The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017

by Adrian Liang, November 30, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

Artificial intelligence, angels fallen to earth, Loki, murderbots, apocalyptic doom, and a leap in evolution are among the highlights of this year’s best science fiction and fantasy.

Every best-of list like this has its own criteria for a book’s inclusion, whether it be formally written out or lurking in the back of the editors’ minds. For my part, I wanted to put a spotlight on stories that were willing to stride down a less-beaten path while still thriving on the core values of heroism and derring-do that draw us to read science fiction or fantasy.

Every year it’s nearly impossible to winnow the list down to only 20. This year, thirteen of the 20 are either standalone books or start a new series, and the other seven books continue series that you’ll thank yourself for plunging into (but start with book one!). Three stories are self-labeled for teens or young adults, quite a few more straddle the “coming of age” space where so much adventure can happen, and even a handful of books revel in the hard-won wisdom that middle-age brings.

Below are 10 of the 20 best books of the year, focusing mostly on standalones or series starters.

To see the full list, go to our page that lists all 20 best science fiction and fantasy books of 2017.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – Arden’s debut novel builds like a thunderstorm, with far-off disquieting rumblings that escalate into a clash between sprites and humans, ancient religions and new, honor and ambition. Set in the 14th century in the bitter north, a two-week ride from the rough city of Moscow, this mesmerizing tale centers on Vasya Petronova, a girl who barely survives birth and grows up with a secret affinity for the sprites and demons that live in and around her village. “A wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission” is how her father imagines her, and he’s not wrong. As her family tries to harness her into the typical domestic life of a young noblewoman, Vasya spends more and more time among the sprites and soon gets caught between two old and powerful gods struggling for domination over her part of the world. And while I think there are only a dozen or so novels in this world that have a perfect ending, I would put The Bear and the Nightingale high on that list. Book two, The Girl in the Tower, hit shelves on December 5.

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – A weapon-heavy security bot on a contract with surveyors sent to investigate a new planet, Murderbot (as it refers to itself) takes pains to conceal from the humans it’s guarding that there’s something different about it: Murderbot has disabled the function that requires it to obey any orders given or downloaded. All Murderbot wants is time to itself so that it can watch the thousands of hours of entertainment vids it’s downloaded on the sly, but the sudden, ominous silence from the surveyors’ sister camp knocks those plans awry. Tense action locks in step with Murderbot’s march toward owning its personhood, imbuing the android with more character than other, far larger novels ever manage to do. A tight space adventure with a deep core of humanity, All Systems Red has become one of my favorite books this year to press into the hands of my fellow SF readers.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman putting his own fingerprints on the Norse myths? Cue the hyperventilation of delighted readers. That reaction is genuinely earned in this inventive retelling, as Gaiman darts between a Tolkienesque tone in the epic origin stories and his own bright wit in the tales centering on the adventures of Thor, Loki, and Odin. Those new to Norse mythology might be astonished by how bizarre some details are, while fans more well-versed in Norse myths should still appreciate the humor and spark that Gaiman infuses into the stories he has selected to retell, adding to the existing rich literature. Many who read Norse Mythology will make this volume their joyful leaping-off point into a strange and mesmerizing world of gods, giants, undead goats, betrayals, a slanderous squirrel, elves, dwarves, and Valkyries. And don’t forget that ship made of the finger- and toenails of the dead.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King – This tale of young orphan girls who are trained to be devout warriors—and then, disturbingly, are given to benefactors as servants, concubines, or wives—is ultimately one of strength and sisterhood. Sickly but spirited 18-year-old Kalinda is chosen to be the rajah’s 100th and final queen, an “honor” she desperately does not want but to decline means death. A bubbling civil war and the deadly intrigues of the court complicate Kalinda’s choices further, and King dials up the tension as the date of Kalinda’s wedding grows closer. Powerful and innocent at once, this is a good pick for those who embraced the lessons of justice and generosity in Wonder Woman.

