The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2019… So Far

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

image montage featuring vertical slivers of book covers showing a warrior, a future soldier, a dragon, a wolf, and other fantasy imageryIt seems like we were just here, telling you about the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2018… but no, another six months have indeed passed, and all we have to show for it is a towering stack of fantastic, fantastical new reads.

It has been argued that we’re in the middle of a new Golden Age of SFF, and this publishing year has done nothing to convince us otherwise—assembling this list of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2019 so far was difficult, not because we were stretching to fill it out, but because there are too many great books to fit in (which is why we’ve cheated and added another ten “bonus” books at the end—and even still, sacrifices were made).

TL,DR: This year has already delivered us enough boundary pushing, trope-exploding, mind-altering, purely entertaining books to keep you buried in quality for a long time—and we’ve still got six months to go (we have no idea how we’re going to narrow down our overall best of the year list to a reasonable size, but that’s a problem for the future…)

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders 
Charlie Jane Anders’ followup to the Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky seems, at first glance, a complete departure from that fitfully whimsical, apocalyptic bildungsroman, but both novels share a powerful emotional through line, examining the inner lives and grand destinies of outsiders in societies in which they are never sure they truly belong. It leaves Earth behind entirely, delivering us to the hostile planet January, a tidally locked world split between the frozen wastes on its dark side and the searing eternal day of its light side. In the small sliver between these two extremes, the city of Xiosphant barely supports a dwindling human population. Sophie, who comes from an unremarkable family, willingly takes the blame for a petty crime committed by her fellow student, best friend, shining star Bianca, and is condemned to death via exile into the frigid darkness as an example of the cost of even a small act of rebellion. Sophie is saved by one of the strange animal life forms native to the planet, and discovers that the so-called “crocodiles” are no simple beasts, but an advanced race of telepaths whose existence is threatened by the corrosive presence of human settlers in their midst. Sophie’s ultimate fate parallels not just that of Bianca and her fellow citizens of Xiosphant, but all life on January, and the very future of humanity. It’s a richly compassionate, thoughtful work, packing powerful messages of anti-violence, political theory, and environmentalism alongside a story of growing up and growing into yourself that never strikes a false note. Read our review.

The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden 
The concluding volume of Arden’s acclaimed Winternight trilogy picks up right where The Girl in the Tower left off, with Moscow in ashes from Vasya’s inexpert use of a Firebird. Russia and the people Vasya love are still in danger, however, as Arden continues her secret history of a nation’s turmoils in parallel with the story of Vasya’s becoming. She stumbles forward in her troubled relationship with the winter-king Morozko, while the Grand Prince Dmitrii makes decisions leading them all inevitably towards a battle that could unite Russia—though the chaos demon Medved would prefer events unfold otherwise. Vasya is no longer the frightened girl of the earlier books, but neither has she perfected her abilities. Even still, she must embark on several dangerous magical quests in order to protect the people and the land she loves. Along the way, she meets new and fascinating chyerti, and all the threads of the two previous books weave together in an epic, truly satisfying ending. Read our review.

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft
The third book in Bancroft’s deeply compelling Books of Babel quartet more than delivers on the building promise of the first two. The Sphinx, having discovered the location of Senlin’s missing wife Marya, worries over a brewing revolution, and sends her new servant Senlin to the Ringdom of Pelphia to investigate. In Pelphia, Senlin is, per usual, caught up in local intrigue: specifically, the brutal, bloody arena where the enslaved hods fight as gladiators to amuse the crowds. Meanwhile, Voleta and Iren take on false identities in an attempt to get close to Marya, who has married Duke Wilhelm Horace Pell and become a celebrity isolated by fame. Edith, now captain of the Sphinx’s flagship, investigates happenings along the hod’s Black Trail, which stretches the height of the entire Tower, and hears whisperings of a figure known as the Hod King, whose identity drives this volume to its cliffhanger conclusion—as does the question of whether Senlin can stay focused on his mission, or if he’ll risk disobeying the Sphinx in order to finally reunite with Marya. Bancroft once again perfectly pairs beautiful prose with lively characters and an exploration of an utterly original fictional edifice. A classic in the making, it will set your expectations high for the concluding volume, expected to arrive in 2020. Read our review.

Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear
After a decade spent exploring worlds of fantasy and steampunk, Elizabeth Bear launches a new series with a seriously epic space opera flavor. Halmey Dz is an engineer on a slightly sketchy salvage ship, part of a crew that stays just clear of the law in their quest to eke out a living. While exploring a derelict ship, Halmey is infected by something alien, and finds she has a whole new lever of perception that grants her understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe—which makes her an incredibly valuable prize for those with the will to exploit her abilities. Halmey is pursued by the government and a group of ruthless pirates, all of whom want to control her and her new power. She and her crewmates make a run for it—but the pursuit leads them into an even bigger mystery involving an alien ship trapped in a black hole at the center of the galaxy. And that’s just the beginning. The first book in the White Space saga may be Bear’s best science fiction novel yet, and that’s certainly saying something. Read our review.

