2018 is upon us, and so we are preparing to clear our shelves and sink our teeth into all the amazing books that the next 12 months are sure to offer us. However, we can’t set out into the New Year without acknowledging just how brilliant 2017 was for genre fiction. Rather than attempt a top 10 or anything so “definitive”, SciFiNow‘s book reviewers have put together a list of the books that they enjoyed the most last year. If you think that we’ve missed something, let us know!
The Rift by Nina Allan
Selena’s life has been coloured by a traumatic event from her childhood: the disappearance of her teenage sister Julie. Decades later, Julie suddenly reappears and claims to have been living on another planet. Are her stories of an alien world an attempt to distance herself from the awful truth, or has she really been trapped on Tristane? Nina Allan’s second novel is a beautifully controlled and empathetic story of memory, tragedy and how we can reconnect and move on. It’s also a fantastically detailed sci-fi novel brimming with history and ideas.
The Rift is available from Titan Books.
Age Of Assassins by RJ Barker
RJ Barker’s debut opens with our young hero and his assassin master wading through a sewer that would give The Shawshank Redemption‘s Andy Dufresne traumatic flashbacks, and there’s a gleeful sense of humour that runs throughout this fantasy tale of an apprentice going undercover as a squire to help uncover a murder plot. Girton Club-Foot is an immensely likeable outsider protagonist, and seeing an epic fantasy through the eyes of a teenage boy gives a familiar setting a new sense of excitement, danger and discovery. Plus there are antlered beasts.
Age Of Assassins is available from Orbit.
Hekla’s Children by James Brogden
Archeological digs are never a good idea in genre novels, and Hekla’s Children is the latest novel to tell us to leave the buried where they are, as an unearthed Bronze Age warrior gives traumatised teacher Nathan Brookes horrifying visions of the students he lost on a field trip years ago. It also might be the only thing standing between us and a terrifying world below. James Brogden begins by spinning a classic folk horror yarn but if you think you know where this story is going, think again.
Hekla’s Children is available from Titan Books.
Places In The Darkness by Chris Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre returns with this hardboiled SF noir, which begins with the discovery of a fantastically mutilated corpse in zero G before easing off the throttle a little. The setting is Ciudad De Cielo, a station orbiting the Earth where the ships to take humanity far into the stars are being constructed. It’s also a hot-bed of corruption, black market deals and powerful gangs. Can a crooked local cop and an idealistic newcomer get to the bottom of the station’s first murder before they become the next victims? Brookmyre seamlessly blends genres and gives us a great double act in Nikki Fixx and Alice Blake.
Places In The Darkness is available from Orbit.
Sea Of Rust by C Robert Cargill
The war between man and machine is over, and now AI has started to fight itself. C Robert Cargill shifts from urban fantasy to post-apocalyptic SF with great success, following a carergiver unit named Brittle on her last legs through a deadly wasteland to do one last good thing and/or die trying. The passaged describing AI’s rise to power and the events that triggered the subsequent war are compelling and thoughtful, but it’s the Children Of Men-esque journey through darkness to hope that makes this such a resonant tale.
Sea Of Rust is available from Gollancz.
The Summer Of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman
Time travel always comes with a price, as the heroine of Rowan Coleman’s latest quickly finds out. It’s the story of Luna, a quantum physicist who finds a tape from her late mother who committed suicide after struggling with depression. The tape claims that there is a place in Brooklyn where her mother is still alive, and it’s true. Inside this building, it’s 1977, and Luna can talk to her mother’s younger self and perhaps alter her future. But what would the cost of changing the past be? It’s cleverly constructed, but most importantly The Summer Of Impossible Things is hugely affecting with a tremendous cast of characters.
The Summer Of Impossible Things is available from Ebury Press.
