African American Authors

In an essay published in 2000, African American writer Walter Mosley asks why Black readers are attracted to science fiction even though very few writers of color have written for the genre. He believes that, "The genre speaks most clearly to those who are dissatisfied with the way things are: adolescents, post-adolescents, escapists, dreamers, and those who have been made powerless. And this may explain the appeal that science fiction holds for a great many African Americans. Black people have been cut off from their African ancestry by the scythe of slavery and from an American heritage by being excluded from history. For us, science fiction offers an alternative where that which deviates from the norm is the norm."

It is not possible to know the ethnicity or gender of hundreds of the early pulp writers, who conducted their careers entirely by mail in a field and during an era when pen names were frequently used. Until the 1970s, there was only one well-known African American science fiction writer, Samuel R. Delany. He wasn't the first Black to write in the genre, but he was the first to be considered a major writer. Since that time others have become well know, bringing difference perspectives to several branches of the field.

An image ofJewels of Aptar.

Samuel Delany.

Jewels of Aptor. NY: Ace, 1962.

In a prototypical post-nuclear adventure fiction, three adventure heroes travel across a decayed and ravaged North America on a quest to reclaim religious artifacts of great power.

Octavia E. Butler.

Wild Seed. New York: Pocket Books, 1981.

An epic that chronicles the intergenerational abuse of psychic powers.

An image of Imaro.

Charles R. Saunders.

Imaro. NY: Daw Books, Inc., 1981.

Set in a fantasy version of Africa called Nyumbani, the hero the warrior Imaro struggles to come of age despite the all-seeing dark powers arrayed against him.

Steven Barnes.

Streetlethal. NY: Ace, 1983.

A martial artist of the near future seeks first survival and then revenge when he tells his bosses he will no longer be their enforcer.

Steven Barnes.

Blood Brothers. NY: Tor - Tom Doherty Associates, 1996.

A white man from the suburbs and a black street hustler must work together to defeat an evil that began before the Civil War.

Octavia E. Butler.

Fledgling: A Novel. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2005.

Fledgling tells the story of a 53-year-old vampire who looks like a 10-year-old black girl. Suffering from amnesia, she is forced to make a dangerous journey of self-discovery and survival.

Women Authors

Early science fiction was considered a masculine genre; written by men, read by boys. The emphasis on adventure and science was seen as of little interest to women. There were women writers during this period but they often wrote under male pseudonyms such as James Tiptree, Jr., C. J. Cherryh and Andre Norton. They brought fresh perspectives to their work, showing much more interest in character development and the subtleties of personal interactions even within the adventure story framework.

During the 70s the questions raised by the women's movement offered new opportunities to imagine worlds that did not take our world's deply rooted assumptions about the sexes for granted. Some female writers used the genre as a framework expressing their anger at the society they lived in. Others developed future words that were more open and accepting for both men and women. More recent authors have felt freer to pursue gender issues in a more subtle way, interweaving it naturally into their future visions.

James Tiptree Jr.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In. New York City: Tor - Tom Doherty Associates, 1973.

James Tipree was the pseudonym of Alice Bradley Sheldon. It was not widely-known that she was a woman until she won a Nebula Award when she was in her seventies. She was praised in an introduction to one of her later books for being a very perceptive, but distinctly "male" author.

An image of Memoirs of a Spacewoman.

Naomi Mitchison.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman. New York: Berkley Books, 1973

The title character is a communications specialist, responsible for establishing and sustaining dialogue with a diverse array of non-humans which range from leech-like symbiotic "grafts" to repellently compassionless but friendly and highly intelligent centipedes. The exploration of interspecies sex and parenting was unusual for the genre in the 1960s.

An image of Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang.

Kate Wilhelm.

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang. New York: Pocket Books, 1977.

After an ecocatastrophe destroys society, a group of clones become the dominant species setting up a conflict between the community oriented clones and the remaining individual humans.

Doris May Lessing.

Shikasta: re, colonised planet 5 New York: Knopf: distributed by Random House, 1979.