Recursion, by Blake Crouch
At the start of Blake Crouch’s latest mind-bending high-concept sci-fi thriller, New York City detective Barry Sutton begins to encounter people suffering from False Memory Syndrome—a condition where they “remember” lives they never lived, and suffer emotionally due to tragedies they never actually experienced. A year earlier, a brilliant neuroscientist named Helena Smith accepts funding from a mega-wealthy sponsor in order to create a device that can preserve memories to be re-experienced whenever desired—but it also allows people to literally enter those memories, changing everything. As the disorder spreads throughout the city, reality itself is threatened; who can say what is real when you can’t trust your own memories? As Harry connects with Helena and they realize her research is destabilizing the world, the two join forces to find a way to save the human race from this threat from within. Read our review.

Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey 
Ivy and Tabitha are sisters, estranged for years by the bitter divide between Tabitha’s magical abilities and Ivy’s complete lack of same. Tabitha went on to teach at the prestigious Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, while Ivy ekes out a living working as a private investigator. When a murder is committed at the Academy, Ivy’s desperate financial situation drives her to take the case despite her animosity toward her sister—and mages in general. At Osthorne, Ivy finds out that even magical academies have Mean Girls, Queen Bees, and popular kids—that is to say, no shortage of murder suspects. As she pretends to have magical powers in order to gain the trust and cooperation of the students and faculty, Ivy finds that to crack the case she’s going to have to face her own fears, her history with her sister, and pull off the most difficult trick of them all: forgiving herself. Regular B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog contributor Sarah Gailey delivers a gripping debut novel, equal parts hardboiled magical noir and gripping psychological drama. Read our review.

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone
The Hugo-nominated author of the Craft Sequence fantasy series makes a stunning shift to sci-fi with this splashy, wildly imaginative, utterly strange, and truly intergalactic standalone novel, the anti-hero’s journey of Vivian Lao, a brilliant, morally conflicted young tech billionaire on the verge of world domination—or total destruction at the hands of her many enemies. When she fakes her death and flees to a server farm at the center of the worldwide digital cloud, intending to hack in and make her checkmate move, she unwittingly trips an alarm, endangers a dear friend, and encounters a powerful glowing figure who transports her into an unknown realm that might be a distant galaxy, the far future of her own, or something else entirely. Viv finds herself in a time and place she doesn’t recognized, a universe ruled by the terrifying, emerald-skinned Empress, whose access to a far more advanced Cloud allows her monitor everything, and destroy any civilization that advances to a point that might attract the attention of the Bleed, a truly alien entity that devours reality itself. Viv wasn’t built for terror and passivity, though, and quickly assembles a rag-tag group of heretics, criminals, ex-warlords, and nanobot outcasts, and dedicates herself to breaking the Empress’ hold on the universe. Like Guardians of the Galaxy on mescaline, it’s space opera like you’ve never imagined it. Read our review.

The Gutter Prayer, by Gareth Hanrahan 
Hanrahan’s epic fantasy debut centers on the city of Guerdon, to where refugees flee from an epic ongoing war between insane gods and the sorcerers who once served them. This is where Carillon Thay, desperate thief and recent member of the Thieves’ Brotherhood, finds herself, alongside her friends Rat and Spar. Thay is dealing with the aftermath of a heist gone wrong, and must contend with Ravellers,the  shape-shifting servants of the ancient Black Iron Gods which haven’t been seen in decades. As an apocalypse approaches Guerdon, the last place of safety in this violent world, these three thieves can only count on themselves—but it seems their fates may be strangely intertwined with the warring guilds and other powers that be in the city, and the network of ancient tunnels deep below its streets. Hanrahan brings his city to life in lyrical prose, even as the plot leaps from action sequence to breathless chase and back again. Read our review.

