Black science fiction authors have been challenging our notions of what the genre can do – and who it belongs to – for decades. Here at Comic Years we believe that reading genre fiction should expand your horizons, and open your mind to new ideas. In order to be good allies, white people everywhere must work to understand the black experience. And one of the ways to do that is to read their work, and amplify black voices. To that end, we have compiled a list of black authors who write genre fiction. Do the work, read their words, and stand up against injustice.
We have covered some of these authors before in our lists for black history month. However, reading black authors should not be limited to one month. Put these authors in your rotation and read them all year round. We will be publishing several articles over the next few days with lists of black genre authors. For easy reference, we will be breaking down the categories into subgenres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, and Authors Who Do Both. If you don’t see your favorite on this list, never fear. They are probably included in another category.
The Science Fiction Auteurs
Here we are defining science fiction as “fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances, and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.” This is the official definition, and the authors we include on this list are the ones who primarily write science fiction. We will have another list coming soon for authors who crossover between sci-fi and fantasy in their work, or who mix the two together. These black science fiction authors include several trailblazers of the genre. Alongside these established authors we also have some emerging voices. Let’s take a look at some of the black science fiction authors you should be adding to your reading list.
Image via Octaviabutler.org
Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due | Image via Author’s Facebook Page
Barnes is a writer of various mediums, he has written episodes of The Outer Limits for which he won an Emmy award in 1996. He has also written episodes of Stargate SG-1 and Andromeda. His foray into fiction began with the Dream Park series that he co-wrote with fellow sci-fi author Larry Niven. Barnes wrote his own standalone alternate history – the Insh’Allah series – about white Europeans sold into slavery for a predominantly black America. Barnes has also written novels for the Star Wars and Assassin’s Creed franchises. His EU Star Wars novel – The Cestus Deception – was a New York Times bestseller. Barnes is married to fellow author Tananarive Due, with whom he has co-authored several books.
Samuel R. Delany
Photo by Kyle Cassidy via the Author Website
A pioneer of speculative fiction, Delany published most of his genre work in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He started writing at a young age and was a published science fiction author by the age of 20. Delany’s work often deals with issues of class and race, with recurring themes of mythology and memory woven throughout. Sexuality is another major theme in Delany’s work, and he has written openly about being a gay black author in genre fiction.
His best known novel is the wildly polarizing and experimental Dahlgren. But there are many Delany stories to choose from, as he is a highly prolific author. Delany also wrote two issues of Wonder Woman in 1972, as part of a planned six-issue arc. His contract was unfortunately cut short due to protests over the plotline that involved Diana abandoning her superpowers to work as a secret agent. Delany also writes essays and and literary criticism.
Image via Titan Books
Image via Author’s Website
Ntshanga is a South African writer who has two books to his name. His second novel Triangulum is a work of science fiction about a found manuscript that predicts the end of the world. He has said that he wanted to use “science fiction and an experimental structure to explore ideas around time and contemporary sexuality.” Ntshanga has won many awards already as an emerging voice in black literature. He won the PEN International New Voices award in 2013, and has been the recepient of a Fullbright scholarship. Ntshanga has said that he “always found Science Fiction to be a form that’s irrevocably linked to critiques of power and societal structures.” It is unclear if Ntshanga will continue writing genre fiction, but the praise for Triangulum earned him a spot on our list of black science fiction authors to read.
Image via Simon & Schuster
Another new voice in science fiction, Temi Oh is the author of the acclaimed novel Do You Dream of Terra-Two? This novel follows a group of astronauts and teenagers. This mixed group is travels to space on a long journey to find a new habitable planet. Oh is a Nigerian-British author with a neuroscience degree, whose knowledge of real science lends well to her fiction. Although she only has one book published so far, we look forward to seeing more from Temi Oh in the future.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Image via Random House
Ruffin is another emerging black science fiction author whose debut novel We Cast A Shadow came out in 2019. This book chronicles a father’s agonizing choice to undertake a dramatic medical procedure for his son. Set in the near future when racism is rampant and segregation is returning to America. The main character of Nigel struggles to make money to afford a de-melanization procedure that will change his black son’s skin to white. A scathing satire of American culture and race relations that is highly relevant. In an interview, Ruffin spoke about the relevance of his book in today’s society, and the dangers of assimilation.
“If you’re a person of color in America, you pretty quickly realize how heartbreaking it will be for you. And so, a lot of people of color have different strategies for how to defy that danger, whether it’s standing up and protesting, or writing about it, like I do. And I think that for some people throughout history, there have been different ways to assimilate.”
Cadwell Turnbull is the author of several short stories published in Asimov’s Science Fiction and Lightspeed magazines. His debut novel The Lesson came out in 2019, and centers around an alien invasion that begins in the Virgin Islands. The book has been so highly acclaimed that AMC has already picked up the rights for an adaptation. In an interview with Lightspeed, Turnbull talked about the parallels between ‘first-contact’ stories and colonialism.
“Dominant-culture first-contact stories aren’t really interested in drawing parallels to our own history of oppression. We don’t see a liberation of people of color from the vestiges of colonialism after the aliens are defeated. When we beat back the aliens in those stories, the lesson is that we are all in this together; we’re supposed to focus on our common humanity. But no time is spent exploring exactly what that means for the people that have been subjugated by human empire.”
Turnbull is currently working on his next novel – No Gods, No Monsters – that he says is a ‘modern retelling of the civil rights movement but with monsters.’ An incisive and timely author, Turnbull is another emerging black science fiction author that we look forward to seeing more from.
Photo by Chris Close via the Author’s Website
Whitehead is an established author who has been writing consistently for the past twenty years. Although much of his work is contemporary fiction, he has several science fiction novels under his belt. His first sci-fi novel – The Intuitionist – came out in 1999. On the surface it is a book about elevator repairmen (and women). But if you dig a little deeper you find themes of racial strife and upwards mobility. His other sci-fi novel is the well-known zombie story Zone One. This is a post-apocalyptic novel that follows humanity after it has been decimated by a plague. And boy does that feel relevant right now.
Did we miss any of your favorites on this list of black science fiction authors? Join the conversation with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out for more lists of black writers to read in the days to come.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.