The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017 So Far

Best science fiction and fantasy of the year so farIt's been a very good year so far for science fiction and fantasy, with both newcomers and veterans making thrilling additions to the field. It was a challenge to narrow down the list--but it's a challenge we relish!

Click here to see all 20 titles we handpicked as the best science fiction and fantasy of this year so far. Read below to learn more about nine of our very favorites.

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All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells - A weapon-heavy security bot on a contract with surveyors sent to investigate a new planet, Murderbot (as it refers to itself) takes pains to conceal from the humans it's guarding that there's something different from it. After an incident during a previous contract, Murderbot disabled the function that requires it to obey any orders given or downloaded. All Murderbot wants is time to itself so that it can watch the thousands of hours of entertainment vids it's downloaded on the sly, but the sudden, ominous silence from the surveyors' sister camp forces it to interact more closely with its humans than it ever has before. Tense action locks in step with Murderbot's march toward owning its personhood, imbuing the android with more character than other, far larger novels ever manage to do. A tight space adventure with a deep core of humanity, All Systems Red has become one of my favorite books this year to press into the hands of my fellow SF readers.
 

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman - Neil Gaiman putting his own fingerprints on the Norse myths? Cue the hyperventilation of delighted readers. That reaction is genuinely earned in this tight retelling, as Gaiman darts between a Tolkienesque tone in the epic origin stories and his own bright wit in the tales centering on the adventures of Thor, Loki, and Odin. Many who read Norse Mythology will make this volume their joyful leaping-off point into a strange and mesmerizing world of gods, giants, undead goats, betrayals, a slanderous squirrel, elves, dwarves, and Valkyries. Read our interview with Neil Gaiman about his "weird little side project" to learn more.
 

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Void Star by Zachary Mason - Immersive and labyrinthine, this near-future SF suspense novel sets a billionaire seeking immortality in a crumbling world against a tech genius whose neural memory implant allows her to communicate with networks and AIs. Irene’s ability to talk with machines makes her a much-coveted and very expensive troubleshooter, but her meeting with billionaire Cromwell sets off all sorts of subconscious alarm bells, as does the frightening glimpse of a wild AI she’s never encountered before. As Irene follows the trail of her suspicions and odd details her implant picked up, her path is set to intersect with that of Kern, a self-taught street fighter who raised himself within the favelas of San Francisco and who is on a mission to rescue a young woman who may (or may not) be an ally. Unlike most thrillers, Void Star utilizes a deliberate, predatory pace more common to the most exquisite horror novels. A buildup of tiny tells, headlong plunges into the sharp-as-glass memories saved in Irene’s implant, and eerie snapshots of the strange and inexplicable hammer the tension into a near-unbearable drumbeat as Irene and Kern’s quests threaten to collide. But even as Irene and Kern crisscross the planet—sometimes on the run, sometimes on the chase—it’s the essential role of memories that gives this novel its heft, coaxing us to consider what we keep and what we leave behind in our own daily world-building.
 

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden - There's a small but mighty space where fantasy and literary fiction can clasp hands and create a brilliant story that resonates in the soul. The Bear and the Nightingale lives squarely in that space, and those who dare to visit this novel will leave entranced. Set in the fourteenth century in the bitter north, a two-week ride from the rough city of Moscow, this mesmerizing tale centers on Vasya Petronova, a girl who barely survives birth (her mother doesn't) and grows up with a secret affinity for the sprites and demons that live in and around her village. "A wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission" is how her father imagines her, and he's not wrong. As her family tries to harness her into the typical domestic life of a young noblewoman, Vasya spends more and more time among the sprites and soon gets caught between two old and powerful gods struggling for domination over her part of the world. Arden's debut novel builds like a thunderstorm, with far-off disquieting rumblings that escalate into a clash between sprites and humans, ancient religions and new, honor and ambition. And while I think there are only a dozen or so novels in this world that have a perfect ending, I would put The Bear and the Nightingale high on that list. Perfect for those who enjoyed Naomi Novik's Uprooted.
 

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Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee - In the sequel to Ninefox Gambit, Lee returns to the hexarchate as once-dead general Shuos Jedao takes over a Kel fleet to battle an enemy deploying weapons they don't understand. But Jedao and the hexarchate have a complicated history that could kill everyone in the fleet. Lee will crack open your imagination while delivering twisty high-action battles and back-stabbing maneuvers. Don't leap into Raven Stratagem without reading Ninefox Gambit...but also don't let these two books slip away from you before the end of summer--or the release of book three.
 

