POC Authors & Protagonists in Science Fiction & Fantasy

This is a topic I’ve been thinking on for the past couple of years, but I didn’t actually act on until this spring, when I started writing a short story whose main character is not white. Thinking about my character got me thinking about what I’ve read, and I realized that, at least in the science fiction and fantasy reading I’ve read over the years, I could only think of one author who I remembered writing non-white protagonists – Ursula LeGuin, and I was thinking specifically of her Earthsea books.

I knew, knew there had to be more protagonists of color in these genres, and started wracking my brain…and could come up with nothing outside of LeGuin’s work. I decided this meant I was woefully under read in my favorite genres, and so I turned to the trusty Internet for guidance. I was gratified to find that there are, indeed, protagonists and authors of color in sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and people more awesome than I have put together lists and encouraged discussions on this very topic.

Have I ever mentioned here how very much I adore the Internet?

When I was a pre-teen and teen, devouring all the high fantasy and classic sci-fi I could get my grubby hands on, I read Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Ursula LeGuin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Douglas Adams, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Asprin, and I’m sure many others whose names escape me at the moment. But let’s go through this list, shall we? How many non-white authors are there? None, that I know of. How many female? Two. This has been my frame of reference for the two genres ever since.

I clearly remember thinking that girls just don’t write the stories I wanted to read – that Weis and LeGuin were weird. Cool–awesome, even–but oddities. In retrospect, I’m disturbed that I managed to internalize that idea. Grown-up me knows better, and can rattle off more female authors than before, but the male:female ratio is still unbalanced.

So it is my self-appointed project to familiarize myself with sci-fi and fantasy authors who aren’t white men. This isn’t to say that I’m boycotting authors who happen to be both male and of European descent (there’s no skipping Brandon Sanderson’s upcoming Way of Kings, for example), but I am going to make sure I read authors who have a different perspective than what I’ve grown accustomed to reading.

Lists! I like lists. Specifically, I like informed lists written by other people. Here are some resources, if you, too, are interested:

Science Fiction works by People of Color

Mindblowing SF by Women and People of Color

Non-white, non-Western Authors and Characters

Diversity Roll Call: POC in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Multicultural Fantasies: that is to say, fantasy novels/series that aren’t Euro-centric, as so many are.

Anyone have recommendations for me?

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About Jessica

Dork extraordinaire, that's me! An unhealthy knowledge of Star Trek, a love of books, a fondness for purring cats.
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15 Responses to POC Authors & Protagonists in Science Fiction & Fantasy

  1. Loni says:

    Have you read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Oryx and Crake? They’re distopian fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favourite books. Elaine Cunningham and Lisa Smedman writes fantasy, on their own and as part of Forgotten Realms.

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Loni!

      I’m not familiar with Elaine Cunningham or Lisa Smedman, but I’ll be looking them up now. I know I’ve seen Cunningham’s name on the Forgotten Realms books, but I don’t think I’ve read them–I usually stuck with Drizzt’s books in that world, and didn’t venture much into the other stories in that setting.

      I’ve read both of the Atwood novels you mention. Well, almost – i started Oryx and Crake last year, but never finished. I’d like to give it a try again.

      I read The Handmaid’s Tale my senior year of high school, finishing a month or so before graduation. Now, my high school’s colors are red, white, and blue, so during graduation, the girls wore red robes and the boys wore blue. It freaked me out SO MUCH to have all those red-robed girls surrounding me, after reading that novel.

      • Loni says:

        I actually found Oryx and Crake hard to get into, but by the second half, it was much better.

        There’s also Kindred by Octavia Butler. I thought of it after I had already commented. I also loved Haroun and The Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.

        I’ve heard of Nalo Hopkinson, but haven’t gotten around to reading Brown Girl In The Ring, which is also a song that my parents used to listen to all the time.

  2. Shannon says:

    As great as those books by Atwood are, they’re by a white author about white characters.

    I have one I haven’t read yet, called Brown Girl in the Ring which is by a black Canadian author, post-apocalyptic fantasy I think it is.

    I recently read Who Fears Death, also post-apocalyptic Fantasy, by a black author featuring all non-white characters in Africa. It was really good.

    I’ve read some Fantasy by white authors that feature non-white characters or races, like Threshold by Sara Douglass. I’m sure I could think of more…

  3. Jon says:

    If you think it’s tough now to read POC and female authored novels, just imagine what it was like when I started reading SF in the early 70s. The only women who wrote back then were Andre Norton (writing as Andrew North), and eventually, Anne McCaffrey. LeGuin and L’Engle were up and coming then. There may have been female authors, but they had to write under their initials or a pseudonym to get published. I used to read Russian SF to get a different slant on things.

    • Shannon says:

      Andre Norton is a woman?! I can’t believe I didn’t know that!

      • Jessica says:

        You beat me to it. I didn’t know, either.

        I feel like I’m horribly under informed about sci-fi and fantasy. They’re my go-to genres, the stuff I grew up reading, and now as a grown up I find that I know so little!

    • Jessica says:

      Even though I started reading SFF in the late 80s, I was reading what my parents had on hand, or what the recommended, so in many ways, I was just as limited. For many years, I didn’t go much beyond their favorite authors or series – I didn’t need to, really, for reading material, given how my folks are all packrats and have large personal libraries.

      I’m glad I have (and know about!) broader options now.

  4. Jon says:

    The really funny thing that I’m noticing now, as I participate in the blog hop, is that the vast majority of book bloggers are women. I guess reading just isn’t “manly” any more. Gotta blog about four-wheelers and gun shows, I guess.

  5. Pearl says:

    The main character in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series –from the second book on–(Nicole des Jardins) is a woman of color. If you haven’t read those, you should check them out. She’s in Rama II, Garden of Rama, Rama Revealed)

    And, Jon? Not true. My hubby reads way more than I do, he just doesn’t blog. ;)

  6. Pingback: 2011 Challenges | On a Pale Star

  7. Pingback: On Eurocentricity in Fantasy Fiction | Diversity in YA

  8. Pingback: Amy Boggs on diversity in books and why she wants to see more | words away

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