Ten AAPI Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors to Read Right Now

by Melanie Marttila
published in Reading

Greetings, Speculators! May was Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. So, yeah, I’m a little late with this recommended reading list, but you can read these great books any time. Diversify your reading game and include some of these suggestions in your to be read (TBR) list.

Ken Liu

Ken Liu is author of the Dandelion Dynasty silkpunk series and the translator behind Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem and Death’s End. He’s written a Star War, too, but the book I’ll direct you to is his short fiction collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. The titular story is about a boy whose mother makes him origami animals that appear to come to life when she breathes on them. “The Paper Menagerie” was the first piece of short fiction to win the triple crown of science fiction and fantasy awards, the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award.

Nghi Vo

The Chosen and the Beautiful is Nghi Vo’s debut novel (published June 1, 2021), but she’s had great success with her novellas, The Empress of Salt and Fortune (Hugo, Locus, and Ignyte Award finalist, winner of the Reddit Stabby and IAFA’s Crawford Awards) and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain.

She’s also published a lot of short fiction. Read her at any length you choose; Nghi Vo’s one to watch.

Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard has won three Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, a European Science Fiction Society award, a British Fantasy Award and four British Science Fiction Association Awards for her short fiction, novellas, and novels. She is of French and Vietnamese descent and though her first language is French, she writes in English.

Last year the sapphic romantic fantasy Fireheart Tiger was released, in which a diplomat princess faces her former lover and must decide both her future as well as that of her country.

Isabel Yap

Isabel Yap is a Filipino writer of speculative fiction and poetry. Her first collection of short fiction, Never Have I Ever, contains 13 stories that entwine fantasy, horror, and science fiction to explore monsters, Filipino folklore, immigration, and queerness.

In “A Cup of Salt Tears,” Makino’s mother warns her of the dangers of making deals with kappas even though a kappa saved Makino as a child. When Makino’s husband becomes ill, she seeks out her savior. In “Hurricane Heels (We Go Down Dancing),” a group of five girls befriend one another at a summer camp when a goddess charges them with protecting the world from darkness.

Yap admits to liking ambiguous endings, so be prepared for a few of those when you pick this collection up.

Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee’s space opera trilogy, The Machineries of Empire, is comprised of Ninefox Gambit (2016; Locus Award for best first novel, Hugo and Nebula finalist), Raven Stratagem (2017; Hugo finalist), and Revenant Gun (2018; Hugo finalist).

Phoenix Extravagant is a standalone fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Korea during the Japanese occupation of the early 1900s. Jebi is a nonbinary artist hired by the Ministry of Armour to paint magical sigils onto masks for the conquering government’s automata. Jebi doesn’t consider themselves political, but after befriending a pacifist dragon automata (as one does), Jebi decides they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the dragon from becoming a weapon of war used to kill and subdue their people. Unfortunately, Jebi discovers that sometimes you have to choose a side.

Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s work has won four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, the John W. Campbell Award (now the Amazing) for Best New Writer, and four Locus awards. His short story “Story of Your Life” was the basis of the film Arrival (2016).

In Exhalation, Chiang examines technology’s effect on humanity. The opening story, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal leads people 20 years into the future or 20 years into the past. Time-travel shenanigans of the best kind.

Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee’s debut young-adult novel, Zeroboxer, was nominated for the 2016 Andre Norton Award. Her second novel for young-adults, Exo, was nominated for the 2018 Andre Norton Award. Her debut novel for adults, Jade City, was a finalist for the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novel and won the 2018 World Fantasy Award.

Jade City, the thrilling first book in the Green Bone trilogy takes place on the gangster-controlled island of Kekon, where magical jade grants superhuman powers to those who can wear it. The Kaul family is one of two major crime syndicates that control the city. When a rival syndicate threatens their authority, the three Kaul siblings must band together to protect their power. Jade War was published in 2019, and the third novel, Jade Legacy, will be published in November of 2021.

Gabriela interviewed Fonda Lee about world building for DIY MFA radio.

Shveta Thakrar

Shveta Thakrar characterizes herself as a part-time nagini and full-time believer in magic. Her work has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Enchanted Living, Uncanny Magazine, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and Toil & Trouble. Her debut young adult fantasy novel, Star Daughter, is a finalist for the 2021 Andre Norton Nebula Award.

In Star Daughter, Sheetal Mistry is (surprise!) the daughter of a star, but she manages to live a mostly normal life until her nascent abilities surface and will not be denied. When, through a surge of uncontrolled magic, Sheetal’s father ends up in a coma, she and her friend embark on a journey to the stars to seek her mother’s help. What Sheetal finds when she arrives is political turmoil and … a magical music competition.

Roshani Chokshi

Roshani Chokshi’s New York Times bestselling series include The Star-Touched Queen duology, The Gilded Wolves, and Aru Shah and The End of Time, which was recently optioned for film by Paramount Pictures. Her work has been nominated for the Locus and Nebula awards.

In The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy rich in world building and Indian mythology, Maya lives a relative life of freedom thanks to a cursed horoscope that predicts death and destruction following her marriage. Then her father marries her off and she becomes the queen of Arkan. Romance and hijinx (preventing the aforementioned death and destruction) ensue.

Renée Ahdieh

Renée Ahdieh is an American-Korean author, best known for her New York Times best-selling duology The Wrath & the Dawn. Imagine Entertainment optioned the film rights to the duology in 2017. Ahdieh says she loves to wreak havoc on the lives of her characters.

In the first novel of the duology, The Wrath & the Dawn, Ahdieh reimagines The Arabian Nights. The evil Caliph, Khalid, marries a new woman every night and murders her in the morning. When 16-year-old Shahrzad’s best friend becomes one of his victims, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to become his next bride. Every night she spins tales to her husband to postpone her execution but, as night follows night, Shahrzad fails to find the monster she expected in Khalid.

Read with Purpose

One of the core tenets of the DIY MFA philosophy is to read with purpose. In reading the works of AAPI authors, you may encounter plot structures or storytelling techniques that are different from, but equally effective to, the western ones you’ve become familiar with. The core myths and legends from which these stories derive may also be unfamiliar. Expand your writerly horizons and dig in.

These authors and their stories deserve both your reader brain (enjoyment) and your writer brain (analysis).

Until next time, keep speculating, and see where it leads you!

Melanie is an instructional designer by day, SF&F author-in-progress and ink alchemist by night. She is the third generation of Marttilas to live in her little house on the street that bears her family name. She blogs at https://www.melaniemarttila.ca and you can find her on Facebook and

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