7 Afrofuturist and Speculative Fiction Works to Read For Black History Month

Speculative fiction, an umbrella genre encompassing works with supernatural or futuristic elements, is all about exploration and experimentation. It allows writers—and readers—to imagine new worlds and explore concepts beyond the limitations of our current reality. Black authors, artists, and performers have historically used the genre to create unique, subversive explorations of how personal identity interacts with sociocultural standards and expectations.

The longstanding relationship between black creators and speculative fiction has also given rise to the artistic and cultural movement known as Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism aims to represent the histories and experiences of people from across the African diaspora in futuristic narratives. It exists as a means of both celebrating black identity and culture and of countering the predominantly white and Westernized future commonly portrayed in mainstream speculative-fiction narratives.

Let’s look at seven titles that are perfect reads for anyone looking for enthralling and thought-provoking stories about magic, technology, and the future through the eyes of black authors.

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1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s novella Binti is a short but enthralling tale about the titular Binti, a young Himba woman who leaves Earth in order to attend an intergalactic university. When aliens attack Binti’s ship, knowledge and technology from her Himba background ultimately save her life and thrust her into the role of intergalactic diplomat. Through Binti, Okorafor rejects a Westernized and homogenous vision of the future and instead imagines how cultural practices and traditions might adapt to an increasingly technological world.

Page count: 96
Genre: Science Fiction
Publish date: 2015

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2. The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

Page count: 400–500
Genre: Fantasy; Science Fiction
Publish date: 2015–2017

N. K. Jemisin’s novel The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first black author to win a Hugo in that category. She then won it again in 2017 and 2018 for the follow-up novels, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky. Set in a world divided by strict castes and wracked by frequent environmental disasters, Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy questions the mechanisms that perpetuate oppression and inequality. Through her masterfully written characters, Jemisin recognizes the mutability of identity and the ways in which our experiences shape and change us.

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3. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Page count: 250
Genre: Fantasy; Science Fiction
Publish date: 1998

Published in 1988, Brown Girl in the Ring was author Nalo Hopkinson’s debut novel. It follows the story of Ti-Jeanne, a single mother, as she navigates the rampant corruption and violence that has taken root in a dystopian version of Toronto, Canada. In order to save her city—and herself—Ti-Jeanne must learn to embrace her grandmother Gros-Jeanne’s Afro-Caribbean spiritualism and harness the magic that lives inside her. Through Ti-Jeanne’s story, Hopkinson explores the ways in which individuals can draw strength from their cultures and communities.

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4. Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree Thomas

Page count: 400
Genre: Fantasy; Science Fiction; Short Story Collection
Publish date: 2004

This first entry in the Dark Matter anthology series, edited by Sheree Thomas, is a celebration of the long and rich history of black speculative fiction. From a plantation story steeped in AfroCaribbean folklore (Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine) to a hilariously horrifying tale about sex toys come to life (Nalo Hopkinson’s “Ganger (Ball Lightning)”), Dark Matter is full of creativity and clever social criticism.

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5. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Page count: 836
Genre: Science Fiction
Publish date: 1975

Dhalgren is an experimental novel that infuses Delany’s experiences with dyslexia and dysmetria into the reading experience. Set in a dystopian world, the novel explores the city of Bellona through its protagonist, the Kid. Kid’s perception of reality is compromised by both a strange notebook he receives after entering Bellona and by his own fractured mental state. By employing multiple viewpoints, which often contradict each other, Delany rejects the idea of a definitive reality in favor of exploring the unique perceptions and experiences of each individual.

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6. Filter House by Nisi Shawl

Page count: 276
Genre: Science Fiction; Fantasy; Short Story Collection
Publish date: 2008

Nisi Shawl’s Filter House is a collection of short stories, each of which centers the experiences and perspectives of black girls and women. From an urban neighborhood confronting the effects of gentrification to a post-apocalyptic water museum, each of Shawl’s stories offers an immersive setting with a rich sense of culture and history. Through its unique cast of protagonists, Shawl’s collection examines the myriad relationships that women—especially black women—have with nature, history, society, and themselves.

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7. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Page count: 345
Genre: Science Fiction
Publish date: 1993

Octavia Butler is often considered the matriarch of black science fiction, and no sci-fi enthusiast’s shelf is complete without Parable of the Sower. It tells the story of Lauren Oya Olamina, a black, teenage empath, as she traverses a dystopian world and founds a new religion called “Earthseed.” Like many of Butler’s works, Parable of the Sower foregrounds the agency, adaptability, and ingenuity of black women in the face of adversity.