20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

21 of 21

Octavia E. Butler

It’s not fair to put the weight of an entire genre or a certain kind of representation on a person. And that’s not really the sort of thing that Octavia E. Butler herself would probably have wanted. She definitely wanted to be successful and even wrote notes to herself envisioning a profitable and wide-reaching career. If nothing else, the volume and quality of her work speak to that. But, to stand as the “best” representative of what is a field of diverse and highly individualistic writers? Who would want that, anyway?

Despite all of that, Butler undoubtedly remains as one of the most towering science fiction authors of any era or community. Like many of the fellow authors included here, she had strong beliefs about modern society and the tendency of humans to be spiritually both ugly and beautiful at the same time.

Where to start with her work? You could begin with Kindred, a time travel story that takes an uncompromising look at the legacy of slavery. The protagonist, a modern woman named Dana, finds herself inexplicably and suddenly pulled back into the antebellum South against her will. She meets some of her enslaved ancestors and learns shocking truths about her own family that resonate across the centuries.

Butler very often made her main characters women of color, still something of a rarity now and definitely more so when she began publishing in the late 1970s. Another, Lilith Iyapo, takes center stage in Dawn, the first installment of the Xenogenesis trilogy. Lilith, along with a small group of other humans, has survived an apocalypse that has nearly ended their species. The alien Oankali offer to help, but are they asking too high a price to ensure the future of humanity?

Related Story. 19 books we can't wait to get our hands on in 2019. light

We hope these authors and their work will inspire you to explore the vast array of sci-fi work from Black authors across all decades. You’ll want to start reading now, because there’s a lot to catch up on.