a beginner's guide to black scifi & Fantasy
Updated: Jan 26
every time I see a list of black scifi & Fantasy "you should be reading" it's always the same three or four names. there are so many more great black authors than that ....
Periodically, I see a well-meaning post somewhere on social media claiming to be a guide, introduction, or entré for readers who are looking for a starting place to discover black authors writing science fiction and fantasy. I quirk and eyebrow, click the link to the article or blog post, and voilà - a list of five or ten of the same books I've seen on every other list. You know the names so well that I don't even have to list them here. It's as if the culture only has enough memory or bandwidth for three or four black folks in any endeavor, category, or position - you know, like how Hollywood seems to discover a black actor and suddenly that single actor in playing every black part in every film until they get tired of him and then it's on to the next. The most recent beneficiary of that trend is Chadwick Boseman (Wakanda Forever!).
So, rather than continue to bewail our outcast state, I decided to compile a more genuine list of black authors doing interesting and engaging work in speculative fiction (yes, I included my own novel - sue me - no, actually, don't sue me, at least not until I hit the bestseller list). In the hopes that you will have the opportunity to be exposed to authors you have to yet heard of - a real guide to some of the best science fiction and fantasy out there, and a real introduction to black authors working in that particular field. So, here they are. My picks for the best places to start if you're looking for black scifi & fantasy! Here they are, in no particular order.
Since I first created this post Bookshop has come online. Bookshop is an online bookseller that supports indie bookstores. They are a new alternative to Amazon. A percentage of every purchase goes towards supporting Indie Bookstores. As such, and because some folks asked me to make it easier to purchase the books on the list, you can go here to purchase nearly every book I have listed: https://bookshop.org/shop/Iconiclast ... Enjoy!
ROSEWATER BY TADE THOMPSON
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious a
lien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless - people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers. Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn't care to again -- but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
A BLADE SO BLACK BY L. L. MCKINNEY
The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.
TERMINUS: TALES OF THE BLACK FANTASTIC FROM ATL EDITED BY MILTON J. DAVIS
Atlanta. ATL. The Rising Phoenix. The City too Busy to Hate. The Black Mecca. Capital of the Deep South. There, between flitting shadows and full moons, exists another world filled with dark creatures, demons, and immortals. Only a thin veil separates the Atlanta you know from this mysterious realm. Nine brave authors risk it all to reveal the crossroads of Southern charm and the Black Fantastic. Y'all ready?
BENEATH THE SHINING JEWEL BY BALOGUN OJETADE
Beneath the Shining Jewel takes place in Ki Khanga’s jewel city, Sati-Baa.
Mba, a retired constable, is called back to active duty to deal with a situation that still haunts him twenty years later. Mba and a host of characters battle a scourge that once ravaged the city and may be poised to return.
Beneath the Shining Jewel is both familiar and unique, combining African folklore with a good dose of horror and action adventure.
Sword and Soul - African-inspired Heroic and Epic Fantasy - has been taken in a new and thrilling direction with Beneath the Shining Jewel, a tale that will have you riveted from beginning to end.
HERETICS BY ALAN JONES
HERETICS is the third book in the To Wrestle with Darkness canon. In this book, a handful of gifted heroines and heroes must stop the time god, Kronos, from destroying all that is, to remake the universe in his own image. Can Kronos and his band of seemingly all-powerful rogue godlings be stopped? And, to whom can a world falling into darkness turn? Discovering that answer is an epic tale which will remain with you all the days your life.
OF CINDER & BONE BY KYOKO M
OF CINDER AND BONE is Ron Howard's Ransom meets Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park! After centuries of being the most dangerous predators on the planet, dragons were hunted to extinction. That is, until Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali cracked the code to bring them back. Through their research at MIT, they resurrected the first dragon anyone has seen alive since the 15th century. There’s just one problem. Someone stole it. Caught between two ruthless yakuza clans who want to clone the dragon, Jack and Kamala brave the dangerous streets of Tokyo to steal their dragon back in a race against time before the world is taken over by mutated, bloodthirsty monsters that will raze it to ashes. Of Cinder and Bone is an all-new sci-fi thriller from the author of the Amazon bestselling Black Parade novels. Don’t miss out on this explosive first-in-series! Fans of Westworld, I Robot, Pacific Rim, and Reign of Fire will fall in love with this mashup novel that opens up a whole new world of possibilities into what we know and love about dragons.
