FX has adapted the popular sci-fi novel, so it’s time to pick up the novel and graphic novel versions.
This book follows Dana, a black woman who lives in 1976 California and begins time-stepping to antebellum Maryland. The first time she experiences this slip, she sees a boy drowning in the water. She saves him only to have her life threatened. In that instant of paralyzing fear, she is catapulted back into the 20th century. These episodes continue and she realizes that she is inextricably linked to this boy.
This is another dark and fantastic horror. This is inspired by the actual movie The birth of a nation, which was a propaganda film used to recruit members of the Klu Klux Klan. In Ring Shout, this film is a spell cast across the country to bewitch white people into worshiping interdimensional demons.
In this world, white supremacists are sorcerers and the Klu Klux Klan are real interdimensional demonic monsters that feed on hate and only one person can save us. Maryse is this chosen one. We follow Maryse as she hunts down and literally slaughters these monsters with her team of monster hunters: a World War I veteran who had to disguise herself as a man to fight, a dreamy sharpshooter who never misses a shot, an impatient scientist, a character who likes to push everyone’s buttons talking about social issues and a magical Gullah woman who sells Mama’s Water for protection.
Afrofuturism, which is different from Africanfuturism, is about reimagining a futuristic world centered on black history and culture. Because what is recognized as “the SciFi canon” is predominantly white: Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, HG Wells, etc. This shows in the writing. The projection of the white male psyche, fearing another alien race to colonize, rape, torture, enslave and experiment on them, bleeds through their science fiction, which is probably why I’ve never been a big fan of the genre until I discovered that Afrofuturism has been around since the mid-20th century.
This collection of short stories features a number of well-known authors such as Victor LaValle, NK Jemisin and others who specialize in speculative fiction. This is a modern collection of writers of our contemporary age who are redefining science fiction and literary fiction.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
The above article features a TedTalk by Nnedi Okorafor, promoting her work Binti. Binti is the first in her community to be invited to an intergalactic university. This means that Binti will have to leave everything behind for this life-changing opportunity. The thing is, no one talks about how life-changing opportunities are often terrifying.
This post-apocalyptic book follows a worker who is desperate to survive the monotony of late-stage capitalism. She had dreams of greatness, but she found a job that provided her with a regular salary and health insurance. That is until a mysterious virus spreads across the country. Sounds too painfully familiar, doesn’t it? Except this virus is more like a zombie-like virus.
Then, the giant robots (aka Mechas) meet the X-Men. This queer protagonist is a badass pilot with skills beyond anyone else’s. And he will use this new strength and power to change the world.
The Lesson: A Cadwell Turnbull Novel
Aliens have coexisted with the people of the US Virgin Islands. As alien species go, they are incredibly cold unless provoked. As tensions build, it becomes clear that the honeymoon phase between these two groups won’t last. This book explores colonialism in science fiction in such a fresh and exciting way.
I usually collect the latest edition of The best American science fiction and fantasy. So far, my favorite has been the 2019 roundup with guest editors Carmen Maria Machado and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, who are fantastic writers in their own right. This collection captures the look of modern science fiction and fantasy: speculative, diverse and addresses concerns for the modern age, where everyday life already looks like a bad science fiction novel and where evil nepotism billionaires make virtual money by scamming their fan with virtual art.
In this book, “two friends, often in love, but never lovers, come together as creative partners in the world of game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and ultimately a kind of immortality. “
(featured image: Tor Macmillan, Gallery Saga Press, Riverhead Books, Orbit, Atria Books, Harper Voyager, Grand Central Publishing, Rosarium Publishing, Picador USA, Penguin Teen, Blackstone Publishing, and Knopf Publishing Group)
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