It’s been an incredible year for genre fiction, and any attempt to provide a definitive best-of list for 2015’s science-fiction, fantasy and horror fiction would be a foolhardy and frankly ridiculous effort.
So, we asked our team for the books that really stuck with them this year and we’ve come up with a list of novels that we can’t recommend highly enough. Whether you’re looking for the baddest bad bastards in epic fantasy or sci-fi that pushes the boundaries of perception, here are the books that your SciFiNow reviewers think you need to read immediately.
THE WATER KNIFE BY PAOLO BACIGALUPI
Bacigalupi followed The Wind-Up Girl with this gritty, superbly realised and horribly plausible tale set in a near-future US where states fight each other for water supplies. When a battle-hardened journalist and a deadly operative clash in the nearly-dry Phoenix, the stage is set for a violent struggle with terrible consequences. A blend of hard-boiled conspiracy thriller and mournful cautionary tale, this is absolutely superb.
The Water Knife is published by Orbit. Read our full review by Jonathan Hatfull here.
TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI BY BRADLEY P BEAULIEU
A land filled with brutal violence, twisted gods and vicious kings, Sharakhai is a place you’ll want to explore. Like the Asian/American history of Firefly, here is a culture of realistically blended elements, taken creatively to a believable place. With no single direct influence, Twelve Kings In Sharakhai uses a sea of Middle Eastern cultures as inspiration, driven through a more traditional medieval fantasy plot of knights, kings, betrayal and honour. It is an incredibly well-crafted traditional fantasy.
Twelve Kings In Sharakhai is published by Gollancz. Read our full review by Rebecca Richards here.
WAKE OF VULTURES BY LILA BOWEN
For Nettie Lonesome, figuring herself out is more difficult than for most. Set in an alternate version of 1800s Texas, Wake Of Vultures is a gloriously imagined novel, rich with mythology and magic. Nettie is a fantastic character, brave and clever and utterly intolerant of anyone who might underestimate her for her sex or the colour of her skin. Seeing her find strength in the things she is as well as the things she’s not is both exciting and genuinely affecting (if the ending doesn’t make you cry, nothing will). As unique as its heroine, and as full of heart, this is a bold, determined book – one that knows exactly what it wants to be.
Wake Of Vultures is published by Orbit. Read our full review by Sarah Dobbs here.
THE VORRH BY B CATLING
In truth, the Vorrh is not Catling’s. It was a gigantic, magical jungle that first appeared in an obscure French surrealist novel called Impressions Of Africa. This same jungle provides roots for Catling’s own dark fantasy, which sprouts interweaving stories. These stories form an overarching mythology of human desires, with the jungle by turns representing an ancient Eden and a nightmare-filled undergrowth. The characters in each plot are fleshed out and feel fallibly human, while the tales themselves suck you in and surprise with each twist. If you value smart, challenging writing, prepare to enter The Vorrh.
The Vorrh is published by Coronet. Read our full review by Jack Parsons here.
THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET BY BECKY CHAMBERS
This is a hugely entertaining sci-fi that quickly draws you in and it’s over far too quickly. Chambers’ world building feels effortless, and she creates a future in which humans are just a small part of a universe packed with diverse species with their own needs, manners, quirks and histories. The time spent with the crew is an absolute pleasure and makes the book so easy get lost in. It’s a joy to read sci-fi this big-hearted and progressive, as Chambers explores the connections, both sexual and emotional, between the different species, and it’s just so much fun.
The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Read our full review by Jonathan Hatfull here.
THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY BY GENEVIEVE COGMAN
The eponymous Library exists outside of normal time and space. Its librarians are spies who scour alternative realities for rare and important works of fiction. Junior librarian Irene has just returned from her latest assignment-turned-heist when she’s thrust back into the field with new student Kai on an even more dangerous mission. The novel reads like a tightly plotted miniseries, and there are setups and rewarding payoffs woven throughout. If a story about secret societies, magical creatures and cyborg alligators doesn’t excite you then nothing will.