The Power by Naomi Alderman – Margaret Atwood calls this book “Electrifying!” and it’s not just because in The Power young women have developed the ability to electrocute people, overturning the power hierarchy of the world. Girls and boys are sent to segregated schools, and female public officials are required to go through testing to make sure they don’t have the ability because, oh my gosh, the world just might as well be over if women gain physical leverage over men. It would have been easy to write a strident and simplistic anti-man book—one that would be welcomed especially now, during a tsunami of sexual harassment scandals—but instead Alderman weaves more nuanced ideas into a thoughtful yet action-packed story, giving readers of The Power lots to consider and lots to thrill to.

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty – George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones meets Naomi Novik’s Uprooted in this marvelous debut fantasy about a young con artist from 18th century Cairo who learns that her mysterious parentage—and her ability to work small magics—might be connected to the nearly forgotten legends of the djinn, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the mysterious brass city of Daevabad. When Nahri accidentally summons Dara, a djinn warrior with a long and bloody past, she plunges both of them into the brewing animosity among the ancient djinn tribes united only by their disdain for their half-human offspring, who have few rights in the djinn stronghold of Daevabad. But not all djinn think the half-humans should be persecuted. Alizayd, the djinn king’s second son, works in the shadows to right wrongs even as surging tensions birth battles in the streets. Deep and gorgeous world building plus the political plot corkscrews caused me to happily ruminate on this book and its characters weeks after I finished it. I have a few quibbles—Nahri doesn’t have as much to do in the second half as in the first—but Chakraborty’s heck of a finale was both a surprise and felt completely right…and left me quivering with anticipation for the second book in the trilogy.

Artemis by Andy Weir – As in The Martian (the book, not the film), Artemis‘s strengths are Weir’s plotting and the gee-whiz science facts leveraged to make survival more unlikely than guaranteed. Twenty-something Jazz has made a niche for herself as a reliable smuggler in the one and only small city on the Moon. When one of her clients offers her a sabotage job that will let her pay back an old debt, Jax pushes aside her misgivings…and the hijinx begin. For me, the weakness of Artemis is Jazz herself, who, like Mark Watney (in the book!), can come off sometimes as an infantile jerk. Still, there’s quite a lot to enjoy about Artemis as a clever heist-gone-wrong-on-the-Moon story.

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard – The second book in the Dominion of the Fallen series is just as atmospheric as the first and shoves you right into the middle of the twisty political action in which fallen angels and dragons compete for people and power. De Bodard knows how to craft a deliciously tense story in which flawed characters with competing agendas keep you flipping the pages to find out what happens next—and her broken, dark Paris is the perfect setting. Fantasy and urban fantasy fans should start with The House of Shattered Wings with a happy confidence that book two is excellent as well.

Void Star by Zachary Mason – In this near-future SF suspense novel, Irene’s neural implant and her ability to talk with machines makes her a much-coveted and very expensive tech troubleshooter, but her meeting with billionaire Cromwell sets off all sorts of subconscious alarm bells, as does the frightening glimpse of a wild AI she’s never encountered before. Void Star utilizes a deliberate, predatory pace more common to the most exquisite horror novels. A buildup of tiny tells, headlong plunges into the sharp-as-glass memories saved in Irene’s implant, and eerie snapshots of the strange and inexplicable hammer the tension into a near-unbearable drumbeat. But even as Irene crisscrosses the planet—sometimes on the run, sometimes on the chase—it’s the essential role of memories that gives this novel its heft, coaxing us to consider what we keep and what we leave behind in our own daily world-building.

When the English Fall by David Williams – In this spare but tense novel, only the Amish have the skills and the food stores to survive after an unexplained event destroys most modern technology, causing planes to fall out of the sky and electricity to fail. Told through the diary entries of Amish farmer Jacob, the bubbling-up of anger and violence in the outside world slowly begins to affect the self-sufficient Amish, forcing them to rethink their relationships with the non-Amish and how they will stay true to their beliefs while under new pressure. A fascinating exploration of the corrosive effect of anger and the strength that can be found in holding true to one’s beliefs, even if it leads to the harder path.

