It has been a long time since I’ve had the honor of hosting another author on my blog. Not because I don’t enjoy it, I truly do. I just haven’t had the time for a while to coordinate with fellow creatives in this manner.
So you can imagine I was pleasantly pleased when Desiree Villena from Reedsy reached out to me and asked if I was open to a contribution from their team.
I have heard of Reedsy before, through podcasts and the writing community, but sadly haven’t had the chance to explore the website much before now. I highly suggest you take the time to check them out, especially if you are looking to publish in the future.
I remember starting out in publishing and being completely lost as to who I should reach out to for help with editing, book covers, marketing, an more. I honestly found the writing community I have now more by chance then anything else and I was very lucky things didn’t turn out much worst. Reedsy provides so much help for authors looking to get help in these areas and more.
But that is enough from me. Reedsy co-founder Emmanuel Nataf was very kind to contribute a post recommending several solid books in the Science Fiction arena written by women of color. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!.
6 Awesome Science Fiction Titles by Women of Color
If you’re looking for your next science fiction read, you might see the usual spate of names over and over: Isaac Asimov. Robert A. Heinlein. Neal Stephenson. Orson Scott Card. The same goes for fantasy, where J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, and Neil Gaiman lead the searches.
Both science fiction and fantasy are traditionally male-dominated genres. Luckily, that’s beginning to drastically change, as new, energetic female voices take the stage — which is where this list comes into the picture. For anyone who would like to diversify their reading list a bit, here are 6 great speculative fiction titles by women of color that deserve to be read.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Butler’s oeuvre is so rich and majestic that it was truly agonizing to pluck only one title to include in this list. That said, Parable of the Sower is a great book to get a taste of Butler’s writing.
Set in 2026 (a date that’s creeping uncomfortably closer), Parable of the Sower depicts an America in decay due to climate change, economic stagnation, and religious spats. In this time of uncertainty, a senator is running for president and chillingly telling citizens, “Help us to make America great again.” Then there’s Lauren in the middle of it all — born with hyper-empathy and forced to venture out into the unsafe world after her entire family is killed in a fire. No one said that living in a dystopian world was easy.
Parable of the Sower is the perfect introduction to the themes that dominate Butler’s works, including race, gender, and class. Not to mention that you’ll undoubtedly want to read more of Butler’s works once you’re done with this one (which is partly why I chose it)! Fun fact: Butler was the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, aka the “Genius Grant” — an award that perfectly befits a writer of such outsize talent.
Starter pack of other works by Octavia Butler: Fledgling, Kindred, Parable of the Talents
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Are you up for a delightful comedy of manners (a la Georgette Heyer) but with the added bonus of sorcery and magic (a la Susanna Clarke)? If that’s a resounding yes, then look no further than Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, published in 2015.
The first thing to know about this book is that the heroine is an utterly enchanting woman of color. In fact, it’s impossible not to be thoroughly charmed by Prunella Gentleman. She is unapologetically powerful, splendidly witty, and earnestly flawed in a world where women aren’t allowed to practice magic (since it’s a man’s profession, of course). And she’s only one half of the leading duo, as her counterpart is Zacharias Wythe — the first black Sorcerer Royal ever. Their paths cross when Zacharias starts investigating the sudden scarcity of magic in England, and why it’s slowly bleeding from the land.
The second thing to know is that Sorcerer to the Crown is written in the style of Regency-era books. Zen Cho, the author, pulls it off with panache and flair. And I haven’t even gotten to the part about its super-diverse supporting cast, which includes Malaysian witches! In short, this book will be a pleasure for you to read — and re-read.
Starter pack of other works by Zen Cho: The True Queen
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
When Nnedi Okorafor emerged on the science fiction scene, she was truly a breath of fresh air in a stale room. In a genre that has traditionally been overshadowed by white male writers, Okorafor introduced us all to books that resound with her Nigerian heritage and draw upon Africa’s bottomless well of legends.
