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6 Books to Read if You Fell in Love with Janelle Monáe’s DIRTY COMPUTER

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Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

Earlier this week, I sat down and turned on the “emotion picture” for Janelle Monáe’s album Dirty Computer (spoilers for the film ahead). Since I identify somewhere between bisexual and pansexual, the way that the music and the story embraces Monáe’s love for people of many genders meant a lot to me. I sat stunned through the entire film at this blessed dystopian tale of joyful subversion. I was in tears as the happy ending spun in my eyes and Monáe’s “Americans” swirled in my ears.

In sum, as Danez Smith (finalist for the National Book Award for their Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems) said on Twitter:

Monáe makes several literary references in her own tracklist for the album, and I won’t touch on them here, although they’re also recommended reading. Here are some book recommendations based on Monáe’s dystopian inspirations and Afrofuturist influences, based on a future that is diverse and representative of what some might consider subversion—from being pansexual to polyromantic to black. Here are some science fiction and fantasy recommendations that you might enjoy if you saw yourself in Dirty Computer.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge PiercyWoman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

Piercy did not play with this one. It stars a Mexican American, older woman named Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, who is unfairly put into a mental hospital. She discovers that she can see into the future, where a stunning utopia has been formed—but is there only one path the future can take? This is a feminist classic examining what a utopia could look like while setting it against the dystopian setting of the mental hospital.

Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda

Featuring the Afrofuturist world of Wakanda, Gay tells the love story of Ayo and Aneka, two young women who are recruits for the Dora Milaje, the elite task force from Black Panther who protect faves like Queen Shuri and former king T’Challa.

Binti by Nnedi OkoraforBinti by Nnedi Okorafor

The Binti series is a novella trilogy that tells the story of a mathematics prodigy. Binti is Himba and is leaving for school at an intergalactic university in secret, because her family would not understand her desire to leave. Over the course of the three-novella story, she learns much about herself, her culture, and her universe, while fighting several enemies who threaten her survival and the people she cares about.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyangi

When Alana Quick’s shipyard is invaded by people looking for her sister Nova, Alana stows away on their ship, hoping to use the opportunity to finally use her captaining skills. But even as she’s distracted by the attractive captain and the weirdness of the ship (the Tangled Axon), it becomes increasingly clear that her sister is in real danger. Rioter Jessica Pryde says: “Not only is the lead queer (and there’s some polyamory going on!) but there’s also a spiritual element that hearkens to Afrofuturism (while this is not specifically Afrofuturist). Also, if there’s anyone in specfic I could hear calling themselves a ‘free-ass motherfucker,’ it’s Alana.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. JemisinThe Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Earth series took my heart and broke it into several pieces and then scattered it into the rocks of the earth. Jemisin tells a genre-bending tale: as a catastrophic geological event releases devastation across the Stillness, an orogene (a person with some level of control over energy, including kinetic energy of the earth and air) named Essun leaves her small town in pursuit of her husband Jija, who has kidnapped her daughter Nassun after he discovered her powers, and killed their son. This series gets better with every volume, and the cast of characters is diverse and includes a polyamorous relationship. 

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

This novella and love story was a Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, and Locus finalist. There’s a reason for that. A stunning story of questions and timey wimey twists, this novella tells the story of Aqib bgm Sadiqi, a cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts who has fallen for a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. Can their romance withstand the disapproval and politics that surround their love?

Share your own recommendations in the comments.