Writers Of Color In SFF: Recommendation Time

There’s this thing that happens sometimes where someone asks about book recommendations from an author and that author — probably a white guy, like me — rattles off some names of other authors who are also probably white guys like me. I don’t believe this to be an actively racist kind of thing, but more a product of an industry that doesn’t publish as many writers of color. And when they do publish them, they tend to remain marginalized because of various institutional reasons. Plus, then you get that excuse that’s meant to be a positive — “I don’t see color!” — which is a noble thought that ultimately fails, because while you mean I don’t give into preconceived divisions between race, what often results is, I don’t see color because mostly I see only white and if I don’t see color then I don’t have to acknowledge people of color.

I made an effort a couple years back to include a far deeper bullpen of women writers on my shelves, and I’d say at this point about half of my SFF reading is of women authors. This isn’t because of some kind of diversity bingo — I’m not reading books that are bad just to read them because they were written by a woman. I’m reading awesome books by awesome authors. The single result of expanding my reading has been that I am reading more amazing books.

I’ve been making the same effort to include more writers of color — and so it seems like this is a good time to open the comments up to recommendations of writers of color in the SFF space (or, more broadly, feel free to wander into horror and YA if you need to). I recognize there’s some danger in making this a Very Special Post like it’s an Afterschool Special or That One Panel At A Con About Women Authors Where All The Other Panels Are Assumed Then To Be About Men By Default. The ideal goal is, when we recommend books, to have a more diverse slate of books to recommend and not sequester them in their very own marginal post — at the same time, my hope is this post serves as a seeding ground for myself and for others where we learn about awesome books we’re not yet reading. And then we read them and we include them going forward in the books about which we proselytize.

HEY LOOK, MORE AWESOME BOOKS FUCKING YAY.

Right? Right.

Here’s a dollop of reading suggestions on my part, but for your part — get into the comments, recommend some writers of color and what they’ve written. Short stories and novellas are totally on the table, though I’ll recommend only novels right now as my reading of short fiction lately has been woefully shallow. If any work is free to read on the web, feel free to drop links.

(I do recognize that not all writers of color are self-identified, and the same goes for some women and QUILTBAG authors — but, many are, so the effort must be made.)

(Also, this really isn’t meant to be a proving ground for arguments about whether or not we should read more diversely or whatever your stance happens to be — please use the comments as a recommendation engine only. In this instance, be a fountain, not a drain. Thanks.)

The Recs

Nnedi Okorafor: Lagoon. I just started reading this a few days ago and my mouth cannot make the proper pleasing sounds. This woman’s prose is fucking astounding. Cinematic, yet also occasionally dreamlike — science-fiction, but also occasional fantastical? It’s a weird, wonderful book so far. The plot is fine and all, but her prose is a place I wanna live.

Daniel Jose Older: Half-Resurrection Blues. This is how I like my urban fantasy. Real, monstrous, street-level stuff. (I have an unattainable dream of mashing up this series with my own The Blue Blazes given how both are set in and around Brooklyn and Manhattan.) It’s funny, too, and grim, and all the things I want. I have Shadowshaper, his newest YA, but haven’t cracked the cover yet as my tbr pile threatens to crush me beneath its weight.

Maurice Broaddus: King Maker. The Arthurian myth recast in modern-day inner-city Indianapolis. Good stuff — neat analogs to the mythology here (Excalibur becomes a gun, the Caliburn, f’rex). It’s a fantasy novel but occasionally pretty brutal about the lives of these characters. It’s harder stuff than you realize — not fluffy fantasy.

Aliette de Bodard: Obsidian & Blood. This is three books in one, and it was a jaw-dropper for me in what it does with your expectations of genre — what I mean is, this is essentially a detective novel set in the Aztec Empire, and is chockablock with blood magic and necromancy and the drama of the gods and goddesses. An ARC of her newest, House of Shattered Wings, just landed across my doorstep, and I’m excited to read it.

Greg Van Eekhout: California Bones. I dunno why this book is $2.99 right now, but do yourself a favor and fling yourself upon it. It’s this cool LA urban fantasy about unearthing ancient things — but just as it’s sometimes about digging up real bones of old creatures, it’s also about digging up the bones of the past.

SL Huang: Zero Sum Game. Listen, I don’t like math, so when you tell me this is a book about a person whose superpower is math, I’m not interested. More the stupid on my part, because this first book is a blast from start to finish. Huang writes with hella energy — whatever mad calculus she’s doing, she’s doing it right. Curse her for making me care about math.

