20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

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Samuel R. Delany

More and more, modern literary criticism is acknowledging that genre works, from sci-fi to horror to fantasy, can be just as good as the “classics.” And, even if an author wants to write about a starship full of aliens, they can do so very well indeed.

Take Samuel R. Delany. He’s made a name for himself by writing some truly challenging works, as well as a few more accessible pieces. At this point, it’s almost impossible to do him justice in just a paragraph or two, but this may at least be a good starting point to explore his work.

Delany’s 1966 novel, Babel-17, deals with an interstellar war and a deadly linguistic weapon, called “Babel-17.” Captain Rydra Wong is sent to decipher what is initially thought to be little more than an enemy code. As time goes on, she learns that it is actually a language that can alter thought and even turn people into traitors.

Nova (1968) is a space opera that is one of the preludes to the cyberpunk subgenre of sci-fi. It deals both in cyborg technology and mythological themes like the Grail Quest. Through the Valley of the Spiders, Delany’s most recent novel, is only tangentially related to science fiction. However, its vision of a utopian community for gay Black men surely holds meaning for Delany, who himself is an out gay man.

Then, there’s Dhalgren. This massive fever dream of a novel concerns people who live in the semi-abandoned city of Bellona, cut off from the rest of the world by an unspecified disaster. With most editions coming in at well over 800 pages, this is a real investment, but one that many fans deem necessary. Time itself seems to be fluid in this decaying settlement. Signs in the city appear and disappear, gangs use holographic projections to hide themselves, and the novel itself may be a grand, circular narrative.