17 Best Afrofuturism Books

Front and back cover of The Black Speculative Arts Movement edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Clinton R. Fluker—John Jennings

Afrofuturism is not just “the future with black people in it.” Its stories tend to focus on black identity, African mythology, and alternate histories involving the African Diaspora (the movement of people from Africa due to slavery).

Here’s me, a white guy, explaining a black culture thing. For a more authentic take on afrofuturism, read Jamie Broadnax’s (founder of Black Girl Nerds) “What The Heck Is Afrofuturism?

 

17
Elysium
by Jennifer Marie Brissett – 2014

A computer program etched into the atmosphere has a story to tell: the story of two people, of a city lost to chaos, of survival and love. The program’s data, however, has been corrupted. As the novel’s characters struggle to survive apocalypse, they are sustained and challenged by the demands of love in a shattered world both haunted and dangerous.

“Brissett’s punch of a debut is bewildering at first, but never so confusing as to frustrate the reader… deftly [handling] the challenge of a multitude of characters all being the same people in a multitude of places that are the same place, while exploring complicated questions about identity.”
—Publishers Weekly

16
Mindscape
by Andrea Hairston – 2006

One hundred and fifteen years ago, the world has been literally divided by the Barrier, an extraterrestrial, epi-dimensional entity that has split the earth into warring zones.

Although a treaty to end the interzonal wars has been hammered out, power-hungry politicians, gangsters, and spiritual fundamentalists are determined to thwart it. Celestina, the treaty’s architect, is assassinated, and her protégé, Ellini, a talented renegade and one of the few able to negotiate the Barrier, takes up her mantle. Now Elleni and a motley crew of allies risk their lives to make the treaty work. Can they repair their fractured world before the Barrier devours them completely?

“[A]n ensemble cast of sufficient originality and variety to please a whole range of SFados from hard sf to queer feminist postcolonial.”
—New York Review of Science Fiction

15
The Black God's Drums
by P. Djèlí Clark – 2018

In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air—in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.

“Clark masterfully rewrites history in this spellbinding post-Civil War fantasy… This story is thrillingly original and will enthrall fans of alternate histories.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

14
The Galaxy Game
by Karen Lord – 2014

On the verge of adulthood, Rafi attends the Lyceum, a school for the psionically gifted. Rafi possesses mental abilities that might benefit people . . . or control them. Some wish to help Rafi wield his powers responsibly; others see him as a threat to be contained. Rafi’s only freedom at the Lyceum is Wallrunning: a game of speed and agility played on vast vertical surfaces riddled with variable gravity fields.

Serendipity and Ntenman are also students at the Lyceum, but unlike Rafi they come from communities where such abilities are valued. Serendipity finds the Lyceum as much a prison as a school, and she yearns for a meaningful life beyond its gates. Ntenman, with his quick tongue, quicker mind, and a willingness to bend if not break the rules, has no problem fitting in. But he too has his reasons for wanting to escape.

Now the three friends are about to experience a moment of violent change as seething tensions between rival star-faring civilizations come to a head. For Serendipity, it will challenge her ideas of community and self. For Ntenman, it will open new opportunities and new dangers. And for Rafi, given a chance to train with some of the best Wallrunners in the galaxy, it will lead to the discovery that there is more to Wallrunning than he ever suspected . . . and more to himself than he ever dreamed.

“This novel is a satisfying exercise in being off-balance, a visceral lesson in how to fall forward and catch yourself in an amazing new place.”
—The Seattle Times

13
An Unkindness of Ghosts
by Rivers Solomon – 2017

Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world.

Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot—if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war.

“Solomon debuts with a raw distillation of slavery, feudalism, prison, and religion that kicks like rotgut moonshine… Stunning.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

12
The Prey of Gods
by Nicky Drayden – 2017

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes, the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country, an emerging AI uprising, and an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

“Drayden’s delivery of all this is subtly poignant and slap-in-the-face deadpan… Lots of fun.”
—New York Times Book Review

11
Dark Matter
edited by Sheree Thomas – 2000

This book’s subtitle is “A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora.”

The central analogy for this first collection of SF stories and essays by black authors is “dark matter,” the scientific term for a non-luminous form of matter not directly observed, but whose existence is deduced from its gravitational effects on other bodies.

Twenty-eight pieces of fiction, both short stories and novel excerpts, and five critical essays make for a stout anthology. Stories include everything from Charles Chestnutt’s 1887 tale “The Goophered Grapevine” to over a dozen stories from 2000. Other authors: Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, and satirist Ishmael Reed.