Advertisements

World Fantasy Awards Announced

by Chris SchluepNovember 07, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

The winners of the 2017 World Fantasy Awards have been announced. The ceremony was held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas at the World Fantasy Convention. The Lifetime Achievement Awards, presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field, went to Terry Brooks and Marina Warner.

Below is a list of the winners from selected categories. You can see all of the winners listed on Locus.

Best Novel

  • The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
  • Borderline by Mishell Baker
  • Roadsouls by Betsy James
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  • Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Best Long Fiction

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Best Short Fiction

  • Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson
  • Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Little Widow” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” by Rachael K. Jones

Best Anthology

  • Dreaming in the Dark edited by Jack Dann
  • Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen
  • Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow
  • The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams
  • The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe

Best Collection

  • A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford
  • Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
  • On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly
  • Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson
  • The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

10 Space Operas to Read Before You See Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Space

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

With “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” due to arrive in theaters on December 15th, we still have a fair amount time to kill before we find out what the deal is with bearded, hermit Luke and to see the brilliance of the late Carrie Fisher onscreen one final time. Fortunately, there are quite a few literary options to both pique and maintain your love of all things space opera in the interim. With that in mind, here are eight of our recent space-faring, swashbuckling faves.

The cover of the book Phasma (Star Wars)

Phasma (Star Wars)

DELILAH S. DAWSON

What better way to get in the mood for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” than reading a novel under the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi banner? This latest novel from Delilah S. Dawson centers on one of the most mysterious new additions to Star Wars canon: Captain Phasma. This origin story lays out the dark and brutal background of one of the First Order’s most ruthless and relentless officers and is not to be missed.

The cover of the book Armada

Armada

ERNEST CLINE

Ernest Cline is best-known for the pop-culture extravaganza of Ready Player One. Armada is his sophomore effort and sees the author turns his nerd-approved eye toward the stars for an alien invasion thriller. Armada centers on Zack Lightman, a gaming maven and sci-fi junky whose life is changed forever when he sees a flying saucer and realizes the his favorite game, a flight simulator called Armada, is far more than it seems.

The cover of the book Aftermath: Star Wars

Aftermath: Star Wars

CHUCK WENDIG

Wondering what took place in the years between “The Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens”? Don’t worry, Chuck Wendig has you covered. The Aftermath trilogy picks up following the infamous Battle of Endor and sees the fledgling New Republic working to maintain its foothold over the reeling Empire – but the Empire may have still have a few tricks left up its sleeve.

 

The cover of the book Artemis

Artemis

ANDY WEIR

Following the runaway success of Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, expectations are running high for his second effort: Artemis. The story follows Jazz Bashara, a smuggler on Artemis, the first and only city on the Moon. Struggling to make ends meet, Jazz lives a difficult and sometimes dangerous life. All of that changes, however, when Jazz lands the opportunity to commit the perfect crime. The crime is an impossible one. Artemis is an edge-of-your-seat thriller like only Andy Weir can write. It’s also a heist story. On the moon. What more do you need to know?

The cover of the book Lightless

Lightless

C. A. HIGGINS

In this intriguing sci-fi thriller, C.A. Higgins takes readers aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft funded by the ruthless organization that controls Earth. The novel centers on Althea, a computer scientist with an closer emotional bond to the ship’s systems than any of her crewmates. When a pair of terrorists gain access to the ship, it falls to Althea to defend the Ananke from its twisted saboteurs.

The cover of the book Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies

RHODA BELLEZA

This revenge epic from Rhoda Belleza falls somewhere on a spectrum that includes Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga and Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” Rhee is the crown princess and sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. Aly is a war refugee falsely accused of murdering Rhee. With war looming just on the horizon, Rhee and Aly forced together to confront a ruthless evil putting the entire galaxy at risk.

