Genre Guide: Indigenous Futurisms

As many people close to me know, my favourite genres are science fiction and fantasy. I have been a big fan of these genres since I was a kid, and continue to enjoy them today. I enjoy their intriguing settings, inspiring characters, and exciting story lines. And, I love how they are extremely well suited to imagining alternative pasts, presents, and futures, exposing dynamics of power and oppression, and encouraging readers to imagine alternatives to our world as it is.

For my “Adult Popular Reading and Media Interests” course this summer, I prepared a “genre guide” that focuses on Indigenous Futurisms. This is not exactly a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, but certainly the Venn diagram of Indigenous Futurisms and sci-fi/fantasy includes quite a bit of overlap. In my genre guide I introduce Indigenous Futurisms as speculative fiction stories—including science fiction, fantasy, and horror—told by Indigenous authors. However, author and professor Dr. Daniel Heath Justice has offered another way of describing this genre, using the term “Indigenous Wonderworks”:

It’s a term that gestures, imperfectly, to other ways of being in the world, and it reminds us that the way things are is not how they have always been, nor is it how they must be. It’s in Indigenous wonderworks that some of the best models of different, better relationship are being realized, and it’s these stories that give me hope for a better future even in these scary times.

I think that Dr. Justice’s suggestion captures much of what makes these works so powerful and revolutionary. “Indigenous Futurisms” also suggests a sense of a better future based in Indigenous ways of knowing, and it is a descriptor that I’ve heard more often than “wonderworks”, which is why I chose it for the title of my genre guide. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if “wonderworks” becomes a better-known and more frequently used term in the near future thanks to this article and its use in Dr. Justice’s powerful new book, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter.

But back to the guide! If you’ve read my recent blog post about book appeals and readers’ advisory, you might be curious about some of the appeal factors of Indigenous Futurisms. This is a diverse genre, that is still emerging and changing, but for me these are the main appeals of these types of titles:

  • Settings are creative and captivate the reader, whether in awe, horror, or rapturous delight.
  • Intense pace. Characters are on the run, teasing apart conspiracies, or fighting for justice.
  • Characters are complex and diverse; many are Indigenous or racialized and often rigid European concepts of gender and sexuality do not apply. Frequently, a protagonist’s relationships with secondary characters are complicated.
  • Stories’ tone can vary from quirky and humorous to suspenseful and dark, but rarely is a story wholly bleak or overwhelmingly inspiring. Nuance and ambiguity are common.

Do those make your fingers itch to pick up a good book, or your ears strain for an audio version? Or are you looking for a movie or TV show for tonight and curious what you could watch that would fall within this genre?

Well, that’s where the genre guide comes in! In the genre guide that I prepared for class I was able to include mainly book suggestions. You can download that guide as a pdf here. I have also compiled these suggestions–with more titles included–into a GoodReads List that you can view, add to, and vote on and a Bibliocommons list that will show you the titles’ availability at your library if it uses that database (I think/hope! It’s my first time using that kind of list.)

The genre guide also includes:

I hope that you find these resources useful if you, too, are inspired by Indigenous Futurisms! Please feel free to add suggested resources and titles in the comments below for me and others to check out. Thanks!

*Note added April 4, 2019

When I created this list in June, 2018, Rebecca Roanhorse’s book, Trail of Lightning, was about to be released. Since that time, I have read the book and also become aware of serious concerns regarding cultural appropriation in it, which I think are important for readers to consider if reading it.

I became aware of these concerns via Dr. Debbie Reese (a Nambe Owingeh woman who hosts the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog). I would encourage you to read Reese’s original blog post about the book as well as her Twitter thread about its nomination for a 2019 Hugo Award.

Reese reflects on her own concerns as well as the Saad Bee Hózhǫ́ (Diné Writers’ Collective)’s statement regarding appropriation in this book, which states that in Trail of Lightning, Roanhorse “mischaracterizes and misrepresents Diné spiritual beliefs”. Reese’s blog contains more links to others’ perspectives on this topic, which I have yet to read and watch in full but based on my experience with her blog will provide readers with a thorough and nuanced set of perspectives on this topic.

I have updated the PDF version of this genre guide to incorporate a note to this effect.


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