One of my favourite genres to read is science-fiction. The imagination and the storytelling potential that comes with speculative fiction can be absolutely brilliant, especially when it involves alternate histories, dystopian nations, technology beyond belief, interstellar travel, galactic political intrigue, plus much more. There is almost always something to learn, something there to inspire, awe, and shock us within this genre. It is the literary artform that pushes your brain to its limits, showing you how much more you can grow, whether you are a reader or a writer. And you know what? Some of the very best and most badass science-fiction works that I have ever read came from diverse backgrounds and life experiences.
Today, I want to share books that celebrate the speculative fiction genre—science-fiction, fantasy, and science-fantasy—that are specifically written by people of colour. It pisses me off when I see people complaining that writers of colour, or people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, shouldn’t write fantasy because “it’s too strange” when its influenced by their respective cultural backgrounds and experiences. To you, I say “fuck you,” because the whole point of speculative fiction is to broaden your horizons and contemplate, visualise, and live situations and scenarios that we either can’t get in real life, or came damn near close to living. The ones that are built upon diverse influences are the most thought-provoking and imaginative stories yet. We should celebrate the hell out of it. Not bitch about how strange or weird it is. Hell, the stranger and weirder a work of speculative fiction, the more I want to check it out.
I have gathered 15 books, including a few book serials and anthologies, that are written by people of colour that I believe everyone should read, more so if you are a fan of speculative fiction and have an open-mind and willingness to explore something that may be outside of your comfort zones a little bit. So, grab your morning beverage, sit back, and get ready to make your TBR grow.
**They are in alphabetical order…hopefully.**
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
- #OwnVoices South Asian, Indian Female Author, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
- In her first North American collection, Vandana Singh’s deep humanism interplays with her scientific background in stories that explore and celebrate this world and others, and characters who are trying to make sense of the people they meet, what they see, and the challenges they face. An 11th century poet wakes to find he is as an artificially intelligent companion on a star-ship. A woman of no account can see into the past. In “Requiem,” a woman goes to Alaska to try and make sense of her aunt’s disappearance.
- The book has everything you could want—excellent storytelling that is laced with comedy, compassion, adventure, expansive universes and cosmology, and a wonderful balance of the strange—all mixed with Indian inspirations and told in small snippet tales.
Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
- #OwnVoices Nigerian, NOT #OwnVoices Himba, Naijamerican Female Author, Science-Fiction (First Contact, Alien Invasion)
- Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people to ever be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer means sacrificing her place in her family to travel between the stars amid strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs. 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.
- Brilliantly built upon the rich cultural foundation of the Himba people, the author has created a story that is not only original in its scientific scope, but is deeply heartening as we follow the young girl, Binti, on her journey of self-discovery.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
- #OwnVoices Middle-Eastern/Southwest Asian, Iraqi Male Author, Science-Fiction Horror
- From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi—a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café—collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them the proper burial they deserve. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders begins to sweep the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who cannot be killed, not for a lack of trying. Hadi soon realises he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive—first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path.
- The novel is a spectacular allegory for war and the affects that it has on the individual people, the people that most leaders forget even exist. The monster itself is a poetic metaphor that is both powerful and terrifying. The author uses a splendid blending of dark humour, disturbing effects of war, and great detail to create a dangerously gripping novel.
Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation edited & translated by Ken Liu
- #OwnVoices Chinese contributing authors and translator, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
- Ken Liu is the renowned author of The Dandelion Dynasty epic fantasy series.
- The thirteen stories in this collection add up to a thoughtful and diverse representation of Chinese science-fiction. Rounding out the collection, are several essays from Chinese scholars and authors, plus an illuminating introduction by Ken Liu himself.
- This anthology really highlights the wonderful ways that cultural diversity can be used to write narratives that, not only evoke deep thought, but also show us the world through refreshingly different lens.
Iraq+ 100: The First Anthology of Science-Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq edited by Hassan Blasim
- #OwnVoices Iraqi contributing authors including women authors, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
- The collection was created after a group of authors were posed the question of: What might your home country look like in the year 2103, a century after a disastrous foreign invasion?
