The author and illustrator of 'Awards for Good Boys,' released today, selects otherworldly sci-fi books for discovering universal truths.
Document’s contributors are compiling summer reading lists with a twist. We’re asking writers, authors, cartoonists, scholars for their old favorites and anticipated releases. Shelby Lorman, writer and illustrator of Awards for Good Boys released June 4, gives us 5 non-Elon Muskian science fiction and fantasy books — stories of mysterious ancient civilizations and otherworldly universes that aren’t white, male fantasies.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that many people continue to think of genre fiction like sci-fi and fantasy as sheer escapism, a veritable playground where predominantly white men fantasize about the reaches of existing horrors. It can quickly feel very Elon Muskian: Why focus on the problems directly in front of us when we can create those same problems in space?
But, uncannily, there are sci-fi and fantasy books that don’t dwell in such a headspace. Pioneers like Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin and Nisi Shawl have spawned generations of new voices and new worlds, stories that propel you into the distinctly unfamiliar while retaining threads to our own, existing mess. Like comedy, genre fiction has the rare capacity to weasel into your brain and lodge there while you aren’t even looking. Radical ideas come Trojan-horsing in in the guise of world-building and strangeness, and perhaps it is only after you realize the extent to which these futuristic truths parallel ones so close to home.
So, a few suggestions for sci-fi and fantasy books that 1) I personally love, my taste is great, this is an unbiased opinion of my own taste and 2) aren’t written by men (mostly). Good stuff!
‘The Fifth Season’ (First book of The Broken Earth Trilogy) by N.K. Jemisin
Mysterious older civilizations, recurring apocalyptic events that continually reshape the world, “Orogenes,” outcasts from society who, ta-da, are actually the only people who can save society with their mastery over THE EARTH ITSELF. With poignant reflections to how our own society treats people who are perceived as “other” this trilogy is textured and dense but welcoming for people who don’t normally read genre fiction. It’ll leave you wanting to read everything Jemisin has ever done which is, in fact, a great idea!
‘Too Like The Lightning’ (first book of Terra Ignota) by Ada Palmer
This book is one of the wildest things I’ve read. I mean, the book begins with traditional 18th century novel dedication and title pages, then launches into the specific oddities, crimes and marvels of this futuristic society set in 2454. It’s a fascinating look at what persists, norm-wise, in a world this distant from our own. It’s also surprisingly smutty! Though the book can be hard to follow, some of the aspects that might trip you up in the beginning—a lot of political affiliations and names to remember, along with their location in the world and society—this nuance becomes so exciting once you start to figure out how deep the drama goes and start to speculate for yourself.
‘Ancillary Justice’ (first book of The Imperial Radch Trilogy) by Ann Leckie
A space opera where the main character is Breq, a warship now disguised as a human. Need I say more? She’s thousands of years old and seeking revenge against splintering AI factions! Read them all. Ann Leckie is a hero.
‘Binti’ (first book of The Binti trilogy) by Nnedi Okorafor
Do not be deceived by how small these books are! (Although their smallness does make them a great book for reading while commuting!) Binti is a young and mathematically gifted African woman, the first of her home to leave and go to, essentially, prestigious space college. It gets complicated on the way there, let’s say, and sprawls into an epic that spans space, with Binti at the center. Binti is one of the most compelling narrators I’ve read: she’s wise, honest, driven, keenly aware of how she’s changing, often overwhelmed by her anxiety, making difficult choices about how to engage with the new whilst keeping her connection to the old. I missed her greatly when I’d finished the books!
‘Saga’ by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The best graphic series. Sexy, extremely fucked up, relatable. Time to read Saga.
Find Shelby Lorman at @awardsforgoodboys and order Awards for Good Boys.
Read all of Document’s reading lists here.