Samuel R Delany
A writer, editor, professor, literary critic, Delany was born in Harlem in 1942. William Gibson famously described “Dhalgren“, published in 1974 and possibly Delany’s most famous work, as “a riddle that was never meant to be solved.”
Delany’s publishing history is filled with work that has proved harder to publish, more controversial and ultimately hard to track down, yet they all speak deeply to the experience of being Black in the ‘civilised’ world and are some of the finest examples of afrofuturism ever printed.
He has won the Hugo and the Nebula awards (more than once), and I’m still kind of mad more people don’t know about him. Delany uses his writing to beautifully pose connundrums that often reflect the conflict and dichotomy of living in a modern world.
Find everything you can! HORDE! It will be hard, because so many of his early novels and short stories are out of print. I remember buying ten Delany novels in a second hand bookstore in London, because I knew I’d never see a collection like that again.
Pay what you must, but as a fan of sci fi you must read his work.
Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler, is one of these amazing luminescent minds that a lot of modern readers consistently sleeps on.
Butler was born in Pasadena, California, U.S. in June of 1947.
Her Seed to Harvest (Patternist series)“, the “Xenogenesis”
trilogy and her “Parable Of The Talents” and “Parable Of The Sower“, are seminal works. She has won a MacArthur “genius” grant, both the Hugo and Nebula awards, the Langston Hughes Medal, as well as a PEN Lifetime Achievement award.
If you are not a Black feminist and haven’t read these, if you’re a black sci fi buff and haven’t read these, if you love books and haven’t read these, we don’t know what you’ve done with your life.
All of Butler’s works ranks up there with the greats, and should be hunted down and acquired. Everyone transports you to the world’s she creates, and beautiful, sensitive prose and strong black female protagonists remain some of this writer’s most empowering sheroes.
Although her works are not easy to find in print outside of Amazon, ebooks are now widely available where they weren’t even five years ago.
Nalo Hopkinson is one of this generation of Caribbean writers’ best kept secrets. Not because she isn’t given her props, but because so many Caribbean people don’t seem to know about her work. This is to me a tragedy, since she is one of my personal favourites (and a friend).
“Brown Girl in the Ring“, “Midnight Robber” (a stunningly original novel) and her incredible “The Salt Roads” which is one of this writer’s personal favourites, remain some of the finest writing to emerge from the 1990s and early 00s from a Black female Caribbean writer, regardless of genre.
However, some of her short stories and her work on anthologies, “So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy“, “Mojo: Conjure Stories“, “Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction” are not to be missed.
Hopkinson’s stories are gifts that keep giving. Images and characters stay with you decades after your first reading, and her stories’ rich, dense visuals are steeped in Caribbean mythology and the traditional African spirituality that survived the Maafa.
Don’t deny yourself the adventures of Tan Tan in “Midnight Robber” and the wonderful merfolk of “The New Moon’s Arms”. If you are a practitioner of the ATRs, then you will love “Brown Girl In The Ring”.
Begin a passionate lifelong obsession with this lady’s writing, as her range of expression gets better with every book.
“Of One Blood: Or, the Hidden Self” is the last in a quartet of novels written by Pauline Hopkins.
Considered to be and quoted as being “the most prolific African-American woman writer and the most influential literary editor of the first decade of the twentieth century”.
She was part of the rarified air of the Harlem Renaissance, but she is one of it’s more obscure fixtures.
“Of One Blood” was first published as a serial in Colored American Magazine, over three issues spanning the end and beginning of 1902 and 1903. Hopkins was editor there for four years.
Hopkins spins a tale of Reuel Briggs, a doctor in training who is indifferent to his negritude and dismissive of African history, but ends up on an archaeological trip to Ethiopia in which he discovers a lost race and “the painful truth about blood, race, and the half of his history that was never told”.
The book’s thick social and scientific themes, as well as high drama and twists and turns, make for a challenging read. You may want to go slowly, as the language, while not Tolkienesque, needs to digested by a modern mind.
Hopkins said she wrote the story to “raise the stigma of degradation from [the Black] race.”
Saker is a gay writer living in Maryland, where his day job is with the local public library. He is not a black sci fi writer, but he’s on this because of one book I read back in 2004 that completely changed my perspective of not just the Internet & technology, but our public consumption of media and how it effects social justice.
I am talking about “Dance for the Ivory Madonna“.
Wikipedia quotes the publisher as saying this book is about:
it’s 2042, and the U.S. has split into three nations; special interest groups have their own House in Congress; artificial intelligence has kicked humans out of cyberspace; and the African continent, a hotbed of technological advancement, is united under a contract government called Umoja. Making his way through this brave new world is a young African-American operative of a secret organization whose task is to avenge his father’s murder and save humankind.
The goes on to add that the writer really says it’s about:
a lot of things: friendship, toleration, a celebration of the creative spirit, a paean to unconventionality. It’s about what’s wrong with today’s world, what’s right with today’s world, and what hope there is for the future. It’s about how our technology affects us, and about the decisions we can make regarding those effects.
In “Dance For The Ivory Madonna”, the US has broken up into smaller warring nations, and Africa has been tranformed into The First World by repatriated African Americans–and a convenient prison population dump. Africa has become a tech haven, rich and powerful, and the traditional African matriarchy has been restored to prominence.
The novel’s depiction technology and its advancement seem almost prescient to me (a few years later I discovered Second Life, and made an immediate connection with this novel’s world) but it’s broader themes make it one of the most progressive Afrofuturistic novels I’ve ever read. So I give Don Saker a #BlackCard for this one.
He’s written a ton of other good stuff too.
Do you have any suggestions? I love hearing about odd obscure novels… post in the comments below.