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Black Sci Fi Authors from the Golden State
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Black Sci Fi Authors from the Golden State

The more you read sci-fi, the more you’ll realize that these books about spaceships are, in fact, much more than about spaceships.

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5 min read

August 10, 2021

Considering going on a strict dystopian diet? It’s okay, we’ve seen stranger things. If you think you were born at the wrong time—too late to explore the world or too early to traverse the solar system—sci-fi is a must-add to your reading list. This is a genre of what if-s, set in a world you’ll never face; a galaxy far, far away, if you will. However, many choose to pass up this genre because they’re simply not into reading tales of martian princesses and lonely robots. To those we say, let’s stop you right there.

Besides time travel and parallel universes, science fiction stories are really just about the here and the now. They’re perspectives, the author's takes on what the modern world looks like, could look like, or will look like. The more you read sci-fi, the more you’ll realize that these books about spaceships are, in fact, much more than about spaceships. And we’ve got just the starter kit for you—read on to find out about California’s Black sci-fi authors and see if you can find their stories at your local bookstore.

Born in Pasadena, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. As an extremely shy child, Butler found an outlet at the library reading fantasy.

Octavia E. Butler 

This famous sci-fi author discovered the appeal of science fiction at the early age of 12. The spark? The 1954 film Devil Girl from Mars was deemed dreadfully unimaginative by little Butler. After finishing this movie, the budding storyteller knew she could create something better and she did. Butler pleaded for her mother to buy her a typewriter for ages, and after she finally caved in, Octavia E. Butler got to writing, changing the world of sci-fi forever.

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A pioneer in the genre, Butler helped pave the way for future male and female sci-fi writers and simultaneously reshaped the literary world to include complex ideas regarding race, identity, and body politics—all of them explored as ever-changing, fluid constructs. Through the characters and narratives shaped by Butler, readers are able to better grasp the ambiguous, finding their footing in the world, and consuming endless amounts of creative fuel.

One of her most famous works, a literary masterpiece, Kindred follows a young Black woman named Dana. While she lives in 1976 Los Angeles, a mysterious force transports her to a Civil War-era plantation in Maryland. The more frequently Dana travels, the longer she stays, facing a danger that threatens her life in the future—sounds like a new addition to your summer reading list.

As an author, Hopkinson often uses themes of Caribbean folklore, Afro-Caribbean culture, and feminism.

Nalo Hopkinson

The first Black woman to ever receive a science fiction writer’s most prestigious award, the Damon Knight Grand Master, Nalo Hopkinson is truly a force to be reckoned with. With a playwright/poet father and an upbringing in a Caribbean community of writers and artists, this sci-fi author's venture into the literary world was always written in the stars.

Growing up, Hopkinson was a major bookworm. She read everything from Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey to folktale collections, but it wasn’t until she stumbled upon an anthology by the students of a Science Fiction Writer’s workshop that Hopkinson actually decided to take writing up as a hobby—and boy, is the world lucky that she did!

Brown Girl in the Ring was Hopkinson's first and arguably most influential novel to this day. Right after it was published in 1998, the book earned her a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a Locus Award for Best First Novel, and Warner Aspect First Novel Contest title prize. Set in dystopian Downtown Toronto, the novel takes you to a city abandoned by the privileged and the powerful, leaving less fortunate families to fend for themselves. The story is told through the eyes of Ti-Jeanne, a woman who just gave birth in a city that grows violent by the day. Ti-Jeanne moves in with her grandmother, who has an apothecary. She teaches her granddaughter the importance of her roots and spiritual medicine.

Tomi Adeyemi wrote her first story when she was five years old and continued to write throughout her teenage years.

Tomi Adeyemi 

Do you believe in the power of narratives and their ability to transform the way we think about the world? This famous sci-fi writer certainly does. Tomi Adeyemi is named one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people—and knowing her body of work, we can totally see why. She’s the author of the groundbreaking novel The Children of Blood and Bone—a New York Times bestseller and a never-before-seen tale of enchantment and adventure. 

The Children of Blood and Bone novel—Adeyemi’s debut work—draws inspiration from the author’s own West African heritage, bending religious deities and a diverse landscape into a refreshing take on the world of fantasy. The novel is told from multiple points of view and follows two children on their dark, magic-filled quest for power. Accompanied by violence and betrayal The Children of Blood and Bone explores injustice, discrimination, and a struggle for change; expect to hold your breath right up to the end.

While completing his degree at Brown University, Everett wrote his first novel about a Seattle Mariners third baseman in major league slump.

Percival Everett 

Highly praised for his storytelling and ability to address the toughest of issues with humor, grace, and unmistakable originality, Percival Everett is the Black sci-fi writer you should be reading right now. His work has been defined as genre-defying, his character multi-faceted, and his body of work a collection of gleefully mental tales. Everett has written more than 30 novels and story collections including Telephone, which made him a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

The novel Telephone has three different endings—depending on the version you read, you're not going to know which one you’re getting. One thing you should be sure of, however, is that this work will shake you to your core, as you learn of Everett’s take on loss, grief, and turmoil.

Barnes has written several episodes of The Outer Limits and Baywatch, for which he has won an Emmy Award. Photo courtesy of Steven Barnes.

Steven Barnes

A New York Times bestselling author, Steven Barnes has written more than 30 science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. The great Octavia E. Butler even described one of his books—Lion's Blood—as "imaginative, well-researched, well-written, and devastating."

Barnes’ literary world doesn’t shy away from depicting the bleak and grotesque, but it’s his characters, intelligent, multi-faceted heroes that always manage to pass on a sense of hope to the readers. Several of Barnes' novels deal with complex and heavy topics around slavery and race relations. Lion's Blood and its sequel Zulu Heart are both set in a 19th-century colonized America, carefully examining the similarities and differences between the then and the now.

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