First SFF?

My friend Kari Sperring (who is one of those writers whose prose just makes me want to weep with envy) has been putting up terrific questions and commentary over on Twitter. Today’s question (which can be followed at the tag #1stSFFReads) is “What was the 1st sff book you read? The 1st by a woman? By a writer of colour?”

As it happens, the first SFF novel I read was *by* a woman: THE CITY UNDER GROUND, by Suzanne Martel. It was published when I was two; I read it when I was six. It made, obviously, a tremendous impression, although I found and re-read it in college and wow there was a lot of religious stuff in it I’d totally forgotten/had totally gone over my head, but aside from that it wasn’t a bad little book. It had an interesting girl character as one of the leads, which was one of the things I remembered from reading it as a child (well, more specifically I remembered that the people in the city under ground were all bald and the girl, who was from above, had red hair :)).

To the best of my knowledge/awareness, the first SFF novel by a person of colour I read was GORGON CHILD, by Steven Barnes, when I was about fourteen. I doubt that I knew the author was black (honestly, I don’t even think I assumed it until he wrote LION’S BLOOD, becauses I have a vague recollection of going hey, I bet this guy is black!), just that the protagonist was, but it’s still the first SFF novel by a person of colour that I’m sure of.

I do know that as a 14(ish) year old white girl in small-town Alaska where almost without exception the people of colour were Native Alaskans (and in Kenai, a great majority of the Natives are kinda gold skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed thanks to so much Russian influence, which makes them not *terribly* visible in a predominantly white community), I bought GORGON CHILD because it had a black person on the cover, rather than shying away from it as apparently book publishers still fear white readers will do.

I’m pretty sure that my thought process was something along the lines of, “Wow, they write fantasy novels with black people in them?!” because the ethnicity of the characters in the books I read had, I suspect, never really crossed my mind. They defaulted to white unless it was something like ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY or ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (both of which I read before GORGON CHILD but neither of which are SFF), where the protagonist’s ethnicity is put onto the page as not-white. Which is really not how I want to say that, because it really shouldn’t be white by default/exclusionary in that manner, but argh, for huge swaths of fiction it is.

Anyway, this all made me think about what the *last* SFF novels by women and PsOC I’d read were, too. I’m in the middle of reading Michelle Sagara‘s SILENCE, and she’s both, but breaking it out–well, frankly, I’m fine on the reading SFF women front, (the most recent reads were Carrie Harris‘s SALLY SLICK & THE STEEL SYNDICATE and Beth Cato‘s THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (both of which I need to write up commentary on), but the last SFF by a person of color that I finished reading (does it count if you bounce off something?) were Michelle’s CAST IN SORROW and Tobias Buckell‘s magnificent ARCTIC RISING last year. So I could do better on that front.

4 Comments


  1. Hm. You know, I think Gorgon Child was also my first SFF novel by a person of color.

    The first SFF novel I read by a woman was almost certainly A Wrinkle in Time, and I think that’s probably also the first SFF novel I read.


  2. I was going to say ‘Dragonflight’ by Anne McCaffrey, but I likely read ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ before that.

    All the authors were just names on the spine to me when I was growing up. I was mostly interested in their last names, at that, in my hunt for more of their stuff. I don’t recall ever being conscious of whether a writer was a woman or her ethnicity.


  3. I largely don’t register much of the time whether the authors I read are male, female or people of colour, though I suspect that if I looked up any of my recent reads they’d be depressingly, overwhelmingly white authors. Male/female ratio would be doing much better, still not 50/50 though.

    Maybe won’t appeal to everyone, but one of my favourite SciFi authors would be Karen Traviss, both her original worlds and those set in the Star Wars/Halo/Gears of War universes. Can’t remember who would be my first in this field, my records only go back about a dozen years, and my memory isn’t great without prompting.

    Fantasy of the other hand is much easier, for my remembering of female authors. I would have started with Enid Blyton and Patricia Wrede when young, Tamora Pierce during my teens, and lately (aside from yourself), Anne Bishop and Faith Hunter are the first to come to mind. While most aren’t novels, I do read a fair amount of manga which are by Japanese authors. Depending on your tastes Berserk, Claymore, or the Twelve Kingdoms could work, even perhaps Hunter X Hunter or Bleach, but they have more appeal for younger audiences.


  4. You know… I would have to agree with some of the previous comments in that I don’t think it registered with me for the longest time whether an author was male or female. Then sometimes when I did start considering it, until I’d actually finish the book and look at the author pic if it was included, I’d think they were the opposite of the sex they were. Avi, anyone? I swore he was a she until probably 9 or so, and argued with my mom about “that Avi lady’s books” lol. Same again with Sidney Sheldon a handful of years later when I started borrowing mom’s books. I feel like overall, I’ve read more by females than males no matter what the genre.

    I think my first sff book was an one that my mom had gotten when the grade school was purging books … An old, old, sort of musty, yellowed copy of The Forgotten Door by Alexander Keys. I just loved that book and read it over and over in second or third grade. I feel like the newer cover reprinting of the book is just not the same when I look at it.

    Neither are sff, but the first book(s) that I can recall possibly being by an author of color would be Striped Ice Cream by Joan M Lexau or Sink or Swim by Betty Miles. I tried to check my memory but haven’t had luck confirming whether or not the authors were PoC… These are indeed good questions!

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