In an interview last month with the B&N Podcast, Hugo-winning author John Scalzi posited that we are currently in a new Golden Age of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Never before within the genres have their been so many excellent books on offer to so many different types of readers.
Whatever your particular taste—be it high-flying space opera, immersive epic fantasy, upending alternate history, addictive urban fantasy, or however you’d classify the story of an intergalactic singing contest to determine the fate of humanity—our list of the best science fiction and fantasy novels of the first half of 2018 includes a book that will seem to have been written just for you. (Update: See our end of 2018 best SFF list list here. Still need to catch up on last year’s best? See our archive of editors’ picks.)
Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft
Bancroft’s buzzy debut was already a self-published sensation in ebook when Orbit acquired the rights to publish in print, with three sequels to follow in short order. It’s set in a steampunk universe whose main feature is the Tower of Babel, a legendary tourist attraction that soars endlessly into the sky, shrouded in clouds. No one knows how high the tower goes, and it seems to contain an infinite number of rooms, all of them unique. Thomas, a small town schoolteacher, and his beloved wife Marya take their honeymoon at the Tower, but Thomas loses his new bride in the immense crowd milling about the base. Desperate to find her, he begins to climb the Tower in hopes of finding her. Every room he enters is a world unto itself, as detailed and deeply imagined as any described in entire novels. Thomas finds himself in a mental and physical battle with various factions and personalities as he slowly ascends the tower and learns its secrets—well, some of them, at least. Deeply strange and instantly addictive, it’s one of the most original fantasy novels in years—and book two, Arm of the Sphinx (released in May) might be even better. Read our review.
The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard
This slender novella, released in print in a limited edition but widely available as an ebook, is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche unlike any you’ve ever read before—the Watson stand-in being a sentient starship left psychologically scarred by a recent tragedy that killed its entire human crew. The Shadow’s Child now keeps to herself, making ends (barely) meet by brewing bespoke tea blends that allow humans to travel into the dangerous hyperspace realm known as “Deep Space.” She’s forced to confront her past—and ferry a living being into Deep Spaces for the first time since the tragedy—when her financial circumstances make it impossible to refuse her latest client, a drug-addicted detective named Long Chau who is investigating the mysterious death of a woman whose body was found floating unprotected in the gaps between dimensions. The book packs a remarkable amount of worldbuilding into a compact package—aided by the fact that it is part of de Bodard’s ongoing Xuya series, which stretches across a heap of earlier short stories and novellas, though it stands alone quite well—but it’s the characters who will really stick with you. We can only hope we’ll be following Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child on another case soon.
The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
In this audacious, unapologetically feminist alternate history, Bolander imagines one of the “Radium Girls”—the very real victims of early workplace dangers, they suffered radiation poisoning from their jobs painting wristwatches with radioactive paint—meeting the sentient elephant that will replace her at the factory (elephants, being both intelligent enough to weild a paintbrush and large enough to absorb a lot of radiation before it kills them, are deemed a worthy disposable workforce). Bolander conflates the tragedy of the Radium Girls with the story of Topsy, the legendary elephant cruelly electrocuted before spectators at Coney Island to promote electricity. The two women—of different species, each boiling with rage against the injustice of their mistreatments—bond in a way that is wholly unexpected, leading a terrible act of justice and revenge that transcends time and history. It’s less than 100 pages, and will stay with you forever. Read our review.
Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown
Brown kicks off a whole new trilogy set in the universe of his bestselling Red Rising series with this story set about 10 years after Darrow finished the job of destroying the social order of the entire solar system. He and Mustang lead the Solar Republic, but you can’t smash an empire into pieces without causing some collateral damage, and it turns out running a multi-planet civilization is much more difficult than disrupting one. In addition to the usual woes successful revolutionaries face, there’s also interference by Lysander au Lune, the former heir to the throne, moving freely through space and waiting for a chance to act, and a mysterious new threat coming from outside the solar system itself. Fans of Brown’s first trilogy have come to expect complex, flawed characters, awesome technology, and fierce battles; the chaos of a ruined empire is fertile ground for all three. Read our review.
