Speculative Realms: 6 Black Authors Shaping Science Fiction and Fantasy

Join us as we deep dive into the magical and scientific realms of speculative fiction written by Black Authors.

Author's Corner Black Voices Fantasy Recommendations Science Fiction
Three book covers sit against dual colorful backgrounds. One side is light blue and a swirl of fluffy clouds. The other side is dark blue, purple, and red and resembles a starry sky. The covers are Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Karen Strong's Eden's Everdark, and Rivers Solomon's Sorrowland.

The speculative realm of sci-fi and fantasy takes us on an adventure through crafted worlds of “what ifs.” They set our minds ablaze and make us think as we move through the intricacies of characters dropped into a magical, wondrous setting and made to go on quests to restore their worlds in some epic way. We explore the possibilities of what science can do and what it shouldn’t do through the creation of creatures, the spread of viruses, and period-hopping through time machines. But most profoundly, we get an understanding of the authors through their characters, what they face, what they stand to gain, and how they view themselves in the most human way possible.

Through these speculative fiction stories written by Black authors, they not only tell magical tales and build monsters in covert labs, but they also seek to help others gain a better understanding of who they are as Black people, presenting themselves wholly to the world and giving a peek inside Black culture and struggles unique to the Black community. So, here are six Black speculative fiction authors and their sci-fi and fantasy stories that do just that.

Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Nigerian American author Tomi Adeyemi is not only a New York Times bestseller but also a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author and screenwriter. In between crafting magical worlds, she’s also a creative writing coach. She is best known for her Legacy of Orïsha trilogy. The first and second books, Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance, were published in 2018 and 2019, with the last installment set to come out later this year. Adeyemi sets herself up as a fantasy maven in the genre with her intricate details of character, world-building, and overall story that follows Zélie Adebola, a magi who desperately wants to bring back magic to the Orïsha.

A young Black girl with stark white curls and clear eyes is wearing a blue and red headscarf with a blue gem in the center of her forehead. The title is in large, blue-white lettering below the girl. The author's name is in faint yellow lettering above the girl.
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In this second installment, Zélie succeeds in bringing back magic to the Orïsha lands, but at a terrible cost. Not only have the magi regained their abilities, but so, too, have the nobles with magi ancestry. The monarchy was the one who took away magic, and now, with its return, they wield the very thing they’d stamped out long ago against the magi. A bitter civil war is on the horizon, leaving Zélie to search for a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as her home is torn apart. Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance:

“Poses thought-provoking questions about race, class and authority that hold up a warning mirror to our sharply divided society.”

The Explosive Y.A. Novels Fans Have Been Waiting For, The New York Times

N.K. Jemisin’s The World We Make

As a four-time Hugo Award winner, American science fiction and fantasy author N.K. Jemisin is praised for her works focused on themes of culture and oppression. In between crafting mind bending hypothetical scenarios, she is also a science fiction and fantasy reviewer for The New York Times. Her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, won the Locus Award. Her novel, The Fifth Season, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. In 2021, Jemisin brought us her Great Cities duology with the first installment, The City We Became. Her latest installment, published in 2022, continues with the city that never sleeps and the capital “E” Enemy out to destroy it.

A graffiti-colored apartment building is set as the background. The title and author's name are in the foreground. The title is in large, white lettering across the center. The author's name is in yellow lettering below the title.
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The New York City avatars may have temporarily stopped the invasion and destruction of the universe by the Woman in White, but the mysterious Enemy still possesses great powers at her disposal. With the rise of a new mayoral candidate, who brings the promise of gentrification, xenophobia, and “law and order” to the population, New York itself may be brought down. It is up to the avatars, along with the other Great Cities of the world, to bring down the mysterious Enemy and shield their world from total destruction.

“N.K. Jemisin’s Great Cities Duology… is a masterpiece of speculative fiction from one of the most important writers of her generation.”

The World We Make

Karen Strong’s Eden’s Everdark

Georgia native Karen Strong is a critically acclaimed middle-grade author of The Secret Dead Club, Eden’s Everdark, and Just South of Home, and the editor of the young adult anthology, Cool. Awkward. Black. She is also a Star Wars short story contributor. Her middle-grade novel, Eden’s Everdark, brings to life a sunny-less parallel world filled with witches and spirits.

A whimsical bluish-purple backdrop dotted with white star-like specks. A full moon hangs over an icy place encircled in bluish dust. Below the image is a young Black girl with her eyes closed. There are purple flowers in her hair and green plants behind her. She is surrounded by bluish-purple clouds. the title is in large, purple-light blue lettering. The author's name is in smaller purple lettering at the bottom.
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Follow Eden, a young girl grieving her mother’s death, who visits the island of her ancestral home for healing. Upon her arrival, she finds her mother’s sketchbook filled with haunting images of a beautiful yet terrifyingly tall woman, a root-covered mansion, and a monstrous dog. As Eden explores the island, she comes across a black cat and follows it through a portal, stumbling into another world where the sun never shines, and spirits linger and where everything in her mother’s sketchbook turns out to be real — including the witch of Everdark, who wants to keep Eden as her forever daughter.