- Using science fiction, allegory, and magical realism to challenge the perception of what it means to be “The Other”, this ground-breaking anthology, edited by Hassan Blasim, contains stories that are heart-breakingly surreal, and yet utterly recognisable to the human experience. Though born out of exhaustion, fear, and despair, these stories are also fuelled by themes of love, family, and endurance, and woven with a delicate thread of hope for the future.
- Some of these tales are so damn influential that you can’t help but be overwhelmed with emotion and shock. Others are beautifully intelligent, pensive, and strange.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
- Korean Trans Author, Science-Fiction (Hard SF, Military SF, Space Opera)
- Captain Kel Cheris of the Hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the Hexarchate itself might be next. Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao—because she might be his next victim.
- This novel has one of the most original concepts that I have ever come across in speculative literature. The author’s unique prose and storytelling talents will keep you guessing and glued to one page after another. By far one of the most fascinating books you can ever read.
Rocket Girls by Hōsuke Nojiri
- #OwnVoices Japanese, Japanese Male Author, Science-Fiction
- Yukari Morita is a high school girl on a quest to find her missing father. While searching for him on the Solomon Islands, she receives the offer of a lifetime—she’ll get the help she needs to find her father, and all she must do in return is become the world’s youngest and lightest astronaut. Yukari and her friends, all petite, are the perfect crew and cargo for the Solomon Space Association’s launches or will be once they complete their rigorous and sometimes dangerous training.
- This was an entertaining, fast-paced read with some quirky humour and characters. The science elements are not super heavy-handed either, making it an excellent book for people who like sci-fi that is not overtly complex, or for folks who are interested in checking out the genre to see if it’s a fit for them.
Runtime by S.B. Divya
- Indian Woman Author, Science-Fiction (Hard SF, Cyberpunk, Genetic Engineering)
- The Minerva Sierra Challenge is a gruelling spectacle, the cyborg’s Tour de France. Rich thrill-seekers with corporate sponsorships, extensive support teams, and top-of-the-line exoskeletal and internal augmentations pit themselves against the elements in a day-long race across the Sierra Nevada. Marmeg Guinto doesn’t have funding, and she doesn’t have support. She cobbled her gear together from parts she found in rich people’s garbage and spent the money her mother wanted her to use for nursing school to enter the race. But the Minerva Challenge is the only chance she has at a better life for herself and her younger brothers, and she’s ready to risk everything.
- Marvellously relevant story that isn’t dystopian or utopian, but sensationally real and grounded to our world. Divya’s talent at telling a story is exquisite. It’s a delightful concoction of excitement, tension, and science that is unique and logical. Perfect for readers of high-octane cyberpunk.
The Tensorate Series by JY Yang
- #OwnVoices Asian, Singaporean Queer Non-Binary Author, Science-Fantasy (Epic Fantasy, Asian Mythology)
- Each instalment in the series can be read as a stand-alone and in any order. They share a universe, not a plot.
- The first book released is The Black Tides of Heaven. Synopsis: Mokoya and Akeha are the twin children of the Protector. They were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed a strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate. A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?
- A trio of small novellas that pack grand adventure and a richness of Asian inspired fantasy, lore, character depth and development, and a narrative that most full-length novels and/or serials can’t pull off. By far one of the best additions to modern-day fantasy yet. Did I mention that there’s diversity amid the characters that just makes my heart swoon with joy?
The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz
- #OwnVoices Egyptian, Egyptian Woman Author, Science-Fiction (Dystopian)
- In a surreal yet familiar vision of modern day Egypt, a centralised authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the “Disgraceful Events,” a failed popular uprising. Citizens must obtain permission from the Gate to take care of even the most basic daily affairs. But the Gate never opens and the queue before it grows longer. Citizens from all levels of society come together and wait in the beating sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protestors. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that is still lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to help him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet. Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.
- This book is more fiction literature and less science-fiction, but due to the depth of the dystopian setting, and the fact that this could be construed as alternate history, I added it to my list. The Queue was a story that stunned me to silence. It is heart-breakingly revealing of what a totalitarian-fascist-type government does to its people. The world-building and society that Abdel Aziz has created is mind-blowing.
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
- #OwnVoices Black Fiction, Black Male Author, Fantasy (Dark Fantasy, Horror)
- Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
- Passionate, dark, full of skulduggery and mysticism. This is LaValle’s response to Lovecraft’s horridly offensive and problematic tale, Horror at Red Hook. He imbues a black man with grand power—during an era where such a thing was horribly unheard of—and shows us a fresh new side to tired old tropes, further proving that a bit o’ fantastical imagination can ignite a strong, magical story that will impress for years to come.
