The Best New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Read in 2018

We’ve already shared the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s picks for the best new science fiction and fantasy books of 2018 (not to mention the best SFF as chosen by B&N’s team of experienced booksellers). But we’re not done yet: We also asked our crack time of bloggers, reviewers, and essayists—the folks behind every review and reading roundup we’ve published this year—to do the impossible, and select the one new book they read in the past year that will stick with them forever.

These are our bloggers’ picks for the year’s most memorable, rewarding new sci-fi and fantasy books.

The Wild Dead, by Carrie Vaughan
The Wild Dead is the sequel to 2017’s Bannerless, so I’m going to cheat and recommend both. Though the overarching plots center around murder mysteries, these books are about much more than figuring out whodunnit. They are also a rather frightening look at a potential future of the United States after a major climate catastrophe has decimated Earth’s population and the government has collapsed. What happens when a crime is committed in a society lacking the usual systems of control? Enid of Haven was born after the Fall, and her insatiable curiosity about the world both before and after it led her to become an investigator, one of an independent group of nomads who travel up and down the Coast Road society and offer their services to the various tiny enclaves of civilization in need of judges and justice. What she learns reveals so much about how this changed world works. It’s a fascinating portrait of survival, love, and family. –Ardi Alspach

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
Bold, funny, heart-wrenching, and utterly unexpected, Space Opera was, by far, the most fun I had reading all year. Valente’s uses her masterful talent for voice to create a compelling tapestry of characters—human and alien—that juggle that fine balance between comedic and believable. Just like the rest of her writing, it’s wrapped around a thoughtful core and has an unfair amount of heart. Get ready to laugh, cry, and read it again—just like putting your favorite track on repeat. – Aidan Moher 

The Fall of Gondolin, by J. R.R. Tolkien
Not just a tale of adventure, betrayal, and a truly epic battle, this early work from a fantasy master is also a glimpse of Tolkien’s process at work. Editor Christopher Tolkien offers several versions of this story of a mighty elven city’s destruction at the hands of Morgoth, letting us see how his father revised and expanded it as the mythology of Middle-earth grew and evolved. – Ed Grabianowski

Wonderblood, by Julia Whicker
There are times you finish a book and immediately know it’s not just good, but great. Wonderblood is a great book: a gothic, post-apocalyptic fantasy set in a bizarre world where occultism and religion have absorbed science, and the chain of turbulent events that occur after two strange lights appear in the sky. It’s an imaginative setting, one in which where the earth literally bleeds and scientists have to pretend they’re wizards lest they be set upon by zealots, with an epic apocalyptic struggle at the center of the plot, matching the decor beat for beat. – Sam Reader

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning gives us a post-apocalyptic landscape in what used to be an Native Reservation, centering on a main character who is a human monster fighting monsters of Navajo legend. Revelatory worldbuilding, vivid writing, and strong characterization make Roanhorse’s debut truly stands out—and not only as a debut, but as the best book of the year, period. – Paul Weimer

Sword & Sonnet: An Anthology of Battle Poets, edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler
Sword and Sonnet is a veritable treasure chest of short fiction, brimful with unique and exquisitely crafted tales. From A.C. Wise’s weird western about a gunslinger who can kill with a word; to C.S.E. Cooney’s fiery tale of resistance, “As For Peace, Call It Murder”; to Khaalidah Muhammead-Ali’s powerful and compelling “She Searches For God in the Storm Within”; to the lush, poetic prose of A.E. Prevost’s “Labyrinth, Sanctuary”, every story is a must-read. – Maria Haskins

Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown
Writing a follow-up trilogy to something as nearly perfect as the Red Rising trilogy could have resulted in a faint echo of past glory, but Brown brought a real sense of gravitas and the cost of victory to this new story cycle, somehow deepening the universe and characters while finding new twists. The weary, worried, older characters make this feel lived-in rather than tired, and there’s a chance this new trilogy will be better than the first. – Jeff Somers

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
This was a tough choice, with several books vying for the top spot in my head. I’ve realized, though, that Adrian Tchaikovsky’s book—just officially released in the U.S., and thus new to me—combines many of the elements that I’ve liked in other books, and does them better. With a plot spanning thousands of years, it throws a harsh light on big issues of religion and cross-cultural conflict without ever losing a sense of empathy, and does so in a story with a cool cryoship, uploaded intelligence, AI, and (best of all) HYPER-INTELLIGENT SPIDERS. – Ross Johnson