Now?

Your turn.

118 comments

  • Oooh, there’s some good ones on here. My recommendations would be Constant Tower and Windfollower. Carole McDonnell is a skilled storyteller, and her world building as well as her voice is stunning. Both play with the concepts of epics and multiculturalism, and they are quite fresh and engaging.

  • Check out Briana Lawrence. Her book Treat Me Kindly is classified as urban fantasy/ mystery. That counts as sff, right? The action starts when the protagonist buys an “animal” at auction. The book is transparently a metaphor of slavery, as strongly hinted by the cover art, which I have nicknamed “I know why the caged bird went on a killing spree.” But — I don’t think that subject should be taboo, even though it’s really dark and some reviewers have cautioned the book shouldn’t be shown to under-18s. Link to her book: http://www.damnationbooks.com/book.php?isbn=9781615729876

    • Yes, so much yes! I’ve read his Turbulence and Resistance, which are both excellent investigations of superheroes in India instead of in USA, and he has some good Nonsense poetry aimed at young audiences too (can be found in This Book Makes No Sense: Nonsense Poems and Worse, a collection of Indian Nonsense poetry).

    • OMG yes! Turbulence was fantastic, Resistance I didn’t like *quite* as much, but did still like a lot. Smart, snarky superhero fiction with a satirical edge…

  • Nalini Singh. I love her Psy/Changeling romances. She does fun romance novels in a future sci-fi setting with shapeshifters, mentally advanced beings called the Psy, and humans.

    • I second Karen Lord, and I love Samit Basu’s Turbulance and Resistance series, superheroes from India (and giant mecha from Japan), and a British Pakistani woman leader for the number one global team written with real verve.

      On that note – anyone got any Black/Asian etc British writers they can reccomend?

  • I’d like to start by reiterating the praise for Samuel R Delany, Octavia Butler, NK Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Helen Oyeyemi, and Aliette de Bodard.
    Others I’ve not seen mentioned yet that I love include:
    Andrea Hairston whose Mindscape is intense, bizarre and radical future sf, and Redwood and Wildfire one of the best fantasy novels of this century.
    Ernest Hogan, brilliant Latino post cyberpunk surrealist with a way with future language that is unique.
    Sofia Samatar is poetic, literary, stylish and wonderfully imaginative.
    Misha is part Native American mostly known for her poetry. Red Spider White Web is brutal, intense, hi vis cyberpunk like it should be.
    And finally, someone mentioned Walter Mosley’s crime novels, I recommend Attica Locke as a new, brilliant, politically savvy, writer of contemporary crime.

  • N. K. Jemisin has two incredible series: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Dreamblood. Others:
    Saladin Ahmed
    David Anthony Durham
    Octavia Butler
    Samuel Delany

  • Tananarive Due has multiple titles out. Great world building and characters. The names previously listed are all good.

  • Two recs that I don’t think have been mentioned yet, one fantasy and one SF:

    Karen Lord has a wonderfully witty, sardonic narrative voice; my favorite of hers is Redemption in Indigo, a retelling of a Senegalese folk tale.

    Jenn Brissett’s work explores the relationships between apocalyptic fiction and colonialism, and between history and myth — her debut novel Elysium is a total mindtrip.

  • Henry Lien has a fabulous short story about dolphins and twitter called “Bilingual”
    Ken Liu’s short story “Mono No Aware” had me sobbing
    N.K. Jemisin’s “Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is full of win. (Only read the first novel of the series, but want to read more!)
    Saladin Ahmed’s novel “Throne of the Crescent Moon” is beautiful
    Isabel Yap’s short story “A Cup of Salt Tears” is atmospheric and full of feels

  • Ted Chiang. Softly, anything by Ted Chiang, because if there’s any justice in the world he’ll be spoken of in the same tones Asimov and Bradbury are in a few years. A brilliant author who composes incredible, philosophical stories with an immense capacity to break your heart with their beauty. This one, from earlier this year, will take you no time at all to read, but will stick with you for days: http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/authors/ted-chiang/

  • There are so many good recommendations in the OP and the thread that I second. Here are two I haven’t seen yet: First – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s recent debut “Signal To Noise” is about “magic, music, and Mexico City”. Second – Tobias Buckell. Anything by Tobias Buckell. I love the Xenowealth series which starts with Crystal Rain, and his near-future eco-thrillers Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever are good too.

  • *brain spatters all over the floor*

    Wow uh THANK YOU!!