“All [the stories] manifest a powerful effect, far stronger for being largely unacknowledged, and perhaps heralding… a coming explosion of black SF.”
—Publishers Weekly

10
After the Flare
by Deji Bryce Olukotun – 2017

Philip K. Dick Award Finalist

A catastrophic solar flare reshapes our world order as we know it: in an instant, electricity grids are crippled, followed by devastating cyberattacks that paralyze all communication.

With America in chaos, former NASA employee Kwesi Bracket works at the only functioning space program in the world, which just happens to be in Nigeria. With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. knocked off-line, and thousands of dead satellites about to plummet to Earth, the planet’s only hope rests with the Nigerian Space Program’s plan to launch a daring rescue mission to the International Space Station.

Bracket and his team are already up against a serious deadline, but life on the ground is just as disastrous after the flare. Nigeria has been flooded with advanced biohacking technologies, and the scramble for space supremacy has attracted dangerous peoples from all over Africa. What’s more: the militant Islamic group Boko Haram is slowly encroaching on the spaceport, leaving a trail of destruction, while a group of nomads has discovered an ancient technology more powerful than anything Bracket’s ever imagined.

With the clock ticking, Bracket, helped by a brilliant scientist from India and an eccentric lunar geologist, must confront the looming threats to the spaceport in order to launch a harrowing rescue mission into space.

“The entire novel is spectacularly imagined, well-written, and a pleasure to read. An absorbing novel that explores a compelling, African-centered future world.”
―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

9
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
by Nancy Farmer – 1989

Newbery Honor Book

Zimbabwe, 2194. General Matsika’s three children sneak out of the house on a forbidden adventure and disappear. Immediately the general calls Africa’s most unusual detectives: the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. Together these three detectives combine their superhuman powers to find the missing children. It’s a dangerous mission that leads them from the seedy streets of the Cow’s Guts to the swaying top of the Mile-High MacIlwaine Hotel. With the evil spirits of the past and the villains of the future chasing them all the way, can the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm find the Matsika children before it’s too late?

“This tale overflows with wise insights, lessons and observations about the ties between heritage and family.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

8
Mothership
edited by Bill Campbell – 2013

Subtitle: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond

This anthology showcases the work from some of the most talented writers inside and outside speculative fiction across the globe, including Junot Diaz, Victor LaValle, Lauren Beukes, N. K. Jemisin, Rabih Alameddine, S. P. Somtow, and more. These authors have earned such literary honors as the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker, among others.

“Racial and cultural themes are prevalent, but just as many stories steer clear of obvious messages, offering a provocative, entertaining, and vital anthology that accomplishes its mission.”
—Publishers Weekly

7
Dhalgren
by Samuel R. Delaney – 1974

Nebula Award Finalist

A young half–Native American known as the Kid has hitchhiked from Mexico to the midwestern city Bellona—only something is wrong there…

In Bellona, the shattered city, a nameless cataclysm has left reality unhinged. Into this desperate metropolis steps the Kid, his fist wrapped in razor-sharp knives, to write, to love, to wound.

“Though pushing 30, Dhalgren features themes of racial identity, religious faith, and self-awareness revealed in a multilayered plot that will be right at home with today’s audiences.”
—Library Journal

6
Everfair
by Nisi Shawl – 2016

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, a Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

“This highly original story blends steampunk and political intrigue in a compelling new view of a dark piece of human history.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

5
The Fifth Season
by N.K. Jemisin – 2015

This is the way the world ends… for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

“[I]ntricate and extraordinary.”
—The New York Times

4
Brown Girl in the Ring
by Nalo Hopkinson – 1998

In this near-future tale, magic exists alongside technology.

The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways: farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.

“[A] vivid world of urban decay and startling, dangerous magic, where the human heart is both a physical and metaphorical key.”
—Publishers Weekly

3
Zone One
by Colson Whitehead – 2011

A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown’s Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the three-person civilian sweeper units tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of the remaining feral zombies. Zone One unfolds over three surreal days in which Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world. And then things start to go terribly wrong…

“Uniquely affecting. . . A rich mix of wartime satire and darkly funny social commentary. . . Whether charged with bleak sadness or bone-dry humor, sentences worth savoring pile up faster than the body count.”
—The Los Angeles Times

2
Binti
by Nnedi Okorafor – 2015

Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself—but first she has to make it there, alive.

“Prepare to fall in love with Binti.”
—Neil Gaiman, co-author of Good Omens

1
Dawn
by Octavia Butler – 1987

Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war.

Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth.

Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before. The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.

One thought on “17 Best Afrofuturism Books

  1. Thanks for including anthologies. Wonderful way to sample new (or forgotten) writers.Proud to admit that I read Butler and Delaney when they were new. I’m anxious to re-discover them. And to find some new favorites.

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