Semiosis, by Sue Burke
Sue Burke’s day job is in translation, and her impressive debut novel is focused on communication: a planetary colonization story with a twist. As the Earth nears environmental collapse, a colony ship is launched in a desperate bid to ensure humanity’s survival. The ship is forced to land on an unexpected planet, which the colonists name Pax—and which is populated by sentient plants and other life. Each chapter is told by a member of a subsequent generation of humans, who forge a symbiotic bond with Pax’s native life, but the relationship isn’t always comforting; on Pax, humanity isn’t sitting on top of the food chain, and communicating with plants is a complex art. Burke celebrates the adventurous spirit of the colonists while challenging their ideals, and our own. And in a rare (if not unprecedented) feat, her most compelling character may the intelligent bamboo struggling to see things through the eyes of the humans. Semiosis is a fascinating exploration of community alongside truly stunning worldbuilding, making the case that our notion of “community” can and should include much more than just the people next door. Read our review.
Starless, by Jacqueline Carey
The author of the beloved Kushiel novels returns to epic fantasy with a whole new adventure. Chosen at birth to be a shadow—one bonded to the Sun-Blessed Princess Zariya of the House of the Ageless, and sworn to protect her—Khai has spent his whole life in the desert, preparing for his duty. As his presentation to the princess draws near, however, Khai discovers he is actually bhazim—born genetically female, and raised as a male—even as learns of a prophecy of a fallen god rising in the west, whom the Sun-Blessed is destined to fight. Princess Zariya is determined to fulfill prophecy, despite her frail health, and so must assemble a force of untested defenders to face the awesome power of a risen god—including Khai, who must navigate love, friendship, and overwhelming odds to serve his princess and survive. Carey has a great gift for creating a deep sense of place in her novels, and Starless is another kaleidoscopic book of a thousand colors—the arid desert where the crows eat you when you die; the steam- and gossip- filled baths teeming with secluded royal women; the biting, salt-filled sea wind as felt from the prow of a raider’s ship—every scene as richly hued as new pigment on vellum canvas. Read our review.
Medusa Uploaded, by Emily Devenport
Oichi is a domestic servant on the generation ship Olympia, cybernetically-modified so that most of her sensory input is diverted to the Executives who run society. Partially blind, deaf, and mute, she is assisted by a link to a powerful AI, known as a Medusa, that “feeds” her sensory data from time to time. Oichi is more than she seems, however; her parents were killed when the Executives destroyed the Olympia’s sister ship—punishment for their subversive work attempting to transmit information that would enable anyone to bond with a Medusa, transforming the way of life onboard the immense starship. After she survives an attempted assassination, Oichi is officially declared dead, leaving her free to begin the methodical, bloody work of killing those in power and fomenting a revolution, even as she learns more about her own identity and the ship’s true mission. This sharp-edged novel from a Philip K. Dick Award-winner Devenport (Broken Time, written under a pseudonym) is a revenge thriller told from a unique and unforgettable point-of-view. Read our review.
The Last Sun, by K.D. Edwards
Edwards’ debut novel begins an epic fantasy series with memorable magic, intriguing worldbuilding, vibrant characters, and plenty of swordplay. The island of New Atlantis (created after the Atlantean World War destroyed the original “lost city”) is ruled by courts who take their names from the Tarot. Two orphaned members of the fallen Sun Court, Rune St. John and his bodyguard Brand, make their living in service to the other courts, and after participating on a raid against the Lovers Court, they fall into a nest of intrigue involving missing nobles and ravenous monsters, which may hold the secret to the events that led to the ruination of the Sun Court. Rune makes for an enjoyably snarky narrator, and his interplay with Brand lends the book a lot of heart. It’s a very promising series starter, and an impressive debut.
The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French
This deftly plotted and wildly original debut is another self-publishing sensation (like Senlin Ascends, it won acclaim in author Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest), aiming for a wider audience with mainstream publication. The titular bastards are a rough-and-ready unit of half-orc warriors, capable fighters who ride wild boars into combat. The Lot Lands lie between the humans (known as frails) and the orcs (known as thicks). Both sides disdain the Grey Bastards as half-breeds. The half-orcs patrol the Lot Lands and protect humans from full-blood orc invasion. Grey Bastard Jackal thinks their leader, Claymaster, is losing his grip—especially when arrival of a wizard the Bastards call Crafty has only exacerbates Claymaster’s strange behavior. When Jackal’s attempted coup fails, he is sent into exile, where he begins to learn the truth about the half-orcs and the border they patrol. French adopts the grim and gritty mood of so many modern fantasies, but an element of cautious optimism sneaks in around the edges. Yes, the Lot Lands are a brutal, war-torn hellscape, but as the story unfolds, there’s a seed of hope that, with work, their world could be a better place. As cynical as the best grim fantasy, it gives its characters a bright sliver of hope in all that darkness, and that makes all the difference.
