21 Best Science Fiction Books of 2019

Female science fiction authors crushed it in 2019, penning nearly half the books on this list. There are also a ton of female main characters.

 

21
Starship Repo
by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Firstname Lastname is a nobody with nowhere to go, saddled with a terrible name and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. Then she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).

Now she’s traveling the galaxy “recovering” ships. What could go wrong?

“A well-drawn ensemble cast of scientists, soldiers, and aliens enriches this quirky first-contact tale.”
―Kirkus

20
Here and Now and Then
by Mike Chen

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission time mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Then one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.

“In this heartfelt and thrilling debut, Chen revitalizes the trope of the absent and unavailable father… Quick pacing, complex characters, and a fascinating premise make this an unforgettable debut.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

19
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
by C. A. Fletcher

When a beloved family dog is stolen, her owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of our world to bring her back.

“This unputdownable story has everything—a well-imagined post-apocalyptic world, great characters, incredible suspense, and, of course, the fierce love of some very good dogs.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

18
This Is How You Lose the Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked “Burn before reading. Signed, Blue.”

So begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents in a war that stretches through the vast reaches of time and space.

Red belongs to the Agency, a post-singularity technotopia. Blue belongs to Garden, a single vast consciousness embedded in all organic matter. Their pasts are bloody and their futures mutually exclusive. They have nothing in common—save that they’re the best, and they’re alone.

Now what began as a battlefield boast grows into a dangerous game, one both Red and Blue are determined to win. Because winning’s what you do in war. Isn’t it?

“A twisting, sapphic time travel fantasy love story that never stops surprising: El-Mohtar and Gladstone have written the ultimate in enemies-to-lovers romance.”
—Booklist (starred review)

17
The Future of Another Timeline
by Annalee Newitz

1992: After a confrontation at a riot grrl concert, seventeen-year-old Beth finds herself in a car with her friend’s abusive boyfriend dead in the backseat, agreeing to help her friends hide the body. This murder sets Beth and her friends on a path of escalating violence and vengeance as they realize many other young women in the world need protecting too.

2022: Determined to use time travel to create a safer future, Tess has dedicated her life to visiting key moments in history and fighting for change. But rewriting the timeline isn’t as simple as editing one person or event. And just when Tess believes she’s found a way to make an edit that actually sticks, she encounters a group of dangerous travelers bent on stopping her at any cost.

Tess’s and Beth’s lives intertwine as war breaks out across the timeline—a war that threatens to destroy time travel and leave only a small group of elites with the power to shape the past, present, and future. Against the vast and intricate forces of history and humanity, is it possible for a single person’s actions to echo throughout the timeline?

“An intelligent, gut-wrenching glimpse of how tiny actions, both courageous and venal, can have large consequences. Smart and profound on every level.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

16
Million Mile Road Trip
by Rudy Rucker

When a seemingly-innocent trumpet solo somehow opens a transdimensional connection to Mappyworld, a parallel universe containing a single, endless plain divided by ridges into basin-like worlds, three California teens find themselves taken on a million mile road trip across a landscape of alien civilizations in a beat-up, purple ’80s wagon, equipped with a dark-energy motor, graphene tires and quantum shocks, of course. Their goal? To stop carnivorous flying saucers from invading Earth. And, just maybe, to find love along the way.

[A] fantastical roadtrip adventure that’s a wild ride of unmitigated joy… [t]his wacky adventure is a geeky reader’s delight.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

15
Exhalation
by Ted Chiang

In these nine stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only he could imagine.

In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom,” the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.

Includes stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.”
—Barack Obama

14
Today I am Carey
by Martin L. Shoemaker

Mildred has Alzheimer’s. As memories fade, she acquires the aid of a full-time android, Carey, to assist her in everyday life. Carey. Carey takes care of Mildred, but its true mission is to fill in the gaps in Mildred’s past. To bring yesterday into today by becoming a copy. But not merely a copy of a physical person. A copy from the inside out.

After Mildred passes, Carey must find a new purpose. For a time, that purpose is Mildred’s family. To keep them safe from harm. To be of service. There is Paul Owens, the overworked scientist and business leader. Susan Owens, the dedicated teacher. And Millie, a curious little girl who will grow up alongside her android best friend. And Carey will grow up with her. Carey cannot age. But Carey can change.

“Kindness, love, and compassion make Carey an empathetic character through which to view Shoemaker’s complex, beautiful world.”
—Publishers Weekly

13
The Lesson
by Cadwell Turnbull

An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of super-advanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.

