The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of December 2018

For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.

King of the Road, by R.S. Belcher (December 4, Tor Books—Hardcover)
R.S. Belcher, author of the occult-themed western Six-Gun Tarot and Shotgun Arcana, delivers a companion novel to 2016’s Brotherhood of the Wheel,  which follows a secret group of big rig acolytes (descended from the Knights Templar) who  protects the highways and byways of America from the dark forces that stalk the open roads. Brotherhood member Jimmie Aussapile, his partner/squire Heck, a state trooper, and a road witch find themselves tied up in a snake’s nest of intertwining crimes and conspiracies: missing persons, a ghostly clown, a cultish alchemist, the risen dead, monstrous shadows, and warring biker gangs. Belcher wends his way through urban legends and American folklore, gunning the engine all the way to the explosive conclusion.

The Shattered Sun, by Rachel Dunne (December 4, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Dunne concludes her Bound Gods series with suitably epic flair. After being cast down and imprisoned in the mortal realm by their parents, the gods Patharro and Metherra, Fratarro and Sororra—known as The Twins—are finally free, and the Long Night has begun as they revel in power. Only the rogue priest Joros has a hope of stopping them, and he’s assembled a desperate band of fellow rogues to aid in the attempt. But gods always have disciples, and it’s no different for The Twins, whose faithful exhibit powers only gods can comprehend—and are bent on revenge. Time is short; once The Twins are at full strength, they will be able to bend the world to their wills—so, ready or not, Joros and his champions must move quickly, or the whole world might be lost.

Soulbinder, by Sebastien de Castell (December 4, Orbit—Paperback)
The fourth book in de Castell’s Spellslinger series continues the desperate adventures of Kellen, a mage whose magic failed him just as he was about to turn 16 and take part in the magical duel that would designate him a true spellcaster. Kellen used his brains and low cunning to hide his secret, but after his ruse was exposed, he was rescued by a mysterious stranger—and plunged into a complex web of skulduggery and black magic. After regaining his powers and mastering his magic as a hunter of renegade mages, Kellen is now cursed, and experiences frequent and violent visions even as he’s chased by a group of bounty hunters. Desperate, he sets out to find a group of monks rumored to be able to cure his affliction—but he knows little about them, nor what price the cure may cost him.

Splintered Suns, by Michael Cobley (December 4, Orbit—Paperback)
Cobley’s fifth—and apparently final—entry in the Humanity’s Fire series is an interstellar Ocean’s 11, but with higher stakes and more space pirates. Brannan Pyke leads a crew on a heist that might gain them the Essavyr Key, an ancient relic that offers access to the long-lost technologies of a vanished alien civilization. First, however, they’ll have to break into a bio-engineered museum to steal a tracking device that will lead them to a shattered desert planet, where an immense alien ship is buried under the shifting sands. The key is somewhere on that ship—but claiming it will require Pyke to avoid or defeat an old enemy seeking the same prize. You needn’t be caught up on the other books in the series to enjoy this action-packed treasure hunt, but after you read it, you’ll probably want to circle back.

Tales from Plexis, by Julie E. Czerneda (December 4, DAW—Paperback)
Not every fictional universe is robust enough to sustain a whole series of books, and very few are inspiring enough to get other authors involved in the worldbuilding. The Clan Chronicles is now one of those rare creations to grow larger than its creator: Czerneda has opened up the sandbox to her peers, collecting 23 linked short stories into a mosaic novel centered on the legendary Plexis Supermarket, a place where the greedy, the desperate, and the adventurous come to find… just about anything. Authors like  Tanya Huff, Amanda Sun, Ika Koeck, and many more have a blast exploring the origins and teasing out the details of some of the Trade Pact’s most memorable bits—including the true nature of the Turrneds and the Neblokans, and a whole bunch about truffles. We can’t imagine a more fitting celebration of this legendary intergalactic hotspot.

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, by Alex White (December 11, Orbit—Paperback)
The second book in the big, gay, action-packed space opera series The Salvagers (after August’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe) opens with Nilah and Boots basking in the newfound wealth shared by the crew of the Capricious in the wake of their last desperate adventure. They could’ve just spent their money and enjoyed life for a change, basking in the glory of having literally just saved the universe from destruction, but no: when rumors of an ancient cult linked to a dangerous, ancient power reach them, they know they have to act. Nilah goes undercover, testing her short temper, while Boots faces up to her past, forced to look up her traitorous ex-partner. If you’re getting Firefly vibes from all that, you’re right on the money; Browncoats will find a lot to love in this fast, funny, and wickedly smart series.

