Skip To Content
BuzzFeed News Home Reporting To You

20 Books To Read If You Want To Get Into Black Sci-Fi And Fantasy

From Octavia Butler to Tochi Onyebuchi, these are the favorites among Goodreads users.

Posted on June 11, 2020, at 6:42 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed Books recently asked Goodreads about its most popular Black speculative fiction titles. Below are 20 books that get high ratings and ample attention from the site's many lovers of sci-fi and fantasy.

Orbit, http://Tor.com, Aspect, Grand Central Publishing, Akashic, Daw Books, Anchor Books

1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Essun comes home one day to find her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. She must journey through a broken and war-torn world to find and save her daughter, all during the collapse of the all-powerful empire that has ruled over the world for a thousand years.

5-star review: "This book is spectacular — smart, clever, well crafted, well timed, full of great characters and great scenes. I love fantasy but it lets me down a lot. Sometimes I feel it's the same plot rehashed, over and over. The Fifth Season is unlike anything else I have ever read." —Jamieson

2. Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Set in ’92 Los Angeles, Ella has what she calls a "Thing" — an ability to see things that haven't yet happened. Her older brother Kev wants to protect Ella from herself — but after he ends up incarcerated, she struggles with her ability to confront the past and the future, knowing that a revolution might be the only way toward progress.

5-star review: "Onyebuchi’s writing is stunning. His evocation of American history, in all its messiness and filth, will blow you away. I don’t know what else to say about this book except that it sets a new standard for the subgenre of urban fantasy." —Gin Jenna

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

This anthology gathers fiction and essays from classic writers of Black science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction like Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Walter Mosley, and more.

5-star review: "This book blew my mind. There are stories in it that I have never forgotten and still think about to this day, particularly Derrick Bell's 'The Space Traders.' Love it." —Alecia

4. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

The first novel in the Xenogenesis series, Dawn, introduces us to Lilith, a woman whose son and husband died in the fires that destroyed Earth. She is one of the few humans who were rescued at the last minute by the Oankali, an alien race that survives by genetically merging with other civilizations. They've kept the Earthlings alive, in a deep sleep, for centuries, but now they want Lilith to help bring their ship back to a now-inhabitable Earth so they can merge their two races. But some of the humans aren't happy about this deal, even if it means the destruction of their own race. Lilith will have to decide who to side with, especially when all of humanity is at stake.

5-star review: "Utterly fascinating, provocative, mournful, and compelling. Butler’s spare, unadorned, focused prose carries her mysterious, haunting tale forward with a bracing clarity. There was no one quite like her." —Anthony

5. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster was born into slavery, and she's trying to escape from the brutally segregated spaceship that for generations has been trying to escort the last humans from a dying planet to a Promised Land. When she discovers clues about the circumstances of her mother's death, she also comes closer to disturbing truths about the ship and its journey.

5-star review: "Incredible, relevant, harrowing, and fascinating, this is the story of a young woman in the low class of a brutally stratified generation ship. Aster's voice is so solid, her experiences read as tangible, every surface and texture feel real both physically and emotionally. Readers of dystopias that explore race, gender, disability, sexuality, and class will not want to miss this one. It will sit on my shelf by my Butler, Jemisin, Le Guin, Okorafor, Leckie. One of the most human explorations of the possibilities of our repressive future and the hope for hard-won rebellion I have ever read." —Gretchen

6. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

In postapocalyptic Africa, a woman gives birth to a baby after being raped by one of the generals who destroyed her village. She names the baby Onyesonwu — meaning "Who fears death?" — and both she and Onye realize very quickly she seems to have special abilities. When Onye discovers in a spiritual visit that someone powerful is trying to kill her, she makes it her goal to get to the would-be murderer first — and find out more about who exactly she is along the way.

5-star review: "The first thing that struck me about Who Fears Death is Nnedi's really sharp and subtle communication of her characters' emotions. She doesn't shy away from showing when and how they are hurting, and how their feelings express themselves in their bodies, whether it's through a clenched feeling in the chest or a burst of overt violence. It's important because her novel is dense with emotional violence — and without this human lens, without being made to feel what her characters feel, I think I'd have been numbed to it. Lots of terrible things happen in this story and it's a testament to Nnedi's mastery that she makes them all have an impact." —barbecube

7. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

The rich and privileged have abandoned an alternate Toronto, leaving the rest of the population behind barricades and unable to escape. There, the inner city returns to an older way of life — farming, bartering, herbal medicine, and mysticism — until the wealthy decide to prey on the impoverished communities for organ donation, and a young mother must turn to spiritualism and ritual to save her family.

