25 Best Science Fiction Books of 2018

Art by Jarosław Jaśnikowski

In 2018, a lot of science fiction writers got weird. They gave us happiness machines, time-traveling detectives, dragons, deadly intergalactic singing contests, a superhero whose power is math, and disappearing shadows. Good stuff.

 

25
Binti: The Night Masquerade
by Nnedi Okorafor

The third book of the Binti series finds Binti returning to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene—though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives—and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

“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.”
― Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

The Binti Series
1. Binti
2. Binti: Home
3. Binti: The Night Masquerade

24
Tell the Machine Goodnight
by Katie Williams

Pearl’s job is to make people happy. As a technician for the Apricity Corporation, with its patented happiness machine, she provides customers with personalized recommendations for greater contentment. She’s good at her job.

But Pearl’s teenage son, Rhett, seems to find greater satisfaction in being unhappy. The very rejection of joy is his own kind of “pursuit of happiness.” As his mother, Pearl wants nothing more than to help Rhett—but is it for his sake or for hers? Certainly it would make Pearl happier. Regardless, her son is one person whose emotional life does not fall under the parameters of her job—not as happiness technician, and not as mother, either.

“The book feels like an extended episode of ‘Black Mirror,’ and certainly has that show’s taste for dark humor and high-concept philosophizing around our tech addiction… Williams offers a master class in not losing sight of the human element.”
— New York Times Book Review

23
State Tectonics
by Malka Older

This third book in the cyberpunk political thriller Centenal Cycle concerns itself with the need of democracy to evolve or die.

The last time Information held an election, a global network outage, two counts of sabotage by major world governments, and a devastating earthquake almost shook micro-democracy apart. Five years later, it’s time to vote again, and the system that has ensured global peace for 25 years is more vulnerable than ever.

Unknown enemies are attacking Information’s network infrastructure. Spies, former superpowers, and revolutionaries sharpen their knives in the shadows. And Information’s best agents question whether the data monopoly they’ve served all their lives is worth saving, or whether it’s time to burn the world down and start anew.

“Satisfying as a novel, anxiety-inducing as a comment on our society.”
―Kirkus (starred review)

The Centenal Cycle
1. Infomocracy
2. Null States
3. State Tectonics

22
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
by Alex White

A washed-up treasure hunter, a hotshot racer, and a deadly secret society.

They’re all in a race against time to hunt down the greatest warship ever built. Some think the ship is lost forever, some think it’s been destroyed, and some think it’s only a legend. But one thing’s for certain: whoever finds it will hold the fate of the universe in their hands. And treasure that valuable can never stay hidden for long…

“White’s assured debut is an entertaining throwback with some fun worldbuilding and two great lead characters.”
― Publishers Weekly

21
Space Opera
by Catherynne M. Valente

Once every cycle, the great galactic civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Species far and wide compete in feats of song, dance and/or whatever facsimile of these can be performed, based on whatever anatomy the species may have. And if a new species should wish to be counted among the high and the mighty? Well, then they will have to compete. And if they fail? Sudden extermination for their entire species.

Now it’s Earth’s turn.

“Valente has pulled off another spectacular feat of world building (it’s worth reading just for the descriptions of previous performances) and a story which is uproariously funny, sweet, and hopeful.”
— Booklist (starred review)

20
The Oracle Year
by Charles Soule

When an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded Web site to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.

He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site—as it’s come to be called—and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust—including a beautiful journalist—it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.

“Wildly entertaining… the relentless pacing, richly developed characters, and brilliant ending make this apocalyptic speculative thriller an undeniable page-turner.”
— Publishers Weekly

19
Embers of War
by Gareth L. Powell

The sentient warship Trouble Dog was built for violence, yet following a brutal war, she is disgusted by her role in a genocide. Stripped of her weaponry and seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organization dedicated to rescuing ships in distress. When a civilian ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, are sent on a rescue mission.

A straightforward rescue turns into something far more dangerous, as Trouble Dog and her crew find themselves at the center of a conflict that could engulf the entire galaxy. Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight…

“An emotionally wrenching take on life in a war-torn far future… leading to an explosive finale with strong series potential.”
— Publishers Weekly

18
Empire of Silence
by Christopher Ruocchio

On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe starts down a path that can only end in fire. He flees his father and a future as a torturer only to be left stranded on a strange, backwater world.