    *scrapes brain matter together to make more recommendations*

    KALPA IMPERIAL, by Angélica Gorodischer, translated from Spanish by Ursula K. LeGuin. Fascinating, sprawling tales of a fantasy empire through many, many, many generations, and the writing is beeeautiful.

    THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, by Cixin Liu, translated from Chinese by Ken Liu. OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I am a hard science and math fiend (as, er, may be expected), but this is a hard science book that gets the *humanity* so, so, so, so right. Starts in the Cultural Revolution and weaves a narrative up to the present. Somewhat technical in places, which is catnip for me personally!, but if that’s not your thing you can skip the math bits and still get a riveting human narrative.

    WHO FEARS DEATH, by Nnedi Okorafor. I know she’s on our gracious host’s list already, but I’m reading this book right now and it’s so good I couldn’t not add it. It won the World Fantasy Award and SUPER DESERVEDLY SO imho.

    SORCERER TO THE CROWN, by Zen Cho. I’m cheating here as this book isn’t out yet so I haven’t read it, but I love Zen Cho’s short fiction SO MUCH (look it up!) that I’m recommending it anyway because I do not believe there exists a world in which I will not like this book.

    BLOODCHILD, by Octavia Butler. Everyone always mentions Butler and people get rightfully pissed that she’s often the only writer of color ever mentioned on lists, but I still can’t not mention her because she’s just so damn talented, and Bloodchild (book of short stories) is one of my favorite books of all time.

    BLEEDING VIOLET, by Dia Reeves. This is YA, which I don’t read a lot of so can’t comp well, but it doesn’t matter because hooooooly craaaaaaaap this book is good. Twisty complex characters and a twisty complex narrative and riveting from start to finish; I picked this up and could. not. put. it. down.

    *brain matter still spattered, I am sure I am forgetting everybody ever*

  • The Best of all Possible worlds by Karen Lord. Fascinating world and beautiful writing that allows the reader to discover the world and its rules as they go.

  • I would nominate much of the stuff coming out of Rosarium Publishing, but specifically (by Bill Campbell) SUNSHINE PATRIOTS, which is a multicultural trenches BAME/Latino Jamaican patois mindfuck of an alien invasion story that’s actually brilliant. He’s just publishing STORIES FOR CHIP which is excellent as well.

    On the slightly less speculative (but probably works for readers of much speculative fiction) is Nikesh Shukla, specifically MEATSPACE. He’s a Brit and it’s a novel that works really well for a kind of Right Now.

    Any publisher who’s reading this should seriously consider submitting 2015 novels published in the UK to THE KITSCHIES which celebrates progressive, intelligent, and entertaining genre fiction.

  • There are other great authors of color in speculative fiction including, Carole McDonnell, Milton Davis, Alicia McCalla, Ronald T Jones, Balogun Ojetade, Bill Campbell, and Nisi Shaw.

  • Happy to see so many recs for writers I already like. I’d like to add two more:

    *Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due’s hubby, is no slouch either. Imnsho, his Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart are amazing reads, alternate history novels that start with “What if Socrates hadn’t died when he did?” and land in a North America where Middle Eastern colonizers bring slaves to their new lands … Irish slaves. Heather Alexander’s (who has had a name change, among other changes, to Alexander James Adams) CD “Insh’Allah: The Music of Lion’s Blood” was written to accompany Barnes’ first novel, and it is also amazing.

    * Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfoot) writes so much holy-crap-that’s-awesome horror and SFnal stuff that it’s nigh impossible to choose an example. Check out http://www.demontheory.net , and if you can find a copy, read Demon Theory — it’s mind-bending.

  • I made a commitment to read only women of colour this year in my preferred genres sci-fi/ fantasy. It hasn’t been all interesting (I have digressed at times) but my faves: Octavia Butler- all her books but Xenogenesis, Patternmaster, and Fledgling are supreme. Nnedi Okorafor- just read Lagoon (light, suspend-belief fun) & Who Fears Death. N K Jemisin’s first book (particularly) in the Inheritance trilogy.

  • I have to add a recommendation – T G Ayer – she’s written a series called Hand of Kali – where the main character is a person of colour – based on Indian gods. Amazeballs read! Not only that, but she has written other SFF science, including Valkyries, Seal of Hades and Soultracker – you have to check her books out. http://www.tgayer.com/the_books.html has the list of all her available books.

  • Balogun Ojetade is a Guest of Honor at Con-Volution this year and I am excited to be programming him. I confess I don’t read a lot of steamfunk or afrofuturism, but I’m broadening my horizons. Balogun’s stuff is *cool*.

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