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
In a world inspired by the recent history and culture of China, the Nikan Empire defeated the Federation of Mugen in the Second Poppy War, and the two countries have since coexisted in a fragile state of peace. Orphaned peasant girl Rin lives a life of misery in Nikan, but when she sits for the Keju, the empire-wide examination designed to find talented youth and assign them to serve where they will be most useful, she scores in the highest percentile and is shocked to be assigned to the prestigious Sinegard military school, home to the children of the Empire’s elite. At Sinegard, Rin is bullied for her dark skin and low social status—but with the help of an insane teacher, she also discovers she is a shaman, able to wield powers long thought lost to the world. As she grows into her power and communicates with living gods, Rin sees clearly that a third Poppy War is coming—and she may be the only one who can stop it. Kuang is Chinese-American, and the book’s worldbuilding is informed by her study of twentieth century Chinese history, but this is no mere academic exercise—the characters are flawed and true, and the choices they face are impossibly compelling. The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good. Read our review.
Grey Sister, by Mark Lawrence
Lawrence returns with another novel in the world of last year’s Red Sister, one of our Best SFF of 2017 picks. As the novel opens, trained assassin Nona Grey has grown older but still day-to-day in extreme danger. The orphan girl turned lethal killer is nearing a decision point—she will soon have to choose her fate: become a Red Sister, fighting to protect herself and the order, or seek a life of service and study, delving into the mysteries of the universe. Her past crimes and immense power still make her a target, however, and she’s made enemies of several dangerous people: a failed assassin who burns to correct a mistake, a power-hungry woman leading the Inquisition, and a revenge-focused lord whose son Nona killed. This blood-spattered series features intriguing politics amid the scenes of sudden violence, and is populated by a host of fascinating, deadly women. Read our review.
Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee
Lee brings the Hugo and Nebula award-nominated Machineries of Empire trilogy to its conclusion with a brainy, fast-paced final entry. Shuos Jedao wakes up in the body of a much older man rather than the 17-year old one his memories led him to expect. He’s shocked to discover he’s now a general, commanded by Hexarch Nirai Kujen—a tyrant hiding behind an easy smile—to conquer the haxarchate using an army compelled to obey his every command. Worse—he quickly discovers that the soldiers despise him for a massacre he doesn’t remember committing. Worst—someone is hunting him, seeking to bring him to justice for his crimes. The first two books in the series stretched imaginations and taxed brains, and this one is no different—and no less worth the effort it takes to puzzle it out.
The Rig, by Roger Levy
The human race has reached the stars and settled on distant planets, and all but abandoned religion along the way—just one planet, Gehenna, clings to a spiritual belief system. Instead of belief in an afterlife, the rest of humanity has AfterLife, a social media network where people can (thanks to omnipresent surveillance) watch replays of every moment in a dead person’s life like a TV show, and vote on whether they want that person to be resurrected. On the planet Bleak, a police officer looking into a string of murders is almost the final victim, events that him morbidly fascinated with death. He goes to work on The Rig, where the winners of AfterLife are placed in suspended animation deep under the sea. Meanwhile, a writer named Raisa begins investigating the murders—leading to a story with implications stretching across space to every human-settled planet. And on the devout planet Gehenna, a young boy genius meets a sociopath, setting in motion a complex string of events that lead back to the Rig. This is meaty literary SF in the David Mitchell vein, but weirder and more far-flung in its storytelling. Read our review.
Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller
Set in the floating city of Qaanaaq, built in the arctic circle in the wake of the terrible climate wars that saw ground-level cities burned and razed, Miller’s adult debut (his lightly fantastical YA The Art of Starving won the Andre Norton Award) is an intricate jewel box of ideas. The floating city is a marvel of engineering, but is starting to show the strain: poverty is rising, and crime and unrest along with it. A new disease known as the Breaks—which throws the infected into the midst of other people’s memories—is sweeping the population. When a woman arrives in Blackfish City riding on an Orca and accompanied by a polar bear, she’s an instant celebrity, dubbed the Orcamancer. She takes advantage of her fame to draw together the citizens Qaanaaq and set in motion acts of resistance and rebellion that will have incredible impact, leading four people them in particular to see through the corruption, lies, and marvels of the city to the shocking truths beneath. This is the kind of swirling, original sci-fi we live for. Read our review.