Forced to fight as a gladiator and navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, Hadrian must fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.

“Space opera fans will savor the rich details of Ruocchio’s far-future debut, which sets the scene for a complicated series… Readers who like a slow-building story with a strong character focus will find everything they’re looking for in this series opener.”
— Publishers Weekly

17
Zero Sum Game
by S.L. Huang

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…

She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

“A fast-paced, darkly humorous read with a lot of heart for fans of action and urban fantasy, as well as lovers of Wolverine and other morally ambiguous, gritty superheroes with a mysterious past.”
― Booklist (starred review)

16
The Calculating Stars
by Mary Robinette Kowal

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

“In The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal imagines an alternate history of spaceflight that reminds me of everything I loved about Hidden Figures.”
― Cady Coleman, actual astronaut

15
The Book of M
by Peng Shepherd

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day, Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

“A beautiful and haunting story about the power of memory and the necessity of human connection, this book is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece.”
— Bustle

14
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
by Kelly Robson

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

“Thrums with a delicious tension carefully developed among the wonderful characters.”
— The New York Times

13
Elysium Fire
by Alastair Reynolds

Ten thousand city-state habitats orbit the planet Yellowstone, forming a near-perfect democratic human paradise.

But even utopia needs a police force. For the citizens of the Glitter Band, that organization is Panoply, and the prefects are its operatives.

Prefect Tom Dreyfus has a new emergency on his hands. Across the habitats and their hundred million citizens, people are dying suddenly and randomly, victims of a bizarre and unprecedented malfunction of their neural implants. And these “melters” leave no clues behind as to the cause of their deaths…

“This novel’s ideas are mind-stretching, including a limbo where copies of the dead can be kept and interrogated, and a chillingly mischievous AI that tempts and mocks Dreyfus. The big concepts and complex story effectively pull readers into intriguing speculation about human identity and potential.”
― Publishers Weekly

12
Head On
by John Scalzi

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

“New and fresh… Scalzi’s smirking, impish voice is a nice touch.”
― NPR

11
The Rig
by Roger Levy

On a desert planet, two boys meet, sparking a friendship that will change human society forever.

A string of murders lead a writer to a story with unbelievable ramifications.

One man survives the vicious attacks, but is left with a morbid fascination with death: the perfect candidate for the perilous job of working on a rig.

The concept of a god has been abandoned, and a new faith pervades: AfterLife, a social media platform that allows subscribers a chance at resurrection, based on the votes of other users.

So many Lives, forever interlinked, and one structure at the center of it all: the rig.

“Fans of space epics will appreciate the plans within plans and individual stories that come together and fundamentally change the society in which the characters live.”
— Booklist

10
Blackfish City
by Sam J. Miller

After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.

“Surprisingly heartwarming… An action-packed science fiction thriller.”
— Washington Post

9
Revenant Gun
by Yoon Ha Lee

This is the concluding book in the Machineries of Empire series, so you might want to check out the others first.

When Shuos Jedao wakes up for the first time, several things go wrong. His few memories tell him that he’s a seventeen-year-old cadet—but his body belongs to a man decades older. Hexarch Kujen orders Jedao to reconquer the fractured hexarchate on his behalf, even though Jedao has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general. Surely a knack for video games doesn’t qualify you to take charge of an army?

Soon Jedao learns the situation is even worse. The Kel soldiers under his command may be compelled to obey him, but they hate him thanks to a massacre he can’t remember committing. Kujen’s friendliness can’t hide the fact that he’s a tyrant. And what’s worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted by an enemy who knows more about Jedao and his crimes than he does himself.

“Breathtakingly original space opera.”
— The New York Times

Machineries of Empire series
1. Ninefox Gambit
2. Raven Stratagem
3. Revenant Gun

8
Semiosis
by Sue Burke

Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches…and waits…

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.

“This is up there with Ursula K. Le Guin: science fiction at its most fascinating and most humane.”
― Thrillist

7
Iron Gold
by Pierce Brown

Book 4 in the Red Rising series.