5-star review: "Compelling from beginning to end, I see how Hopkinson places Caribbean culture within the realm of scifi/fantasy, looking at race and gender in ways that resonate with current realities for many POC. Her work deserves the same recognition and reverence as Octavia Butler. Hopkinson is a masterful storyteller and gives us characters we can relate to and will remember long after putting down the book. I only regret that I didn't read this one back in '98 when it was released." —Inda

8. The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

The Empiricists and the Intuitionists are at war within the Department of Elevator Inspectors in an unnamed bustling city. Lila Mae, an Intuitionist who is also the city's first Black woman inspector, is at the center of a scandal — an elevator in an important building has crashed on her watch, and as she tries to clear her name she uncovers a web of secrets.

5-star review: "I would give this six stars if I could. I am not easily impressed by a book, but this was magnificent. Unlike anything I've ever read, and a brilliant racial allegory. I feel a book hangover coming up." —Tineke Dijkstra

Blackstone Publishing, AK Press, Grand Central, Harper Voyager, Vintage, Orbit, Tor.com

9. The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

For five years, an alien race called the Ynaa has lived mostly peacefully among humans in the Virgin Islands, working on a secret research mission. But the relationship between the Ynaa and the locals is slowly straining, and when a young human boy dies at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of a devastating fight.

5-star review: "A beautifully crafted and surprisingly tender exploration of the consequences of an alien invasion on everyday human relationships. Turnbull's debut is deft and thoughtful without sacrificing the thrill and excitement of its otherworldly premise. Having set the novel in his native St. Thomas, Turnbull makes you feel like a local, not a tourist. Here are the lingering scars of a long colonial history — an important perspective from a corner of the world we rarely think of when it comes to the big news of the day." —Travis Price

10. Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements, edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha

Octavia's Brood brings together radical essays and speculative fiction that reflects ongoing social justice activism and resistance, imagining a better future and world.

5-star review: "This book calls upon the knowledge, creativity, and experiences of folks fighting for social justice. The stories in here use many themes Octavia Butler focused on: community, interdependence, shaping the future, dreaming of the stars and surviving as a human race worth saving. There are stories of resistance and resilience, characters who choose to fight for humanity despite great personal cost, and a warning about allowing history to be forgotten or hidden away by the few. Don't miss out on this book. Guaranteed it will spark a lot of hearts and them towards justice." —Sunny

11. The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

In 2064 South Africa, personal robots, renewable energy, and genetic engineering have improved quality of life, especially for the working class. But this prosperous future is threatened by a new hallucinogenic drug, an AI uprising, and a vengeful ancient demigoddess. It's up to a ragtag team of unlikely heroes — a young Zulu girl with superhuman strength, a queer teen who can control minds, a pop diva, and a politician — to save the world.

5-star review: "The Prey of Gods exceeded every expectation that I had going in. Drayden managed to take a well used plot and create a story that is so different and impressive that I am still thinking about these characters days after having finished the book. I went in thinking that I would get an interesting fantasy romp featuring a little girl in South Africa with the potential for some cool powers, and maybe a little AI or other advanced technology thrown in for added entertainment. What Drayden delivers is a story that is nuanced and has so much depth that I was left amazed at what she was able to do in such a short and tightly woven story." —Monica

12. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

In the middle of the US, the city of Bellona has been turned to ruin by a mysterious catastrophe — abandoned by its citizens and left vulnerable to criminals and gangs. A young poet with partial amnesia — he doesn't remember his name, so he's known as the Kid — arrives and travels through the city by foot, trying to make sense of his past and present, tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality along the way.

5-star review: "Not a conventional storyline so much as a series of images and events swirling up from the author's inner vision, Dhalgren is a novel spun from the fantasies and daydreams of youth as if expressing the repressed desires of legions of stoned college sophomores combined with the steamrolling fury of angry 1960s counterculture, all heaped up into a colossal explosion scorching prim, prissy middle class, consumerist America into oblivion. No wonder Delany's radical, eccentric novel amassed a cult following both then and now." —Glenn Russell

13. How Long 'til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

In this collection of short stories, Jemisin weaves magic into modern society. In one story, "spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." In another, "a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes." In nearly two dozen tales, she shares political commentary in a captivating and creative way.

