Ten Best Books of the Decade, 2010-2019: Science Fiction Studies

Inspired by my colleague and friend Noah Berlatsky, who posted his list of the ten best non-fiction books of the decade, I put together a few lists of my selections of the ten best books of the decade.

This list covers the ten best books in Science Fiction Studies published between 2010 and 2019. Of course, this list is 100% subjective, as all such lists are, and represents the scope of my interests, reading, and particular understanding of the field. Other lists cover:

That said, here goes . . .

10. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Politics: Transmedia World-Building Beyond Capitalism (2016)


Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Politics: Transmedia World-Building Beyond Capitalism
Dan Hassler-Forest
Rowman & Littlefield, 2016


Transmedia studies and media studies more generally, including games studies, has become a major force in the spread, popularity, and increasing presence across the academy of SF studies, for no reason other than that transmedia franchises owned by the liked of Warner, Disney, and others have taken over the media industries and made SF film/TV/media inescapable — for better and worse. Hassler-Forest’s study of the political possibilities enacted by a small selection of these texts is an important example of how transmedia studies can be truly impactful and worthwhile in a critical way, and how SF studies can be more than nominally implicated in such scholarship.

9. The Cambridge Companion (2015) and Cambridge History (2019)


The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction
Eric Carl Link and Gerry Canavan (eds)
Cambridge University Press, 2015

The Cambridge History of Science Fiction
Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link (eds)
Cambridge University Press, 2019


Both edited by Eric Carl Link and Gerry Canavan, The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction and The Cambridge History of Science Fiction are important placemarkers for scholars of science fiction (especially when paired with James and Mendlesohn’s The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction published over a decade earlier), demonstrating the generic and historical breadth of SF and the many ways in which scholars have and can approach the genre.

8. Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the QUestion of the Animal (2010)


Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal
Sherryl Vint
Liverpool University Press, 2010


Published just at the beginning of the decade, Vint’s book set the stage for many of the biopolitical, ecological, technological, and animal studies questions that have become increasingly prominent in the concerns of SF scholars. Vint, the busiest person in SF studies, places our relationship with animals at the center of thinking about our relationship with the material world. A step beyond the utterly unintelligible Haraway, Vint’s study remains a landmark.

7. Afrofuturism Rising: The Literary Prehistory of a Movement (2019)


Afrofuturism Rising: The Literary Prehistory of a Movement
Isiah Lavender III
The Ohio State University Press, 2019


Lavender is among the most respected SF scholars, especially where race is concerned (he quite literally wrote the book on the topic), and he has been at the forefront (along with Lisa Yaszek) of scholarship on Afrofuturism, now one of the most significant concerns in SF studies. His most recent book, coming at the end of the decade, is a groundbreaking study of Afrofuturism’s “prehistory” in black diasporic literature of the Americas, showing that the critical and often utopian longings, hopes, dreams, and angers of Afrofuturism emerge from a larger black literary tradition and are not solely or merely a “new” permutation of SF but rather belong to a much longer lineage of black speculative thinking.

6. Old Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Possibility (2018)


Old Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Possibility
Alexis Lothian
New York University Press, 2018


While feminist scholarship has long applied feminist theory to the analysis of SF, and in fact was alongside Marxist literary criticism in paving the early shape of SF studies, and while queerness or non-cishetero sex practices occasionally reared their heads in such scholarship, queer theory as it has developed since the late 1990s has made little significant inroads into SF studies. Most of the scholarship, it seems, is found in conference papers and articles, and monographs on the topic are both rare and often not at the cutting edge of either queer theory of SF studies. Lothian’s powerful book is everything we wanted, continuing old conversations and hacking a way toward a thousand new ones.

5. Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (2016)


Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction
andre m. carrington
University of Minnesota Press, 2016


If Lavender set the stage in SF studies for conversations around blackness, carrington took the stage and rebuilt the damn thing. Speculative Blackness is among my favorite works of scholarship for its inventive, convincing readings of such a broad range of texts, but also because it handles blackness as a form of speculative fiction itself while also explaining the “whiteness of speculative fiction.” This latter needs to be explored much more, but the groundwork carrington does in this book is beyond incredible. It is a regular go-to for my work on race and the speculative.

4. Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)Ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction (2018)


Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)Ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction
Sami Schalk
Duke University Press, 2018


Schalk has written a powerful work of scholarship that explores the way that black women’s subjectivity has inspired speculative fictions that reimagine the multiple intersections of (dis)ability, race, gender, and queerness. Schalk surveys both Afrofuturism and the black literary canon, looking at neo-slave narratives, stories of mental illness, and more, covering the most well-known of black diasporic SF authors, such as Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and N.K. Jemisin, and ones rarely discussed, like Phyllis Alesia Perry and Shawntelle Madison. Schalk shows us just how powerful SF and SF studies can be.

3. Migrant Futures: Decolonizing Speculation in Financial Times


Migrant Futures: Decolonizing Speculation in Financial Times
Aimee Bahng
Duke University Press, 2018


Bahng’s book goes beyond studies of SF texts to read the intertwined histories of capitalism and colonialism as themselves speculative fictions. According to Bahng, these world-historical constellations of events are as invested in worldmaking and worldbuilding fictions as is an sf novel, comic, or film. She establishes this argument by juxtaposing literary texts with moments in the history of capital and finance, showing how the processes of literary and financial speculation often operate in tandem, at times extending the logic and violence of colonialism and at other times resisting colonialism’s power. Bahng’s book will have resonances beyond SF studies alone and is likely to tie together the field with the broader academy in ways that few works have done.

2. Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction


Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction
Mark C. Jerng
Fordham University Press, 2018

One of the most exciting books I’ve read in years, Jerng questions how popular fiction embeds racial meaning in the worlds it makes, and how these meanings then radiate into the worlds of readers/audiences. Of particular interest are his chapters on yellow peril fiction and his inventive reading of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. Jerng sets a model for everyone working on popular fiction on how to read the racialization of fiction worldmaking process and texts. This is a book that would be of explicit interest to anyone in literary studies and to writers alike.

1. Metaphors (2010) and the Mass Market Genre System (2017)


Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? A Science-Fictional Theory of Representation
Seo-Young Chu
Harvard University Press, 2010

Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System
John Rieder
Wesleyan University Press, 2017


For me, it is impossible to choose a single “best” book from the past decade in SF studies; in fact, the organization of this list hardly has anything to do with my sense of “bestness” aside from the no. one spot. I can’t choose between Chu and Rieder because I think each has written a book that fundamentally changes what we say about SF and how we say it.

Chu, for her part, wrote a book at the beginning of the decade that interrogated SF theory and theories of literary representation, demonstrating the fundamentally science-fictional nature of all modes of representation. This is a powerful, and rarely cited, study that has significant implications for the way we interpret storytelling broadly, and I hope this coming decade will see it brought to greater attention.

Rieder, for his part, hardly needs an introduction to SF scholars, and his most recent book is just as powerful as his first book in SF studies, on the colonial origins of the genre. Now, Rieder takes a stab at “defining” (or not) the genre, and does so by bringing more contemporary genre theory to the field (something that, surprisingly, no one had done before; shame!). What results is a compelling markets-based reading of the field that admits to the fluidity of genre boundaries and definitions.

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