While 2017 hasn’t been a great year in a lot of ways (oh so many ways), it has been a pretty good year for books. Especially science fiction and fantasy. As always, it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down to a list of favorites, but I’m giving it a go. All of these books are wonderful, and I’d absolutely recommend them!
1. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
I’ve been yelling my heart out about this book, and I’m thrilled whenever I convince someone to read it. Sadly, it’s not gotten as much attention as it deserves, but I’m trying my best to change that.
An Unkindness of Ghosts takes place aboard the HSS Matilda, a generation ship who’s social system mirrors that of the antebellum South. It’s not a happy book or an easy one, but it is powerful. An Unkindness of Ghosts addresses race, gender and sexuality, queer identities, oppression, trauma, resistance and resilience. It’s got a great story, a great world and great characters. And above all else, it made me think. I absolutely adore An Unkindness of Ghosts.
2. Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Under the Pendulum Sun is another incredibly impressive debut. Taking its inspiration from Gothic novels, it spins a darkly enchanting tale of the fae.
Catherine’s brother Leon is a missionary to Arcadia, also known as fairyland. When Catherine follows him to Arcadia, she finds herself trapped in a strange and isolated manner house, Gethsemane. As the months go on, Catherine finds every attempt to assert order on Arcadia fails, and she too begins to fall to its absurdity, overcome with doubt about everything she’s ever believed. Under the Pendulum Sun is a complex, layered story that enthralled me from the very beginning.
3. All Systems Red by Martha Wells
All Systems Red is a lighter tale than the two I’ve just discussed. For one thing, it’s a novella you can easily read in a day. For another, it’s sheer, explosive fun.
Murderbot has hacked its controls and gained autonomy over its own actions. Instead of going on a rampage to destroy all of humanity, it instead uses its newfound freedom to download thousands of hours of entertainment media. Unfortunately, its binge watching gets interrupted with a sudden threat to the humans its tasked with guarding. Murderbot has a wonderful voice, and this novella had me smiling from page one.
4. The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang
I’ve read enough of JY Yang’s short stories to know I’d probably like any longer pieces they wrote. Well, I wasn’t wrong. This novella was amazing.
After her young daughter died in a tragic accident, Sanao Mokoya abandoned her old life to go hunt wild nagas near the edges of the kingdom. For three years, she’s existed in a limbo, not really caring whether she lives or dies. Now, she and her pack of raptors are trailing a naga rumored to be bigger than any she’s hunted before. Yes, you read this right: The Red Threads of Fortune has dinosaurs! And, you know, great writing and a strong emotional core focusing around Mokoya’s grief and recovery.
5. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky is the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal, classic-in-the-making, Broken Earth trilogy. The first book, The Fifth Season, is already being taught in a class at my college. That’s the level this series is at.
I really don’t know how much more I can say about the wonderfulness that is The Stone Sky. It’s a wonderful end to the trilogy, and I don’t see many people being disappointed by it. And if you haven’t read The Fifth Season or any of the other books… you really need to get on that. Seriously. Like, right now.
6. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
At long last, the third book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series! I had a moment of fear — would this book make me question my love for the epic fantasy series? Thankfully, it only farther solidified how much I love the Stormlight Archive. It’s definitely one of my all time favorite fantasy series. The character arcs are wonderful, the world building is so vivid and unique, and the huge scale of it is true to the epic fantasy genre without feeling like it’s dragging. Only problem, now I have a wait for book four…
7. Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
I adored Ninefox Gambit, but I may have loved this sequel even more. This series is undoubtedly my favorite military sci-fi series, and it’s one of my favorite over all sci-fi stories.
Yes, this series has some great genre elements. The world building of the authoritarian government is very memorable, and the I love how the books use Clarke’s Law of “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But it’s the characters that make this series so great. Jedao steals the spotlight, but Keris and the rest hold a place in my heart too.
8. Jade City by Fonda Lee
Jade City is an incredible novel from new-to-me author Fonda Lee. Martial arts + magic + organized crime = a delicious story I was unable to put down.
Kekon’s jade has special properties that allow those who wear it to gain supernatural abilities, but it is also dangerous. Green Bones have special training and resistance that allows them to wear jade without being driven insane. Jade City focuses on one of the two largest and most powerful Green Bone clans, the Kaul family, who’s under threat from the other family just as they’ve passed the baton of leadership.
9. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
I’ve long had an interest in mysteries, so I love when one of my favorite genres chooses to incorporate mystery elements into it’s plot line. Essentially, Six Wakes is a locked room mystery in space!
The entire six person crew of the spaceship Dormire are clones, and all of them have woken up with no memories of the last twenty years after they’ve apparently been murdered. Not only that, but the cloning machine is broken. If the killer strikes again, there will be no more second chances.
10. Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
Another splendid debut! Amberlough is a fantasy book unlike any I’ve read before. It’s inspired by the Weimar Berlin and experiencing the rise of fascism, and it’s one of the rare fantasy books without magic. It’s sort of like a cross between Orwell’s 1984 and Kushner’s Swordspoint.
Cyril DePaul is a spy who’s masters are growing concerned with the One State Party’s rise, but when Cyril’s cover is blown, he makes the decision to work with the Ospies for his own survival and that of his lover, smuggler Aristide Makricosta. Atmospheric and evocative, Amberlough is a story unfortunately suited to the times we live in.
11. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
I’m very glad I got around to reading Borne this year. I’d heard such good things, and they all turned out to be true!
VanderMeer creates a strange, dystopic future complete with flying bears (there’s a giant one named Mord!). But the beating heart of the story is the parent-child relationship between the scavenger Rachel and the sentient bioweapon she finds and raises. Borne is not human, and he may be entirely incomprehensible to her, but she loves him nonetheless.
12. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is simply stunning. It’s stories of children who slip through the cracks, landing in other worlds. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the story of Jack and Jill, twin sisters who’s parents don’t really like children. They like the idea of having children — a sort of accessory to their lives, not people with thoughts and feelings of their own. Not to mention the growing distance between the two sisters as they take different paths in life. It’s a beautiful but heart rending coming of age story, all packed into a slender novella.
13. The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
The City of Brass is a debut novel that instantly spellbound me. It’s a start to a YA fantasy trilogy (although I feel like it could also be marketed as adult).
Chaakraborty paints a story inspired by Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures. The City of Brass is a historic fantasy, taking place in the 1800’s, starting in Egypt before advancing elsewhere, including into the magical world of the djinn. While it uses some familiar fantasy tropes, the story never feels stale. Chakraborty’s tale is well told and gorgeously unique in its details.
14. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
I like fairy tale retellings well enough, but it takes something truly special to make me fall in love with one. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is one such book.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns tells the origin story of the Evil Queen from “Snow White.” In this version, she is Xifeng, a beautiful but lowly girl who dreams of rising to great heights. But what will a rise to power require of her? Will she be the same person? Or will everything good within her be destroyed. I love a good anti-heroine, and Xifeng is one of the best I’ve ever read.
15. Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker
Borderline quickly became one of my favorite urban fantasy novels, and Phantom Pains is a fitting sequel.
If Xifeng makes my list of best anti-heroines, Millie’s on there as well. Millie is prickly and judgmental, prone to intense emotions and mood swings thanks to her Borderline Personality. But she’s also blisteringly self aware, and she does try to do the right thing, even if she stumbles a lot along the way. She may not be nice, but she does have a fundamental goodness to her. All in all, she’s one of my favorite protagonists out there.
16. An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King
An Excess Male is a dystopian novel looking at possible results of China’s One Child Policy through the experiences of one family in the near future.
Maggie Shen King imagines a future where due to the skewed sex ratio, Chinese women are legally allowed to have more than one husband. An Excess Male centers around four characters: May-Ling, a young wife; her two husbands; and Wei-guo, a bachelor who hopes to join the family as a third husband. Each member of the family has their own secrets, and they all struggle under the rule of an authoritarian government. An Excess Male is an intriguing book dealing with issues such as sexism, homophobia, racism, and oppression.
17. The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman
My award for “best short story collection of the year” goes to The New Voices of Fantasy. It collects stories from the past ten years or so by new and emerging authors. It’s a really great line up with some of my favorites, like Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Amal El-Mohtar, and Carmen Maria Machado. If you’re interested in the state of fantasy short fiction, The New Voices of Fantasy is a fantastic place to start your explorations.
18. Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
If I didn’t enjoy Ruin of Angels as much as some of the other books in the Craft Sequence, it’s because of just how wonderful this series is. Max Gladstone infuses a second-world fantasy with elements of our own, modern world for stories that are deliciously unique. Also, his prose is gorgeous. The heart of Ruin of Angels is the relationship between two estranged sisters. Kai chose to stay on their island home, and her sister chose to leave. Neither quite understands the other, but when Kai realizes her sister is in trouble, she’s determined to help her no matter what. Even if her sister doesn’t want her help.
19. The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
The Language of Thorns falls right below The New Voices of Fantasy when it comes to short fiction collections. Leigh Bardugo has created an enchanting collection of fairy tales, some reworking familiar stories and others original tales working from general fairy tale motifs. The language is beautiful, and many of the stories struck me right in the heart. I have to give a particular nod to her reworking of “Hansel and Gretel.” Oh, and did I mention that the collection is illustrated? I suggest reading a physical copy, if possible. You won’t want to miss out on the artwork.
20. The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey
I don’t normally read horror, but I made an exception for the zombie apocalypse novel, The Girl with All the Gifts. It was amazing, and when I heard M.R. Carey was writing a sequel, I was thrilled. This novel follows an expedition from the last human city, sent out into the world to find a cure for the zombie plague. Then they discover something new: children who are not quite human and not quite zombies. What I love about these books is that the future might be grim, but there’s still hope. It just doesn’t take the forms we would expect.
Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells
This debut novel mixes science fiction and fantasy in an intriguing way.
Tanegawa’s World is a company planet, controlled by TransRifts Inc, which has a monopoly on interstellar travel. Those blacklisted by the corporation tend to wind up dead. Yet some resist the might of TransRifts.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
This book’s dark. Of course it is. It’s a Kameron Hurley novel, with all that entails — gory, body horror, imaginative as heck, and intensely feminist.
Zan wakes with no memory of who she is. She’s told that she’s a great general and the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, the mysterious world ship that’s capable of leaving the legion of artificial planets.
A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows
Foz Meadows has breathed new life into the portal fantasy genre. A Tyranny of Queens gave me everything I wanted and some things I didn’t even know I wanted until I read them.
In Kena, Gwen is trying to sort things out in the absence of Leoden and figure out why he was imprisoning worldwalkers. Over in Veksh, Yena is trying to get the queens to actually do something about Kadeja, but the forces of bureaucracy and politics are against her. Meanwhile, Saffron is dealing with the readjustment to her own world, and it’s not going so well.
Shattered Minds by Laura Lam
I’m loving Laura Lam’s new techno-thrillers. I’m not sure if it lives up to False Hearts, but Shattered Minds is still well worth reading.
Carina’s mind is unraveling. Once a talented neuroscientist, she’s now a drug addict who struggles to contain her cravings to kill with the immersive reality drug “Zeal.” Then when she’s under she sees something that’s not one of her own fantasies – it’s a message sent beyond the grave by a former colleague, Mark, warning her that Sudice Inc. and her old boss are killing innocent victims in their quest to shape an individual’s personality… and Carina herself was one of the test subjects and had her memory of it stolen.
The Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells
I’m so sad this series is over! Since The Cloud Roads, I’ve really grown to love the Raksura. The world Martha Wells has created is like nothing else out there.
In this last book in the series, Moon and Stone are out on a rescue mission for two kidnapped Arbora while Jade and the rest follow behind, dealing with a Fellborn queen. Oh, and apparently the Fell are massing to attack the Reaches.
While these are my favorite SFF books of 2017, I obviously haven’t read all the books released. There’s just so many! Here’s a few 2017 releases that I’m still meaning to read:
- Regeneration by Stacey Berg
- Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
- The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier
- Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
- So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad
- Spellslinger by Sebastian de Castell
- Spoonbenders by Gregory Daryl
- The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy
- The Real Town Murders by Robert Adams
- Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
- The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
- Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
- Malice of Crows by Lila Bowen
- The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt
- Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
Are there any of these I need to read right away? Any 2017 releases I didn’t mention at all? What would you recommend?