Crowdsourcing The Essentials: Non-US, POC Sci-Fi and Fantasy?


Author Joyce Chng (aka J. Damask) asked me the other day on Twitter to talk about non-US SFF written by persons of color — and woefully, I thought, I am utterly ignorant of the subject and — I mean, jeez, do I even have a single book to recommend? I don’t. And that’s on me not paying enough attention to these sorts of things, and so I told @jolantru I’d open up a post about it.

And it dovetails nicely with my Monday “crowdsourcing the essentials” posts, I think.

So, let’s talk about the essential reads that fit those categorizations: non-US and written by persons of color.

Who wants to start?


90 responses to “Crowdsourcing The Essentials: Non-US, POC Sci-Fi and Fantasy?”

  1. The brilliant Ben Aaronovitch! (UK) Rivers of London ‘urban fantasy’ series – hugely entertaining/witty – all 4 books (so far) just bloody good reads.

  2. Octavia Butler – she’s my favorite sci-if author. While I love everything she’s written, the Xenogenesis series and her stand-alone novel “Kindred” are my absolute favorites. Her Parable books made me rethink my spiritual convictions.

  3. Zoo City is the only book I think I’ve read that was urban fantasy set in non-us and while the author isn’t poc, the main character is and I think that’s just as good? *shrug*

  4. Had to comment =D

    I definitely think in the sci fi/ fantasy fiction world, POC get the short end of the stick. Throw non US in there and it becomes even less common knowledge.

    Author nnedi okorafor always writes from a West African perspective as her parents are originally from Nigeria.

    “Who fears death” is probably a critic favorite but she has plenty more where that came from.

    I wonder if Canadian counts? Minister Faust is a non American but Canada is technically part of North America. He has a few titles that are completely sci fi.

    Into the wise dark by neesha meminger is about a girl from India whom can time travel.

    There are honestly more but I have to put in some footwork.

    I’m looking forward to any new comments I see =D

  5. Yeah, I’m working my way through it. I love how it uses so much South African terms and slang and doesn’t try to explain it as if the reader isn’t from there. I mean, I have clue what any of if means for the most part, but I love that immersion into another culture I am not familiar with and it can be fixed by simple research, which will broaden my knowledge further.

    Excellent job. We need more Non-US settings in SF and urban fantasy.

  6. Seems to me you had the right attitude to start with. Who cares if the author is a furriner or Not-Caucasian (if we’re gonna be Racial about this, let’s not mince words)?

    • I care because it’s obviously limiting my reading habits. If this opens the door to new awesome stories I haven’t read, I see nothing wrong with that. An agenda of reading great stories by great storytellers from the world around us is not “racial.” It’s opening up what was already limited.

      • I don’t understand why you see this as limiting your reading habits. Do you specifically avoid Not-US, Not-Caucasian authors? (For the record, I don’t, for a minute, believe that you do. Just trying to make a point.) If the book is available, if you can find it, if it sounds interesting, read it. Maybe I’m being too polarized. I’m a white boy who grew up in the 1950s South. I remember the No Coloreds Allowed signs. I hated racism then, and I hate it in all its forms now. So color me sensitive.

          • I had a foreign Lit requirement as part of my degree, so I’ve always kept an eye on works translated into English. And obviously nothing wrong with saying to yourself, “Self, you don’t read enough of what the rest of the world is writing, devote a slice of your reading to some of that.”

            However, I had the same reaction as Bob (see my comment – pro-bobly below). The original post “sounded” a little white-guilty / affirmative-actiony. Sort of like you said to yourself, “Self, I don’t know the race of the authors I read? Oh no! – 🙂 – How terrible of me to not know such a thing.”

            Sorry if it was just Bob & Bill who thought so.

        • I think part of the problem is that those of us in the US tend to ONLY be aware of books written by white Americans. That’s where the biggest marketing lies, and therefore that’s where a lot of work-of-mouth is.

    • Can I just point out the hilarity of someone who’s got a problem with being “Racial” using the term Caucasian to mean white? Because when most people who use the term that way see actual Caucasians — like the Tsarnaev brothers or Bhagat Singh Thind — they tend to declare them “not white”. Or at the least, there’s a question in their minds — probably because the use of the term as a synonym for white is complete hogwash, made up by a pseudoscientist and adopted by white supremacists to lend an academic veneer to their racism.

      I care about knowing who the non-US PoC SFF folks are because it’s important to pay attention to groups who have been marginalized by ignorance, misinformation, and malice. We all need to actually know something about how race is constructed and used/abused, if we’re ever going to end racism.

