For most of the 20th century, the world of speculative fiction was a boys’ club – specifically, a white boys’ club. Few women or writers of color were able to break into the genre’s exclusive circle, and those who did, such as Samuel R. Delany – whose “Babel-17” won a Nebula Award in 1967 – still found that racial barriers abounded. Even after his award, a magazine editor rejected one of his stories on the grounds readers just wouldn’t connect to a black main character.
Times have changed considerably since then, and now there are more diverse voices than ever in science fiction, catering to a readership that is hungry for perspectives that more closely represent their own. To highlight some of these voices, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of some of the best black sci-fi authors, consulting such websites as BookRiot and the New York Times Book Review.
The authors we chose have all received accolades for their fiction, including such honors as Nebula and Hugo awards, which recognize the best published works of science fiction and fantasy, and the Otherwise Award (formerly the James Tiptree Jr. Award), for works of sci-fi or fantasy that explore the understanding of gender. (Authors of pure fantasy were excluded.)
To identify each author’s most notable work, we reviewed reader scores on Goodreads, as well as information on authors’ homepages and other sources. Birthdates and locations were gathered from the authors’ homepages when possible.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, we’ve included a broad range of authors, from seasoned writers who have been publishing speculative fiction for decades to relative newcomers who have made a huge impact with their first or second published novel. Many of these authors are women, non-binary, or LGBTQ. Some write what could be called pure sci-fi, while others also incorporate elements of fantasy, horror, and magical realism. Their works represent such science fiction tropes as alien invasions, dystopian futures, alternate histories, new visions of government, and space or time travel. (Here are the best sci-fi movies about time travel.)
Science fiction is a genre that explores the impact of current technologies and social structures, imagining futures where these structures either play out their usefulness or are replaced by something more tailored to sustaining life on earth and other planets. The importance of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences making public conjectures about the way things are headed cannot be understated. (Read about 100 years of robots – how technology and our lives have changed.)
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