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City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett - The third book in Bennett's marvelous Divine Cities series—and taking place a decade after City of Blades—shocks the reader and prods Sigrud je Harkvaldsson out of his exile to take revenge on the perpetrators. Bennett's main characters are not lithe, optimistic young things learning about the world. They tend toward gruffness, rough edges, and a bracingly pragmatic world-view, and his stories echo with a vibe closer to spy or crime novels than fantasy. Yet these are heroes who overcome their worst instincts, and their battles out of their own darkness make the victories (sometimes only partial) all the sweeter. I'd recommend starting this series from the beginning with City of Stairs if only so that you can submerge yourself in this strange but very familiar world for as long as possible. And now my bedside table has a bare spot on it waiting for Bennett's next book, whatever he may decide to write.
 

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American War by Omar El Akkad - American War will give you chills. Set in in 2075, Omar El Akkad's debut presents a fractured and frightening America, where the sun burns hot and the country has turned into war zones and refugee camps. Over the course of two decades, Akkad traces the fate of the Chestnut family, who flee their home in the south and spend the better part of their lives in a sprawling, impoverished encampment. This is where Sarat, a young, brave, tomboy, comes of age: “Perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence—a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?” Albert Gaines, a radicalized Southerner, takes Sarat under his wing, equipping her with the fervor and tactics needed to win the war. Akkad piercingly describes the ravaged towns, the gel packets of fruit rations, the torturous effects of growing up in war. Written with precise care for the fictional truth—news articles, press releases, and oral histories emerge throughout – the book sounds a warning blast. American War is a disquieting novel of immense depth, and possibly a classic of our time. (Review by Al Woodworth)
 

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The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King - Among my favorite fantasy books of the year so far, this tale of young orphan girls who are trained to be devout warriors--and then, disturbingly, are given to benefactors as servants, concubines, or wives--is ultimately one of strength and sisterhood. Sickly but spirited 18-year-old Kalinda is chosen to be the rajah's 100th and final queen, an "honor" she desperately does not want but to decline means death. A bubbling civil war and the deadly intrigues of the court complicate Kalinda's choices further, and King dials up the tension as the date of Kalinda's wedding grows closer. Powerful and innocent at once, this is a good pick for those who embraced the lessons of justice and generosity in Wonder Woman.
 

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Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray - After 30 years, the uneasy detente between break-off planet colony Genesis and the small assembly of planets it once belonged to has deteriorated into a steady onslaught that puts Genesis at risk of defeat. Noemi, a starship pilot training for a suicide mission that could give Genesis time to rearm itself, encounters a one-of-a-kind enemy mech named Abel who has been adrift alone for 30 years...and whose programming has developed quirks during his isolation. As Abel and Noemi uneasily team up, Abel gets them off on the wrong foot by mech-splaining too much, and Noemi isn't shy about her intention that her suicide mission becomes his suicide mission instead. But as Noemi learns about the other planets in the system, the mission begins to change. And when Abel's old owner reenters the picture, Abel has to figure out whether he's going to follow his programming or his heart. Gray does an excellent job in both painting the complexities of civil war and exploring the growth of emotion between two people who have no reason to trust each other.
 

But...that's just January through June! The rest of 2017 has a lot of promise, from the third book in N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series, The Stone Sky, to Andy Weir's Artemis and Ann Leckie's Provenance. Annalee Newitz's Autonomous is getting a lot of happy early buzz, and I'm very much looking forward to Kristin Cashore's Jane, Unlimited. Plus Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind is being released on its 10th anniversary with additional gorgeous artwork.

 


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Comments (3)

I don't know why Battlefield Earth keeps being left out of all the Sci-Fi Fantasy blogs and announcments on what people should read. You are missing one of the very best of the best.

Posted by: Kim Calder | Monday July 17, 2017 at 3:21 PM

Battlefield Earth came out in 1982 and this is about books published in the first 6 months of 2017. But also because it's rubbish.

My interest in a 10th anniversary edition of a great book that was followed up by an ok sequel in a trilogy that isn't yet finish is pretty small...

Posted by: Nick | Monday July 17, 2017 at 4:03 PM

IMO "Infinity Engine" by Neal Asher merits attention. The final book in the" Transformation" Series.
Actually most everything written by Neal Asher is worth reading.

Posted by: Daniel O'Leary | Monday July 24, 2017 at 11:34 AM

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