The House Of Binding Thorns by Aliette De Bodard
Aliette De Bodard’s follow up to The House Of Shattered Wings finds the author going from strength to strength, as the angels of Paris continue to escalate their Cold War tension. The blend of Christian iconography, Vietnamese mythology and Parisian atmosphere continues to be a spellbinding one, while De Bodard shows both a real love for her characters and a willingness to put them through hell. Lovers sacrifice, the terrified find bravery, and there are dragons under the Seine. If you’re not reading this series, now is the time to start.
The House Of Binding Thorns is available from Gollancz.
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Modern life can be rejected in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, as people can choose to take the titular step and stand apart from the rest of society. However, when the Walkaways make an incredible discovery, the rest of the world suddenly takes a very keen interest in what these outsiders have been up to…As bleak as the future Doctorow imagines is, there’s a real optimism at the heart of the novel, as characters come together to work for a better world in the face of overwhelming odds. This isn’t just a high concept novel, it’s a human one.
Walkaway is available from Head Of Zeus.
The Book Of Luce by LR Fredericks
Patience is required for anyone setting out on The Book Of Luce, and good things come to those who wait. It begins with our lead character setting out to investigate his obsession: a singer named Luce who he saw perform in 1967. As he gets closer to finding her, he begins to suspect that he has set dark, strange forces in motion as he uncovers a world beyond our own. It’s a rich, multi-layered and deeply strange journey with real emotional depth. Take the trip.
The Book Of Luce is available from Hodder & Stoughton.
A Pocketful Of Crows by Joanne M Harris
This slim folk tale from Joanne M Harris is less than 200 pages long and the chances are you’ll read it in one sitting. In fact, we’d recommend that you do, as A Pocketful Of Crows is a bewitching tale that quickly draws the reader in with its tale of love lost and vengeance gained. As our wild girl narrator falls for the son of the local landowner, she begins to make sacrifices to make him happy, but when she realises that she has been betrayed, she will stop at nothing to reclaim her true nature. Harris creates a world rich in magic and raw emotion that feels both wonderfully familiar and entirely fresh.
A Pocketful Of Crows is available from Gollancz.
You Should Come With Me Now by M John Harrison
One of the most important voices in weird fiction returns with his first short story collection for more than 15 years, and You Should Come With Me Now is a strange, unnerving and unforgettable experience. Harrison pushes at the edges of liminal spaces, as characters seek metaphorical and physical escape from their lives in London and beyond. From family men building chutes in their attic to private detectives looking for people who wandered away from their commitments and never came back, there’s a profound sense that there’s something just on the edge of our consciousness waiting to push us adrift.
You Should Come With Me Now is available from Comma Press.
Strange Weather by Joe Hill
After going all “post-apocalypse epic” with The Fireman, Joe Hill returned with this superb collection of four short novels. “Lean and mean” was the mission statement and stories like the superb ‘Loaded’ (a brutal tale about gun violence) absolutely delivered on that promise. As chilling and shocking as that and ‘Snapshot, 1988’ are, there’s also a sense of playfulness and experimentation to ‘Aloft’ and ‘Rain’, and observing Hill flex his storytelling muscles and try new things is an absolute pleasure.
Strange Weather is available from Gollancz.
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
Three astronauts prepare for a mission to Mars but Meg Howrey keeps her focus grounded. This is all about the three protagonists – Helen Kane, Yoshihiro Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov – and where they came from, what drives them, and how they cope with the relentless training programme, not to mention the fact that they will soon be hurtling through space on an incredibly lengthy journey. Howrey wonders what kind of person would be prepared for such a mission, and what such a mission would do to them.
The Wanderers is available from Scribner.
Gilded Cage by Vic James
The “Skilled” magic users rule the world in the first instalment of Vic James’ Dark Gifts trilogy, while those without that gift owe 10 years of servitude. The Hadleys decide to begin their 10 years at the same time once their youngest comes of age, and as their son heads to the factory, the parents and daughters are sent to serve the wealthy Jardine family. There are tagline-friendly comparisons to be made to other YA series but Gilded Cage is very much its own beast: thrilling, intelligent and very sharp indeed. Our main criticism was that it was too short, so thank god the sequel’s coming soon.