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (December 11, Orbit—Paperback)
Adrian Tchaikovsky apparently has a thing for spiders. This 2015 book, formerly available only as a UK import, is being republished in the U.S. by Orbit just in time for the May 2019 debut of the sequel, Children of Ruin. It’s a magnificently imaginative space opera about the last remnants of humanity’s diaspora to the stars, who believe they’ve found their new Eden—a terraformed planet perfectly suited to human life—until they discover another batch of colonists (of the massive, fiendishly intelligent, eight-legged variety) is also vying for a spot at the top of the food chain. It’s a novel that once again proves the author a master at manipulating familiar elements of the genre (generation ships, cryosleep, truly alien civilizations), while injecting his own brand of venomous originality—due to the colony world’s ideal environment, the spider race evolves at an accelerated rate, allowing us to witness entire epochs of its history, from squishable bugs to a space-faring civilization to be reckoned with, in the span of a few hundred idea-packed pages.

The Corporation Wars Trilogy, by Ken MacLeod (December 11, Orbit—Paperback)
MacLeod’s excellent Corporation Wars trilogy (Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence) is collected into a single omnibus edition, telling the whole story of a universe where vicious, ruthless companies use sophisticated AIs to wage cold and hot wars over mining rights. The commands take time to transmit to the robots, however, and in the space between them, the AIs have to make their own decisions—a dangerous situation that indirectly leads them to sentience and self-actualization. Seba is one of those freshly sentient AIs, and sparked a revolution among its fellow “freeboot”minds. Trying to keep them under control is Carlos, a soldier who, via technology, has been reincarnated over and over again. When Carlos and Seba begin to see each other as pawns in a game larger than them both, things get truly interesting—and having all three books in one binding is going to be very convenient once you’re totally hooked and unable to stop turning pages.

Green Jay and Crow, by D.J. Daniels (December 11, Abaddon—Paperback)
Daniels’ novel earns its comparisons to Philip K. Dick: weird, difficult, and occasionally obscure, this is a story that raises heavy questions about reality, humanity, and time without fully answering them. In the city of Barlewin, Kern Bromley is a human known as Crow, tasked with delivering a time-locked box to a dangerous criminal. Crow becomes linked to the box and begins jumping to alternate realities, meeting himself and glimpsing multiple possible realities. Eva, the Green Jay, is an artificial body double printed from plant matter. Eva lives in the memories of her creator, and should have disintegrated long ago, but is still struggling to find her way into reality, and has managed to remain in one piece through the assistance of a pair of robots named Felix and Oscar (the Chemical Conjurers). Eva’s survival depends on something inside the box Brom carries, but whether she can rely on him or not is an open question. This is a story that explores what it means to be real, to be human—and to be neither.

Typeset in the Future, by Dave Addey (December 11, Abrams—Hardcover)
Addey distills the fascinating studies of typography and design in science fiction that have made his blog a must-read into a brilliant, absorbing book. Via film stills, concept art, interviews, and other elements, Addey analyzes how the often-overlooked art of fonts and other design elements augment fantastic fictional universes and subtly, invisibly root them in a sort of fictional reality. Diving deep into iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Moon, and Total Recall, Addey explains how design decisions can have a profound effect not just on our enjoyment of a film, but on its lasting legacy in popular culture.

Siege of Stone, by Terry Goodkind (December 31, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The handsomely jacketed third book in Goodkind’s Nicci Chronicles (set in the Sword of Truth universe) opens with Nicci, Nathan Rahl, and Bannon still in the city of Ildakar. The good news is that the slaves have been freed and the Wizard’s Council defeated. The bad news is that as he fled the city, the Wizard Commander Maxim removed the ancient spell that turned the army of General Utros—the most feared military commander in the world 1,500 years prior—to stone. As his army wakes from its enchanted prison, Utros lays siege to the city, and Nicci, Nathan, and Bannon must use every magical defense to save it—and find a way to save the world from not one, but two ancient enemies, each poised to destroy everything in their path.

What new sci-fi and fantasy books are on your wish list this December?

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