Spotlight on Black Voices in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Fantasy and science fiction are whitewashed genres. Despite a limitless world of galaxies, magic and pretend, there has been a historic problem with representing diverse and interesting voices in these genres. Both are rife with racist caricatures and generally lack characters of colour that survive the story. Think Tolkien's Orcs, wholly evil characters who are described with East Asian and African features, or how “uncivilized” planets are never written with white characters.
The problem gets even more glaring when you look into the publishing industry. A report by Fireside Fiction found that, out of 2,039 science fiction stories published in 63 magazines in 2015, only 38 were written by Black writers. This means that less than 2% of new science fiction was written by Black writers. And it extends itself to the authors who inhabit this space as well. 10% of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) voted for an alt-right president in 2013. This makes it incredibly hard to feel safe and included in the sci-fi and fantasy communities, and it’s even harder to become a part of the community in the first place. The overarching problem of racism keeps diverse voices out of fantasy and science fiction, and makes for a lack of originality in the genre. However, there has been a significant effort to diversify and explore the lives and identities of characters who do not fit the traditionally white spaces of fantasy and science fiction.
For this week of Black History Month, Soliloquies has chosen to highlight fantasy and science fiction novels and novellas that were written by Black authors, and center around the bravery and brilliance of Black characters. Many of these stories are the beginnings of series, and their authors have often written many science fiction and fantasy pieces beyond what is featured. We hope you check them out!
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This novel is a coming of age story with Zélie Adebola as the protagonist who tries to restore magic to the maji people of Orisha, who have been oppressed by a cruel ruling class. Tomi Adeyemi wrote 45 drafts of this novel, combining the mythical elements of young adult fantasy novels like Harry Potter with West-African mythology and the Yoruba language. Children of Blood and Bone was a part of one of the biggest young-adult publishing deals ever.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Another novel centered around West African myth, this novel follows Tarisai, who is compelled by her mother to kill the crown prince of her kingdom. After she is sent to the capital to try to compete for a spot on the Crown Prince’s council, she falls in love and has to decide whether to become a pawn for her mother or create her own path. The novel and its sequel have been given widespread acclaim, and it is a New York Times Bestseller.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
This novel explores a futuristic reality where the characters are passengers on generation ships bound for a new world. Societies aboard these ships are racially segregated and mirror Antebellum America, with those with darker skin receiving harsher treatment and stricter rules. Aster Gray is trying to connect her mother’s death with the death of the ship's Sovereign and find a way to finally leave the boat. This novel has been a finalist for a variety of awards, and was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2018.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor Binti is the first person of Himba origin to be offered a place at the prestigious Oomza University, which is the best post-secondary institution in the galaxy. Binti gets caught in the crossfire in a war between her new home and an alien race that seeks to destroy them. This novel has received many accolades and awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Novella and the Nebula Award for Best Novella. Okafor has also written comics for Marvel, and incorporates black culture and excellence into everything she writes.
How Long Till Black Future Month N.K. Jemisin
This book is slightly different, and features a variety of short fantasy and science fiction stories. They are about everything from a dragon-infested, flooded New Orleans to a mother making deals with the Fey to save her children in the Jim Crow south. These stories possess variety and beautiful world building and character development. This anthology won the American Library Association's Alex Award. Jemisin deftly weaves the imaginary with the real, examining our society as we know it (with a few more dragons). She has many other science fiction novels and stories that are just as recommended to read!
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Though she is the heir in a line of Witchdoctors, Arrah’s powers refuse to manifest. But when the children of her kingdom begin to go missing, she does a forbidden ritual to bring them back, trading her life for magic. Inspired by stories of magic and fantasy told to her in her childhood in a small-town, this novel combines powerful prose and magic to create a fantastical world that blossoms as the trilogy goes on. Kingdom of Souls was a 2019 Junior Library Guild Selection.
By Lucy Farcnik