9 People of Colour Scifi and Fantasy Books I Enjoyed in 2015

2015 was such a busy year for me. I started it with producing a TV series, which got me deep in debts, but which finally paid off :-)), and I ended it by producing a feature film, a scifi that I wrote and started making on a whim. Maybe this year you’ll get to see it. In between those two projects, I worked on the Disney film, Queen of Katwe, directing ‘the making of’ documentary, I traveled twice to South Africa, twice to France, twice to Kenya, and once to Nigeria, attending five festivals (thanks to the success of my book, A Killing in the Sun). I wrote several short stories and a novella, some of which appeared in The Apex Book of World SF 4, African Monsters, Imagine Africa 500 (coming this year), and AfroSF v2. I completed a radio script, and nearly finished my novel. Yet, I found time to date a few girls, though non got stuck on me, thankfully, and above that, I managed to read, maybe fifteen books, and a countless number of short stories. I set out to read diverse books, but really I read anything that I came upon. Still, of those I read, here are books by, or featuring, people of color that I enjoyed the most.

Taty Went West, Nikhil Singh
Nikhil has a vivid and very entertaining imagination. The first thing that struck me when I opened his book was the illustrations – I had never read an adult novel with pictures, not one that I remember anyway. This book has lots of them. They do help advance plot and define characters. The author is multi-talented, a writer, an artist, a musician (witchboy), and a filmmaker, so it makes sense that the book has lots of drawings by him, and it has music which is an essential to the plot. It’s the story of a teenage girl who escapes from home, and runs west into a place called the Outzone, spurred on by a song, In with the outzone (Listen to it here: auralsects.bandcamp.com/album/in-with-the-outzone), but the Outzone is not a place for any teenager. It is lawless, under the rule of criminal gangs and infested with a plague from another dimension. There, Taty, a scrawny girl, comes of age and learns to appreciate her talents, to accept who she truly is. The book is full of memorable characters, like Number Nun, a missionary robot reprogrammed to serve an underworld crime boss as a bodyguard of sorts and as a sex slave.

An illustration from Taty Went West
borrowed from http://thelake.co/?p=954

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Amos Tutuola.
While not as exciting as The Palmwine Drinkard, this is a beautiful tale. Sometimes the plot stagnates, for the protagonist is stuck in a spirit world, encountering all kinds of creatures, making it more of a collection of short stories, but it still was a very good read. In each chapter, you meet a new type of ghost, some are benevolent, others are deadly. The one that stuck, and that haunted my dreams for many nights, is the Flash-Eyed Mother. Her mountain of a body is made up of living human heads, each with eyes that see and mouths that talk independent of each other. There is a bit of humor, especially when the heads start arguing with each other, or when they start whispering dissent against the mother. Her eyes, which give her her name, are a deadly weapon, for they can flash out heatrays. When she led her town into battle, with her eyes blasting heatrays at the enemy, it made me want to make an epic horror-fantasy film. She would make one badass villain. Tutuola’s works are a constant reminder that science fiction and fantasy are not alien to Africa, that the first African novels ever published were in the SFF genre, but after independence quasi intellectuals and quasi elites sprung up, and they were determined to show the world that they were modern and did not believe in superstition like their ‘backward’ forefathers, and so they killed the genre, and helped relegate it to children’s stories. I think Achebe was one of them.

Fledgling, Octavia Butler

While Amos Tutuola introduced me to African SFF, Octavia introduced me to people of colour SFF. I remember reading Wild Seed in the early 2000s, and knowing it was an American book, I was puzzled to see a non-white protagonist. In Fledgling, Octavia made me rediscover my love for vampires. I do not remember the last vampire book I enjoyed, but it was long ago when I was still a teenager. Holywood somehow contributed to the death of vampires, but here they resurrect to great effect. They are the vampires I love, very close to how Bram Stoker imagined them, with a scientific twist. I won’t spoil the story for you. It was a joy read, sexy, very entertaining.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin

I started reading this book without expecting the protagonist to be a person of color. Rather, I was more interested in the gender-less world Ursula had created, and was surprised when she mentioned the protagonist is black. He is an envoy on a mission to a new world, whose people he is supposed to help join a galactic conglomeration of human civilizations, but the people of Winter (as humans call that world) think creatures who have only one gender are sub-human. In Winter, people change their gender, they can be male or female. As I read the book I begun to see how much Ursula influenced SFF, gifting us things like the ansible and creatures like the snat. I first came across a snat in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and I thought it was a pretty cool monster (a splice of snake and rat), then I read Left Hand of Darkness and I thought it might have influenced Atwood. What makes me wonder is why Ursula’s influence did not extend to characters, for “The majority of her main characters are people of color, a choice made to reflect the non-white majority of humans, and one to which she attributes the frequent lack of character illustrations on her book covers” (from Wiki) Why then didn’t other authors pick up on this the way they picked up the ansible and the snat?

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes

The moment I started reading this book I thought of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, for she borrowed the idea of animals being attached to humans as a sign of sin. After a few pages I was drawn into an alternate Jo’burg bristling with gangs and spiced with a memorable heroine. While Pullman centers heavily on original sin (the Christian version) and by the third book you get a feeling he was trying to challenge Christian dogma and the Christian idea of God, Jesus, and angels, Lauren focuses on sins we commit in our lifetimes, which makes her allegory much more powerful, and I would say much more relevant to today’s world. It’s rather out dated to say we are paying for sins committed at the beginning of time. That was an excuse some evil people came up with to wash their hands of crimes they had committed by saying, ‘Look, I’m not responsible! Blame the first man!’

Moxyland, Lauren Beukes
I did enjoy this book, though after Zoo City I felt it was a little bit of a disappointment. I found the multi-character point-of-view a little too distracting, and a little of a drag, but I enjoyed reading about this futuristic South Africa riddled with corporate apperthied and I enjoyed the rebels fighting against the system.

Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord

This book started out great, with a lot of humor, and it had me laughing out loud. Karen certainly has the comic muse. The plot sort of reminded me of Hitchcock’s Psycho, where you follow a character for a long time thinking he is the protagonist, only for him to be nothing more than an introduction. It is essentially a story about a woman who is gifted an instrument of supernatural power, making her a superheroine if she can learn how to use it, and she then goes on a journey with a djombie who is trying to steal this power. It would have been a good book, but it has so many point of views that I kept losing track of the characters. Sometimes, the pov would change within a chapter, which is a bit jarring. But this style works nicely for comedy, and I must say that Karen has written a horror story the way I remember how it was told in my childhood: With humor. 

Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell

Being a fan of short stories, it is always satisfying to come across a collection as diverse (stories are from every continent), as colorful, and as entertaining as this. I particularly loved these stories; Capitalism in the 22nd Century by Geoff Ryman, Nilda by Junot Diaz, Song for the Asking by Carmelo Rafala, For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Ababua need not apply) by Chesya Burke, The Last Dying Man by Geetanjali Dighe, and Be Three by Jewelle Gomez. The book does not disappoint in being a tribute to Samuel R Delany. If he were to read them, he would have enjoyed every story in it, just as I did, and just as you will, if you love scifi.

Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany

I came across Delany’s book in a list (can’t remember which one) about the greatest people of color who wrote science fiction and fantasy. I was surprised that I knew nothing about Delany, especially given the awards he won, and the time he wrote in, and when I read Dhalgren, I was drawn in right from the first page, and taken for a thrill ride into a burning city by a man who cannot remember his own name. I’m sure glad I discovered Delany. I will be reading more of his books next year!

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