Binti is one such excellent work, having won the 2015 Nebula and Hugo awards for best science fiction novella. Our protagonist is Binti: a girl of the Himba people who’s just been invited to study at Oomza University, the finest school in the whole galaxy. Yet she needs to travel there by spaceship first — which is more difficult and dangerous that anyone could have imagined, especially when there’s, you know, an alien war going on among the stars.
And there’s much more waiting for you beyond Binti: the rest of Okorafor’s repertoire is gratifyingly diverse and universally first-rate. Plus she’s written for children, teenagers, and adults! Binti leans more towards the adult end of the spectrum, but you’d be missing out on some plain good literature if you didn’t check out her other works as well.
Starter pack of other works by Nnedi Okorafor: Akata Witch, Lagoon
The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin
If you’d like a more recent Hugo winner, The Broken Earth series is for you. More to the point, The Broken Earth encompasses three novels: The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky. And each won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively — emphatically bringing home just how groundbreaking these books are. (Another fun fact: N.K. Jemisin was the first woman of color to win the Hugo for Best Novel in the first place! Then she went on to win it two more times in a row.)
The Fifth Season, the first book in the series, introduces us to the world of Stillness, a supercontinent that encases all its inhabitants. An apocalyptic climate-based disaster occurs every few centuries, plunging the population into a period of hell — hence the “fifth season.” Yet three women emerge with the power to control earthquakes and volcanoes, and they just might be the solution that all of humanity has been seeking.
A note before you dive into it: The Fifth Season and its sequels require a massive glossary to help you through them, which tells you a bit about how intricate its incredible worldbuilding is. But rest assured: the hard work of understanding the world of Stillness will pay off in dividends, as it goes on to blow your mind with the sheer invention and energy that it brings to the genre.
Starter pack of other works by N.K. Jemisin: the Inheritance trilogy
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
If you’re a fan of grimdark and gloriously epic military fantasy sagas, you’re not going to want to miss out on R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. On the surface, it might seem like a taste of the same-old coming-of-age tale: an orphan goes to a prestigious boarding school to learn tons of new and valuable skills. However, it soon swerves into a truly matchless story about war and combat, putting the protagonist, Fang Runin, to the test (and the blade).
Did I mention that The Poppy War is also based on modern Chinese history, and steeped in traditional Chinese lore? More specifically, it was highly inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War, an extremely bloody period of times past. If that’s not intriguing enough to get you reaching for this book, I’m not sure what is.
Finally, this is R.F. Kuang’s debut novel, which is remarkable in and of itself for how accomplished the writing and story structure are. Be warned that it’s dark fiction and there’s a lot of graphic violence, so if you have a bit of a sensitive stomach, it’s probably not for you. But (in another breath of fresh air), there’s no romance whatsoever — so if you’re not a fan of mushy romantic subplots, you’ll find The Poppy War to be a huge relief.
Starter pack of other works by R.F. Kuang: none! The Poppy War is Kuang’s only published novel at the moment.
Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson is an incredibly underrated author. Having started writing in the 1990s, she has today amassed a body of work that is as vibrant as it is deep. I picked Skin Folk for this list because it is, again, a nice introduction to Hopkinson’s style of writing and the themes that regularly saturate her works.
Skin Folk, first and foremost, is not a novel — it’s a collection of short stories. These stories range from science fiction to fantasy to magic realism, though all remain firmly in speculative fiction territory. Hopkinson herself has Caribbean roots, and that influence is powerfully evident in every story in Skin Folk, as she draws from Caribbean cadences and rhythms. In doing so, she displays impressive control over a multitude of dialects that pull you into the fabric of the story itself while confronting important themes of identity, race, and postcolonialism.
If you’re short on time, give ”The Glass Bottle Trick” and “Riding the Red” a whirl in particular!
Starter pack of other works by N.K. Jemisin: The Salt Roads, Midnight Robber, Falling in Love With Hominids
Emmanuel Nataf is a co-founder of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries.
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