5-star review: "Every reader of speculative fiction (or sci fi, if you're old skool) needs this on their bookshelf so that they can read it at leisure, digest, think, and read again. The stories are astounding in their range of voice, setting, theme, plot, character — every one of them surprised me in some way. The themes are universal, but they are embodied in ways that clearly reflect issues, struggles, conflicts in today's world. And that's what the best of fiction does: It holds up a mirror to our own time and says, 'Here. Look. Think. Change.' I cannot praise this book highly enough." —Michele

14. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

In the year 2025 on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Lauren Olamina is left to fend for herself when a fire destroys her family's compound. While making her way north to safety, along with a handful of other refugees, Lauren comes up with a revolutionary idea that may save all of mankind.

5-star review: "This book was written in the '90s. The scary thing is — the future Butler imagined 20 years ago could easily happen within ten years. Reading this book, I felt a growing sense of claustrophobia, as if I were already trapped in Butler’s disintegrating vision of America. It is a haunting, powerful read, but not for the faint of heart." —Rick Riordan

15. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti has just been invited to study at Oomza University, the best school in the galaxy. However, accepting will mean not only leaving behind her family and the Himba people but also putting herself in the middle of a war with the Meduse, a terrifying alien race not to be reckoned with.

5-star review: "OUT OF THIS WORLD. Imaginative, action-packed, thoughtful, vivid, and an incredible start to what I know is going to be a new favorite series!" —Rachael Marie

16. Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater is a fringe community on the outskirts of a mysterious alien biodome, full of people desperate to be close to its rumored healing powers. Kaaro, a government agent with supernatural powers, has been inside and hopes to never return. But when he notices a spate of killings targeting people like him, he sets off on a dangerous journey for answers.

5-star review: "Rosewater by Tade Thompson is an amazing blend of cyperpunk, biopunk, and spiritualism set in midst of a future Lagos. The main character, Kaaro, is an everyday man ‘infected’ with extraordinary abilities which eventually lands him a position with a government agency. The story that follows is one of the most original science fiction stories I’ve read in quite some time. Tade tells this tale in a way that keeps you guessing right up to the end, taking you on a journey that is well worth the time. Rosewater is a book that belongs in any true science fiction reader’s collection; Tade Thompson is at the forefront of African science fiction and a writer you need to keep your eye on." —Milton

Solaris, Tachyon, Marvel, Rosarium

17. New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl

New Suns comprises science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories from both emerging and prolific nonwhite writers like Kathleen Alcalá, Minsoo Kang, Anil Menon, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Alex Jennings, and more.

5-star review: "The stories feel completely original, creating unexpected twists on old tales and weaving new stories that range from hilarious to thought-provoking. You’ll find a future Earth turned massive tourist attraction for thrill-seeking aliens. You’ll find a jinn turned businessman through the modernization of wish granting. You’ll find a brilliant retelling of an old fable, complete with witty dialog from the author on the state of such a tale. It’s a wonderful collection, organized in a way that continuously surprised me." —Realms & Robots

18. Falling in Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love With Hominids comprises over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, which draws from Afro Caribbean folklore.

5-star review: "From macabre to magical, Nalo Hopkinson transports us worlds just half a step away. Horrific and beautiful characters and events weave a tapestry of stories that are engrossing and unlike anything you've read before. I savored every delectable story. You have to read this!" —Natalie Hébert

19. Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay

Ayo and Aneka, aka the Midnight Angels, are two young women recruited to be part of an elite task force trained to protect the crown. How can they dedicate themselves to their country, when they've already given their hearts to each other?

5-star review: "An amazing Afro-centric, queer, action-packed graphic novel that touched on very deep social ills including violence against women and the role of the State." —Jherane Patmore

20. Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond, edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall

Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond is an anthology gathering the writings of some of the most talented and groundbreaking authors of Afrofuturism and beyond, including N.K. Jemisin, Linda D. Addison, Rabih Alameddine, and more.

5-star review: "The best thing about this anthology is that it is filled with a variety of fiction across speculative genres from authors with both complementary and completely different styles. Mothership is a go-to if you want to bathe in Black speculative excellence, but it is also simply about the human experience across ethnicities, times, and places. It features works from and about other peoples of color, multi-racial individuals, and seats them all in different contexts." —Dara Crawley

Shop this list on Bookshop, and browse other BuzzFeed favorites on our Bookshop page.

ADVERTISEMENT