8 must-read sci-fi novels that give African stories the spotlight
Let’s face it — science-fiction and fantasy is full of white, male authors, who tend to write about what they know. There’s no need to raise pitchforks and protest though, as this list features black men and women who shed new light on the genre of science-fiction as we know it. These books and short stories help do the work of reversing racial stereotypes by setting aside token characters and utilizing Africa as a vast and diverse continent, full of literary potential. Read on.
The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
Nominated for a John Newbery Medal, and with good reason. Nancy Farmer takes her readers to a future Zimbabwe, where robotic animals and flying cars are easy to come by.
Crime and corruption is at an all-time low due to General Matsika’s war on the Masks, a criminal organization rumored to sacrifice humans to gods. When the general’s children are kidnapped, Matsika enlists the help of three mutated detectives to rescue them.
Nancy Farmer makes use of traditional Zimbabwean culture with griots, traditional storytellers, praise singers, and the mhondoro, a clan spirit that speaks through mediums. At one point, the children escape their captors and arrive in Resthaven, an area that preserves traditional Zimbabwean culture.
Imaro, by Charles Saunders
If you’re looking for Conan-like men and high adventure, Imaro is the book for you. This fantasy/sci-fi blend takes place in Nyumbani, a “vast continent” that resembles Africa — minus the demons, magic, and Superman-strong characters that the titular Imaro encounters, of course.
Imaro is a weird hybrid between fantasy and science fiction, combining feats of fantastical strength with alternate African history. Saunders is also the author of the novel Abengoni, which features African empires and high sorcery.
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
In The Salt Roads, Jamaican author Hopkinson, tells the story of three Caribbean slave women affected by Ezili, an African goddess of love and sex. As each woman struggles under slavery in St. Domingue, Paris, and Alexandria, the goddess visits them and aids them along their journeys.
The salt roads are the spiritual connection between African deities and the Ginen, or African people of the diaspora. As the connection between enslaved Africans and their heritage weakens, the salt roads dry up. It is up to the women in the tale to keep the roads to their past alive.
Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds
In the year 2160, humans are all connected to a Big-Brother-like security system, and enjoy longer lives under advanced genetic engineering. China, India, and all of Africa have emerged as the world’s leading technological powers. Most of the United States lay underwater in the “United Aquatic Nations,” where ‘transhumans’ live in its new underwater civilization. On the surface of the moon, however, humans live in the ungoverned “Descrutinized Zone.”
Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya are siblings who belong to a powerful, corporate African family. While they have everything they need on Earth, the death of their grandmother leaves them with too many unanswered questions. Geoffrey and Sunday travel throughout the solar system to explore the cryptic messages their grandmother left behind meant, and what they mean for the future of their world.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
This novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic country similar to Sudan. Onyesonwu, (whose name means “who fears death” in Igbo) is the child of a woman raped by men accused of ethnic cleansing. When she comes of age, she realizes she has magical powers.
In the writer Okorafor’s blog, she says she wanted to draw parallels with the Darfur conflict, where the Janjaweed (Arabic for “men with a gun on a horse”) attacked and attempted to ethnically cleanse the Darfuri women of their dark skin. She received heavy criticism for painting Igbo culture in a negative light, but argued that she wished to show all parts of her culture, both the good and bad.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
There is a lot going on in this book, but all that readers need to know is that in this reality cruel and unusual punishment is rampant, especially for those in Johannesburg, South Africa. In the world of Zoo City, those who commit crimes are all attached to an animal via magic. One of these “animalled” people, Zinzi December, is a former journalist turned drug addict who is attached to a sloth after she gets her brother killed. A perk to being attached to a sloth is her newfound ability: finding lost objects.
So Long Been Dreaming, an anthology including multiple authors
If you’re looking for African sci-fi and beyond, this anthology of short, original stories encompasses writers of all colors — African, Asian, South Asian, European, and Aboriginal authors.
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
This list would not be complete without the works of Octavia Butler, the queen of Afrofuturism. Her books feature women and men of the African Diaspora, and draw upon Afro-American literature and history for inspiration.
Kindred follows the time-traveling adventures of Dana, an Afro-American woman married to a white man. Along with her husband, she travels in between modern-day California and her ancestor’s plantation in Maryland. Dana becomes increasingly tied up in the horrors of slavery the longer she stays, but feels compelled to return again and again.
Maya James is a part-time explorer, writer, and student. When she is not kickboxing, she enjoys knitting and bothering her four other siblings. You can read more of her work here.