A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk all he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp, and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the Sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Iron Gold is mature science fiction existing within the frame of blazing space opera, bouncing back and forth between some of the most cinematically brilliant nonsense you’ll ever read and serious discussions of politics, morality, and the cost of violence.”
— NPR

Red Rising series
1. Red Rising
2. Golden Son
3. Morning Star
4. Iron Gold

6
The Sky Is Yours
by Chandler Klang Smith

In the burned-out, futuristic city of Empire Island, three young people navigate a crumbling metropolis constantly under threat from a pair of dragons that circle the skies. When violence strikes, reality star Duncan Humphrey Ripple V, the spoiled scion of the metropolis’ last dynasty; Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg, his tempestuous, death-obsessed betrothed; and Abby, a feral beauty he discovered tossed out with the trash, are forced to flee everything they’ve ever known. As they wander toward the scalded heart of the city, they face fire, conspiracy, mayhem, unholy drugs, dragon-worshippers, and the monsters lurking inside themselves.

“Eight years in the making, this imaginative work of fiction is beholden to no rules. Influenced by the likes of Jane Austen and Rick and Morty, Smith tackles timely issues while leaving room for some delicious reality TV references.”
— Entertainment Weekly

5
The Reincarnated Giant
Edited by Mingwei Song and Theodore Huters

To readers used to mainly Western fare, The Reincarnated Giant is a great way to get some new ideas in your head.

This anthology showcases contemporary science fiction from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. In fifteen short stories and novel excerpts, authors such as Lo Yi-chin, Dung Kai-cheung, Han Song, Chen Qiufan, and the Hugo winner Liu Cixin―some alive during the Cultural Revolution, others born in the 1980s―blur the boundaries between realism and surrealism, between politics and technology. They tell tales of intergalactic war; decoding the last message sent from an extinct human race; the use of dreams as tools to differentiate cyborgs and humans; a poet’s strange afterlife inside a supercomputer; cannibalism aboard an airplane; and unchecked development that leads to uncontrollable catastrophe.

4
Medusa Uploaded
by Emily Devenport

A generation starship can hide many secrets. When an Executive clan suspects Oichi of insurgency and discreetly shoves her out an airlock, one of those secrets finds and rescues her.

Officially dead, Oichi begins to rebalance power one assassination at a time and uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship and the Executive clans.

“A chilling tale of class warfare in deep space.”
― Booklist

3
The Only Harmless Great Thing
by Brooke Bolander

Inventive and brutal, this alternative history by Brooke Bolander imagines an intersection between the Radium Girls (women who contracted radiation poisoning by painting watch dials with luminous paint, after being told the paint was safe) and noble, sentient elephants.

In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island.

“This handcrafted arrow of a novella becomes more absorbing with each read.”
― Kirkus

2
The Tea Master and the Detective
by Aliette de Bodard

A sentient transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space travelers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realizes that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past… and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars.

The Tea Master and the Detective is essentially a reimagining of Sherlock Holmes where Holmes is a woman and Watson is a sentient spaceship.

“[A] beautiful mix of modern futures with on-going traditions.”
— Kirkus Reviews

1
The Freeze-Frame Revolution
by Peter Watts

A ship, powered by a tame black hole, is on a multi-million year mission to place wormholes throughout the galaxy, allowing humans to travel interstellar distances. The people on this ship are awoken by an AI for a couple days every ten thousand years or so to create these wormholes.

The people on board the ship discover something’s not right. But how do you solve anything when you’re in cryosleep for thousands of years at a stretch?

I’m a big fan of author Peter Watts, and this novella The Freeze-Frame Revolution doesn’t disappoint. Interesting characters, fascinating science, and just great storytelling.

“Part thriller, part hard-SF vision, part existential nightmare… impressive and intriguing.”
― Locus

And, just because it’s been a great year for SF, here’s a bonus book.

!
The Gone World
by Tom Sweterlitsch

Shannon Moss is part of a clandestine division within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In western Pennsylvania, 1997, she is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL’s family—and to locate his vanished teenage daughter. Moss discovers that the missing SEAL was an astronaut aboard the spaceship U.S.S. Libra—a ship assumed lost to the currents of Deep Time.

Determined to find the missing girl and driven by a troubling connection from her own past, Moss travels ahead in time to explore possible versions of the future, seeking evidence to crack the present-day case. To her horror, the future reveals that it’s not only the fate of a family that hinges on her work, for what she witnesses rising over time’s horizon and hurtling toward the present is the Terminus: the terrifying and cataclysmic end of humanity itself.

“A mind-blowing fusion of science fiction, thriller, existential horror, and apocalyptic fiction…[his] extended use of bleak imagery coupled with his lyrical writing style make for an intense and unforgettable read.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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