Tag Archives: nnedi orakafor

Black History Month Reading List

One of the joys of science fiction is imagining life through other lenses. Until recently, I had overlooked the richness of lenses present in contemporary society and history. In the spirit of that joy, I challenged myself to a reading list for February’s Black History Month.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

The Warmth of Other Suns details the Great Migration, when over 6 million African Americans migrated from the American South to the north, looking for opportunity and fleeing oppression. From 1915 to 1970, this quiet movement reshaped our country; before the migration, 10% of American blacks lived in the north, after, 50%.

This 530 page book (over 600 with the post matter) sat on my shelf for months, looking intimidating. Finally I picked it up for Black History Month. In 4 days, I’m already over 400 pages in. It’s so well written and relatable.

Binti by Nnedi Orakafor (science fiction)

Science fiction has long been a bastion of white dudes, as demonstrated by the Sad Puppies tantrums of 2015. In addition to being exclusionary, this is unfortunate because it goes against the calling of the genre to explore the human condition. The genre has shortchanged minority protagonists and it spends too little time in the vast non-white areas of the world.  A new generation of science fiction authors has brought great stories to these underserved settings and perspectives.

Nnedi Orakafor is part of the afrofuturism movement in science fiction. I read a short story by her several years ago, and it stuck with me. I’ve been meaning to read a longer work of hers, and now is the time.

American Uprising by Dan Rasmussen (nonfiction)

America’s largest slave uprising is largely forgotten today. Well-rated and about an unfamiliar topic—sounds perfect.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola (folk tale)

Amos Tutuola is a famous Nigerian writer of folk tales. This book has been on my shelf for years. I started it once, but then got distracted and set it down. The style is a little challenging, as it’s unfamiliar, but it’s time to read Amos Tutuola.

 

Diversity in Science Fiction: Some Diverse Reads

Science fiction often touts itself as the genre of the future. But science fiction is a reflection of today as much as it is a dream about the future. Science fiction has been too white and too male, both in authors and in protagonists. This is a reflection of the biases in our society.

My own top 20 sci-fi novels list features 18 books by white men, and two books by Ursula Le Guin. The Guardian’s list of top 500 scifi novels featured the names of 18 women. Any scifi reader starting out will hear about Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. Too many people get defensive when someone points this out. (See: the Great SFWA Shitstorm.)

The answer is to read widely, and to continue to read widely. So in that spirit, I list below some diverse science fiction*, some of which I have read, and some of which I ought to. For further reading, here is a great article listing a lot of great authors from the LA Times.

  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler: we destroy ourselves with war and aliens come in and save the survivors, mostly people from South American cultures who avoided the bombs. Oh, and the aliens want weird weird sex. A fun and weird read.
  • Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi: A western man goes to future Bangkok. The native Thais and the genetically-engineered windup girl are the stars of the show, though.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: One for me to read! A best seller in China, recently translated into English.
  • Downbelow Station and Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh: Distant future novels where women kick ass in militaristic and scientific settings, if you can get past the info-dumping at the front.
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Orakafor: Another for me to read! Far future, post-apocalyptic Africa.
  • The Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold: I have looked for these for years in used bookstores. I guess they fall into that awkward old-enough-to-be-out-of-print-, not-so-old-as-to-be-reprinted phase. They won a buttload of Hugos. And they feature a disabled protagonist.

*Note: I think it’s currently easier to find diverse fantasy. Maybe this is because it’s straightforward to use alternate mythology to Western mythology. I personally vastly prefer sci-fi. I think diversity in far future sci-fi is a challenge, because our whole concept of diversity is rooted in today’s culture. Just giving everything Chinese-ish names isn’t very satisfying. In LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Genly is black, but this isn’t relevant to the story at all. But I would like to see more female protagonists!