The Outside, by Ada Hoffmann 
In a universe where incredibly advanced AI are worshiped as gods and cyborg angels serve as their avatars, humanity’s last hope to break free lies with the space station The Pride of Jai, built entirely without gods’ help and powered by brilliant scientist Yasira Shien’s innovative reactor design. But when the reactor is powered up, disaster strikes—a singularity destroys the station and kills almost everyone on board. Yasira is brought before the gods and told that the disaster is part of a plot to warp reality itself, allowing for an invasion of terrifying monsters from outside our reality. The all-powerful AI believe the plot was engineered by Yasira’s own long-missing mentor Evianna Talirr, but as Yasira is transported to the edge of the galaxy to confront her former teacher, she finds herself questioning the divinity of the gods and the ruthless angels she has always obeyed without question. Hoffman’s debut is starkly original, and tinged with hints of horror fantasy—truly operatic stuff—but it truly impresses in its compassionate treatment of its neuro-atypical characters, hero and villain alike. Read our review.

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley
The latest novel from Hugo-winner Kameron Hurley is both her most trope-y and traditional, and as fiery and in-your-face as her incendiary last, The Stars Are Legion, which was itself a brutal reimagining of ideas of an all-female society and the worldship into a barely controlled attack on the systems that have exploited women’s bodies and identities for thousands of years. Her targets this time are corporations, unbridled capitalism, and the military industrial complex that supports them, and her tools are the stuff of classic SF adventures: time travel, advanced weaponry, and battle-hardened boots-on-the-ground grunts. Young recruit Dietz was born a non-citizen, forced to grow up without access to not just the wonders of a future world, but without access to the essentials: enough food, adequate medical care, a sense of security. Her only chance to beat the system is to sign up to fight for the corporate cause—a battle against Mars in which soldiers are transformed into light waves and zapped across space and directly into the line of fire. But no sooner than she has completed training, Dietz’s missions begin to go sideways, as her trips with the so-called Light Brigade seem to be sending her pinging back and forth on the timeline of a war that seems to promise humanity’s end. This is military science fiction, Kameron Hurley style—a story about the life of an infantry grunt and the corporate future of warfare, with shades of Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman, and a touch of the bizarre that could only come from the author of God’s WarRead our review.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James 
The first book in an epic fantasy trilogy from Booker Prize-winner Marlon James is as impressive as the author’s pedigree would suggest. The Dark Star trilogy has been likened to an “African Game of Thrones,” and the comparison is both apt and overly simplistic—James is doing far more than gluing familiar tropes onto African folklore. This is a deeply literary work, bordering at times on the poetic in its imagery, but it is also enormously fun, with imaginative worldbuilding and a plot that is both measured and propulsive. The Black Leopard is a mercenary able to shape-shift into a jungle cat, and the Red Wolf, also called Tracker, is a hunter of lost folk, with an incredible sense of smell that enables him to hone in on his quarry from vast distances. Sometimes with Leopard and sometimes alone, Tracker works his way across Africa in search of a kidnapped boy, moving through a beautiful, densely detailed world of violence, storytelling, dark magic, giants, and inhuman entities. Tracker’s mission is complicated by the complex and ever-shifting politics of the many tribes he encounters, and furthered along by a growing entourage of followers and allies, from a giant, to a sword-wielding academic, to  a buffalo that understands (and sometimes obeys) human speech. It already feels like a classic, and it will be interesting to see how the fantasy connects with James’s literary audience, and vice versa. Read our review.

The Grand Dark, by Richard Kadrey 
Richard Kadrey takes a detour from his bestselling Sandman Slim series for a dark, gritty novel with shades of dystopian sci-fi and bizarre fantasy. In the aftermath of the Great War, Lower Proszawa is a city finally free to sink into endless hedonism and decadence. Largo Moorden has already been swallowed by the city—an addict, he works for a shadowy crime lord, navigating a world covered in mysterious “city dust,” inhabited by genetically engineered monsters, plagued by a ruthless disease known as The Drops, and crawling with artificially intelligent automata that are relentlessly replacing humans. Largo has a plan to get out of the slums and rub shoulders with the elites, but his ambitions run him smack into those of other forces, which share a much darker collective vision for the future of Lower Proszawa—and the world beyond. Even readers who might miss the more overt gallows humor of Kadrey’s other work will goggle at the scope of the imaginative worldbuilding on display here. Read our review.

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Fantasy master Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the fictional setting of the Sarantine Mosiac, drawn from the history of Renaissance Italy, as an elderly man named Danio tells his life story, one curiously stocked with royalty and high adventure, considering his low birth. Danio starts off his career as an assistant to a court official, and is in a position to take notice of a young woman brought in as a concubine for the city’s despotic ruler. He correctly deduces she’s an assassin in disguise, and he chooses not to expose her; she is Adria, the daughter of a duke who has chosen to serve her mercenary uncle Folco. Danio’s decision to let the assassination occur sets in motion forces that will propel him and Adria in unexpected directions and lead to world-changing events, with low-born Danio, unpredictably, ever at their center. Kay applies his skill at painting sweeping historical tapestries to the story of the lives of the sort normally lost to the ages, yet whose choices may nevertheless shape the destiny of nations. Read our review.

