Incredible Stories if You're New to Sci-Fi and Fantasy

I keep having this experience: I'll strike up a conversation with another Agnes Scott student about books and literature, and it turns out that they don't read science fiction or fantasy... and are under the impression that the genre isn't really "for them”.

Here's the thing, not all science fiction and fantasy is written by straight white men, and it's not all about straight white men. People of all identities and marginalizations write science fiction and fantasy, and it hurts my heart when I meet people who think the genre somehow isn't "for" them.

I also can't blame them. They're outsiders to the genre, and they probably only know the properties big enough to be adapted to television or movies. While I enjoy Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and The Hunger Games, they're not all their genres have to offer. Authors like N.K. Jemisin, Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, Mishell Baker, Karin Lowachee, Seanan McGuire, Zen Cho, Indra Das, Aliette de Bodard and Kameron Hurley are out there writing new, innovative, groundbreaking, inclusive, diverse science fiction and fantasy, often focusing on themes relating to feminism, gender, sexuality, race, colonialism, oppression, class, and disability. And I'm not even mentioning older authors like Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin!

Most of these authors don't get the huge promotion budgets or screen adaptations that would drive them into the notice of mainstream audiences. That may be changing; several of the authors I've mentioned are award-winning, and a handful have television adaptations in the works (fingers crossed!). But on the whole, the SFF authors with the most name recognition tend to be straight white men or sometimes straight white women (usually writing YA fiction). That isn't an accurate picture of the genre but instead a reflection of how marginalized voices are often erased.

I try my best to tell these people that there are more stories and voices out there than they realized, but I thought it might be helpful to create a resource: a list of stories they can start out with. I decided on short stories because they require less of a time investment and can be a good way to test the waters. Plus, they are all free to read online, eliminating another barrier.

It was with much difficulty that I narrowed this list down to ten stories. They are all incredible stories, and some of them have received award recognition. As a whole, they reflect the strength of craft and diversity of voices that currently exists in the science fiction and fantasy fields.

I hope you enjoy them.


1. “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu

Growing up, the narrator's mother made him paper animals that moved with their own peculiar magic. But their appeal soon paled in comparison to plastic, American toys. This story deals with the relationship between mother and son, assimilation and the immigrant experience. It was also the first work of fiction to win all three major genre awards: the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award.


2. “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado

In a powerfully feminist tale, a woman gives all of herself to her husband, except for the ribbon tied around her neck. Yet he keeps asking her for more and more…


3. “All That Touches the Air” by An Owomoyela

Humans have colonized another inhabited planet. The microbiotic alien organisms that dominate the planet allow the humans to keep their domed colonies, but any human bodies exposed to the air will be colonized by them in turn.


4. "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™" by Rebecca Roanhorse

This story comes from an entire Apex Magazine issue of science fiction by Native authors. In Roanhorse’s story, Jesse Turnblott makes a living by working as Jesse Trueblood and giving tourists a “Vision Quest Experience,” playing into white people’s ideas of an “authentic” experience.


5. “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szpara

When Finley is bitten by a vampire without his consent, he is faced with a choice: turn or die. “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” makes an explicit parallel between transitioning between a human and vampire and transitioning as a trans person. Finley is gay trans man, and now he’ll be an illegal vampire, as well.


6. “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon

Have you ever heard of the myth of selkies, the seal women who marry humen men who steal their skin? “Jackalope Wives” takes the basic concept of the shape changing wife but applies it to a desert setting. When her grandson steals a Jackalope woman’s skin, Grandma Harkin has to deal with the fallout.


7. “Seven Cups of Coffee” by A.C. Wise

A homeless, lesbian teenager from 1983 is given a chance to change her life and the path of time itself. A mysterious stranger wants her to go back to the 1940’s and prevent someone from being born… by making sure the pregnant mother falls in front of a bus. But the time traveler soon regrets her actions and repeats time over and over again, trying to convince the woman she murders to live a different life.


8. “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

Jen feeds not off of blood but of inner darkness; the more twisted the thoughts, the better the taste. But when she feeds off of a serial killer, her regular meals of bad dates pale in comparison.


9. “Secondhand Bodies” by JY Yang

Agatha desperately wants a new body; her’s doesn’t meet society’s standards for perfection. She’s had four bodies, but within months they all gain weight. Along with her cousin Aloysius, she hits upon a plan. She’ll illegally sell her current body and get a new one, courtesy of Aloysius’s connections, that has DNA manipulations to prevent weight gain. Only when she sees the woman who’ll be taking her old body, Agatha’s stunned by how beautiful she is and puzzled by why she’d ever want to change her face. This short story brings in themes of race, class, gender, and body image, all centered around an unforgettable queer anti-heroine.


10. “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu

When their beautiful maps that make up their nests are discovered by local villagers, the cartographer wasps move down the river to a new home, where a colony of bees also reside. The wasps quickly conquer the bees and impose rules upon their new client state. This story was nominated for a number of significant genre awards and is an excellent example of how anthropomorphized animals can be used to create a fable with weighty, human themes.