A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of a Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.

“[A] rich debut novel about family, love, and loyalty in turbulent times… Turnbull uses a beautifully drawn cast of black characters to convey the complexity of ordinary hardship in extraordinary times.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

12
The Luminous Dead
by Caitlin Starling

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too…

“This claustrophobic, horror-leaning tour de force is highly recommended for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Andy Weir’s The Martian.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

11
Atlas Alone
by Emma Newman

Six months after she left, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed Earth. She’s trying to find those responsible, but she’s not getting very far on her own.

A dedicated gamer, Dee is endeavoring to discover a mersive good enough to enable her to escape her trauma. When she is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game, she hopes it will be what she needs—but it isn’t like any mersive she’s played before. When a man suddenly dies in the real world, she realizes that at the same time in the game, she killed a character who bears a striking resemblance to the dead man—a man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she might have to do something that risks what remains of her own.

Note that this is the fourth book of the Planetfall series, so you may want to start with the first one.

“Newman builds on the best elements of her interconnected Planetfall series… [A] winning combination of intriguing mystery and inventive SF.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

10
A Memory Called Empire
by Arkady Martine

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

“Politics and personalities blend with an immersive setting and beautiful prose in a debut that weaves threads of identity, assimilation, technology, and culture to offer an exceedingly well-done sf political thriller.”
―Library Journal (starred review)

9
The Light Brigade
by Kameron Hurley

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief—no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero—or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

8
The Outside
by Ada Hoffmann

Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy—if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose whom to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

“Compellingly written, tense, and thrilling, with fascinating (and weird) worldbuilding and brilliant characters, The Outside is a fantastic debut. I can’t wait to see what Hoffman does next.”
–Locus

7
Ancestral Night
by Elizabeth Bear

Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law…usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence, with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

“Anyone who enjoys space opera, exploration of characters, and political speculation will love this outstanding novel… Amid a space opera resurgence, Bear’s novel sets the bar high.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

6
Empress of Forever
by Max Gladstone

Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she tries to outrun people who are trying to steal her success. In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, Viv sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, Vivian Liao is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine.

The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider—until Vivian Liao arrives. Trapped between the Pride—a ravening horde of sentient machines—and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith, Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.

“This feast for the imagination intelligently captures the complexities of a variety of relationships in an adrenaline-fueled series of escapades and will leave readers both exhausted and elated.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

5
Semiosis
by Sue Burke

Given a billion more years of evolution, what would plants evolve into? Given that life on Earth went from single-celled organisms to us in a billion years, an intelligent plant evolving in the same period of time seems not only plausible, but likely.

Semiosis is a well-written book that follows several generations of humans that land on a planet a billion years older than Earth and have to deal with intelligent plant life that’s friendly and not-so-friendly.

It’s a fun, interesting take on alien plant intelligence, but since the story keeps jumping generations, I never got to settle down on a single character’s story.

“Impressive debut novel… lush… beautiful.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

4
Delta-V
by Daniel Suarez

When itinerant cave diver James Tighe receives an invitation to billionaire Nathan Joyce’s private island, he thinks it must be a mistake. But Tighe’s unique skill set makes him a prime candidate for Joyce’s high-risk venture to mine a near-earth asteroid, with the goal of kick-starting an entire off-world economy. The potential rewards and personal risks are staggering, but the competition is fierce and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Isolated and pushed beyond their breaking points, Tighe and his fellow twenty-first century adventurers—ex-soldiers, former astronauts, base jumpers, and mountain climbers—must rely on each other to survive not only the dangers of a multi-year expedition but the harsh realities of business in space. They’re determined to transform humanity from an Earth-bound species to a space-faring one, or die trying.

“A gripping and realistic near-future thriller.”
—Booklist

3
Children of Ruin
by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life—but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time.

Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from old Earth.
But those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod better left undisturbed.

Children of Ruin is the sequel to the award-winning Children of Time.

“Intensely detailed and handily researched, Tchaikovsky’s saga creates a deeply immersive narrative.”
―Booklist

2
Recursion
by Blake Crouch

New York City cop Barry Sutton investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

“Wildly entertaining . . . another winning novel from an author at the top of his game.”
—AV Club

1
The Testaments
by Margaret Atwood

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

“A fast, immersive narrative that’s as propulsive as it is melodramatic.”
—The New York Times

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