I was scrolling through Bookstagram stories last week when I came across a story by someone in the midst of yet another adult fantasy novel she wasn’t enjoying. She was beginning to wonder if Adult Fantasy just wasn’t for her, so I stopped to message her about it. I completely understood her indifference to the book she was reading and asked if she wanted suggestions for fantasy novels not written by the (straight white male) authors everyone always hears about- authors like Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Joel Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Stephen King.
I understand the appeal of reading popular books by popular authors. It’s fun to be part of a large fandom. It means you’ll have a lot of other to geek out with. Being part of a large community like that is wonderful!
But if, like me, narratives written by straight white male authors are starting to feel a little underwhelming and same-y, there is still a world of adult fantasy out there from different perspectives. It’s just a matter of finding the resources and lists that will direct you to unexpected and wonderful places.
- Tor – Tor/Forge and Tor.com have been on the leading edge of science fiction and fantasy for a long time now. The Tor.com website is home to re-read and re-watch series, commentaries, reviews, and discussions of pop culture and how minority voices have played a role- or not- in pop culture over the last century. The articles are written by people from a wide array of backgrounds, so you’re guaranteed to find something new and fascinating every day.
- Orbit– While not as well-known as Tor, Orbit has a catalog filled with amazing science fiction and fantasy titles, including works by N.K. Jemisin. They’re an imprint of the Hachette Group, just like the following publisher.
- Redhook Books – Another imprint from the Hachette Group, Redhook Books is also devoted to science fiction and fantasy. Their catalog includes works by Louisa Morgan, Alix E. Harrow, and Constance Sayers
- Subterranean Press – Subterranean is a small press from Michigan that has worked with such names as John Scalzi, China Mieville, and Ann Leckie. They specialize in science fiction and fantasy, horror, thriller, and dark mystery.
- St. Martin’s Press – St. Martin’s is an imprint of MacMillian, and while it doesn’t publish exclusively science fiction and fantasy, I have found a lot of fantasy from St. Martin’s that I’ve enjoyed. They also publish mystery, historical fiction, contemporary, and literary fiction.
- DAW Books – DAW is a Penguin imprint that has been publishing science fiction and fantasy since 1975, and has worked with authors such as Tad Williams, C.S. Friedman, and Tanith Lee.
- Del Rey – Del Rey is an imprint of Random House and has been one of the foremost publishers of science fiction and fantasy since 1977. Founded by husband and wife team, Judy-Lynn and Lester Del Rey, Del Rey Books has given a publishing home to some of SFF’s most well-known voices.
- Bantam Books – Bantam is another imprint from Random House that also publishes primarily SFF. They’ve been in business since 1945, and have published works by authors including Robin Hobb, Isaac Asimov, and George R.R. Martin.
- Small Beer Press – This is an indie publisher that hits well above its weight class. Several of its authors have been nominated for or won some major fantasy awards. Not bad for a little press founded in 2000!
There are a lot of book awards out there, and they can point you to the sorts of titles that voters and judges have declared ‘the best of the genre’ for the year. Sometimes these awards provide more of a snapshot of what popular culture was like at the time– especially with the older awards like the Hugo– but they are generally a great guide to high quality and thought-provoking books.
Note: The Links below are to Wikipedia articles that provide a list of each awards’ winners, and most also list the nominees for the year. A brief history of the award is also provided.
- Aurealis Award: Since 1995, the Aurealis Award has been given out to recognize excellence in Australian science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. To qualify, the author must be an Australian citizen or permanent residence. These works may or may not be available in the US.
- The Astounding Award for Best New Writer: This award recognizes rising stars in the SFF community. To be eligible, the author must have published their first SFF novel within the prior two calendar years. The award used to be called the John W. Campbell Award, but after Jeanette Ng’s speech upon accepting her award in 2019, the committee finally decided to change the award’s name (Campbell was a well-known editor in the 1960s and 1970s, but his blatant misogyny and racism prevented many talented writers from being published)
- Bram Stoker Award: The Horror Writers Association has given out this prize for horror writing since 1987.
- British Fantasy Award: Though this award has been around since 1972, it wasn’t called the British Fantasy Award until 1976. Prior to that, it was called the August Derleth Award. It is given out by the British Fantasy Society.
- Hugo Award: The Hugo Award for Best Novel is one of the most prestigious SFF awards. Its winners often have a profound effect on the course of the genre and– probably more than most– the nominees and winners provide insight into society’s trends regarding ideas, race, and culture. For example, the Hugo has been given out since 1953, and it was seventeen years before a woman won the top honor (1970, Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness). In recent years, however, women have been sweeping the awards, with N.K. Jemisin winning an unprecedented three straight Hugos for her Broken Earth trilogy (2016-2018).
- Lambda Literary Award: This award has gone by different names over the years, but its primary goal is to recognize excellence in LGBTQIA science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror novels. It was first awarded in 1989 and has been won by such writers as Mercedes Lackey, Nicola Griffiths, and Stephen Pagel.
- Locus Award: When it began in 1978, this award was only given to science fiction novels. It was opened to fantasy novels in 1980.
- Nebula Award: In the US, the Nebula Award is second only the Hugo in its prestige. It has been given out by the Science Fiction Writers of American since 1966. Previous winners have included Arthur C. Clark, Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, and Lois McMaster Bujold.
- Otherwise Award: Formerly known as the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, this is given out to SFF novels that investigate the nature of gender and gender roles. It was first names for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym of James Tiptree, Jr., and flummoxed her contemporaries in the 1960s and 1970s, who thought she was a male writer and praised her work for its masculinity. They were stunned to find out that this ‘masculine writer’ was, in fact, a woman. It was first given out in 1991.
- World Fantasy Award: Along with the Hugos and the Nebulas, the World Fantasy Award is among the top three most prestigious prizes for fantasy authors. It is awarded for books written in or translated into English, and given out by the World Fantasy Convention. They have been awarded since 1975, and winners include Patricia McKillip, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jo Walton, and Sofia Samatar.
Obviously, there are more publishers and awards than I’ve listed here, but I feel this is a good starting point if you want to read more than just what’s on the bestseller list. I have no issue with writers like Sanderson or Rothfuss, but I spent the first twenty years of my reading life reading SFF by straight white men. I’d like to spend the next twenty years reading books by a broader range of voices. So far, it’s been a rewarding experience!