It’s that time of year again. The time when you’re trying to hint to family and friends that these are the books you’d really like to receive, or possibly when you’re looking around for exactly the right book to give to someone you love.
Well, honestly, it’s been a great year for science fiction, and there are any number of books that should be on that ideal Christmas list. This is our selection. It’s not our top books of the year (we’ve a fair bit of reading still to do before we get to that list) but it is 15 books we’re pretty sure you’ll really want on your shelves. Some of them are books we’ve recommended before during the year, some of them we missed before now, but they are all books that we thing any serious sf reader will definitely want to find under the tree or stuffed into a stocking or just decorated with a spring of tinsel.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
This is one of the most talked-about novels of the year, a really engaging combination of science fiction and magic. The world is falling apart, and two old friends are working to put it back together again; one through technological innovation, and one through a secret association of the magically gifted. Forces bigger than either of them are bringing the two back together, with the fate of the world at stake.
Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson
This is the third volume in Hutchinson’s series that brilliantly combines the spy novel with science fiction in one of the most stunning works of political sf you’ll read. Europe is fragmenting into ever smaller statelets, while in an alternate reality the Community brings the whole of the continent together in one backward-looking state. But a terrorist attack on a train starts to unveil more about both the Community and the shadowy Coureurs.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
This debut novel from a highly acclaimed short story writer is a dazzling work of hard sf. A disgraced soldier has the digitized consciousness of a brilliant but unconventional tactician uploaded into her head, but as they unite to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles, which is key to the whole survival of the Hexarchate, they start to uncover a conspiracy that puts everything in question.
Death’s End by Cixin Liu
Okay, the second volume of this trilogy really didn’t live up to the promise of the Hugo-winning first volume, The Three Body Problem; but the good news is that this final volume in the trilogy is again translated by Ken Liu, and he made a great contribution to the readability of the first book. And in this volume, as humanity struggles to survive first contact with the TriSolarans, the story is ever more compelling and mind-blowing.
The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
There are those who say that this is not Mieville at his best, which may be true; but then, even when he’s not firing on all cylinders, Mieville is one of the most inventive and startling writers around at the moment. So this is still a novel you are going to have to read. And this story, which combines Nazis and surrealists in an hallucinogenic Paris is full of vivid and extraordinary images.
The Gradual by Christopher Priest
I’ve already reviewed this novel here, so I won’t repeat any of that. Instead, I’ll just say this is the latest novel from one of the most challenging and intelligent of all sf writers, a novel that plays with time travel in such a subtle and unexpected way that for much of the time you don’t even realise what’s happening. In short, it is undoubtedly one of the key novels of the year.
Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
Reynolds has always had a wonderful way of evoking the vastness of the universe, handling huge expanses of space and time with remarkable insouciance. Now he put that ability at the service of a fast-paced romp of a novel with space pirates and buried treasure, kidnapping and robbery and revenge. It’s non-stop action that will keep you glued to the page.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
This is probably the most acclaimed alternate history novel of the year, which takes one of the cruelest and most terrifying instances of colonialism in history, and imagines what would have happened if the native population had access to advanced steam technology. It’s set in the Belgian Congo, where socialists and missionaries join forces to establish a haven from tyranny, and those who seek the utopia find tensions developing between the Congolese and the Europeans.
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
In this dazzling short novel, Bruce Sterling turns the real-life story of the short-lived state of Fiume after the First World War into the basis of an inventive tale in which real characters like H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Adolf Hitler all play a part. At the heart of this novel of weird politics is the story of how the Futurist art movement paved the way for fascism.
Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
Central Station is that familiar science fictional device, the fix-up; a novel built up out of previously published stories. In this future, when humankind has spread out to other planets, Tel Aviv has become the Central Station, the hub from which space travellers depart and to which they return. The very transience of the place makes it an ideal representation of this technologically advanced world, where aliens, machines, the data-rich and the data-poor all come together.
The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
We can’t say often enough that this is the one recent science fiction anthology you really do have to read. It will give you a view of the history of science fiction like you’ve never known it before; it will introduce you to brilliant writers you’ve never heard of; and it will provide the most satisfying cross-section of what science fiction is and was and can be that you are ever likely to encounter.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This novel has already won America’s National Book Award, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was in contention for a number of science fiction awards as well. The original underground railroad was a way of helping slaves escape the South before the Civil War, but here it becomes a literal railroad that takes its passengers on a surreal journey that recapitulates the black experience since the end of the Civil War and the present.
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Connie Willis has a real knack for creating comic scenarios that still manage to reflect serious issues, and she’s done it again in this new novel. In business, our heroine is a mobile phone executive involved in the race to develop more immediate ways for people to communicate; while in private, she’s on the verge of taking a new treatment which will allow her and her new lover to share exactly how they feel about each other. Unfortunately, business life and private life keep interfering with each other.
Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood
If there’s any justice, this debut novel is going to find itself on the odd award shortlist this year. It’s a remarkable account of an alternate South Africa in which the white supremacists have held on to power at the cost of ever more violent repression. The country is virtually cut off from the world, but a psychologist’s invention designed to help him in his work could well end up changing the world.
Sisters of Tomorrow edited by Lisa Yaszek & Patrick B. Sharp
If The Big Book of Science Fiction introduces you to some of the writers who’ve disappeared from the standard histories of science fiction, this anthology goes even further. It introduces you to women short story writers, poets, editors and artists who were hugely important in the early days of American sf yet who are mostly forgotten now. The book is a revelation for anyone with an interest in science fiction’s secret history.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.