Read Harder 2019: A Book By an Author of Color Set In or About Space

The 2019 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by the Read Harder Journal. Get the full list of tasks here.

Created by Book Riot, this smartly designed reading log consists of entry pages to record stats, impressions, and reviews of each book you read. Evenly interspersed among these entry pages are 12 challenges inspired by Book Riot’s annual Read Harder initiative, which began in 2015 to encourage readers to pick up passed-over books, try out new genres, and choose titles from a wider range of voices and perspectives. Indulge your inner book nerd and read a book about books, get a new perspective on current events by reading a book written by an immigrant, find a hidden gem by reading a book published by an independent press, and so much more. Each challenge includes an inspiring quotation, an explanation of why the challenge will prove to be rewarding, and five book recommendations that fulfill the challenge.


Books set in and about space happen to be some of my absolute favorite stories. There’s something about taking a story completely out of this world that allows you to really think about our own in new and different ways. So, I’m here to help you go exploring the universe…oh yeah, and complete your Read Harder challenge. Here are some suggestions for a book by an author of color set in or about space. Enjoy!

Fiction

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts is the story of a generation ship, set up like the antebellum South, traveling to what everyone has been told is “The Promised Land.” The main character, Aster, is amazing and complex. From the Goodreads description: “The ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.”

Also, Solomon is working on The Deep (expected publication June 2019, Saga Press) about an underwater society inhabited by descendants of African slave women, inspired by a rap song by the group clipping. (led by the coolest of the cool, Daveed Diggs).

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Lilith awakens on an alien spaceship piloted by the Oankali after Earth has been consumed by destruction and is no longer habitable. Lilith and the other survivors have been asleep for hundreds of years. The Oankali spend tons of time testing Lilith on her ability to acclimate herself to their alien strangeness and they have ulterior motives. From the Goodreads description: “It is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before. The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.”

Other books in the Xenogenesis series: Adulthood Rites, Imago.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Captain Kel Cheris is tasked with retaking a star fortress. In order to do so, she has to share a consciousness with an undead war strategist, Shuos Jedao. Jedao’s a complicated figure: he’s never lost a fight, but he also massacred two armies in his last battle. From Goodreads: “Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.”

Other books in The Machineries of Empire series: Raven Strategem, Revenant Gun.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti leaves her village, leaves her home planet to go to Oomza University to get the education she’s always dreamed of. Tragedy strikes on the ship and she must use all she’s learned from her family, her culture, and all the mathematics in her father’s harmonizer shop to survive the rest of the journey. From Goodreads: “Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach. If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.”

Other books in the Binti series: Home, The Night Masquerade.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

A time machine repair man, with his sort-of dog, receives a book from his future self and travels through time hoping he can finally find his missing father. This book is super meta and one of my favorite passages is one where he’s landing the time machine and seeing every single moment of one man’s day at the same time: “I can see this man at the end of his day, but at the same time I can see him waking up this morning, and I can see what happened to him in between, how he started with a hope of what today would bring, and how it didn’t bring that, and how he doesn’t know that yet, and how he already does.” So good, amiright?

Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun

I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s been on my TBR and I’m excited to finally read it, so it will probably be my pick for this Read Harder task. Here’s the description from Goodreads: “1993. Houston. Dr. Wale Olufunmi, lunar rock geologist, has a life most Nigerian immigrants would kill for, but then most Nigerians aren’t Wale—a great scientific mind in exile with galactic ambitions. Then comes an outlandish order: steal a piece of the moon. With both personal and national glory at stake, Wale manages to pull off the near impossible, setting out on a journey back to Nigeria that leads anywhere but home.”

The second book in the Nigerians in Space series is After the Flare.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Tea Master and the Detective is basically space Sherlock Holmes where the ship is Dr. Watson, and I love it so much. I wish there was more of it and hopefully maybe even an audiobook someday. It’s set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe. From the Goodreads description: “A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study.”

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem is another title that’s on my TBR. It sounds totally bananas and super complex and like any messy sci-fi bench, I’m into it. From Goodreads: “In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.”

Other books in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series: The Dark Forest, Death’s End.

Nonfiction

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

This book was the basis of the 2016 movie of the same name. From Goodreads: “The true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.”

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson by Katherine Johnson (Expected publication: September 17th 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

One of the women of NASA whose story was told in the aforementioned Hidden Figures, now Katherine Johnson is telling her own story in this new autobiography. It’s due out in September 2019 and is being aimed at young readers. From Goodreads: “Throughout Katherine Johnson’s extraordinary career, there hasn’t been a boundary she hasn’t broken through or a ceiling she hasn’t shattered. In the early 1950s, she joined the organization that would one day become NASA, and which had only just begun to hire black mathematicians. Her job there was to analyze data and calculate the complex equations needed for successful space flights. As a black woman in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges and often wasn’t taken seriously by the scientists and engineers she worked with. But her colleagues couldn’t ignore her obvious gifts—or her persistence. Soon she was computing the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s first flight and working on the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon. Katherine’s life has been a succession of achievements, each one greater than the last.”

Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances by Leland Melvin

Leland Melvin snuck his rescue dogs into his official NASA portrait and I feel like that’s all the background information you really need to make the decision to pick up this book. But if you need a little more, here’s the description from Goodreads: “Leland Melvin is the only person in human history to catch a pass in the National Football League and in space. Though his path to the heavens was riddled with setbacks and injury, Leland persevered to reach the stars. While training with NASA, Melvin suffered a severe injury that left him deaf. Leland was relegated to earthbound assignments, but chose to remain and support his astronaut family. His loyalty paid off. Recovering partial hearing, he earned his eligibility for space travel. He served as mission specialist for two flights aboard the shuttle Atlantis, working on the International Space Station.”

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth by Michio Kaku

From Goodreads: “World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, accessible detail how humanity might gradually develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. With his trademark storytelling verve, Kaku shows us how science fiction is becoming reality: mind-boggling developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology could enable us to build habitable cities on Mars; nearby stars might be reached by microscopic spaceships sailing through space on laser beams; and technology might one day allow us to transcend our physical bodies entirely. With irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder, Dr. Kaku takes readers on a fascinating journey to a future in which humanity could finally fulfill its long-awaited destiny among the stars – and perhaps even achieve immortality.”

Dana Lee: Dana lives in East Haven, CT. She works for that Ivy League institution down the street and tries to read as many books as possible in her free time. Audiobooks and print books get equal love. Also, she unapologetically judges books by their covers and makes way too many playlists (c'mon, books need a soundtrack too!). Follow her on Twitter @lucyhenley115 .