“This tale of a young girl who stumbles into a magical realm ruled by a wicked witch is a haunting and ultimately uplifting middle grade novel about grief, family, and decades-old magic.”

Eden’s Everdark

Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland

TW/CW: Be sure to check the trigger and content warnings before reading.

Rivers Solomon is an award-winning American author of speculative and literary fiction. In 2018, Solomon won the Firecracker award for their debut novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and was also nominated for a Lambda, Locus, and Hurston/Wright awards. They were named Best Book of the Year by NPR, The Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, and other institutions. Their 2022 science fiction novel, Sorrowland, tells the harrowing story of Vern, a woman dealing with the changes that her body is going through while trying to get away from the religious compound where she was raised.

A bluish-purple background with a forest outline is set as the background. In the foreground, a green silhouetted face with plants inside the face sits in the center. The title sits above it in large, yellow letters. Below the face, the author's name is in large, yellow letters.
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Desperate to break free of the strict religious compound where she was raised, seven-months-pregnant Vern flees into the woods, but even there, she’s still a hunted woman. Her community refuses to let her go, forcing Vern to unleash a brutal attack beyond anything that’s humanly possible. Now, Vern’s body is changing, and to understand these changes, she must face her past. Uncovering the truth about her transformation means returning to the compound and unearthing the secrets there, along with America’s violent history that gave rise to it.

Sorrowland is a genre-bending work of gothic fiction. Here, monsters aren’t just individuals but entire nations. This is a searing, seminal book that marks the arrival of a bold, unignorable voice in American fiction.”

Sorrowland

Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Marlon James is an award-winning Jamaican author whose novel, The Book of Night Women, won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, won him the Booker Prize in 2015. First in the Dark Star trilogy, James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, weaves in African history, mythology, and his own imaginative ideas as he takes readers on a wild adventure with Tracker, a skilled hunter who’s on a mission to find a mysterious lost boy who disappeared three years ago.

There's are intertwined faces of a black leopard and red wolf with its tongue sticking out. Three sets of eyes appear at the top and center. The title weaves through the top half of the faces in large, white letters. The author's name weaves through the bottom half of the faces in large, white letters.
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Tracker has “a nose” for tracking. So, it’s no surprise that he would take up the case to find a mysterious boy who went missing three years ago. What is surprising is Tracker breaking his own rule of always working alone, as he finds himself joining a group of odd characters harboring secrets of their own. One of which is a shapeshifter called Leopard. Trailing the boy’s scent through ancient cities, dense forests, and deep rivers, creatures beset Tracker and his group, seeking their destruction. As Tracker tries to stay alive, he begins to wonder more about the boy, like why he’s been missing for so long and why Tracker’s being thwarted at every turn to keep from finding the child. It’s time to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s lying.

“Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.”

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Cadwell Turnbull’s No Gods, No Monsters

TW/CW: Be sure to check the trigger and content warnings before reading.

An American science fiction and fantasy author hailing from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cadwell Turnbull’s short stories and novelettes can be found in Asimov’s Science Fiction anthology and the Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines. His debut novel, The Lesson, received the Neukom Institute Literary Award, and his novel, No Gods, No Monsters, was a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and a Lambda Award winner. The story follows Laina as she discovers that her brother’s death isn’t exactly as it seems and that mythical monsters are real.

Images of a snake, fish, tiger, infinity symbol, and dagger are set as the background in black silhouette and rimmed in burnt orange. In the foreground, the title is in large, bold, white letters. The author's name sits below the title in large, bold, white letters.
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News of Laina’s brother being shot and killed by Boston cops is anything but what appears to be police brutality, as creatures thought to be nothing more than myths come out of the shadows. They want to be seen, but their emergence has somehow set off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. A local wolf pack goes silent due to threats. A professor is on the trail of a missing friend, which leads him to a clandestine society. A young boy with special powers seeks refuge with a monster group, keeping its own secrets. All the while, people are still disappearing, suicides and crimes are on the rise, and protests are happening around the world, both for and against the monsters. But what has brought the monsters out of the shadows now? Soon, the answer will come to light.

“It is both beautifully fantastical and wondrously mundane as each of Turnbull’s sharply detailed characters work through (or don’t) both the enormity of regular life and the parallel enormity of the Fracture. They balance havoc and haircuts, budget meetings and Old Gods.”

Review: ‘No Monsters, No Gods’ by Cadwell Turnbull, NPR

For more Black fantasy and sci-fi authors, click here and here.

Be sure to browse our bookshop.org Fantasy Lovers Paradise: Epics, Romances, and More! and our Dystopian Worlds, Technology, and the Universe in Science Fiction bookshelves for more speculative fiction books written by Black authors.

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