Indigenous sci-fi & fantasy authors have been bringing their mythology and cultural heritage to genre fiction for years. But a new wave of indigenous sci-fi & fantasy authors are pioneering their own genre of Indigenous Futurism. These writers join a long list of indigenous sci-fi & fantasy authors who first gained acclaim during the Native American Renaissance in literature.
For Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we take a look at some of the prominent Native authors working in Sci-Fi and Fantasy from past to present. Check out our list below, and add some new voices to your genre fiction!
Indigenous Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors in The Native American Renaissance
StLouis Erdrich | Image via Wikimedia
Louise Erdrich is a prolific American Ojibwe author who has published or contributed to over 30 books in various genres. Erdrich has written poetry, non-fiction, children’s literature, and contemporary fiction. Amidst her varied bibliography are several genre novels. Her most recent work – Future Home of a Living God – is a work of dystopian science-fiction. It is a world where evolution suddenly moves in reverse. The novel follows a woman who traces her roots back to her native birth mother. She seeks answers, amid panic over her own unborn child. This novel delves deeply into feminist issues, and indigenous culture. Erdrich is also considered to be one of the foremost writers in the Native American Renaissance that began in the 1960’s.
Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones is another incredibly prolific author. A Blackfoot Native American from West Texas, Jones has written 16 novels, six short story collections, over 250 stories, and a comic book. His genre novels tends towards horror and science fiction, with themes that relate closely to his Native heritage. Many of his characters are outsiders who struggle with identity in a world that often shuns them. He has also said that many of his protagonists are some version of himself. He frequently writes about supernatural creatures, with a penchant for werewolves and zombies.
His graphic novel – My Hero – is an experimental meta work of fiction. Jones says that he wanted people to “read words as images.” His upcoming book – The Only Good Indians – is a supernatural horror novel about four friends who are being stalked by “an entity that wants to exact revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier.” If you’re looking for some good supernatural horror, then Jones is a must for your reading list.
Gerald Vizenor is a member of the Chippewa tribe. He is a man who wears many hats as a poet, author, professor, and activist. He was also one of the most pre-eminent writers included in the Native American Renaissance. Although Vizenor is well-known for his non-fiction and academic writings on Native cultures, he is also a science fiction writer.
An author of over 30 books, his debut novel Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart came out in 1978. He revised this novel and re-released it in 1990 with the shortened title Bearheart. This post-apocalyptic novel “tells the story of a group of tribal pilgrims who journey south toward freedom after the government invades their reservation to claim their sacred trees fuel.”
Indigenous Futurism and A New Wave of Native Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors
The Native American Renaissance in literature was characterized by a variety of themes. Sacred landscapes, a return to the reservation, and the conflict of being torn between two worlds were often prevalent. These themes carry over into the emergence of a new genre within speculative fiction. Indigenous Futurism, much like Afrofuturism (and Nnedi Okorafor’s African Futurism) seeks to challenge and/or subvert colonial, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and sexist genre tropes. It draws on native knowledge, culture, stories, language, and traditions to reimagine the world
A dominant theme in Indigenous Futurism is that of the dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. With the rise of global warming threatening the planet, many indigenous authors are exploring that social anxiety within their unique cultural framework. Below we have a list of contemporary sci-fi & fantasy authors who are working in the realm of Indigenous Futurism.
Cherie Dimaline is a Canadian Ojibwe/Métis author who has published five books in the past decade. Her 2017 novel – The Marrow Thieves – is a dystopian science fiction novel. It depicts a world where people can no longer dream. Only the indigenous peoples of North America still have the ability to dream. They are hunted for their very marrow that can cure the dreamless. The Marrow Thieves also won The Governor General’s Literary Award and the Kirkus Prize. This year, Dimaline put out a new fantastical fiction novel called Empire of the Wild.
In an interview with The Globe & Mail, Dimaline says about The Marrow Thieves that she “wanted to write a story that talked about commodification of culture, the ache of Indigenous survival, the reality of attempted Indigenous genocide. But I wanted to do so in a way that didn’t begin with readers folding up on themselves to avoid the discomfort.”
Daniel Heath Justice
Daniel Heath Justice is a professor of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Toronto. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Justice has written several non-fiction books about the Native history and culture such as Why Indigenous Literatures Matter. He also explores themes of gender and sexuality within indigenous cultures. He has worked in the genre realm, with his trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder. On the planet Everland a magical race of beings live – known as the Folk. Their culture, and their very world are threatened by humanity expanding into their universe. The series deals with themes of colonization and imperialism that evokes real-world history.
Justice says “I have always found that my scholarly work informs and enriches my creative work, and vice versa—they both ask similar kinds of questions about belonging, kinship, history, heritage, and desire, but do so in very different ways.
Rebecca Roanhorse is a Nebula and Hugo award winning author whose genre work has gone from epic fantasy, to Star Wars. As a mixed race individual, Roanhorse is a member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Tribe. She has spoken about how difficult it was growing up black and Native in Texas, and that reading and writing fantasy was her escape.
Her novel Trail of Lightning waTs published in 2018, the first book in her fantasy series – The Sixth World. Gods and monsters of myth have returned to the world. And it is up to a monster-hunter and an unconventional medicine man to solve a mystery much larger than themselves.
In an essay for Uncanny Magazine, Roanhorse writes: “To be a Native of North America is to exist in a space where the past and the future mix in a delicate swirl of the here-and-now. We stand with one foot always in the darkness that ended our world. And the other in a hope for our future as Indigenous people. It is from this apocalyptic in-between that the Indigenous voices in speculative fiction speak.”
In addition to her fantasy work, Roanhorse also joins the pantheon of writers who are writing the newest Star Wars expanded universe books. Her Star Wars novel – Resistance Reborn – will be out in November of 2019. This book sets up Rise of Skywalker and follows Leia, Poe, Rey, and Finn as they “struggle to rebuild the Resistance after their defeat at the hands of the First Order in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
Daniel H. Wilson
Daniel H. Wilson | Photo by Sara Vanderpas | Image via IMDB
Daniel H. Wilson is a Cherokee author with a Ph.D. in robotics that definitely informed his bestselling sci-fi novel Robopocalypse and its sequel Robogenesis. He has also mixed science fiction and fantasy in his novel The Clockwork Dynasty. This novel follows a race of ancient robots who have secretly lived among humans for centuries. Wilson is also a comic book writer, authoring the standalone Quarantine Zone and the D.C. series Earth 2. In November, Wilson will release The Andromeda Evolution. This novel will be a sequel to Michael Crichton’s best selling novel The Andromeda Strain. Clearly, Wilson is a worthy successor to the sci-fi greats who have come before him.
We hope that you found a new, and exciting author to check out from our list. Do you have any favorite native sci-fi & fantasy authors that we missed? Let us know in the comments!
(Featured image is a Native Ojibwe Anishinaabeg Art via Wikimedia Commons)
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.