The future is filled with serious girl power, if the best science fiction books of 2017 have anything to say about it.
A robotics engineer is tasked with keeping a culture of sourdough bread alive. She must feed it, play it music, and learn to bake with it. When she tries to sell her bread at a farmer’s market, she attracts the attention of a secret group of people intent on fusing food and technology.
Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.
Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, where the stakes are the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?
“Paired with relentless pacing, an action-packed narrative, and a cast of interesting characters, Walton’s fluid writing style and tightly constructed plot produce a virtually un-put-down-able read. [A] page-turner of the highest order.”
— Kirkus Reviews
It’s 2016, and in Tom Barren’s world, technology has solved all of humanity’s problems—there’s no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocados. Unfortunately, Tom isn’t happy. He’s lost the girl of his dreams. And what do you do when you’re heartbroken and have a time machine? Something stupid.
Finding himself stranded in a terrible alternate reality—which we immediately recognize as our 2016—Tom is desperate to fix his mistake and go home. Right up until the moment he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and the woman who may just be the love of his life.
“[An] amazing debut novel. . . . Dazzling and complex. . . . Fearlessly funny storytelling.”
— The Washington Post
Despite the terrible BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD title, this is a really good book.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied android―a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
“Wells gives depth to a rousing but basically familiar action plot by turning it into the vehicle by which SecUnit engages with its own rigorously denied humanity.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In a ruined city littered with discarded experiments from a now-defunct biotech firm, a woman named Rachel finds a strangely charismatic green lump (plant? animal? something else?) and names it Borne. Borne learns to speak and is fun to be with, and in a world so broken Borne’s innocence is a precious thing.
But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of Rachel’s sanctuary at risk. For the biotech firm, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.
“VanderMeer’s talent for immersive world-building and stunning imagery is on display in this weird, challenging, but always heartfelt novel.”
— Booklist (starred review)
In the middle of the twenty-second century, over three million people live in underground cities below the moon’s surface. One city-state, the Society of Cousins, is a matriarchy, where men are supported in any career choice, but no right to vote—and tensions are beginning to flare as outside political intrigues increase.
“Kessel’s wonderfully weighty novel is speculative fiction at its finest. This is impossible to put down.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ deaths, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their pasts return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
“A tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry, which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:
A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .
An emerging AI uprising . . .
And an ancient demigoddess hell-bent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.
It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.
“Drayden’s delivery of all this is subtly poignant and slap-in-the-face deadpan—perfect for this novel-length thought exercise about what kinds of gods a cynical, self-absorbed postmodern society really deserves. Lots of fun.”
—New York Times Book Review
Above the Timberline is unique: a science fiction novel with 120 full-page illustrations, many of them paintings.
When it started to snow, it didn’t stop for 1,500 years. The Pole Shift that ancient climatologists talked about finally came, the topography was ripped apart and the weather of the world was changed—forever. Now the Earth is covered in snow, and to unknown depths in some places.
In this world, Wes Singleton leaves the academy in search of his father, the famed explorer Galen Singleton, who was searching for a lost city until Galen’s expedition was cut short after being sabotaged. But Wes believes his father is still alive somewhere above the timberline.
“The book might be most succinctly described as ‘post-apocalyptic arctic dieselpunk love story with polar bears and a hint of Indiana Jones.’ If that notion doesn’t get your engines racing, then your sense of wonder has passed its sell-by date.”
In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power—they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
“I was riveted by every page. Alderman’s prose is immersive and, well, electric, and I felt a closed circuit humming between the book and me as I read.”
— New York Times Book Review
Persepolis Rising is the seventh and presumably final book of the Expanse series. As of this writing, it hasn’t been released yet. But based on the excellent other books in the Expanse, it’s a good bet that this book will be one of the best of the year.
If you haven’t started the Expanse yet, I strongly recommend you get going with Leviathan Wakes.
Wolf Moon is the second book in the Luna series, which is a bit like Game of Thrones on the moon. That sounds a little silly, but author McDonald absolutely pulls it off.
“For all the enjoyable intrigue he concocts, McDonald never lets us forget that the Moon is a frontier that basically just wants to kill us.”
In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war…a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end.
For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed locations, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. But the stability is beginning to give way.
Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life.
“The eloquence of Palmer’s reflections on social issues cannot be denied.”
― Library Journal (starred review)
As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.
Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth…and maybe even the stars.
“Pure, unadulterated literary escapism featuring giant killer robots and the looming end of mankind. In a word: unputdownable.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Raven Stratagem is book two of the Machineries of Empire Series.