DREAD NATION BY JUSTINA IRELAND
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.
But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It's a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston's School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.
But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.
And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
GUNMAN'S PEACE BY MILTON J. DAVIS
One hundred years after the Collapse violence still rages across the region once known as Georgia. Warlords fight for control with deadly mercenaries known as Gunmen, and Moses Pritchard is one of the best. Tired of the constant violence he finds solace within the walls of Newlanta, a city struggling to establish an island of peace amidst the chaos. But now the city is threatened by a powerful warlord Moses once served and he is forced to strap on his guns. However, this time he's fighting for his own reasons. Gunman's Peace, first novel of an action-packed series by Milton Davis, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world struggling to build a better future by ridding itself of the evils of the past.
WILD SAGE: A WEIRD WESTERN COLLECTION BY NICOLE GIVENS KURTZ
When someone with a pistol meets someone with a magic wand, the pistol loses. From Nicole Givens Kurtz comes a collection of weird western short stories nestled in the often horrific American past and tucked into the parched future. Here are tales of talisman, magic, and the power of ancients wielded by those strong enough to endure the harsh new frontier. These rugged individuals brought not only their belongings but their eastern beliefs with them. They weren't ready for the west. Are you? Saddle up. Escape to a West as weird and wonderful as one might imagine.
THE BROTHERS JETSTREAM: LEVIATHAN BY ZIG ZAG CLAYBOURNE
“Take Buckaroo Banzai, Hellblazer and Barbarella, turn it into the 80s cartoon of your childhood dreams, and fast forward to right here, right now. If that sounds too much like a virgin version of your favourite cocktail, don't despair. This is a grown-up pleasure: Funny, sly, clever, and warm.” ~ Kelly RobsonTwo brothers. Their crew. One planet. Way too many evils. Plus the whale that was poured into the oceans when the world first cooled from creation. Epic book is epic. Get ready for a showdown a billion years in the making."Finding a work of literature that is unlike anything you've ever read before, in a good way, is the defining moment from a reviewer's perspective." ~ Amazing Stories “Folks ain’t ready! The Brothers Jetstream is humorous, irreverent, captivating and sensual. All the things good urban fantasy should be. Sit down and enjoy the adventure!” ~ Milton Davis, author of Changa's Safari"Genre hops in all the best ways. A little steampunk, a dash of science fiction, and more." ~ Black Girl Nerds "This is a truly original writer. He sounds like no one else, plays by no rules, and creates wildly entertaining books that create an indelible stamp on the mind." ~ Dave Eggers “Stunning word-play, amazing events, worlds, and characters.” ~ Minister Faust, author of The Alchemists of Kush "Effortlessly cool!" ~ Sci Fi Magpie "Like that night you and your savviest, funniest, wisest friend went on a crazy bender and tore the whole town apart and loved the universe and were surprised to find yourselves alive the next morning without a hangover." ~ Eileen Gunn
RETURN OF A.G. BY M. HAYNES
It's been two years since the Elementals and Don defeated the evil android A.G. and put a stop to the Pru Empire's return. Now, De, M, Rod, Mo, and the new Elementals Jas, Lucas, Kiara, Jay, and Alex are all working together to keep their world safe. Their first order of business? Finding Samantha and Kevon Prudence, the two who made A.G. into a literal killing machine in the first place. The nine Elementals will have to travel to new locations and meet new people in order to outsmart the Prudence siblings and keep them from enacting their worst plan yet: bringing back A.G.
THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS BY P. DJÉLÍ CLARK
In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air--in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.
But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.
Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.
THE RAGE OF DRAGONS BY EVAN WINTER
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable war for almost two hundred years. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine. Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He's going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn't get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He'll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
WHEN NIGHT FALLS BY GERALD L. COLEMAN
Described as Lord of the Rings meets Black Panther, New York Times Bestselling Author A.J. Hartley called it, "Vast and thoroughly realized. Rich and sweeping: A true epic!"
