Thursday, February 2, 2012

SFF Stories with Black Leads

This post is focuses on my favorite science fiction and fantasy stories with protagonists whose race and ethnicity is rooted in sub-Saharan Africa and the African diaspora. I'm separating out Northern Africa and putting that with the Middle East, since I figured Egypt and Saudi Arabia have more in common with each other than with the places such as the Congo or Japan.
Related Posts: SFF Stories with Native American LeadsSFF Stories with Asian Leads, and SFF Stories with Middle Eastern Leads.

The Aggregate Stats

  • Total number of works/series/authors on the list: 16/7/6
  • Author with most works on the list: Octavia Butler, with 7 books on the list
  • Most depressing realization: The overwhelming majority of books here have no recognizable black people on the covers. Sigh.
  • Biggest overall surprise: No (non-urban) fantasies. How'd that happen?
and now for...

My Favorites

Anansi Boys

The novel Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman, is set in the same universe as American Gods, but is a very different book in cast, tone, and structure.
  • Sub-genre: it's a bit of a genre-bender, but I'd say it was roughly contemporary fantasy with a focus on gods and folklore
  • Why I love it: It has lots of dry British humor, a clever plot and world-building, and happy ending. I disliked the protagonist in the beginning, but loved him by the end.
  • African-ness: Most of the POV characters are of black, including the main one. Gaiman also builds a lot of his story around folklore about Anansi the Spider, a trickster god from west Africa and the Caribbean.

Star of David

This short story by Patricia Briggs is in the Hexed Anthology, and is about a minor character in her Mercy Thompson series.
  • Sub-genre: Urban Fantasy, with a focus on werewolves
  • Why I love it: It's a wonderful redemption story focusing on an adult father-daughter relationship. But also with a werewolf, an evil villain, and the requisite action. It's a UF short story for grown ups.
  • African-ness: The protagonist and his daughter are both African-Americans.

Patternist Series

This series by Octavia Butler includes Wild Seed, Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, and Clay's Ark.
  • Sub-genre: Science fiction with a real exploration of issues of power and immortality
  • Why I love it: The series is the opposite of brain candy - if you read her books your mind grows at least three millimeters a day.
  • African-ness: In the story, there are two immortal beings, both black, and the story starts in Africa.

Parable Series

This series by Octavia Butler includes Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.
  • Sub-genre: Dystopian science fiction
  • Why I like it: She won a Nebula award for one of the books and was nominated for a Nebula for the other. 'Nuff said.
  • African-ness: The main character is African American and draws from her faith and experience as a minister's daughter to become a leader.

Smoke Trilogy

This series by Tanya Huff includes Smoke and Shadows, Smoke and Mirrors, and Smoke and Ashes.
  • Sub-genre: Urban fantasy with vampires
  • Why I like it: It's a fun mix of vampires, wizards, ghosts, and behind-the-scenes Hollywood, but with some depth. Huff does a good job avoiding stereotypes in this cliche-ridden field.
  • African-ness: The main protagonist is African American.

Negotiator Trilogy

This series by C.E. Murphy includes Heart of Stone, House of Cards, and Hands of Flame.
  • Sub-genre: Urban Fantasy with gargoyles, dragons, selkies, djinn, and vampires.
  • Why I like it: She makes gargoyles awesome. Plus, the protagonist uses her cleverness and mad lawyer skills to get ahead - she a human without special magical or fighting powers.
  • African-ness: The protagonist is African American. Apparently, the author had to fight with her publishers about not making her half-white, and they ended up using a white woman model for the cover, but in the book, she's definitely black.

The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness is a stand-alone novel by Ursula Le Guin.
  • Sub-genre: science fiction, with a political intrigue and fish-out-of-water story of a human envoy to a more primitive alien world
  • Why I like it: It's an amazing thought experiment on gender. It's also a Hugo award winner and one of the more famous sci-fi novels period.
  • African-ness: The protagonist is black, and he goes to an world where the natives are brown-skinned, although not human.

Honorable Mention

  • Magic Dreams by Ilona Andrews: Jim, the love interest/other main character is black and AWESOME, although he's not the main POV character. They're contracted to write a spinoff book about Jim and Dali, so hopefully I can add it to the main list soon.
  • Zoo City and Moxyland by Lauren Beukes: I haven't read these science fiction novels set in South Africa, but Zoo City is highly recommended by a friend as well as being on a bunch of short lists for SFF awards.
  • Lilith's Brood (Xenogenesis) by Octavia Butler: I haven't read this sci-fi trilogy, which includes Dawn, Adulthood rites, and Imago, but the premise sounds cool and she's awesome, so it can't be that bad
  • Farnham's Freehold, Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein: I have mixed feelings about the first book and the main character isn't black, but it is a science fiction book that explicitly examines race and prejudice from a time when most didn't, so I give it a nod. The other two are supposed to have black leads, but Heinlein didn't make it obvious so that it would get published as YA novels.
  • Wild Cards Series by George R. R. Martin: this is a share-world series so the setting and timeline is cohesive, but it's written by a lot of different authors. A few, although not most, of the protagonists are black.
  • Vampire Huntress Series by L.A. Banks: I haven't read this one yet, and may not because vampires are not as much my thing, but from what I can tell looking at the reviews, the protagonist is an African American vampire slayer, and the series improves after a verbose first book.

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