The Invisible Library is published by Pan. Read our full review by Krystal Sim here.
THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS BY ALIETTE DE BODARD
The House Of Shattered Wings is an alternate history of sorts, and a Parisian urban fantasy, and a murder mystery. Additionally, it combines both Vietnamese fairy tales with the complex hierarchies of a world of fallen angels, and there are monsters in the Seine. It’s brimming with ideas, some of which rush by so quickly that you might wish De Bodard had taken a little more time to explore them. This is a good problem to have though. It’s fascinating, moving and hugely readable.
The House Of Shattered Wings is published by Gollancz. Read our full review by Jonathan Hatfull here.
LITTLE SISTER DEATH BY WILLIAM GAY
Drawing on the allegedly true story of the Bell Witch – the same legend that inspired The Blair Witch Project – this ‘lost’ novella by the late William Gay dances through history, exploring hundreds of years’ worth of tragedy that all happened in the same creepy house. It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve closed the cover – while you might not remember the details of the plot, there are plenty of eerie images and haunting ideas that’ll snag in your brain, waiting for the perfect late night moment of vulnerability to resurface and creep you out all over again.
Little Sister Death is published by Faber & Faber. Read our full review by Sarah Dobbs here.
THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM BY CIXIN LIU
Originally penned in Chinese by Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem begins with the story of Ye Wenjie, a university student who watches her father being beaten to death by the Red Guards. The first few chapters can be a bit difficult to get through, but Cixin Liu’s use of historical fiction brilliantly meshes with a meticulous passion for scientific fact, as well as details in predated technology. It is hard science fiction at its finest, and fans will appreciate the superb attention to detail that drives this constantly evolving and impressive series.
The Three-Body Problem is published by Head Of Zeus. Read our full review by Carrie Mok here.
DAY FOUR BY SARAH LOTZ
The setting of Day Four is nightmarish enough already; a singles cruise on a ship that’s seen much better days. When the ship’s engines break down, tempers start to fray. The food starts running out, the toilets stop working and the flu starts spreading, and people begin to snap. But what’s really going on aboard the Beautiful Dreamer? The why of what’s happening fades into the background as Lotz places us with her characters in the stinking, sweating corridors of the stranded boat and unfolds this gripping nightmare. You won’t get much sleep until it’s done.
Day Four is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Read our full review by Jonathan Hatfull here.
A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER BY ALEX MARSHALL
In a divided land brought tentatively together under the new reign of the Crimson Queen and the religious support of torture enthusiasts, Cobalt Zosia looks to topple the new queen and wreak vengeance on those who have wronged her by reuniting her former war allies. This is a full-on devil-summoning, pipe-smoking, dagger-wielding brutal quest fantasy, then. While it sounds like a rather familiar tale, A Crown For Cold Silver’s world is a joy to fall into for reasons beyond recognisable revenge plots. It will suit any quest-lover looking for a new addiction.
A Crown For Cold Silver is published by Orbit. Read our full review by Rebecca Richards here.
THE EMPRESS GAME BY RHONDA MASON
The Empress Game truly progresses beyond just the overused fight-to-survive female protagonist model in every way. It turns out that there’s a lot more to The Empress Game than just planets, space and fight scenes too. Rhonda Mason’s space opera debut already reads like a well-established series, despite being the first instalment – its universe is vast and detailed, featuring a convincing history and solid political background of various ruling councils. There is never a dull moment.
The Empress Game is published by Titan Books. Read our full review by Carrie Mok here.
LUNA: NEW MOON BY IAN MCDONALD
It’s not a flashy piece of science fiction; there are no lasers, alien species or gratuitous amounts of spaceships. There is only the truth that the Moon is truly brutal, where everything is for sale or contracted. Luna: New Moon is a world that has been intricately woven together by its author. It’s compelling and thought-provoking, and all without relying on overbearing sci-fi clichés. Brilliantly done.
Luna: New Moon is published by Gollancz. Read our full review by Carrie Mok here.