      • I’m glad someone else sees the hypocrisy is that terminology. For those who don’t:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasus
        (very similar to the map embedded in the Tsarnaev brothers article)

        And yes, anyone who believes racism still exists (duh) should be cognizant of the culture of the authors they read. How do you come to understand the stories of marginalized peoples? By reading their stories. How do you end their marginalization? The same way.

    • For a long time I never really thought about who I was reading, I just picked whatever looked good. But then I realized that as a member of the majority culture I’m going to mostly be fed things that are part of that culture and unconsciously gravitate toward the familiar. So I started trying to correct that unintentional but present bias.

      My local library, which in 2010 was one of the largest collections in the country, doesn’t have many of these authors. If I didn’t have this list I couldn’t have seen them on the shelves; I might not have ever known about them at all.

      I think that says plenty right there.

      • Well said… I think this is pretty much the issue – that there just isn’t the exposure for non-white authors. In the end, all stories stand on their own. But we need to first hear about them so we can see if we like them.

  7. Non-US (but not really POC) fantasy series I love is Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.

    Excellent discussion. I’m not on the hunt for books to make my bookshelves more rounded.

  8. RJ Astruc is everything you’re looking for. Black female author originally from Australia living in New Zealand.

    Her book Harmonica & Gig is a really fun cyberpunk story, one of my favorites. Her novella Clockworld was pretty good and reminded me a lot of Lord of the Flies. She has a few others, but they’re on my TBR list yet.

  9. “… and that’s on me.” Uh, isn’t NOT paying attention to the “color” of your author the intent of the “I have a dream.”?

    • Being color blind is a really nice idea, but it usually just means we hew more closely to our own skin color (or gender or sexual orientation, or, or, or). It’s one thing if you see that your bookshelves are already perfectly diverse, but if I’m missing out on good stories because I haven’t thought to look beyond my own country or sex or skin color, I see nothing wrong with trying to look harder and expand my reading habits when possible. My two cents. Spend them as you see fit.

      • Thanks for saying this, Chuck. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your wording, because it seems like every time I try to get a discussion going about trying to branch out and read SFF writers from diverse backgrounds (besides white, straight, American, cis males), a number of people will say something along the lines of “I don’t pay attention to these things. I don’t even know the sex, race, orientation of my favorite writers, and I don’t want to” as if they were proud of that fact and basically try to make me feel like a crumb for starting the conversation (and when they list their favorite authors, nearly all of them are white, male, straight etc. and mostly write characters who are too).

  10. You NEED to hit up the Philippines:
    Dean Francis Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Paolo Chikiamco are the ones I can name off the top of my head…. There’s a Philippine Speculative Fiction annual anthology, and Alternative Alamat. Also, Kristin Mandigma’s short story “Except from a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang” is a scream. I cannot recommend it enough.

    What about the Latin Americans? They have a strong magical realism tradition which, similar to Rushdie, could fall under the spec fic umbrella.

  11. Here are a few. Hopefully I’ve got all the details right.

    Aliette de Bodard (French Vietnamese) – Her novella “On a Red Station, Drifting” got a lot of attention this year.

    Yukimi Ogawa (Japanese) – Short fiction such as “The Seed Keeper” in Jabberwocky.

    Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Thai) – Various short fiction.

    Paolo Chikiamco (Phillipines) – Wrote the comic “High Society”.

    Silvia Morena-Garcia (Mexican and Canadian) – Her first collection is “This Strange Way of Dying”.

    Joyce Chng / J Damask (Singapore) – Urban fantasy novels and other stories.

    Liu Cixin (Chinese) – Writes in Chinese, though some stuff is now translated into English.

    Samit Basu (Indian) – Wrote the novel “Turbulence”, which I haven’t read yet, but it’s on my wishlist.

    I’m Polenth Blake, I write short fiction, and I’m mixed race and British.

  12. Definitely bookmarking this page for book recs!

    I can think of a lot of people who are either POC or non-US, but not both, so this is a good thread, definitely.

  13. Not to be overly broad, but nearly every Japanese and Korean Manga and/or anime with SFF as the genre 🙂 Quite a lot gets translated into English!

    PS “Nearly every” because I can think of one fantasy manga with an ethnically English main character.

  14. Wow am I ignorant. Rudyard Kipling is the only one I can think of (and even at that, off the top of my head I can only think of his very British fairy tales, Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies).