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is one of the most daring, most-awarded science fiction novels ever written. Now, she throws herself into the fantasy side of the genre fray with equal ambition. Her first epic fantasy delivers the same experimentation with form and her sharp ideas that made her a space opera game-changer. The story is told in varying first- and second-person by a god called the Strength and Patience of the Hill, who is speaking to Eolo, a transgender warrior in service to a prince named Mawat, recently cheated out of his throne. The Strength and the Hill mingles its own complex, ancient history with the account of Eolo’s attempts to defend and protect the prince, and reveals the waning power of Eolo and Mawat’s patron god, the Raven, and the rising incursions of foreign gods who seek to take advantage of that weakness. This is dense, challenging, affecting fantasy storytelling at its finest. Read our review.

Unraveling, by Karen Lord 
Award-winner Karen Lord’s new standalone fantasy (her first novel in four years) opens with forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo triumphant; a killer responsible for seven murders is behind bars thanks to her work. But a harrowing near-death experience soon thrusts her into a whole other reality, where she meets the near-immortal Chance and Trickster, brothers who reveal the difficult truth—the entity truly responsible for the murders is seeking immortality, and it’s not done killing. The brothers guide her through the labyrinths of this hidden world, assuring her the killer can still be stopped, and it’s up to her to do it. As reality, memory, and dreams converge, Miranda and the brothers fight to bring true justice to two worlds. Read our review.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine 
Martine’s ornate debut space opera constructs a fully realized world. The new ambassador from a small mining Station, Mahit Dzmare, arrives at the court of the ever-expanding Teixcalaanli Empire to find that the previous ambassador is dead. Very likely, she was murdered—though no one will admit that, or the fact that Dzmare is the next most likely victim. Aided by her expertise in the Teixcalaani language and an outdated—and possibly untrustworthy—memory implant from the prior ambassador, Dzmare must negotiate both her own survival and that of the Station in the face of an implacable empire. Meanwhile, the aging emperor seeks to become immortal by any means science can grant him, even as his army plots a coup. In the tradition of Ann Leckie and Iain M. Banks, this is bold, complex space opera with a political bent. Read our review.

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire 
Seanan McGuire’s latest and longest work is also her best: a structurally complex, richly written, deeply imagined fantasy about the bonds that can unite two souls even across vast distances. One day, young Roger Middleton is struggling with his math homework when the voice of a girl named Dodger Cheswich pipes up in his head, giving him the answers. Roger and Dodger some discover that though they live on opposite coasts, they can communicate with one another, and develop a strange sort of friendship. What they don’t know is that they’re the end result of an experiment begun in the late 19th century by alchemist Asphodel Baker who dreamed of rewriting reality by embodies the forces of creation into living hosts, a plan she encoded in a series of children’s books. Her creation and eventual murderer, a man named James Reed, took up her work and engineered Roger and Dodger’s births as one half each of the Doctrine of Ethos, the force that holds existence together. As the twins mature, Reed seeks to control them and implement the final stage of Baker’s masterwork, but their connection has made them powerful, and difficult to control. With the rules of the game set, the children must awaken to their shared destiny and shape a reality that will ensure their survival, not to mention the continued existence of the universe. Read our review.

Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman 
Emma Newman’s fourth book set in the Planetfall universe is another inventive and emotionally wrenching affair. As a passenger onboard the spacefaring vessel Atlas 2, Dee was one of the few who witnessed the nuclear strike that killed millions on Earth. Angry and deeply traumatized, Dee seeks both to uncover who was responsible and to escape her suffering within an immersive game that applies real world physicality to a virtual setting. Invited to test a new build of the game by a mysterious guide, Dee enters a play session unlike any she’s ever experienced. When she kills another player in-game and a man winds up dead in real life—a man with possible ties to the nuclear launch, no less—Dee becomes a suspect. As she doubles down on her investigation, she makes a chilling discovery that changes everything she thought she knew about her life—and the colony planet she’s headed toward. Made up of standalone novels that share a setting and a commitment to delving into their characters’ psyches, the Planetfall series stands with the best science fiction of the last decade. Read our review.