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, by Alex White
The only reason the first book in in White’s The Salvagers Series is on the list and not the second is that you want to read this one first, so you don’t miss a second of an adrenaline-filled series that packs in more twists, more characterization, and more action than anything I’ve read this year. The LGBTQ representation is a lovely bonus as well. Pick up this one (and sequel A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy) and prepare to have a blast. – Corrina Lawson

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee
The first two books of the Machineries of Empire Series were groundbreaking space opera, but Lee manages to take it to another level in the final book. The complex relationship between Cheris and Jedao becomes even more tangled. The depth of the AI servitors’ personalities and culture is revealed. And the story reaches one of the most satisfying conclusions I have read in a long time. – Tim O’Brien

Temper, by Nicky Drayden
Nicky Drayden blew me away with her debut, The Prey of Gods. She follows it up this year with a novel equally wild and complex.Temper, a rowdy blend of demons and science, is a study of contrasts. Its world is populated almost entirely by twins, each pair carrying a different balance of vice and virtue. Rather quickly, brothers Kasim and Auben find out just how rare (and troublesome) their balance is. – Nicole Hill

We Sold Our Souls, by Grady Hendrix
Reading this book is like standing in front of a full stack of amps at the loudest metal concert ever. It blows your socks clear across the venue and leaves you cheering for more. We Sold Our Souls offers a heady mix of horror and music, weaving a tale around Kris, a now middle-aged metal guitarist who discovers the former lead singer of her band made a Faustian bargain, selling not just his own soul, but the entire group’s. She embarks on a bloody, vicious journey to get hers back, and the result is part VH1’s Behind the Music and part David Cronenberg. Hendrix wields a clever metaphor like Tony Iommi wields a guitar, so I feel OK saying this book feels like being in the middle of a mosh pit. It’s pure adrenaline with a killer soundtrack. It rocked my face off. – Meghan Ball

Witchmark, by C.L. Polk
It’s not often that a book simply won’t allow itself to be put down, but C. L. Polk’s Witchmark may have been the book I had the most trouble prying myself away from this year. This compelling Edwardian-inspired fantasy’s combination of magic, mystery, and steamy romance had me flipping pages faster with every tantalizing clue and catching my breath at every shared glance between protagonist Miles and his transcendently handsome paramour. – Kelly Quinn Chiu

Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft
I’ve read a lot of great new SFF this year, but Josiah Bancroft’s incomparable debut was the only book that instantly made my list of all-time favorites. It’s easy to recommend (I’ve shoved copies into the hands of at least five people), but tough to describe—because it’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever read. Stiff, starch-collared small-town school teacher Thomas Senlin imagines his honeymoon journey to the fabled Tower of Babel—the center of culture and technological advancement in his vaguely steampunk-ian world—will fulfill all his intellectual dreams. Instead, he encounters a place far stranger, and more sordid, than he ever read about in his books. When he loses track of his young bride, he must plunge in—and up—the Tower, and discover its terrible secrets, if he ever hopes to find her. It’s a little bit Peake, a little bit Borges, and as addictive and imaginative as Lev Grossman’s Magicians Trilogy. And the sequel is even better. – Joel Cunningham

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
An asteroid impact accelerates the space race and gives it a very different edge, and a very different set of flight crews and choices. Along with sequel The Fated Sky, Kowal has written a bona fide modern classic: a story that explores issues of gender, race relations, hard science, and romance alongside the barely contained, effervescent joy of flight and space travel. Relentless, compassionate, hopeful, and extraordinary. – Alasdair Stuart

Mecha Samurai Empire, by Peter Tieryas
Set a generation after the Axis powers won the war (and about a decade after the events of standalone predecessor  United States of Japan), Mecha Samurai Empire follows war orphan Mac as he tries to follow in his parents’ very large footprints and become a mecha pilot. I found Mac so endearing in his struggles and failures, his determination and resolve; he does not smoothly level up, but really has to work at it. Giant fighting robots are pretty awesome too. – Ceridwen Christensen

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
This novel is relentless and gorgeous. I couldn’t step away from Novik’s stunning, frank prose, and the pace of the narrative kept me locked in. Spinning Silver is its own kind of fairy tale, one that reclaims traditional narratives and digs into the underlying biases that propel the stories we tell each other and the ways we let each other come to harm. I can’t recommend it highly enough. – Sarah Gailey

What was your favorite sci-fi or fantasy book of 2018?

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