A More Diverse Universe (aka Diversiverse) is now underway. This two-week reading period centres on books by people of colour, and I’ve committed to providing recs lists that highlight a few of my favourite authors.
Today I want to turn the spotlight on four Canadian women of colour. Two of them write SFF. Two of them don’t (or maybe just haven’t yet).
I discovered Karin Lowachee late last year, thanks to a rec from Kristen. She’s since become one of my most recommended authors.
Lowachee’s first book, WARCHILD [review | Amazon | The Book Depository], is the start of a science fiction series that’s everything my younger, SF-averse self never dared to hope science fiction could be. The settings are rich and complex, whether Lowachee takes us to an alien world or deep into the heart of a human space station that’s a planet in its own right. The characters are as multifaceted as the worlds they inhabit. And the things Lowachee does with narrative; with the sheer possibility she unlocks in mixing first person with second and third, past tense with present... oy. These books are a master class in how technical wizardry can enhance every element of the story.
If you only seek out one new-to-you SF author this year, make it Karin Lowachee. Please be aware, though, that her books travel to dark places and may be triggering for some readers.
WARCHILD is followed by BURNDIVE [review | Amazon | The Book Depository] and CAGEBIRD [Amazon | The Book Depository], with a fourth book, THE WARBOY, to come. The paperbacks are a terrible price, but the ebook editions are fairly reasonable. Lowachee has also written a fantasy called THE GASLIGHT DOGS [Amazon], but I haven’t read it yet and so can't comment on it.
Every excerpt my grade ten English teacher taught during our unit on memoir was by a person of colour. It took me half my life to recognize how important that was, and just as long to seek out the full text of the memoir that called to me the loudest: RUNAWAY [Amazon], Evenly Lau’s diary of her life as a street kid.
The diary is edited, of course, to pare away extraneous detail and maximize the impact of what Lau lived through. The result is a piece of writing that’s raw, elegant, and powerful, with a deeply lyrical bent that shows Lau’s roots as a poet.
In the years since her diary hit shelves, Lau has also published many volumes of poetry and short fiction. I’ve read as much of her poetry as my library has to offer, and found it every bit as aptly observed and enthralling as this memoir. I highly recommend you look for YOU ARE NOT WHO YOU CLAIM [Amazon | The Book Depository] and/or TREBLE [Amazon] if you’re in the mood to wander away from prose for an hour or two.
I discovered Michelle West (who also writes as Michelle Sagara and Michelle Sagara West) shortly before Evelyn Lau, then rediscovered her early last year--and realized my fifteen-year-old self’s spotty attention span had cheated me out of something amazing.
West immediately became another of my most oft-recommended authors. Her epic fantasies remind me of why I fell in love with the genre in the first place. They’re thick, wallowsome, and full of the sort of detail that enhances the reader’s understanding of character and world alike. Some small exchange from one book might echo down through the next three, even as it tells us everything we need to know in the moment. Her characters are all the sort of people you want to know and understand, even if you can’t properly like them, and their magic labours beneath the weight of great consequence.
My personal favourites are her Averalaan books, which I’ve been slowly working my way through as they fall into my lap. Start with HUNTER’S OATH [review | Amazon | The Book Depository] and go forward in publication order from there.
If you’re more interested in urban fantasy, try her as-Sagara Chronicles of Elantra, which begin with CAST IN SHADOW [Amazon | The Book Depository]. Her first epic fantasies, the as-Sagara West Sundered series beginning with INTO THE DARK LANDS [Amazon | The Book Depository | Scribd], is now back in print with BenBella Books. As an added bonus, both the abovementioned books are currently on sale for super cheap in the Kindle store.
I need to rec Ann-Marie MacDonald far more often than I do. Her first two novels helped show my younger self how amazing literary fiction can be.
MacDonald’s books explore the connections between character, setting, and circumstance. They’re often concerned with family as both a support system and a potentially destructive force. Queer folks abound. The weight of history rests heavy on everyone involved, and each new act carries the potential to change the characters' world.
Her first novel, FALL ON YOUR KNEES [Amazon | The Book Depository | Scribd Audio], earned an instant spot on my Favourites list as it took me deep into a world of music, secrets, and familial strife centred on early twentieth century Cape Breton Island. Her second, THE WAY THE CROW FLIES [Amazon | The Book Depository], still haunts me more than a decade after I last read it. And while I haven’t yet managed to read her latest, ADULT ONSET [Amazon | The Book Depository], I’m confident she’s still got it.