When the hexarchate’s gifted young captain Kel Cheris summoned the ghost of the long-dead General Shuos Jedao to help her put down a rebellion, she didn’t reckon on his breaking free of centuries of imprisonment—and possessing her.
Even worse, the enemy Hafn are invading, and Jedao takes over General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, which was tasked with stopping them. Only one of Khiruev’s subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, seems to be able to resist the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.
Jedao claims to be interested in defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev or Brezan trust him? For that matter, will the hexarchate’s masters wipe out the entire fleet to destroy the rogue general?
Two engineers hijack a spaceship to join some space pirates—only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. Now they have to outwit the AI if they want to join the pirate crew—and survive long enough to enjoy it.
“An exhilarating mashup of Golden-Age widescreen and zeitgeist cool. Totally unexpected. More please!”
— Award-winning author Stephen Baxter
Maria Arena awakens in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood. She has no memory of how she died. This is new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.
Maria’s vat is one of seven, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it can awaken. And Maria isn’t the only one to die recently…
“[A] tense nail-biter of a story fueled by memorable characters and thoughtful worldbuilding…certain to earn a spot on award ballots.”― Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Now that anyone can design and print the basic necessities of life―food, clothing, shelter―from a computer, there seems to be little reason to toil within the system.
It’s still a dangerous world out there—the empty lands wrecked by climate change, dead cities hollowed out by industrial flight, shadows hiding predators animal and human alike. Still, when the initial pioneer walkaways flourish, more people join them. Then the walkaways discover the one thing the ultra-rich have never been able to buy: how to beat death. Now it’s war—a war that will turn the world upside down.
As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.
“As much a critique of contemporary capitalism, social mores and timeless human foibles, this energetic, multi-layered narrative is also a model of visionary worldbuilding.”
―RT Book Reviews (top pick)
Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.
The Flow is eternal, but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and an emperox (a kind of emperor)—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
“Political plotting, plenty of snark, puzzle-solving, and a healthy dose of action…Scalzi continues to be almost insufferably good at his brand of fun but think-y sci-fi adventure.”— Kirkus Reviews
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars.Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution.
Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction—and its possible salvation. But can she and the band of cast-off followers she has gathered survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?
“In a universe where the word for spaceship is the same as for world, two women struggle to escape a perpetual war in this dystopic yet hopeful space opera. This gripping book is both hard to read and easy to appreciate.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In an unspecified future, the United States’ borders have receded behind a salt line—a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe, if limited, lives in a society controlled by a common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what’s left of nature. Those among the latest expedition include a pop star and his girlfriend, the tech giant Wes, and Marta, a seemingly simple housewife.
Once out of zone, the group finds themselves at the mercy of deadly ticks—and at the center of a murderous plot. They become captives in Ruby City, a community made up of outer-zone survivors determined to protect their hardscrabble existence. As alliances and friendships shift amongst the hostages, Edie, Wes, and Marta must decide how far they are willing to go to get to the right side of the salt line.
“Jones’ darkly clever worldbuilding creates a nightmare that seems far from unthinkable….It’s The Hunger Games meets The Godfather meets Robin Cook, with female characters playing all the key roles. Hell, yeah.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Binti: Home is the sequel to the Hugo and Nebula-winning Binti. You’ll probably want to read that one first.
After uniting two warring planets, Binti must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?
“Nnedi Okorafor writes glorious futures and fabulous fantasies. Her worlds open your mind to new things, always rooted in the red clay of reality. Prepare to fall in love with Binti.”
7 thoughts on “23 Best Science Fiction Books of 2017”
Thanks for the great list!
I guess I’m on the right track. I just started reading Binti: Home last night!
And my favorite bread is San Francisco style Sourdough so that is definitely getting added to my reading list.
From top to bottom it looks like a great list. Thanks.
Where is” Infinity Engine”, the third novel in Neal Asher’s Transformation series? Neal Asher’s books are continually overlooked. WHY?? Are you unaware of of him or just biased? Any book by Neal Asher particularly in his “Polity Universe” is well worth the time.
Thanks very much for this list. I’ve been looking for level-headed SF blogger who seems to know what’s up, down. I subscribed, so looking forward to your other lists. All the best with your venture.
Why no titles by Neal Asher? This is unbelievable. Surely a monumental oversight. One of the top 3 authors I search
This list focuses on 2017 books, and Neal Asher’s only 2017 book was Infinity Engine, which didn’t make the list.
I’m so excited to read this one. It’s wonderful!!