The cover of the book Ascension

Ascension

JACQUELINE KOYANAGI

Featuring a quirky and eclectic cast of space-faring ne’er-do-wells, plenty of interstellar adventure, and even a bit of romance, Ascension is just the ticket for Star Wars fans not so patiently waiting for “The Last Jedi.” The story centers on Alana Quick, an ace starship mechanic who stows away on the Tangled Axion and gets way more than she bargained for.

The cover of the book On a Red Station, Drifting

On a Red Station, Drifting

ALIETTE DE BODARD

Set in the same universe as Aliette de Bodard’s award winning ImmersionOn a Red Station, Drifting centers on Prosper Station – which has thrived for generations under the guidance of artificial intelligence born from a human womb. When the station’s people are called to war to defend the Emperor, life as those on the station have long known quickly begins to unravel.

The cover of the book Red Rising

Red Rising

PIERCE BROWN

If you haven’t picked up Brown’s bestselling Red Rising Saga, now’s the perfect time. Reading like The Hunger Games by way of Ender Wiggin, Red Rising centers on Darrow, a red and member of the lowest caste of a color-coded society. He and his kind have spent generations toiling underground to make the surface of Mars livable for those remaining. When tragedy strikes, Darrow discovers that the world he has long known is built on a lie and he sacrifices everything to infiltrate the dominant Gold caste and exact his brutal revenge.

The cover of the book Star Wars Rebel Rising

Star Wars Rebel Rising

BETH REVIS

Jyn Erso’s story may have come to a heroic, if tragic, end in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” but there were a lot of questions about the pivotal Rebel hero left unanswered in the film. Thankfully for Star Wars fans, Rebel Rising fills in those gaps. The novel takes place in the years between the moment a five year-old Jyn saw her mother murdered and her father taken away and the events of “Rogue One,” including Erso’s years with the infamous outlaw Saw Gerrera.

 

The Most Popular Books of the Decade

The internet is full of top ten lists, ranging from the illuminating and insightful to the amusing to the down-right dubious, but here is one we thought you’d like. Without categorizing (or vouching for) it, here is the list that goodreads.com posted listing the top 10 books of the last decade as voted on by their members in honor of their tenth anniversary. It’s even divided into genres for your convenience.

by Danny, September 05, 2017, first appearing on Goodreads Blog
Fiction

Truly Madly Guilty
Go Set a Watchman
Landline
And the Mountains Echoed
 
The Casual Vacancy
1Q84
Room
The Help

Nonfiction

Hamilton
Modern Romance
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
The Autistic Brain
Quiet
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Columbine

Mysteries & Thrillers

End of Watch
The Girl on the Train
Mr. Mercedes
Inferno
Gone Girl
Smokin' Seventeen
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
The Girl Who Played with Fire

Fantasy

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two
Trigger Warning
The Book of Life
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Wind Through the Keyhole
A Dance with Dragons
Towers of Midnight
Dead and Gone

Science Fiction

Morning Star
Golden Son
The Martian
MaddAddam
The Long Earth
11/22/63
Feed
Leviathan

Young Adult Fiction

Salt to the Sea
All the Bright Places
We Were Liars
Eleanor & Park
The Fault in Our Stars
Where She Went
Before I Fall
long for the Ride

Romance

It Ends with Us
Confess
Written in My Own Heart's Blood
Lover at Last
Fifty Shades Freed
Lover Unleashed
Lover Mine
An Echo in the Bone