Legend of Galactic Heroes by Yoshiki Tanaka
- #OwnVoices Japanese, Japanese Male Author, Science-Fiction (Military SF, Space Opera)
- “The Golden Brat” Reinhard von Lohengramm, a military prodigy and admiral of the Galactic Empire, has ambitions beyond protecting the borders or even defeating the Empire’s enemies. He wishes to overthrow the old order and become a truly absolute—yet benevolent—dictator. His rival, the humble Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance, wishes to preserve democracy even if he must sacrifice his political ideals to defeat the Empire. Their political and military battles play out over a galactic chessboard in epic saga fifteen centuries in the making!
- If you like excellent strategical military battles, specifically badass space battles, and stories that pin brilliant minds against one another, then this is the series for you to check out. The translation is decent, and the books are a true classic for the hard sci-fi genre. They embody the essence of what makes damn good galactic military science-fiction. Also, the political intrigue is ace.
The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu
- #OwnVoices Taiwan, Taiwanese Male Author, Science-Fiction (First Contact, Cyberpunk, Genetic Engineering)
- Ella Patel – thief, con-artist, and smuggler – is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarised zone run by body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants. The man freezes, leaving the woman to fight off five attackers at once. In the end, she succumbs. As she dies, the sparkling light that rises from the woman enters Ella, instead of the man. She soon realises she’s been inhabited by Io, a low-ranking Quasing that was involved in some of the worst decisions in history. Now Ella must now help the alien presence to complete her mission and investigate a rash of murders in the border states that keep the frail peace.
- Another book that is strange, but so fucking good! It starts a bit slowly, but that doesn’t last long. Once it picks up, it is near-impossible to stop reading as Wu creates a setting that is deliciously addicting. The ambiance, the aliens, and the unique details that create the world and overall story for The Rise of Io is thrilling, impressive, and flush with character.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
- #OwnVoices Arab, Arab-American Male Author, Fantasy (Epic High Fantasy)
- The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djinn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. Amid this brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings, and what they learn will pit them against time, as well as their own misgivings.
- Talk about culturally rich, badass, and a true tour de force of fantasy storytelling. Ahmed’s first instalment to a grand series has absolutely every single thing anyone could ever want in a narrative for the genre. There are murderous bastards ripe with evil intentions, the inherent battle for good and evil, magical creatures, flawed and genuine characters, political intrigue, lush and all-encapsulating influences from Arab and Islamic culture, traditions, beliefs. Also, Ahmed has the best fucking writing style. Not only is he just one of the best human beings on the planet, ever, but you can see his passion for what he does in the tales he tells. With that… where’s the sequel, bro? My body is ready.
Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science-Fiction & Fantasy edited by Elsie Chapman
- #OwnVoices Asian, Asian authors of various relative backgrounds and genders, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
- Orphans and drug-smuggling in deep space. Mechanical arms in steampunk Vancouver. Djinns and espionage in futuristic Istanbul. Humanoid robot in steamy Kerala. Monsters in the jungles of Cebu. Historic time travel in Gyeongbok Palace. A rocket launch in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. A drunken ghost in Song Dynasty China. A displaced refugee skating on an ice planet. And much more. Follow twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors on their journeys through Asia and beyond. Stories that explore magic and science. Stories about love, revenge, and choices. Stories that challenge ideas about race, belonging, and politics. Stories about where we come from and where we are going.
- An anthology collection that made me want to read more and more Asian inspired science-fiction and fantasy. So many of these stories pushed the limits of my imagination and what I thought I knew about fantasy and how it could be utilised in storytelling. There are concepts in here that I never believed possible. Yet with a talent and passion to bring their identities to life and to tell their own narratives, these concepts not only exist, but have bloomed me into a more culturally rich and eager reader. A definite must-read for any and all who enjoy speculative fiction.
Those are fifteen awesome books, serials, and anthologies for y’all to check out if you would like to read refreshingly different, inventive, smart, and culturally diverse speculative fiction. It is always great to see stories from perspectives that you have little to no experience with as there’s always something remarkable to learn from them.