The African American Experience: Science Fiction and Fantasy for Adults

The African American Experience blog photo

“If you don’t write science fiction that includes black people in America and elsewhere, then we don’t have a future. The future that gets created is one we don’t live in and we don’t imagine and don’t create.”  – Walter Mosley in conversation with Mia Birdsong 

 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The time is 2025. The place is California, where small walled communities must protect themselves from hordes of desperate scavengers. Lauren Olamina, an 18 year old black woman, sets off on foot along the dangerous coastal highways, moving north into the unknown. As she travels, she begins to gather a band of followers, devoted to her belief in a new religion of her own design.

 

Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach. (Binti: Home and Binti: The Night Masquerade)

 

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?: Stories by N.K. Jemisin     

In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption. In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination.   

 

Octavia’s Brood : Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

These visionary tales span genres—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism—but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renée Thomas.

 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf  by Marlon James

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it.

 

Riot Baby by Tochi Onybuchi

Ella has a Thing. She sees a classmate grow up to become a caring nurse. A neighbor’s son murdered in a drive-by shooting. Things that haven’t happened yet. Kev, born while Los Angeles burned around them, wants to protect his sister from a power that could destroy her. But when Kev is incarcerated, Ella must decide what it means to watch her brother suffer while holding the ability to wreck cities in her hands.

 

Monster Portraits by Sofia Samatar

Relentlessly original and brilliantly hybrid, Monster Portraits investigates the concept of the monstrous through a mesmerizing combination of words and images. An uncanny and imaginative autobiography of otherness, it offers the fictional record of a writer in the realms of the fantastic shot through with the memories of a pair of Somali-American children growing up in the 1980s.

 

The Tempest Tales by Walter Mosley

Tempest Landry, an everyman African American, is “accidentally” killed by a cop. Denied access to heaven because of what he considers a few minor transgressions, Tempest refuses to go to hell. Stymied, Saint Peter sends him back to Harlem, where a guiding angel tries to convince him to accept Saint Peter’s judgment, and even the Devil himself tries to win over Tempest’s soul. His journey poses the question: Is sin the same for Black people as for white people? And who gets to decide?

 

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. The relationship between the Ynaa and local Virgin Islanders is strained already, and the peace will not last.

 

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí 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.

 

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

A century ago, an astronomer discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. Today, ten astronauts are leaving everything behind to find it. Four are veterans of the twentieth century’s space-race and six are teenagers who’ve trained for this mission most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years locked in close quarters, with no one to rely on but each other, with no rescue possible, should something go wrong.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot–if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war. 

 

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous.

 

The Changeling  by Victor LaValle

As Apollo Kagwa and as he and his wife, Emma, settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Then Emma commits a horrific act, and vanishes. Thus begins Apollo’s quest to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His odyssey takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. 

Also recommended: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

 

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways — farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.

 

Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World  by Walter Mosley

Nine interconnected short stories capture 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. 

 

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. She flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities, and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Who Fears Death Nnedi Okorafor

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. 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.

 

Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney

Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. 

 

The Between by Tananarive Due

When Hilton was just a boy, his grandmother sacrificed her life to save him from drowning. Thirty years later, he begins to suspect that he was never meant to survive that accident, and that dark forces are working to rectify that mistake. When Hilton’s wife, the only elected African-American judge in Dade County, FL, begins to receive racist hate mail, he becomes obsessed with protecting his family. Soon, however, he begins to have horrible nightmares, more intense and disturbing than any he has ever experienced.

Further reading: The Good House by Tananarive Due

 

Zone One Colson Whitehead

A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown’s Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One. The story unfolds over three surreal days in which civilian ‘sweeper’ Mark Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world. 

 

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life, but doing so may mean changing their culture forever. Working together to save this vanishing race, a man and a woman from two clashing societies will uncover ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. 

Further reading: The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

 

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

In this Booker Prize winner, Azaro is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells is full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro’s loving parents are made destitute. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter-day Lazarus’s story.

 

Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa Thion’o 

Set in the fictional Free Republic of Aburiria, Wizard of the Crow dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for the souls of the Aburirian people, between a megalomaniac dictator and an unemployed young man who embraces the mantle of a magician.

 

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Jessamy “Jess” Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn’t actually know who her friend is at all. 

 

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien 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.

Further Reading: The Rosewater Insurrection and The Rosewater Redemption

 

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Young Ada is troubled, prone to violent fits. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves within her as she grows into adulthood. And when she travels to America for college, a traumatic event on campus crystallizes the selves into something powerful and potentially dangerous, making Ada fade into the background of her own mind as these alters―now protective, now hedonistic―move into control.

 

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

When a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, Zinzi is forced to take on her least favorite kind of job — missing persons. Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives — including her own.

 

Everfair by Nisi Shaw

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier? 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.

 

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.

 

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color by Nisi Shawl 

Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichés, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Want more lists? Try these sites:

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations from JMRL librarians.

 

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s