Fire Dance, by Ilana C. Myer
Myer returns to the universe of her debut, Last Song Before Night, with a standalone adventure that treats the events of the earlier book as backstory, setting up a new tale of dangerous magic and political skulduggery. Lin Amaristoth has been freshly educated in magic, and as court poet of the Kingdom of Eivar, is sent to the kingdom’s ally Kahishi as part of an effort to help Kahishi with their struggle against the Fire Dancers, wielders of strange magic who are attacking border settlements. Lin finds herself adrift in an unfamiliar court where plots and treachery are commonplace, racing to discover the truth behind the attacks and discover the secrets of the Fire Dancers. Back home, Lin’s mentor Valanir Ocune struggles to oppose the new Archmaster of the Academy, Elissan Diar, who has established a secret cabal of “chosen” disciples to study dangerous and forbidden magics—but Ocune faces long odds, with few allies he can trust. Myer (who is also a contributor to this blog) builds fascinating worlds, but it is the people who populate them that truly make her novels sing. Read our review.
Before Mars, by Emma Newman
Newman returns a third time to her Planetfall universe with this creepy, moving psychological sci-fi mystery. Celebrated artist Anna Kubrin is struggling with postpartum depression after the birth of her child, so an offer from a billionaire to spend some time on Mars as its resident geologist and artist seems like the perfect escape. When she arrives on the Red Planet months later, she’s shocked to discover a painting clearly created by her—and the work seems to be warning her not to trust the colony’s resident psychiatrist. Other details don’t add up, and Anna begins to wonder if she’s enmeshed in some sort of huge conspiracy—or if she’s losing her mind. Isolated and far, far away from those she can trust, Anna sees only one way out, and that’s to delve deeper into the mystery. Newman is a fine fantasist, but her science fiction has proven to be truly otherworldly; Before Mars is equally stifling and unnerving, a futuristic mystery shot through with paranoia. Read our review.
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk
Polk’s debut is set in a universe resembling Edwardian England, except for the fact that in this reality, the elite families that sit atop government and the social order have magical powers as well as political ones. Miles Singer is from just such a family, but when he flees the lap of luxury to join the war effort, he grows disillusioned with the trappings of power, and takes the opportunity to fake his own death and assume a new identity. Posing as a doctor at a failing veterans’ hospital, he sees firsthand how war changes people, never for the good—soldiers are returning from the front plagued by terrible versions, and shortly thereafter, committing terrible acts of violence. When one of his patients is poisoned, Miles not only accidentally reveals his healing powers, he is thrust into a mystery that involves an aloof, beautiful man who is more than human—and who may hold the secret to stopping a brewing inter-dimensional war. This bewitching story of political maneuverings, dangerous magic, sweet romance, and bicycle chases is never less than addictive. Read our review.
Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell
Gareth L. Powell is the mad genius behind the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy, a British Science Fiction Award-winning saga of alt-history warfare and an uplifted monkey fighter pilot welding a machine gun. Sounds ridiculous, sure, but he managed to twist the premise in service of some really smart sci-fi, and he only tops himself in Embers of War, which turns some of our favorite space opera tropes (including sentient starships) to eleven. Trouble Dog was a vessel built for war, but after the conflict is over, the artificial mind at its core feels regret for its role int he conflict. She joins the House of Reclamation, a sort of rescue organization for trouble starships. Shortly after, she and a small human crew of miscreants are tasked with discovering what has happened to a passenger ship that has gone missing in disputed space. One of the missing ship’s passengers, On a Sudak, was a reknowned poet, but was also living a dangerous double life, the facts of which are teased out by government intelligence officer Ashton Chide, who uncovers secrets that could plunge the galaxy into war yet again—unless Trouble Dog can figure out how to stop it. This is a true space opera, full of suspense, and mystery, and stuff blowing up real good—but it’s the humanity of Powell’s vision that truly makes it something special. Read our review.