Close Encounters of the Bookish Kind: 10 of the Best Alien Books

Alien Drive

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Unsplash

Coming right on the heels of “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” firmly cemented Steven Spielberg as the director of his generation. While “Jaws” was a perfect thriller, “Close Encounters” was more indicative of Spielberg’s range and creative ability. In many ways, “Close Encounters” is Spielberg’s masterpiece – a tightly constructed and awe-inspiring exploration of the possibility of other life in the galaxy, of obsession, and humanity’s place on a grand cosmic scale. It remains a remarkable, and singular, cinematic experience. The film is turned forty years old this year and as a result we saw a one-week re-release in theaters across the country in September. Here are a few suggestions for literary encounters to satisfy your curiosity for all things extraterrestrial. Let’s have a look.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

In this imaginative and often profound blend of speculative fiction and philosophy, a Jesuit priest and linguist named Emilio Sandoz leads a team on a mission to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The Sparrow is an engrossing, insightful, and challenging read.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Michel Faber’s novels have always defied easy categorization and his latest is no different. The Book of Strange New Things is the provocative and thought-provoking tale of a devout missionary named Peter who is sent to a distant planet that is home to an alien population struggling against a dangerous illness. Back on Earth, his wife Bea’s faith begins to falter as the world is devastated by natural disasters and crumbling governments. Through their stories, Faber teases out and confronts complex and challenging questions of faith, love, and responsibility.

The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel

Mysterious lights moving across the sky, strange apparitions appearing out of nowhere, bizarre occurrences with no clear explanation: The Mothman Prophecies has all of the elements of a grade-A UFO/first contact tale. Beginning in 1966, the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, became home to a series of increasingly strange instances centering around a winged apparition known to locals as the Mothman that culminated in a terrible disaster. Originally published in 1975, this one remains a must-read.

Arrival (Stories of Your Life MTI) by Ted Chiang

“Arrival” was one of 2016’s better films and certainly a thought-provoking exploration of grief, time, and perception told within the confines of a first contact narrative. The basis for “Arrival” was a novella titled Story of Your Life from Ted Chiang’s 2002 collection, Stories of Your Life and Others. Like most of Chiang’s fiction, Story of Your Life is an elegiac and thought-provoking piece of speculative fiction well worth your time.

The Day After Roswell by William J. Birnes and Philip Corso

The Roswell UFO Incident has become one of the most infamous UFO sightings in history and has turned Roswell, New Mexico, into something of a mecca for UFO true believers and conspiracy theorists. In this bestseller, retired Colonel Philip J. Corso lays bare what he claims was a government cover-up of an actual extraterrestrial event in Roswell. While generally viewed as something of a literary hoax, The Day After Roswell is nonetheless an entertaining – if controversial – read.

Contact by Carl Sagan

If you’re looking for the ring of authority in your first contact/UFO sci-fi, it’s hard to go wrong with Carl Sagan’s Contact. Sagan, the celebrated astrophysicist and science communicator, crafted this novel about a multinational team of scientists establishing first contact with a technologically advanced extraterrestrial life form.

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Written while Arthur C. Clarke was working with Stanley Kubrick on the groundbreaking film of the same name, 2001: A Space Odyssey is based in part on various short stories Clarke had written in the years previous. Like the film, it is a heady and thought-provoking examination of man’s place in a greater cosmic scheme.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The classic The Left Hand of Darkness from sci-fi maven Ursula K. Le Guin tells the story of a lone human sent to an alien world whose population can choose and change their gender. It was a groundbreaking work in 1969 given its exploration of sex, gender, and psychology and remains an intriguing read today.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline’s sophomore effort brings his considerable pop-culture acumen to bare in this alien invasion thriller. The novel centers on Zack Lightman, a young sci-fi aficionado who finds himself in the middle of a spacefaring adventure to defend Earth from invasion after spotting a flying saucer. Much like Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player OneArmada is a rollicking, self-aware, coming-of-age thriller.

UFOs by Leslie Kean

In UFOs, investigative reporter Leslie Kean pulls together a thorough and intriguing collection of UFO sightings from around the world alongside Kean’s own examination of hundred of documents recounting the phenomena. It’s a deep and thoughtful look into an endlessly controversial and fascinating subject.