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is by a British woman, (so not male), but she’s white. However, the story is about marginal people (women and a person of color) more than the white male wizards, so there’s that.

    I just went through my speculative fiction shelf at Goodreads and it is looking pretty pale and U.S./U.K. I don’t avoid it and don’t feel particularly bad, but it does show how marginalized creators of color ARE in the field, and it should encourage everyone to read the recommendations on hand here today.

    Those of you recommending authors, where in their ouevres should we start?

  15. Salman Rushdie is more literary than SFF, but his books do incorporate a lot of magical realism, and they’re beautiful, so I’m going to give him a shout out. I loved Midnight’s Children, and the Enchantress of Florence is probably in my top five favourite books of all time. He moved to the US about 10 years ago, I think, but he’s a British Indian author, and most of his novels are set in India and the surrounding area.

  16. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards site is a good place to look, as a good number of the translated authors are POC. I particularly recommend this year’s winning book, Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City. It’s beautiful.

    Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born writer currently living in Canada. I love a lot of her work, but her novel Midnight Robber is my absolute favourite.

    Karen Lord is Barbados-born writer, living in Barbados. I liked her first book Redemption in Indigo.

    Aliette de Bodard has already been mentioned, but she’s excellent so I’ll mention her again. I think her most exciting work is her short fiction, especially “Immersion”, “Scattered Along the River of Heaven” and “The Weight of a Blessing” (all published online in Clarkesworld), and the novella On a Red Station, Drifting in the same world. It’s almost a short novel, really.

    Zen Cho is a Malaysian writer working in short fiction. Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a Thai writer, also working in short fiction. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipino writer living in the Netherlands, another short fiction writer. They’re all fantastic, in very different styles!

    Take a look at the anthology Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana. The majority of the contributing authors are Indian.

    Githa Hariharan’s novel When Dreams Travel takes up the 1001 Nights tales. The author is Indian.

    Angelica Gorodischer is a Argentine writer with two books translated into English: Kalpa Imperial and Trafalgar. I loved the first one, but found the second very problematic (racism and sexism) even though the premise had the potential to be good fun.

    That should get you started!

  17. Not sure if it exactly fits the SFF genre, but I love the short stories of Ben Okri. They are definitely fantasies (usually), and they draw on his childhood growing up in Nigeria. I really loved Stars of the New Curfew, and in fact wrote my Master’s thesis on it.

    And of course, you have to read about anything by Salman Rushdie, if you can. He usually draws on elements of fantasy and science fiction. Midnight’s Children employs an omniscient 1st person narrator who is able to smell truth with his nose. The Moor’s Last Sigh features a main character aging prematurely and has a lame hand but who also happens to be an excellent boxer. The Ground Beneath Her Feet is about an Indian pop star and makes explicit use of the idea of the multiverse.

    Beyond that, the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges are often fantastical.

    I, too, am always on the lookout for lesser known SFF writers. Getting out of the mainstream can be great for clearing the senses.

  18. Here by way of Joyce’s tweeting about it.

    Some names:

    Vandana Singh. Amazing author.
    Shweta Narayan
    Haruki Murakami
    Hiromi Goto
    Dean Alfar
    Charles Tan
    Benjanun Sriduangkaew
    Berit Ellingsen

    Joyce Chng has already mentioned Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho and Sofia Samatar and her own work.

    There are also writers of color who live in the western hemisphere at present but who have grown up outside of the US and are not residents of the US but are residents of countries in the west. I feel it’s detrimental to this list to exclude a discussion of such work.

    For instance, Kiini Ibura Salaam’s work which to me is reflective of a sentiment that is most definitely not of a western bent. Her sff does not read western or USian to me.

    Nalo Hopkinson whose work really really rocks. She’s not a US citizen, btw.

    I’ve also read and reviewed Sabrina Vourvoulias’s work which is sf/f with a different sensitivity. Not USian in outlook even if the author lives there at present.

    I also write sff. I am a Filipino writer and I don’t reside in the US.

    I can cite many more, but I’ve opted to list those whose names have more or less come to attention via International publication/recognition. On the World SF blog (http://worldsf.wordpress.com), there is a whole list of authors and writers from all over the world and a good bunch of these authors are non-USian poc.

    Expanded Horizons regularly features work written by Non-USian poc.

    The thing is, there are still a whole bunch of things that stand in the way of Non-USian poc achieving prominence. Among them, the problem of visibility and audience receptivity. But I feel like I’ve said a lot already. I’m really sorry for hogging the thread. This is simply a subject I am quite passionate about.

