The best mind-bending science fiction books by Black authors

Who am I?

As a child of many cultures and journeys, mind-bending themes like time travel, environmentalism, and social justice have always been at the forefront of my creative development. Raised at the junction of the South American, African, Caribbean, and European cultures, disrupting established tropes, timelines, and unilateral perspectives are my areas of expertise as an author. An advocate for writers of diverse backgrounds, my top 5 picks are a reflection of that will; that landscape of a thousand colors and textures. Embark on this literary journey with me. Let’s survey a world of words together.

I wrote...

Alidala: A Vice Versa Series

By Andre Soares,

Book cover of Alidala: A Vice Versa Series

What is my book about?

Alidala, the epic conclusion to Andre Soares’ Vice Versa series, is a showdown between men, aliens, and gods—beyond the constructs of time and space.

Plunge into the gargantuan mouth of Hemos, an exoplanet that will challenge even the strongest bonds.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

How Long 'til Black Future Month?: Stories

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of How Long 'til Black Future Month?: Stories

Why this book?

A collection of twenty-two short stories by award-winning author N.K. Jemisin. The themes range from time travel to environmentalism and magical fantasy.

The narrative is bold, the tone unapologetically political and Jemisin’s sharp retelling of known classics (like Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas") shows how it is possible to create great science-fiction/speculative fiction in a more grounded reality… our own.

I remember my first interaction with N.K. Jemisin’s work. The Fifth Season. There was this… parallel with the conditions I was brought up in. Castes, barriers to social mobility, a persistent violence tightly intertwined with the beats of our lives. It was raw, detailed. It appealed to my insecurities, my fears, my battles.

Jemisin brought back her signature style in this collection, but this time around there is hope; there is a positive outlook, an ocean of wonderful possibilities. At the time of my reading, I could relate to this shift in narrative (my life began turning around), to a more hopeful vision that (still) had preserved the staples of Jemisin’s celebrated writing: a keen eye for details, an unparalleled world building, characters of a thousand facets; some shattered, volatile and shifty.

Kill Three Birds: A Kingdom of Aves Mystery

By Nicole Givens Kurtz,

Book cover of Kill Three Birds: A Kingdom of Aves Mystery

Why this book?

As an author, I love to cross genres, to redefine the boundaries of established sci-fi norms. Nicole Givens Kurtz does just that. Kill Three Birds is a skillfully executed blend of procedural mystery, fantasy, and political drama.

The premise? An explosive investigation on the murder of local women in an alternative society of humanoid birds organized in castes. A masterclass in world building and characterization.

For many decades, science fiction has been seen, labeled as inflexible, formulaic, and overcomplicated. Nicole Givens Kurtz leads us to new territories: she aims at preserving the complexity and layers of the science fiction genre and subgenres while broadening the spectrum of its themes and narrative structures.

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why this book?

Octavia E. Butler is a pillar of science fiction literature, regardless of gender and ethnicity. Parable of the Sower holds this… special place in my heart, however. The initial proposition? A fifteen-year-old black girl develops a new religious belief system that could save her shattered world. It is centered around one watchword: change.

Being an environmentalist myself (love your planet!) and a man of faith, I found the central plot relatable, provocative, and eye-opening. A masterpiece. As an author, the first thought that crosses my mind when I sit down, ready to write, is… how can I challenge my readers? Octavia E. Butler seems to be taking the same angle, the same axial route in her works. 

Is she a source of inspiration for the path I carve for myself? Absolutely.


By Nisi Shawl,

Book cover of Everfair

Why this book?

This recommendation hits close to home. 

What if an African nation had found a way to reverse the power dynamics during the colonial era? Nisi Shawl tells the story of a utopia, a community in Belgian Congo that fosters innovation and provides a safe haven for the victims and targets of slave trades. 

As a creative writer, one of my main goals is to provide a more positive outlook on the African culture and its heritage through a hopeful narrative. I joined Nisi Shawl in the fight as she remains one of my biggest influences in Afrocentric storytelling.

World-class writers like Nisi Shawl shaped my pen, my prose, and the function of world building in my tales. Thank you, Mrs. Shawl.  

Midnight Robber

By Nalo Hopkinson,

Book cover of Midnight Robber

Why this book?

From Jamaican fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber is a mind-altering journey through the Caribbean culture and lush, colorful exoplanetary systems. If you are interested in crime mysteries, faction-driven subplots, and new worlds of fantastic beasts, this read is for you. An ode to the Jamaican/Caribbean culture I grew up in.

I recall my first dive into the patchwork of chaotic energies in Midnight Robber. I was tossed around, chewed by the magnificent prose of an author I truly admire. When I felt this energizing feeling, I had no other choice but to continue reading. Nalo had me. She was in control. A difficult exercise only the most talented writers can successfully conduct. I tapped out and surrendered to the greatness of her pen, admiring and grateful.   

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in utopian, dystopia, and birds?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about utopian, dystopia, and birds.

Utopian Explore 38 books about utopian
Dystopia Explore 221 books about dystopia
Birds Explore 117 books about birds

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers, Utopian Thought in the Western World, and Ready Player Two if you like this list.