We rarely consider the reputation of our age. An ordinary one, for most of us, would suffice. You might be an Empress too concerned with the affairs of State, a soldier focused on your duty, a former rascal trying to find redemption, or even a great warrior too busy with your command to know that there are whispers being spoken in late-night taverns. But what happens when your ordinary age stops being so ordinary? What happens when dark, twisted things step out of the mists of legend to walk the world again? Strange, black ships have been spotted far out at sea. People are disappearing from towns without a trace. Cordovan, a member of the Watchmen of Alexandria, knows something is wrong, as he races toward the capital, hoping he will make it in time. Far to the north, two members of the ancient order of the Ki'gadi, fear the darkness may already be here. While the rest of the world carries on, unaware of the danger, they search for the place where the darkness is taking root. Heroes will be needed to face what is coming. Thankfully, Alexandria is home to one. His name is Bantu, the Commander-General of the Peoples Company. He will be needed, when night falls.
THE WOLF QUEEN: THE PROMISE OF AFERI BY CERECE RENNIE MURPHY
To claim their future, she must avenge her past. War has come to the Land of Yet and though the wolf has awakened within her, Ameenah Yemeni has just begun to understand the legacy behind its magic. Without the wisdom to wield it, she knows she is no match for the treachery of the Hir, whose lust for absolute power threatens everything she holds dear. Her only chance – Yet’s only hope – is for its people to band together and fight. But the Hir’s iron grip reaches deeper than they ever realized and the land that once stood together is more divided than ever. While Ameenah travels to the isolated Province of Harat in search of allies and the remnants of the mythical Amasiti, the man she loves must take a different road, each uncovering terrible secrets, centuries in the making that could unravel their rebellion before it has time to take root. In a desperate race to rally a force strong enough to defeat the Hir, Ameenah's quest plunges her into the depths of a cursed land to recover what remains of an age-old promise—but the cost of saving her people just might be her life.
The final chapter of The Wolf Queen adventure is here.
LIGHTNING WEARS A RED CAPE BY ERRICK NUNNALLY
The Ace of Hearts, once poor and unknown, has used his power to wield influence over criminal organizations, key people in politics, law enforcement, and private industry. Along with his three super-human partners, they are in the final phases of a plan to become the power behind the power in several states. Shade, a civic-minded martial-artist trained on another world, and Atlas, a police officer with super-strength and the power of flight, discover the hard way that nothing is as it seems. They must avoid becoming pawns themselves and build a coalition in an environment where no one can be trusted and a self-proclaimed African god pursues a destructive vendetta against them all.
SKINLESS BY L. M. DAVIS
Looking at Luca, who’s just saved my life, I can’t respond. No explanation I might offer will satisfy after all of the extraordinary things he’s just witnessed. —Ankh AnCaela Murphy's body is a ticking bomb that only her mom can defuse. The problem: her mother is missing and presumed taken by the Skinless, bogeymen from Ankh’s home world who have been hunting her and her mother for two years--ever since they fled that world and certain death. With help from Luca, a boy whose touch confuses and who refuses to back down, Ankh races against time to find her mother before the bomb inside of her detonates, taking her life. Tracking the Skinless across the country, the pair search for her mother and uncover the horrifying truth behind the generation's old war.
BROOKWATER'S CURSE: VOLUME I BY STEVEN VAN PATTEN
Christian Brookwater is a former Georgia plantation slave who became a vampire during the 1860s. His long, tumultuous life takes a complicated turn when he is forced to travel to modern-day Senegal to rescue a child from a vengeful werewolf prince. It is here that Christian uncovers a plot that would throw the entire vampire nation into a civil war. To stop this, Christian must betray his best friend and mentor, an influential Italian vampire who nurtured him during his vampiric infancy. Christian is a member of a nocturnal law enforcement community that safeguards the secrets of the creatures of the night. This involves the killing of werewolves and other deranged monsters; something Christian excels at. But his fraternization with humans and his incessant need to kill racists vexes his superiors, who threaten to execute him if he doesn’t curtail his ‘racial impulses’. Christian also suffers from a rare condition that makes intercourse with human females especially dangerous. Christian’s other mentor is a four hundred year old vampire samurai lord who teaches him the arts of war and sacrifice, and has a knack for appearing whenever things become desperate. Of course, the warrior’s code can’t replace the desire for love, as Christian discovers when he becomes enamored with a human female in the 1940s. Despite Christian’s affliction, the two lovers raise a child together and for a while, our vampire gets a taste of true happiness. Some years later, his family life ends tragically as Christian loses his great love and becomes estranged from his teenaged son. Heartbroken, Christian embarks on a series of illuminating, yet sinful adventures as he migrates to a new home: Harlem, New York.
