Monday, April 16, 2012

SSF Stories with Middle Eastern Leads

This post is focuses on my favorite science fiction and fantasy stories with protagonists whose race and ethnicity is rooted in the Middle East.
Previous Posts: SFF Stories with Native American Leads, SFF Stories with Asian Leads and SFF Stories with Black Leads.

The Aggregate Stats

  • Total number of works/series/authors on the list: 15/7/24
  • Author with most works on the list: Frank Herbert, with 6 books on the list
  • Most consistent pattern: Historical Fantasies.  Rather than take the ideas and culture and build their own world, about half the series on the list placed their stories in a serious historical context.
  • Biggest overall surprise:  No fantasies with the magic based on ancient Egyptian mythology.  I would have assumed that would be more popular, but no.
and now for...

My Favorites

Blue Sword

The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, is an old favorite of mine.
  • Sub-genre: Fantasy.  It has a hint of a Lawrence of Arabia thing going on, but was written long before the current fad for gas-lamp/steampunk really took hold.  Like all of Robin McKinley's stories, it has a very dream-like approach to magic, rather than a systemic one.
  • Why I love it: Reading feels like you're in the midst of a legend, but with really relatable, human characters.  Plus, the love story is very sweet.
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: The story mostly takes place in a culture based on the Bedouin culture, and the main love interest (and secondary POV character) is the king of that people.

Spirit Ring

The Spirit Ring is the first novel by Lois McMaster Bujold that I ever read, and I highly recommend it. It holds up well.
  • Sub-genre: Fantasy.  It's set in an alternate Late-Medieval/Early Renaissance Italy and the magic and culture are based on her historical research of what really existed, or what they thought existed, at the time.   
  • Why I love it: The world-building is meticulously thought out and inventive, but that's not a surprise because, you know, it's Bujold.  But it's also a charming coming-of-age novel with some grit and gruesomeness.  And it has a great love story and wonderfully rich characters.   And great action.  And a sense of humor.  Win!
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: The main character (Fiametta) is half-North African and deals with the prejudice and of having her mother's darker skin among a very white people.


This series is Frank Herbert's magnum opus and includes Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, Chapterhouse: Dune.
  • Sub-genre: Far-future science fiction on a ridiculously epic scale.
  • Why you have to read it: It's been scientifically proven that 24% of all nerd jokes and allusions allude to Dune.  Plus, the universe-building is incredible, and it's a phenomenal thought experiment in ecology, politics, religion, fate, power, and evolution.  And probably a bunch of other things.  It takes place over a couple thousand years though, so it's more about the thoughts than about any individual character.  The first book is the key one, so if you quit after that one, I won't tell.
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: The Fremen culture is based on Arab Islamic culture, and many of the primary POVs are Fremen.


This duology by Judith Tarr includes Alamut and The Dagger and the Cross.
  • Sub-genre: Fantasy.  Alternate-world Crusades-era Middle East, but with a rare magic race.
  • Why I love it: Tarr writes with impeccable historical authenticity, but she also has these really rich and relatable characters.  This is set in the same world her The Hound and the Falcon trilogy, which I also love.
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: It takes place mostly in the Middle East (Damascus, Jeruselum, etc.) and one of the female lead POV character is a Muslim Djinn assassin.


Arabesques: More Tales of the Arabian Nights and Arabesques II are out of print and not available as e-books (yet!), but if you run across a copy, I recommend these anthologies edited by Susan Swartz.  They're a great collection of stories written by Steven R. Donaldson, Ru EmersonM.J. Engh, William R. ForstchenEsther M. FriesnerK.E. KimbrielTanith LeeAndre NortonLarry NivenElizabeth ScarboroughCharles ScheffieldMelissa Scott, Nancy SpringerJudith TarrHarry TurtledoveGene Wolf, and Jane Yolen.
  • Sub-genre: Fantasy.  The theme to the anthology is that it's a follow up to 1001 Arabian Nights, so you'll see a variety of short stories with Djinn, magic carpets, etc.
  • Why I love it: Great writing and lots of different takes on the theme.
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: Each story is different, but it's all a big bubbling pot of Arabian-ness.

Fire Spirits

This series by Samantha Young includes Smokeless Fire and Scorched Skies, although she hasn't finished writing it yet.
  • Sub-genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy, but with a djinn as the magical race.
  • Why I love it: It's a lot smarter than most YA UF, but it still has the delicious addictiveness that you get with having the classic coming-of-age/love-triangle thing. 
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: The main character and the general mythos are all based on Arabian mythology, with authentic details like the Madrid Djinn and the Seal of Solomon working their way in.  


Steppe, by Piers Anthony
  • Sub-genre: Time traveler/far future Science Fiction.  A person from the ninth century gets pulled into the twenty third century.
  • Why I love it: It's one of the more original ideas that Anthony played with.  He revisits the idea of an advanced civilization having this big multiplayer game in his more popular Adept series, but in this one he is focused on the book as a vehicle to examine a particular era in history with some really creative twists.
  • Middle-Eastern-ness: The main character is a ninth-century Turkish warrior.

Honorable Mention

  • The Halcyon Trilogy by Joseph Robert Lewis (The Burning Sky, the Broken Sword, and the Bound Soul), is a fantasy steam punk set in the Mediterranean in a world where the last ice age never ended.  The set up seems cool, but the intro didn't suck me in, so I never read it, but I keep meaning to give it another (longer) try.
  • Heart of Flame by Janine Ashbless is on my TBR list and is a fantasy romance set in a mythical version of the Arabian peninsula.
  • A Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr is a historical fantasy based in ancient Egypt. I haven't read it, but I've really enjoyed other Judith Tarr books, so I imagine this one is also worthwhile.


  1. I strongly suggest you read "The Throne of the Crescent Moon" by Saladin Ahmed. The author is an Arab and the book is set in a richly drawn middle eastern context. I loved it to death. It's in hardback and kindle right now, PB in December

  2. I suggest Fool's War by Sarah Zettel. It's a space opera with a Muslim woman as a lead.