Gilded Cage is available from Pan Macmillan.
The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin
NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy came to a marvellous end as oregene Essun and her daughter Nassun finally reunited to save the world or to destroy it once and for all. The volcanic, rupturing world continues to be a fascinating one, as Jemisin offers strange creatures, complex history and uncanny magic, but her focus has always been on the mother and daughter at the centre of it all. The emotional turmoil that drives these two characters is brought to a heartbreaking conclusion that once again proves that Jemisin is one of the most accomplished genre authors working.
The Stone Sky is available from Orbit Books.
Spaceman Of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
Outer space is a great place to find yourself, as terrifying as that can be, as our Czech astronaut discovers in the brilliant Spaceman Of Bohemia. Jakub Prochazka is on a one-man mission to investigate a mysterious gas cloud, but when he starts talking to a Nutella-loving alien creature, he begins to wonder if he’s got a firm grip on his sanity. This prompts him to look closely at what drove him to take this mission, leaving behind his wife and desperately trying to put the sins of his war criminal father behind him. Kalfar shows a tremendous ability to balance the tragic and the absurd, as the eccentric details of Jakub’s current predicament do not lessen the pain of his childhood in the aftermath of revolution.
Spaceman Of Bohemia is available from Sceptre.
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages
We love a good short story collection, and this second set of tales from Ellen Klages is further proof that she needs to be on your to-read list. Whether it’s two young girls sharing their last moments together before one leaves the Earth for good, two women dividing a slice of cake into ever-tinier pieces, or (our personal favourite) a woman inheriting a ghostly companion along with a penny arcade, the incredible range, wit and warmth of the stories on display here means that there’s something for everyone.
Wicked Wonders is available from Tachyon Publications.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
The ghosts of cultural appropriation haunt two recent graduates who discover a long-lost blues song and upload it to the internet, prompting financial success, punishment and white guilt. The author of The Impressionist and Transmission has created a novel that works both as a shocking, brutal ghost story and as a powerful critique of a system designed to repress and break the black population, examining how everything from the prison system and systemic abuse to the blithe appropriation of musical forms contributes to a steady erasure of culture.
White Tears is available from Hamish Hamilton.
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Jade City is Fonda Lee’s debut novel but you’d never know it from the confidence that accompanies this story of two rival clans heading for a conflict. The cause of all the fuss is jade, which is mined from their island of Kekon and which grants certain users incredible abilities. When a new substance hits the market which allows anyone to start wielding jade, two families are set on a collision course. With a fascinating setting, well-drawn characters and a truly gripping plot, Jade City isn’t just a great debut. It’s a great novel.
Jade City is available from Orbit.
Who’s Afraid Too? by Maria Lewis
Tommi Grayson is back in this splendidly titled and action-packed follow-up, which finds the blue-haired Maori lycanthrope heading to Berlin to start her training. Of course, there’s still the matter of her complicated relationship with Lorcan, Joss’ life-threatening illness, and monsters stealing babies and eating them. Tommi continues to be one of the most engaging urban fantasy protagonists out there and Lewis has an absolute blast with her Berlin setting and new set of monstrous bad guys. With the stage-setting out of the way, this is a hugely entertaining dive into a world that we can’t wait to see more of.
Who’s Afraid Too is available from Orbit.
The White Road by Sarah Lotz
The author of The Three and Day Four takes a break from crafting unsettling beginning of the end of the world scenarios with this gripping chiller set on the slopes of Mount Everest, as a morality-free videographer hopes to get footage of the frozen bodies of the dead. As he nears his goal, we start to wonder if he’s haunted by the ghosts of his conscience or the souls of the lost…It’s a great ghost story in a brilliant setting, and the opening sequence, in which a cave dive goes wrong, is one of the most tense pieces of writing we’ve read all year as Sarah Lotz shows just how skilled she is at getting her hands around your throat.
