“Speculative Fiction” is a broad term meant to denote a specific type of literary work, one that broadly overlaps with many other disciplines, primarily science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy or any genre fiction that may include fantastic elements. Initially coined by Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers) as a means to separate his science fiction from the “less serious” science fiction and fantasy of his time, it has become a category in its own right. Like with most genre definitions, it can be incredibly difficult to set clear boundaries between subtypes, which only means there will occasionally be a lack of consensus as to where a particular book or author fits within a literary category.

What marks a book as speculative, however, often stems from the plot’s emphasis on humanity or the human experience against the backdrop of advanced technology, space travel or a fantastic realm. Beyond the broad sense of the genre, there also exists an important subset of “Black Speculative Fiction” wherein characters and plots focus on the unique experiences of the people and cultures of the African Diaspora. Author and activist M. Haynes has created the helpful graphic below to illustrate some of the ways these genres overlap:

Speculative Fiction and Black Authors

Haynes, Marcus. “Black Speculative Fiction Genre Chart.” Mhaynes.org, Tremarc Collective, LLC, 2020, https://www.mhaynes.org/black-speculative-fiction-definitions.

Fantasy and Science Fiction have long been associated with an inaccessibility for minority groups, especially Black readers and writers, queer people and women. Octavia Butler (b. 1947- d. 2006) is often credited as the first, or at least first popularized, Black woman to write speculative fiction. Contrary to the typical mode of fantasy which serves as an escape from reality, Butler’s work confronted the struggles of women, Black people and political issues such as global warming. Her rise in popularity would only come near the time of her death in 2006 and has only continued to increase as the next generation of Black authors produce their own works, heavily inspired by Butler’s approach to storytelling. There are countless articles, books and websites where authors and literary critics confront inclusivity, or the lack thereof, in literary fields, and I’d be happy to point anyone in that direction should they be interested.

At Fountaindale we carry many Speculative Fiction books, even if the genre does not have its own section on the shelves upstairs. Currently in front of the 3rd Floor Service Desk, there is a pop-up table with some of my favorite authors and novels, and I have listed a mix of can’t-miss authors and books below.

Octavia Butler

Credited as one of, if not the first, Black Women to write in the category known as speculative fiction, we carry many of her works from a collection of her short stories to graphic novel adaptations.

Nnedi Okorafor

There is no wrong way to begin reading Okorafor. She writes graphic novels for all ages and YA Fantasty.

More of My Favorites

Speculative Fiction and Black Authors

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: ‘He has a nose,’ people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker follows the boy’s scent—from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers—he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

Find It Now

Speculative Fiction and Black Authors

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Her sights are set on securing passage aboard Captain Ann-Marie’s smuggler airship Midnight Robber, earning the captain’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls the Black God’s Drums. But Creeper keeps another secret close to her heart—Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities…

Find It Now

Speculative Fiction and Black Authors

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever. Now laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. But it’s not a life Jane wants. When families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy… and the restless dead are the least of her problems.

Find It Now

I could go on forever and would be thrilled to do so. Remember, for personalized recommendations, you can always fill out our request form, or contact the 3rd Floor Service Desk.