20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

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Ishmael Reed

When it comes to science fiction, there are two broad paths to take. Though, naturally, there’s plenty of ways to complicate things, sci-fi being what it is.) Ultimately, you can either go positive or negative. There are utopias and dystopias, and rare is the author who can manage to write something compelling that sits somewhere in between.

Anyway, so far we’ve mostly dealt with utopias, or at least worlds that tend towards the positive or, if nothing else, the interesting. But, there is a distinct dystopian thread in science fiction, sometimes with hopeful endings, sometimes not. If you’re feeling like you’re in the mood for something more along the lines of a satirical dystopia, then Ishmael Reed is the author for you.

Reed, now considered to be a central figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, published his first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, in 1967. His earlier works have plenty of magic realism and surrealist elements, though they may not necessarily be “science fiction.”

While we’re not in the business of getting into arguments about pop culture Comic Book Guy-style, you may be in safer sci-fi territory with some of Reed’s later novels. Starting with The Terrible Twos, published in 1982, he started engaging with more science fiction-style elements.

The Terrible Twos is packed with all manners of wild things, but a few elements stand out. There’s Dean Clift, a male model with subpar intelligence who also happens to be the President of the United States. At some point, he meets up with St. Nicholas, who may or may not be the actual Santa Claus. They travel to hell in an elevator, meeting former U.S. presidents who are haunted by their own pasts.

In the sequel, naturally named The Terrible Threes, Clift has been replaced as President by Jesse Hatch, who is himself controlled by a flashy televangelist named Reverend Clement Jones. It’s a very, very dark take on the Reagan era, where trickle-down economics was supposed to help everyone, but really only made the very rich that much richer.