The White Road is available from Hodder & Stoughton.
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
If you’re bitter about the fact that we still don’t have the jetpacks and flying cars that the 1950s promised us, it turns out that there’s someone to blame. The hero of Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays is Tom Barren, who travels back in time from 2016 and breaks the machine that was supposed to give us clean energy and give us all a better world. Stranded in our timeline, Tom has to decide whether to try to bring back his utopian future or make the best of what he’s created. It’s a very clever novel that’s brilliantly constructed, but it’s also a love story about being lost in your 30s that happens to have incredibly high stakes.
All Our Wrong Todays is available from Michael Joseph.
Damnation by Peter McLean
Over the last few years Peter McLean’s Burned Man novels have consistently been an absolute treat for fans of dark urban fantasy, as demon-summoning hitman/down-on-his-luck chancer Don Drake has been drawn deeper and deeper into the world under London with all its monsters, both good and bad. Damnation took Don out of his comfort zone and sent him to Edinburgh, where he’s been losing his mind thanks to the Burned Man and his “assistance”. Dark, bitter, bloody and with a streak of black humour, this series continues to deliver.
Damnation is available from Angry Robot.
Blackwing by Ed McDonald
Readers are plunged into the chaotic, dangerous world of Blackwing with barely a moment to draw breath in Ed McDonald’s gritty epic fantasy, as a grizzled boozy veteran and a mysterious powerful woman race to discover how and why the Engine, which protects the world from the dark forces beyond the frontier. The world-building is confident and inventive, the characters are engaging and have real depth, and genre fans should ready themselves to spend a lot more time in the world of The Raven’s Mark.
Blackwing is available from Gollancz.
The Last Days Of New Paris by China Miéville
This novella from one of weird fiction’s leading lights imagines a 1950s Paris where the battle between the Nazis and the Resistance is still going on, only it’s grown much, much stranger. The French forces have conjured the works of the surrealist artists to create fighting manifestations of art and philosophy, and the Nazis in their desperation summoned the forces of Hell. Now they’re both cut off, trapped in this never ending conflict, and resistance fighter Thibaut and American photographer Sam team up to try to bring an end to it all. It’s a loving tribute to an artistic movement sharing space with a deeply odd pulp premise, and we loved it.
The Last Days Of New Paris is available from Picador.
Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Jeannette Ng’s debut is a stunning blend of Bronte-esque Gothic, dark fairytale and theological riddles, as our heroine Catherine Helstone arrives in the isolated faerie land of Arcadia to join her missionary brother Laon. As she waits in the vast mansion for Laon to return, she is fascinated by the dangers outside the walls and the puzzles within, which will make her question her own faith and identity. With scheming queens, tricky changelings and pious gnomes aiding and hindering the increasingly lost Cathy, this is a brilliant fantasy that challenges the characters’ faith and hearts, and creates a world entirely of its own.
Under The Pendulum Sun is available from Angry Robot.
A Man Of Shadows by Jeff Noon
Providing a brief summary of the latest SF tome from the author of Vurt is a little tricky but we’ll give it a go…It’s an urban fantasy set in an impossible city divided into Light and Dark halves. Time zones can be bought and sold, leaving our private investigator hero in a constant state of uncertainty and the world on the brink of a timeline crash. Somewhere in the midst of all this is a missing girl, a dead body, and deadly phantoms lurking in the shadowy world between the two zones. Noon has created a complex, immersive and atmospheric world that’s well worth plunging into.
A Man of Shadows is available from Angry Robot.
The End Of The Day by Claire North
Death isn’t a towering cloaked figure toting a scythe in Claire North’s latest. Well, he might be, but his Harbinger is just a nice bloke named Charlie, who travels around the world to be present at the passing of certain significant individuals and the end of things. He’s there to be a friendly face and a witness, but what kind of toll does that take on a man? The End Of The Day might well be North’s best yet, balancing social and political critique with a tremendous amount of warmth and heart and a Pratchett-esque sense of humour. This is a must.
