20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

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N.K. Jemisin

Even if you’re not a tried-and-true fan of science fiction, chances are still pretty good that you’ve heard of N.K. Jemisin. She’s been making waves with the recent publication of her Broken Earth trilogy, published in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Those three books have received so much acclaim that they have each won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, one of the highest honors in the field. To date, Jemisin is the only author to win the award three years in a row. She was also the first African-American writer to win the award.

Jemisin has also been the focus of misogynist and racist backlash, due in part to her record-setting wins at the Hugo Awards. Some writers argued that the Hugos were unfairly focusing on women and writers of color in an attempt to appear more progressive. Jemisin told an audience that Theodore Beale, who led the charge, is “a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of [expletive]”. Beale was eventually dismissed from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America group as a result of his actions.

But, we’re not here to give voice to the entitled side of science fiction. Writers like Jemisin present a far better side of things, not least because she genuinely deserves the acclaim.

You can’t really go wrong by starting with her Broken Earth trilogy, beginning with 2015’s The Fifth Season. It takes place on a planet with a single, large continent, ominously called the “Stillness.” The planet’s society is strictly segregated by caste, race, and species. Every few eras, the people of the Stillness experience a catastrophic “Fifth Season,” full of natural disasters.

Some people, called “orogenes”, possess the ability to control the planet’s natural forces, sometimes with violent results. Orogenes are greatly feared, to the point where young orogenes are murdered by people in their community. If they manage to make it out alive, many orogenes are sent for training, where their powers are exploited. Can orogenes like Essun save her planet, or are they all doomed despite the abilities at their command?