  19. It’s not like he needs any shout-outs or help pushing his books but I feel compelled to note that most of Haruki Murakami’s work falls under the umbrella of speculative fiction. Some like “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of The World” and “1Q84” really can’t be categorized as anything else. Others have varying degrees of magic realism to them. If you haven’t fallen under Murakami’s spell yet I can’t recommend enough that you go try some out.

    • I wasn’t as much a fan of 1Q84… I was hooked for the first 2/3 of the book, but I had to force myself to keep going after that. The ending seriously dragged and was very disappointing altogether. Haven’t read anything else of Murakami’s.

      • If you do decide to try more I’d like to recommend some of his “smaller” works. Maybe “A Wild Sheep Chase” and it’s sequel, “Dance, Dance, Dance” (which I actually read in backwards order). For something really good but with pretty much no SF qualities to it try “South of the Border, West of the Sun”.

    • Wow, YES. As a huge Tobias Buckell fan I feel like a real idiot now for not recommending him. Though, I guess I could claim he slipped my mind because he lives in the U.S. now. Anyway people do yourself a favor – read the Xenowealth series. Read Arctic Rising. Oh, and if you’re a writer, especially a young or less-experienced writer you might want to check out his collection of “short stories that didn’t work”, complete with his commentaries explaining why they didn’t work. It’s called “Nascence”.

  20. Yu Hua has written some very surreal, violent short fiction. The Past and the Punishments is the collection I think. Mine is shelved under fantastic/horror/”good old fashioned nightmare fuel.”

  21. I’m currently reading Joyce Chng/J Damask’s Wolf at the Door, and Aliette de Bodard’s Aztec trilogy is sitting in my TBR pile.

    I also recommend checking out The Apex Book of World SF and <The Apex Book of of World SF 2, both edited by Lavie Tidhar (another person I’d recommend). Up until June, Tidhar ran The World SF Blog, and the archives there are a good source to look for other authors.

    I loved “muo-ka’s child” by Indrapramit Das in Clarkesworld Magazine.

  22. Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson.
    Ragamuffin by Tobia Bucknell.
    Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord.
    I’m a woman of colour, born, bred and based in Trinidad and Tobago, and my own space opera mystery, Lex Talionis, comes out next year.

  23. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16101484-afrosf – link to a great anthology of African writers who write science fiction.

    I’d have submitted my own book (still working towards publication), but you’ll have to wait for that gem 🙂

    There is one other book I’d recommend, but you’d have to learn Shona in order to read it. http://nehandaradio.com/2011/06/07/first-science-fiction-novel-in-shona/

    Thank you for asking the question so we can all gather the resources we know and share. I’m eager to get my collection started!

  24. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my very favourite author in the whole wide world – Jin Yong (AKA Louis Cha). He basically redefined the entire wuxia genre and his stories are always delightful; translations exist of some. The translations are… obviously translated by scholars from Chinese to English.

    (I’m just saying that myrmidon is a really weird word choice, OK?)

    Closer to home, Nalo Hopkinson is a must-read. She is Canadian. Same with Silvia Moreno-Garcia whose short fiction I love.

    I haven’t read her books but J Damask is awesome on twitter.

  25. Think I’m repeating a few but:
    Samit Basu
    Joyce Chng/J Damask
    Yukimi Ogawa
    Alberto Yáñez
    Benjanun Sriduangkaew
    Neesha Meminger
    Priya Sharma
    Silvia Moreno-Garcia
    Rio Youers
    Anil Menon
    Vandana Singh
    Aliette Bodard
    Zen Cho
    Nalo Hopkinson
    Karen Lord

  26. I’m in the midst of reading _Usurper of the Sun_ by Housuke Nojiri and really enjoying it. Japan definitely has a thriving sci-fi literature culture.

    On the fantasy side of things, I’ve enjoyed the works of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She lives in the US now, but is from Kolkata.

  27. Noura al Noman from the UAE. I don’t think her sf novel Ajwan has been translated into English yet but I believe it’s planned to do so.

    Hanan al-Shaykh from Lebanon. She’s more of a literary writer – I particularly recommend Women of Sand and Myrrh (non-genre) – but her latest book is an adaptation of 1001 Nights.

    There are a number of Arabic writers some of whose works could be considered fantasy, or at the very least magical realism, like Naguib Mahfouz’s The Journey of Ibn Fattouma.