The End Of The Day is available from Orbit.
From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
From Darkest Skies is a murder mystery with a tragic twist, as Keon Rause heads back to Magenta five years after the death of his wife Alysha to find out what really happened. Assisting him in the investigation is an AI who looks, sounds and acts like Alysha…The hunt for the truth will uncover secrets about the alien forces who arrived and vanished without a trace, but while the broader scope is certainly interesting, it’s the uneasy and affecting relationship between Keon and this version of his late wife that really gets under your skin.
From Darkest Skies is available from Gollancz.
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
The first part in The Interdependency sequence found the consistently brilliant Scalzi delivering a bold new interplanetary alliance and promptly threatening to tear it all to pieces. Thanks to the miraculous travel possibilities provided by The Flow, mankind has been able to travel light-years in an incredibly short space of time and create a far-reaching civilisation built on this newfound gift and the threat of mutual destruction. What no one counted on was the fact that The Flow might fluctuate and change shape, and no one thought about what might happen when planets start being cut off from each other…
The Collapsing Empire is available from Tor Books.
Corpselight by Angela Slatter
We were very excited to see Angela Slatter and her half-Weyrd investigator Verity Fassbinder return to Brisbane following the excellent Vigil and Corpselight did not disappoint. This time round, our now-heavily pregnant heroine has to contend with something that is making people drown on dry land, two kitsune fox spirit assassins and the fact that she can’t currently carry her knife on her ankle. Fassbinder is such great company as Slatter’s sequel is as vivid, exciting and funny as the first. We want more.
Corpselight is available from Jo Fletcher Books.
Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan
Life as a dream hacker is harder work than it sounds, but when Charlie runs into a killer while in the subconscious of one her clients, it soon becomes deadly. The latest novel from the author of Occupy Me is a pacy, witty thriller but it’s also richly detailed with marvellously complex characters. As Charlie races to solve the crime while tugging at the threads of a larger conspiracy, Sweet Dreams offers all the pleasures of a summer read while also giving you a fully-realised near future London and a genuinely engaging mystery.
Sweet Dreams is available from Gollancz.
Defender by GX Todd
If you start listening to the little voice in the back of your head, you’re dead. That’s what’s wiped out most of the world in GX Todd’s post-apocalyptic debut, as that nagging presence actually pushed their hosts to hurt themselves and others. It’s a great premise that’s backed up with a gripping plot, as a loner named Pilgrim and a teenage girl named Lacey head out to find her sister, braving Voice-hunting survivors who are out for blood. It’s tense, moving and frequently pretty damn horrible, and you’ll be hooked from the get-go. Bring on book two.
Defender is available from Headline.
Virology by Ren Warom
Warom followed up the fiendishly inventive cyberpunk thriller Escapology by throwing us right back into the thick of things, as Shock Pao, Amiga and the Hornets are on the run from a seemingly endless horde of gun-toting goons who want them dead. There’s also the fact that the Slip is loose, and if your avi can live in the real world, it can also be captured, tortured and killed. Virology is just as breathless and mind-bending as its predecessor, and Warom’s fierce social commentary is still present and correct. If you’re not reading these books, start now.
Virology is available from Titan Books.
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
The second part of The Winnowing Flame trilogy isn’t far away but you’ve still got time to catch up on the new series from the author of The Copper Cat books. And you definitely should, because Williams’ latest is a treasure chest filled with Studio Ghibli-esque monsters, witches, giant bats, vampires and long-dead menaces that won’t be dead for long. With a brilliant trio of heroes in adventurer Vintage, boozy bloodsucker Tormalin and witch-on-the-run Noon and a brilliantly crafted mythology, this is the start of something special.
The Ninth Rain is available from Headline.
Thanks to Sarah Dobbs, Erlingur Einarsson, Becky Lea and Katherine McLaughlin.