Master Assassins, by Robert V.S. Redick
The first book in Redick’s (The Charthand Voyages) new series The Fire Sacraments takes place on the war-torn and blood-soaked continent of Urrath. Squabbling brothers Kandri and Mektu have been drafted into the army of an insane prophet, and their daily survival depends on pretending to be true believers—a script Mektu, who thinks he sees demons, has trouble sticking to. When the brothers are blamed for an assassination—the prophet’s army believes them to be professional killers—they must flee into the desert known as “the Land that Eats Men” in order to survive. There, they meet an array of strange and deadly allies and enemies, and learn a secret that could change the course of Urrath’s history for better or much, much worse—if they can survive long enough to reveal it. Redick wrings this emotional baggage for all its worth, dribbling out the secrets of the past with expert care, and the gallows humor is sprinkled high and low amid the barren landscape of the Stolen Sea and the Land That Eats Men (because if you can’t appreciate the laughable irony of being mistakenly lauded as heroes by a desert warlord, what can you appreciate?). The author’s long-in-coming return to fantasy promises to be the start of a truly satisfying epic. Read our review.
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel,binding them two together in a way that could only and ever happen in Dinétah. Read our review.
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson
In the 23rd century, the human population of Earth is just emerging from underground shelters as the planet recovers from an ecological disaster. Minh works with a team of scientists using advanced technology to restore the planet’s environmental balance—but then the development of working time travel technology robs her project of funding and interest, as everyone wonders why it’s worth bothering to fix the future when the past offers a perfect refuge. When Minh and her team have the chance to travel back to prehistoric Mesopotamia as part of a project to restore the ecosystem of the future, she must first secure funding and the support of the shadowy forces that control time travel itself—and that’s not even counting the dangerous prospect of actually exploring an ancient, hostile world. Robson has won accolades for her short fiction, and her debut novella is packed with enough invention to fill an entire novel or two (did we mention the disabled Minh’s body has been augmented with six mechanical, octopus-like robotic legs?), and a narrative style that forces you to sit up and pay attention. Read our review.
The Oracle Year, by Charles Soule
What if you could see the future? Even just in bits? Literature, religion, and mythology are absolutely lousy with prophecy and premonition, but comic book writer Charles Soule’s prose debut brings something new to the table: verisimilitude. It’s the story of a New Yorker who gains sudden foresight in the form of 108 demonstrably true prophecies and finds himself stumbling through the repercussions before trying to retake control of his life. Throughout the titular year, the consequences of the existence of a real-life oracle are explored realistically, and with tremendous wit. Soule is best known for his extraordinarily prolific career in both mainstream (Darth Vader, Daredevil) and creator-owned comics (Curse Words), but he makes and assured and confident debut as a novelist. The Oracle Year has all of the elements of a straight-ahead action thriller, while exploring faith, politics, and personal responsibility with heart and a sly, satirical wit straight out of the funny pages. Read our review.
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
If you’ve been looking to get schwifty with a new space opera, look no further. Valente spins a truly nutty sci-fi story that begins with the Sentience Wars that nearly eradicated all intelligent life in the universe; when they ended, the scattered survivors regrouped and began a new tradition designed to avoid future apocalypses: the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a universe-wide competition of song and dance open only to recognized sentient species. When any new species emerges onto the universal stage to declare itself sentient—like, say, humanity—they must send contestants to the Grand Prix to prove their worth and quite literally sing for their lives (though alien singing doesn’t always sound like a Top 40 hit). Place anything but last and the upstart civilization is a part of the club. If they come in last…well, they’re quietly exterminated, in the name of preserving universal peace. (Tough choices, people…and not people.) When Earth is unexpectedly pulled into the next contest, the task of saving humanity falls to a has-been rock star named Decibel Jones, who must grapple with the demons of his past while venturing reluctantly onto the largest stage of all-time. It’s a a second chance to be a glitter-bombed rock star. or die trying—along with everyone else. Inspired by her dual love for Eurovision and Douglas Adams, this one is pure Catherynne Valente, from the first page to the last. Read our review.
