11 Amazing Science Fiction Books by Black Authors
Though almost absent in the early years of science fiction, the number of black authors—and the recognition of their work—is growing year by year.
It’s impossible to talk about science fiction written by black authors as a cohesive genre because, like writers of other skin tones, black authors come from all over the world and write about a wildly diverse array of subjects in their own unique way and voice.
Despite that, I’m including this list because most other lists of science-fiction books tend to be “White and Male heavy,” and trumpeting the achievements of black authors should help balance that out a little bit.
I’m using “black” instead of “African-American” because a number of these authors are not American.
by Andrea Hairston – 2006
For 115 years, the world has been literally divided by the Barrier, an extraterrestrial, epi-dimensional entity has divided the earth into warring zones. Although a treaty to end the wars has been hammered out, power-hungry politicians, gangsters, and spiritual fundamentalists are determined to thwart it. Celestina, the treaty’s architect, is assassinated, and her protégé, Elleni, a talented renegade and one of the few able to negotiate the Barrier, takes up her mantle. Now Elleni and a motley crew of allies risk their lives to make the treaty work. Can they repair their fractured world before the Barrier devours them completely?
Nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
“[A]n ensemble cast of sufficient originality and variety to please a whole range of SFados from hard sf to queer feminist postcolonial…”
—New York Review of Science Fiction
by Sheree R. Thomas – 2000
This book’s subtitle is “A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora.”
The central analogy for this first collection of SF stories and essays by black authors is “dark matter,” the scientific term for a non-luminous form of matter not directly observed, but whose existence is deduced from its gravitational effects on other bodies.
Twenty-eight pieces of fiction, both short stories and novel excerpts, and five critical essays make for a stout anthology. Stories include everything from Charles Chestnutt’s 1887 tale “The Goophered Grapevine” to over a dozen stories from 2000. Other authors: Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, and satirist Ishmael Reed.
“All [the stories] manifest a powerful effect, far stronger for being largely unacknowledged, and perhaps heralding… a coming explosion of black SF.”
by Walter Mosley – 2001
Nine interconnected short stories explore the high-tech world of the United States in the near future, capturing the lives and fates of such characters as Ptolemy Bent, a child genius whose merciful actions land him in a privatized prison, and Fera Jones, a heavyweight boxing champ who abandons the ring for a political career.
“Mystery fans… are far more likely to embrace this latest example of Mosley’s SF vision, with its comfortably familiar noirish tone and characters.”
by Steven Barnes – 2002
In a work of alternate history in which the peoples of Africa colonize the Americas, the fates of two families—one Islamic African aristocrats, the other Druidic Irish slaves—collide as two young men, one of each dynasty, confront their world and each other.
“This is a dazzling accomplishment.”
by W.E.B. Du Bois – 1920
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois (best known for his book The Souls of Black Folk) in 1920, The Comet discusses the relationship between Jim Davis (a black man) and Julia (a wealthy white woman) after a comet hits New York and unleashes toxic gases that kill everyone except them.
The links go to a free online version of the story.
by Samuel R. Delany – 1966
During an interstellar war, a famous starship captain/linguist/poet discovers a new enemy weapon: a language, called Babel-17, which can be used as a weapon. Learning it turns one into an unwilling traitor as it alters perception and thought. The change is made more dangerous by the language’s seductive enhancement of other abilities.
The only way to fight the weapon is to understand it. But once you start learning it, you start to become a traitor…
Babel-17 was joint winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966 (with Flowers for Algernon).
“The most interesting writer of science fiction writing in English today.”
—The New York Times Book Review
by Colson Whitehead – 2016
This Pulitzer Prize winner is something of an alternate history, as opposed to being strict science fiction.
Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him. In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.
“Potent… Devastating… Essential.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
by Nalo Hopkinson – 2000
It’s Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked “Midnight Robbers” waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. To young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to wear at the festival—until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgivable crime.
Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here, monstrous creatures from folklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Tan-Tan must reach into the heart of myth and become the Robber Queen herself. For only the Robber Queen’s legendary powers can save her life… and set her free.
This book has strong fantasy elements, but since it takes place on another planet, it qualifies as science fiction.
“Deeply satisfying…succeeds on a grand scale…best of all is the language…Hopkinson’s narrative voice has a way of getting under the skin.”
—The New York Times Book Review
by Nnedi Okorafor – 2010
In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region, genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.
It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
“To compare author Nnedi Okorafor to the late Octavia E. Butler would be easy to do, but this simple comparison should not detract from Okorafor’s unique storytelling gift.”
—New York Journal of Books
by N.K. Jemisin – 2015
Winner of the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
“Intricate and extraordinary.”
—The New York Times
by Octavia E. Butler – 1993
By 2025, global warming, pollution, racial and ethnic tensions and other ills have precipitated a worldwide decline.
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
“[T]hough science fiction readers will recognize this future Earth, Lauren Olamina and her vision make this novel stand out like a tree amid saplings.”