SYCORAX'S DAUGHTERS EDITED BY KINITRA BROOKS, LINDA D. ADDISON, AND SUSANA MORRIS
Thought-provoking, powerful, and revealing, this anthology is composed of 28 dark stories and 14 poems written by African-American women writers. The tales of what scares, threatens, and shocks them will enlighten and entertain readers. The works delve into demons and shape-shifters from "How to Speak to the Bogeyman" and "Tree of the Forest Seven Bells Turns the World Round Midnight" to far future offerings such as "The Malady of Need". These pieces cover vampires, ghosts, and mermaids, as well as the unexpected price paid by women struggling for freedom and validation in the past. Contributors include: Tiffany Austin, Tracey Baptiste, Regina N. Bradley, Patricia E. Canterbury, Crystal Connor, Joy M. Copeland, Amber Doe, Tish Jackson, Valjeanne Jeffers, Tenea D. Johnson, R. J. Joseph, A. D. Koboah Nicole Givens Kurtz, Kai Leakes, A. J. Locke, Carole McDonnell, Dana T. McKnight , LH Moore, L. Penelope, Zin E. Rocklyn , Eden Royce, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Andrea Vocab Sanderson, Nicole D. Sconiers, Cherene Sherrard, RaShell R. Smith-Spears, Sheree Renée Thomas, Lori Titus, Tanesha Nicole Tyler, Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, L. Marie Wood, K. Ceres Wright, and Deana Zhollis.
SUBJECT 82-42 BY RONALD T. JONES
Annan, a war hardened Ashanti commander, is a captive onboard a slave ship. In the midst of a horrific journey, he leads a revolt that’s interrupted by a descending alien vessel. Annan and his fellow Africans find themselves confined on another ship, far from Earth, sharing a common captivity with the European sailors who formerly held sway over them. The ship is commanded by a ruthless warlord who uses the captive humans as unwilling soldiers in a savage war against the inhabitants of a distant world. Annan is as intolerant of servitude to nonhumans as he was to humans. Neither his captors’ unearthly origins nor their deadly high technology will prevent Annan from attempting to seize his freedom. But if his rebellion is to succeed he must first unlock a secret that may very well give him and the other humans a fighting chance. Same revolt, different skies. Blood will flow!
HOW LONG TIL BLACK FUTURE MONTH? BY N. K. JEMISIN
Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story "The City Born Great," a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis's soul.
MY SOUL TO KEEP BY TANANARIVE DUE
When Jessica marries David, he is everything she wants in a family man: brilliant, attentive, ever youthful. Yet she still feels something about him is just out of reach. Soon, as people close to Jessica begin to meet violent, mysterious deaths, David makes an unimaginable confession: More than 400 years ago, he and other members of an Ethiopian sect traded their humanity so they would never die, a secret he must protect at any cost. Now, his immortal brethren have decided David must return and leave his family in Miami. Instead, David vows to invoke a forbidden ritual to keep Jessica and his daughter with him forever.
THE SEEDBEARING PRINCE BY DAVAUN SANDERS
Dayn Ro'Halan is a farmer's son sworn to a life of plowing on his homeworld, Shard. After finding a lost artifact called a Seed, he's thrust into an ancient conflict between voidwalkers of the hated world Thar'Kur, and Defenders from a floating fortress called the Ring. Dayn must become a Seedbearer and learn to use the Seed's power to shape worlds before the entire World Belt is lost.
TRAIL OF LIGHTNING BY REBECCA ROANHORSE
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine. Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive. Welcome to the Sixth World.
BABEL-17 BY SAMUEL R. DELANY
At twenty-six, Rydra Wong is the most popular poet in the five settled galaxies. Almost telepathically perceptive, she has written poems that capture the mood of mankind after two decades of savage war. Since the invasion, Earth has endured famine, plague, and cannibalism—but its greatest catastrophe will be Babel-17. Sabotage threatens to undermine the war effort, and the military calls in Rydra. Random attacks lay waste to warships, weapons factories, and munitions dumps, and all are tied together by strings of sound, broadcast over the radio before and after each accident. In that gibberish Rydra recognizes a coherent message, with all of the beauty, persuasive power, and order that only language possesses. To save humanity, she will master this strange tongue. But the more she learns, the more she is tempted to join the other side . . .
EVERFAIR BY NISI SHAWL
Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium's disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo's "owner," King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.
Nisi Shawl's speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.