The Freeze-Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts
This brain-teasing novella from Peter Watts (Blindsight) works brilliantly as a standalone but also connects to several other short stories in the Sunflowers sequence (“The Island,” included in his collection Beyond the Rift; “Hotshot,” found in the anthology Reach for Infinity, and “Giants,” published in Clarkesworld Issue 96). The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a sci-fi thought experiment disguised as a story of deep space revolution. The crew of the ship Eriophora is on a mission to build interstellar gates through space—a job intended to take more than 60 million years or real time; crew members are awake for one day every few millennia, their waking cycles controlled by Chimp, the ship’s AI. One of the crew, Sunday Ahzmundin, uses her brief moments out of suspended animation to investigate the death of one fellow crewmember and the disappearance of another, and uncovers a secret that could unravel the closed society onboard the ship. There’s a lot of complexity packed in these 192 pages, and hints that there are more stories yet to come (and at least one that is already out there, if you know how to decipher the clues Watts has left within the text). If only we could stop time so we didn’t have to wait for them.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, by Alex White
In a past life, Boots Elsworth was a treasure hunter—one of the best. Now past her prime, Boots has been reduced to selling fake information about salvage opportunities and hoping no one comes back for a refund—but then she unexpectedly stumbles onto some real information: the story of what happened to the legendary warship Harrow, one of the most powerful weapons ever created. Nilah Brio was once a famous racer in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation, until she was framed for murder. On the run to prove her innocence, Nilah chases her one lead—the real killer, now hunting someone named Boots Elsworth. When they meet, an uneasy alliance is formed, and the chase for the Harrow—and for justice—is on. This is fantastic stuff, in every sense of the word: characters, magic, tech, varied planetary settings, onboard ship life, the history of the galactic wars, and even a little sex and romance are woven in so seamlessly, there is never a dull moment. You don’t want to be part of the crew of the Capricious, exactly—that would be suicidal, given the chances they take—but you’ll want to read more of their adventures. Good thing a sequel is arriving in December. Read our review.
And 10 more books we love…
Imposter Syndrome, by Mishell Baker
This trilogy started by camouflaging its plot in the glitz of Hollywood and the glamour of Faerie, but the journey protagonist Millie, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and her companions have truly been on is far more personal, and about as real as they come; this is a fittingly complicated end to a game-changing urban fantasy series. Read our review.
Lake Silence, by Anne Bishop
Anne Bishop has always been skilled at building playful, enticing worlds, and she’s filled this one—the first in a new series that shares a setting with her bestselling The Others novels—with some of her best characters yet. Read our review.
Armistice, by Lara Elena Donnelly
If the Nebula-nominated Amberlough had the feel of a spy thriller crossed with Cabaret, Armistice is like Casablanca, set in places and among people teetering on the edge and penned in by brutality, but still wearily keeping on. Read our review.
The Queens of Innis Lear, by Tessa Gratton
In focusing on the hard choices forced upon women by the whims of men, this retelling of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy reveals a part of the story we’ve never seen before, and makes the resulting fury that much more terrible and transformative. Read our review.
Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway
A noirish detective story; an argument on the nature of reality and the divine; a Borgesian nested narrative; and a twisted, fourth-wall-breaking indictment of the surveillance state, and of complacent thinking as a whole—it may be Nick Harkaway’s most challenging, interesting book yet (which is saying something). Read our review.
Time Was, by Ian McDonald
This slender, poignant queer romance incorporates time travel and hints of hard science into a story as devastatingly sad—which isn’t to say bleak—as anything you’ll read this year. Read our review.
Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire
There is as much heart as sugar in McGuire’s third Wayward Children novella, yet the tenderness with which she portrays her lost, damaged kids never turns saccharine; this journey into a confectionary kingdom is as delicious a story as you could hope or hunger for. Read our review.
Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor
With this series-ender, the Binti trilogy stands revealed as a science fiction masterpiece majestic in scope, putting sci-fi grandeur to use to tell a story that’s deeply personal and uniquely spiritual. Read our review.
The Sky Is Yours, by Chandler Klang Smith
Exactly the thing you’re looking for, if the thing you are looking for is a sharp satire of American politics and reality-as-entertainment set in a Blade Runner-esque post apocalyptic city eerily reminiscent of New York and plagued by a pair of restless dragons. Read our review.
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells
In the sequel to Wells’ Hugo-nominated, Nebula-winning novella All Systems Red, human-weary cyborg Murderbot travels to the mining facility where it went rogue to find out the truth of its past; along the way, it picks up an adorable sidekick in the form of a sentient transport vehicle named ART—another prickly AI to love. Read our review.
What’s the best new SFF book you’ve read in 2018?