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Science Fiction & Fantasy by Women of Color

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Seriously, A LOT. Growing up, I cut my teeth on Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. Later, it was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Sadly, many people still think science fiction and fantasy (also known as SFF) novels are written mostly by white anglo-saxon men for white anglo-saxon men (think J. R. R. Tolkein or George R. R. Martin). However, there are a number of fantastic female authors of color rocking both genres today.


Parable of the Sower book cover

My first case in point is Octavia E. Butler, arguably one of the greatest SFF writers of our time. Butler, who died in 2006, wrote many groundbreaking works throughout her career. She won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. Twice. And was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. AND in 2010 was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Seriously, this woman could write.

To add to her impressiveness, Butler not only wrote great sci-fi, she also wrote a wide variety of different types of sci-fi and fantasy. Her Lilith’s Brood trilogy ticks all the “quintessential science fiction” boxes: destruction of humanity, space travel, extraterrestrials, genetic modification. Then there is her “historical fantasy” classic Kindred which explores the American heritage of slavery through the guise of time travel (check out Adina’s post from last month for more). And if “dystopian near-future” is more your thing (think Hunger Games for adults), then there is her Nebula Award-nominated Parable of the Sower and Nebula Award-winning Parable of the Talents.

The Fifth Season book cover

The next amazing author of color I think you should know is N.K. Jemisin. If you don’t follow genre-specific literary awards like I do, you may not know that Jemisin won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Fifth Season, making Jemisin the first black author (male or female) to win the award (Butler’s Hugos were for best short story and best novelette). The Fifth Season is the first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and it is amazing. This series has it all — epic world building, the ability to literally move mountains with your mind, the double edged sword of love and loss — all overlaid with Jemisin’s trademark exploration of gender and race. Her characters are vivid, raw and surprisingly human (even when not fully human). The second book in the Broken Earth series, The Obelisk Gate, came out last August and I have been waiting with baited breath for the third installment ever since. Please, please, please take the time to check N.K. Jemisin out, you won’t be disappointed!

Binti book cover

And finally, if you’re looking for another reason to follow the Hugo Awards, the 2016 winner for Best Novella also went to a rad woman of color: Nnedi Okorafor for her short work Binti. Okorafor is the American-born daughter of two Nigerian immigrants and she draws upon her and her parents’ experiences for much of her writing. Her writing has a lyrical, almost poetic quality that is quite unique in SFF. Too often, the mechanics of world building necessary in much of sci-fi and fantasy can feel clunky or get in the way of connecting with characters. But in Binti, Okorafor skips right to the heart of her character’s motivations — hopes and dreams that are poignant and topical in today’s political climate — and draws the reader in before you even notice you’re boarding a spaceship alongside aliens. This is such a quick read. I also HIGHLY recommend the audio version available through Overdrive (free with your library card!).

Happy reading!

– Becky

Check out Hugo Award winner N.K. Jemisin

Request The Fifth Season

Becky works part time as the Adult Services Specialist at CLP – Beechview. When not at the library, she’s most likely wrangling her small child and wishing she had more time to paint, write or simply read a good book in peace.

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