This is the first of the Canopus in Argos series which deals with the relationships between a number of galactic civilizations centering on their roles in influencing the history and development of Earth in the past and in the near future. Many of Lessing's earlier works had a strongly feminist outlook, but in this series she takes a more impersonal approach to all of humanity's problems.

An image of Herland.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1860-1935.

Herland. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

On the eve of World War I three male explorers stumble upon an all-female society. Written in 1915 and serialized in Gilman's feminist magazine The Forerunner, Herland was not published in book form until 1979.

An image of Handmaid's Tale.

Margaret Atwood.

Handmaid's Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

A society with declining fertility establishes an authoritarian system in which woman have no rights and no purpose other than childbearing. Atwood's elegant use of language fully developed characters, have made this work widely popular outside the science fiction genre.

Joanna Russ.

The Female Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

A modern woman encounters three "alternate selves" who live in a feminist utopia, a brutal patriarchy, and a world where the battle of the sexes has become an armed conflict.

Sherri S. Tepper.

The Gate to Women's Country. New York: Bantam, 1989.

In a post-nuclear apocalypse world men and women live separately; both in rigidly structured societies. Openly hostile to the other, the sexes come together only when necessary for reproduction.

Octavia Butler.

Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books, 1993

In this beautifully written novel, a young African-American woman leaves a Los Angeles ravaged by violence and pollution, to find a better life. Along the way, she recruits fellow refugees to her embryonic faith, Earthseed, the prime tenet of which is that "God is change."

Marge Piercy.

Woman on the Edge of Time. New York: Fawcett Books, 1997

A Hispanic women incarcerated in a mental hospital, time travels to a utopian community of the future. The author's anger at the treatment of poor women in the mental health system is evident and still relevant thirty years after it was written.

Gender Issues

Science fiction has presented authors with an opportunity for discussion of sexuality and gender, made acceptable by the "unreality" of these situations. During the 1930s and 1940s "golden age" of science fiction, sex was rarely if ever even mentioned although there was certainly no lack of innuendo and suggestion. By mid-century, the sexuality in the writings was becoming more overt but the gender roles continued to be traditional. It was the cultural revolution of the 1960s that opened science fiction to a larger discussion of sex and gender. Subgenre of gay and lesbian fiction emerged as did a larger openness to discussing gender in mainstream science fiction.

An image of The Disappearance.

Philip Wylie.

The Disappearance. New York: Pocket Books, 1950.

Suddenly, the world is split into two worlds, identical to the one that existed a second before, but one contains only men, the other only women. The ways in which the populations cope is a reflection of the gender stereotypes of the1950s.

An image of Venus Plus X.

Theodore Sturgeon.

Venus Plus X. New York: Pyramid Books, 1960.

A 20th-century man, awakes in a future in which hunger, overpopulation, bigotry, and war have been eliminated and gender has vanished. Sturgeon was among the earliest SF authors to explore and challenge gender-role stereotypes, and the first to do so with a vision of a single-sex, androgynous human race.

Joe Haldeman.

The Forever War. New York: Ballantine Books, 1974.

An exploration of the nature and consequences of war as told through the eyes of a soldier living through a thousand years interstellar conflict. He must deal with the fact that homosexuality has become the norm and that his heterosexuality makes him a social oddity.

Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The Heritage of Hastur. New York: DAW Books, 1975.

A young man, heir to the ruling family of the planet Darkover, comes to accept his homosexuality in the midst of political intrigue and changing relationships with visitors from other planets.

An image of Stars in my Pocket.

Samuel R. Delany.

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. New York: Bantam, 1985.

The novel takes place in a far future in which human societies have developed divergently on many planets. On the Sygn world sexual relationships take many forms:monogamous, promiscuous, anonymous, and interspecies. The hero's romantic affair with a freed male slave from a destroyed world deals with issues of class as well as gender.

Steve Perry.

Matadora. New York: Ace, 1986.

Matadora tells the story of a lesbian fighter being drawn into a group opposed to the increasingly tyrannical and corrupt government.

Katherine V. Forrest.

Daughters of a Coral Dawn. Tallahassee, FL: NAIAD, 1989.

A blend of science fiction and lesbian romance novel, this tells of a collective of women who leave Earth to start an all-female society on the distant planet which they name Maternas.

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