THE THREE MOMENTS OF AN EXPLOSION BY CHINA MIEVILLE
Miéville has proven himself to be one of our most breathtakingly imaginative novelists, and Three Moments Of An Explosion is a stunning reminder of just how good he can be. This impressive collection is a mix of genres, encompassing science fiction, fantasy and horror, but there’s a consistent sense of humanity and social conscience throughout. It’s a carefully curated, wonderfully witty and decidedly powerful selection of tales that we urge you to read as soon as possible.
The Three Moments Of An Explosion is published by Pan Macmillan. Read our full review by Jonathan Hatfull here.
LOST GIRL BY ADAM NEVILL
How can a book featuring no monsters be monstrous and, offering only scant redemption, give you faith in the human race? Adam Nevill’s Lost Girl does just that by placing a figure known only as ‘the father’ in a race to rescue his kidnapped little girl. Lost Girl is difficult. It forces its readers down some very dark alleyways, and it helps to have a very vivid imagination and good vocabulary for the book to have its full effect. The book will change you by its end. And once you get there, you won’t regret one moment spent!
Lost Girl is published by Pan. Read our full review by Charlie Oughton here.
THE VAGRANT BY PETER NEWMAN
The Vagrant follows one of the last of the Seraph Knights as he attempts to deliver the only weapon that could save humanity. Channelling the best of classic sci-fi, Newman’s captured the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of The Handmaid’s Tale and merged it with the expansive world of The Lord Of The Rings, resulting in a John Wyndham-like novel with a fantasy twist. For fans of classic science-fiction literature, this is a must-read, and with such a captivating first novel, Newman is undoubtedly an author to keep a sharp eye on.
The Vagrant is published by Harper Voyager. Read our full review by Philippa Grafton here.
UPROOTED BY NAOMI NOVIK
Uprooted is set in a village on the outskirts of a forest, known as the Wood. The land is guarded by a wizard, the Dragon, but the price he demands for his protection is large: a girl every ten years. Uprooted follows Agnieszka as she prepares for her beautiful friend Casia to be taken, but things go awry when the wizard doesn’t pick her. The context and plot gradually unfold before you as you move from chapter to chapter. That’s not to say that it doesn’t leave you wanting more; it has that rare allure that makes a book hard to put down.
Uprooted is published by Macmillan. Read our full review by Philippa Grafton here.
THE DEATH HOUSE BY SARAH PINBOROUGH
The Death House is told from the perspective of Toby, a teenager living in an isolated schoolhouse with no hope of ever leaving. He and the other children suffer from a fatal illness that has no cure – all there is to do is wait for their inevitable death. Toby has settled into disaffection and a role as dorm leader, but when the beautiful, spirited Clara arrives, he finds his defences being dismantled. The Death House is shocking and gripping, albeit ultimately hopeful and utterly moving, and it’s Pinborough’s finest novel to date.
The Death House is published by Gollancz. Read our full review by Jonathan Hatfull here.
THE GLORIOUS ANGELS BY JUSTINA ROBSON
It’s kind of hard to define where The Glorious Angels fits in with other sci-fi novels. That’s not to say that it doesn’t – it just stands out from so many others, not least for its unique matriarchal society. Set in the empire of Glimshard under the reign of Empress, the story follows a series of characters as their city goes to war with an unknown enemy. Despite its predominant theme, it’s not a political commentary. What this book really does is tell an engaging, complex story, and it tells it well without condescending to stereotypes.
The Glorious Angels is published by Gollancz. Read our full review by Philippa Grafton here.
SKIN BY ILKA TAMPKE
Set in Iron-Age Albion, Skin follows the life of a young, unskinned girl named Ailia as she makes her way through life as an outcast in a skinned society. From the off, Skin is an engaging and thrilling read. It helps that characters are rich and vibrant; the descriptive style provides a visual dimension. A subtle blend of reality, fantasy, romance and action, Ilka Tampke’s first novel is a beautiful read. She has created a mystical world that’s certain to charm.
Skin is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Read our full review by Philippa Grafton here.
Read the latest book reviews, interviews and features with every issue of SciFiNow.