  28. There is at least one sf author that I know of with an American-sounding pen name and whose book has Americanized character names populating a generic futuristic city that could pass for America, who is actually Chinese and lives in mainland China; I know that only because I’m the acquisitions editor who bought his book. I’m sure there are many other writers in many genres who have disguised their non-American bona fides to reach the American audience. That’s one of the reasons everything in the bookstores seems so American. The other reason is that small indie presses are the ones that publish niche markets, and they don’t usually get their books into the big chain bookstores. It’s a matter of scale; big6s like to publish for the broadest possible American market.

    If I could mention a book I acquired for publication, I’d like to add Ryan Ambia’s magical-realist horror novel Big Red Flowers to the list of non-American authors, although it isn’t quite published yet (coming in September.) That kind of stretches the definition of sf, since the fantastic elements he writes about are part of traditional African magic in the Luo culture, but if we’re including magical realism at all I think it goes in with that.

  29. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. That’s his only SciFi book, or is it more dystopian? Is dystopian considered SciFi or it’s own category? Now i’m confused. Either way everybody should read it because it’s beautifully written.

  30. Two of Naoko Uehashi’s Moribito series were published in English: Guardian of the Spirit and Guardian of the Darkness. (The first one is the basis of the anime series.). They are both excellent juvenile/YA fantasies that many adults would enjoy. I would love to read more of her stuff (especially the Beast Player series), but learning Japanese is a bit beyond me at this point.

  31. Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo is fabulous. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Her second novel is also excellent and yet completely different. (Awed.)
    Also:
    Silvia Moreno-Garcia (mostly short stories)
    Aliette de Bodard (excellent short stories and novellas)
    Nalo Hopkinson (mostly novels)
    Zen Cho (short stories)

    Isn’t reading Other what SF is about? And if I don’t read Other than what I am and where I am, I don’t stretch nearly as far mentally and emotionally.

  32. I teach a course on American SF/F writers of color; will be posting the syllabus today or tomorrow on myw website and Facebook again. But for non-American, I’ll throw in Cosmos Latinos (an anthology of Latin American SF) to start. Really fascinating the way class issues play out in those stories; the evil factory owner is a recurring trope.

  33. I have to admit that I’m a good bit less informed in this area than I would prefer. It can be easy to reassure myself that I’m simply underexposed to it because of my immediate cultural environment and publishing trends in the U.S. Then I have to ask myself if having internet access minimizes that excuse and by how much.

    Now, just to be clear, are we going for writers of a non-caucasion genetic make-up or are we looking for books of a cultural origin outside the popular U.S. publishing bubble? See, I love Lauren Buekes. Stellar work and very different from what I’m used to seeing in my backyard, but she’s still very white; blonde even.

    Lavie Tidhar’s “Bookman Histories” were great. I had a couple of very small complaints with style, but it was all such an incredible story. Also, it seemed to be a modest and self assured kind of steampunk that didn’t feel the need to pound you in the face with brass machinery all the time instead of telling you more about the people and their conflicts. You know what I mean?

    I love the writing team S. L. Grey, but they’re definitely more in the range of horror. Someone already mentioned Aliette de Bodard. You know, I find that I virtually never look much into an author’s origins. I mainly just look for the books. Would that help explain my being a bit culturally sheltered?

  34. Hello! I’m Sofia Samatar, I’m American, this list is awesome, and I would add The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh. The Tent by Miral al-Tahawy is also fantastical and gorgeous and I recommend it everywhere!

  35. This is an awesome conversation. There are a ton of names here that I have never seen before and others that I am only a little familiar with. I had a couple that I was going to suggest but they’ve been mentioned already. I’m always looking for new stuff with a fresh perspective and flavor. I’m excited. Has anyone created the pill or machine that creates a few extra productive hours in the day? I need them.

  36. Ooh, ooh, ooh! I can’t believe how long I’ve been waiting to introduce some of my favourite Indian SF/F books with you guys.

    1. While people have already mentioned Samit Basu, they have not mentioned his GameWorld trilogy. Seriously guys, try them.
    2. Amish Tripathi’ Shiva trilogy (The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas, The Oath of the Vayuputras) have sold something like 2 MILLION copies (according to Wikipedia). It’s a wonderful fantasy series rooted in Indian mythology.
    3. There is a very rich tradition of SF/F in a lot of Indian languages, including Bengali (my first language), Marathi, Telugu, etc. Try some of the translated works of Jayant Vishnu Narlikar (a legitimately big name in astrophysics) or Premendra Mitra.(his SF stories and novels are usually told with a “tall tale” framing device, but the science is usually very sound).

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