We made it through 2017, a tumultuous year for the world, but not a bad one at all in the sci-fi and fantasy section of the bookstore. If you need proof (well, more proof), we offer the new books the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog staff loved in 2017.
Rich Rosell: Time travel can be a sticky plot point, chock-full of potential stumbling blocks. I am no physicist (quantum, theoretical, or otherwise) but in his remarkable debut novel All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai neatly tackles a lot of the big issues related to time travel and all the dark, funny, romantic ramifications of going back. Plus, Mastai presents not one but two (!) methods of time travel, each explained with the right amount of “that sounds believable to me” realism. Wow, this book…!
Martin Cahill: Sam J. Miller’s debut The Art of Starving is a book that can change lives. The story of Matt—young, sarcastic, caustic, and vulnerable—is by turns harrowing, hilarious, destructive, and empowering, as his attempts at power and control through starvation cause him to slip even further from the things he loves. Miller’s story of eating disorders, superpowers, love, family, and self-acceptance is one of the best books I read this year, and I absolutely can’t wait for his new novel next year, Blackfish City.
Aidan Moher: Howrey’s The Wanderers is literary SF at its finest. It snuck up on me. I hadn’t heard anyone in SFF fandom talking about it—but that cover! On a whim, I picked it up, and discovered a subversive and melancholy meditation on life, progress, and family. It’s SF elements might be light (even debatable), but that’s what makes them so effective—it’s peak speculative fiction.
Sam Reader: It’s probably no surprise a book I’ve talked about at great length over the year is my selection for my favorite new book of 2017, but Paul Cornell’s Chalk got me in a way few books have engaged. In its unnerving, visceral, and realistic depiction of trauma and adolescence, it goes where many fear to tread, and, when tied into the surreal and deranged occult horror of the plot, creates a compelling and upsetting novel that deserves to be spoken of for years to come
Ross Johnson: Though it probably benefits from at least a passing knowledge of major comic book heroines, Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues is not only important, but fierce. In it, female characters who were treated shabbily in their storylines (beaten, abused, made objects of lust, or called insane) get to tell their sides of the story. And they are not having it. The book is a searing and rewarding indictment of our pop culture that still manages to have some fun with its premise. Listen to women, we’re reminded, even if they’re comic book characters.
Alasdair Stuart: Sarah Gailey’s novella River of Teeth is a western, a romance, a science fiction alternate history, an action thriller and a half dozen other genres. Set in an America where hippos were introduced to the ecosystem, she weaves historical near-misses together with a wry wit, a shot of darkness and the most memorable cast of characters I read this year. Relentlessly inventive, uniquely voiced and massively fun.
Kelly Quinn Chiu: Set in an alternate modern-day Britain ruled by a magic-using aristocracy, Vic James’s fantasy debut Gilded Cage mixes political maneuvering, upstairs-downstairs intrigue, social unrest, and not-so-subtle commentary on class with a cast of likable (and fascinatingly unlikeable) characters. This fast-paced, absorbing series opener is twisty, dark, and gleefully merciless—I’m hoping the second book, due out next year, brings some more attention to this fun series.
T.W. O’Brien: Hurley’s stunning space opera The Stars Are Legion starts with Zan, a woman with no memory. She and the reader find themselves in the Legion, living worldships fighting for control of the Mokshi, the only ship capable of striking out on its own. In a Dante like descent into the bowels of her world, Zan learns who she was and, more importantly, who she can be.
Jeff Somers: Few books, even in SFF, capture the frightening, amazing power of language the way Tidbeck does in her debut, Amatka. Set in a world where everything is made from a formless, viscous substance found on a distant planet, it takes its dreadful time sketching out this exhausting universe before veering off into chilling, madness-inducing explorations of existence and meaning. If I’m making that sound dry and overwrought that’s on me, because it’s a story with a pulsing heart at the center of one of the strangest Black Mirror episodes ever constructed.
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Kat Howard’s An Unkindness of Magicians gave me what I’ve been seeking for years: Magic that captured my imagination the way that Harry Potter did, but all grown up and in a city I love. Set in new York City and beautifully rendered, and crafted to make you feel every twist of the plot.
Nicole Hill: I was unaware I needed another epic fantasy world to fall into this year, but Kevin Hearne showed me I did in A Plague of Giants, the doorstopper debut of his latest series. The conflict at the heart of the plot is world-spanning and the cast of characters is suitably enormous, but all of that sprawl is kept in hand by Hearne’s central storytelling device: Fintan, the bard, who takes the shapes and tells the personal stories of 10 individuals who give this world war its human shape.
Corrina Lawson: Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male is deeply moving book about what happens when the government tries to regulate what makes a family and how people struggle to find the ones they love despite every obstacle against them.
Ed Grabianowski: One of the things that really draws me into a book, in any genre, is a compelling mystery, and Wendy Wagner’s An Oath of Dogs has more than one. There’s the murder mystery at the heart of the plot, the mystery of what the corporation that controls the Huginn planetary colony is covering up, and the mystery of the increasingly bizarre effects when non-native life forms are introduced to Huginn’s ecosystem. It’s a lot of fun to unravel it all.
Paul Weimer: K. Arensault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is a fantastic debut Epic Fantasy novel that uses letters and second-person narration skillfully to tell the tale. The book is full of Gorgeous, evocative prose. The book thinks and employs language and culture as a wonderful entree into its deep worldbuilding. This is the kind of epic fantasy that I’ve hoped to see more of for years.
Meghan Ball: Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above hit me like a missile. It’s a fabulous late-steampunk military story with top-notch world building, insane action scenes, and characters I still think about months later. It’s oddly funny and incredibly well told. It knocked me out of reading slump, and I am beside myself in anticipation waiting for the sequel, due out in 2018. Just an incredible book.
Sarah Gailey: Fonda Lee is a brilliant voice in SFF, and her adult fantasy debut Jade City will surely establish her as a luminous voice in adult genre fiction. Her crime-family drama is written with rich, dynamic prose and a thoughtful undercurrent of character-driven conflict. It’s everything I loved about the Godfather, and so. Much. More.
Joel Cunningham: When Diana Wynne Jones died, I mourned not just the loss of a great writer, but of all the stories she had left to tell. Never again, I thought, would I read a new book that made me feel that same sense of wonder and discovery as I did picking up books like Howl’s Moving Castle, or Dogsbody, or Eight Days of Luke. But then I discovered Kari Maaren’s debut, Weave a Circle Round, which captures everything I loved about DWJ, but also tells a story all its own, about a flawed, troubled, too-relatable teenage girl discovering not all heroes are chosen ones, and vice versa.
Ceridwen Christensen: When I first heard the premise of Jeannette Ng’s debut Under the Pendulum Sun, I thought, why hasn’t anyone done this before? Though I can think of several novels that detail missionary expeditions to convert aliens, I’d never heard of one about a mission to the world of Faerie. In Victorian England, a missionary’s sister voyages to Faerie to find her brother after his correspondence becomes intermittent and strange. Everything about the world of the fae is a bit off, if not monstrously wrong, and our humans’ faith is sorely tested. This is an eerie novel, full of wonders that both delight and terrify.
What’s the best book you read in 2017?