Finder, by Suzanne Palmer 
Suzanne Palmer’s zippy space caper stars Fergus Ferguson, a sort of spacefaring repo man with a reputation for chasing down even the most dangerous cargo anywhere in space. His latest target is a heavily armed warship called Venetia’s Sword, currently in the possession of a vicious gangster named Gilger. Fergus isn’t intimidated, even if Gilger is on the brink of war with a dangerous arms dealer. Fergus traces Gilger’s ship to a small colony planet, where he promptly finds himself caught in the middle of a violent civil war. Forced to ally with the enemies of his enemy, Fergus struggles to negotiate a peace, keep tabs on his quarry—and figure out why supposedly legendary aliens—who have turned out to be disturbingly real—are following him around. This debut is a fun, fast-moving jaunt into the zippier, zanier side of space opera. Read our review.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon 
The Bone Season author Samantha Shannon’s latest eschews the series format, packing an entire trilogy’s worth of story into a standalone epic following three remarkable women whose fate is bound to the survival of an entire world. Sabran IX is Queen of Inys, last of an ancient magical bloodline whose very existence binds the Nameless One, a terrible dragon that could end the world, at the bottom of the ocean. Ead Duryan is one of Sabran’s ladies-in-waiting—but she is actually a secret agent, serving a hidden cabal of mages protecting the queen with magic. And across the ocean, Tané is a dragonrider about to break a societal taboo, with unforeseen consequences that will reverberate all the back to Inys. As Sabran discovers she isn’t who she thinks she is, she must reckon with the fact that her family’s bloodline may not be what’s keeping the Nameless One slumbering after all. Read our review.

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling 
Gyre Price is desperate. Abandoned and alone on a poverty-stricken mining planet, she wants nothing more than to learn of her mother’s fate. Seeking a big paycheck that will allow her to do just that, she fakes her credentials as a caver, assuming that the work, while dangerous, will be organized and supported by the usual safety measures. Her handler on the expedition, Em, turns out to be unpredictable, cruel, and filled with her own secrets—and Em knows that Gyre lied to get the job, and isn’t afraid to use that knowledge to force her into a dangerous, terrifying journey into the darkness. Underground, Gyre must face not only her own inner demons, but plenty of Em’s as well. By the time she begins to understand that the danger may not all be on the inside, however, it may already be too late. This is nail-biting, cinematic sci-fi survival horror. Read our review.

Seven Blades in Black, by Sam Sykes 
Sykes new Grave of Empires trilogy is built around Sal the Cacophony, a former mage and gunslinger hellbent on revenge against the 33 mages who tore her magic out of her. Arrested and waiting for execution for her crimes, Sal is given a chance to save herself with a confession, but the story she tells is more than just a list of crimes: she served in the Scar, a blasted wasteland caught between two vast empires, but now exists only to locate and kill the mages who betrayed and brutalized her. Sal will cross any line to complete her quest, and Sykes seems to have a similar regard for the rules of epic fantasy in this go-for-broke blend of Kill Bill and Final FantasyRead our review.

The Lesson, by Cadwell Turnbull 
Five years ago, an alien spaceship appeared over the Virgin Islands, and the Ynaa arrived, claiming to be conducting a peaceful—but highly secret—research mission. The Ynaa offer benefits to their human hosts/hostages like incredible healing powers, but punish any form of aggression toward them with brutal violence. As a result, the relationship between the species is fraught, meaning Ynaa ambassador Mera and her human assistant Derrick have they work cut out for them: as the anniversary of the death of a child killed by the Ynaa comes around, tensions threaten to boil over into open conflict as a cycle of violent retribution is set in motion. Mera and Derrick are forced to choose sides in a war that has been five years in the making. Turnbull’s debut—which the publisher bills as one of the first speculative novels set in the Virgin Islands—explores themes of colonialism and prejudice with literary style, pairing nicely with similarly themed (and much praised) works like Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and Nnedi Okorafor’s LagoonRead our review.

Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams 
The solution to the mystery of the Witchwood Crown continues to elude King Simon and his queen, Miriamele in this second book of Williams’ Last King of Osten Ard series trilogy. As the kingdoms of Osten Ard descend separately into war, division, and strife, the Crown might be the key to it all—if Simon and Miriamele can solve the puzzle. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Norns has made a deal to bring her immortal armies into the mortal lands, the nomads on the grasslands are unifying with cult-like fervor, and everything begins to fall apart in ways large and small as a disparate group of people fighting for their own survival in the chaos come to represent the only hope for the survival of all living things. We’re happy to say once again that thus far, the followup to Williams’ landmark Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is more than living up to the reputation of its forebear. Read our review.

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson 
This literary fantasy from comics writer and novelist G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Alif the Unseen) is a fast-paced adventure set in Granad, the last emirate of Muslim Spain. Fatima is the sultan’s favorite concubine, but her only true friend is Hassan, the royal mapmaker, who possesses the ability to open portals to other rooms, and even other worlds, at will. When Fatima accidentally reveals Hassan’s power to Luz, a lay sister working for the Inquisition, they flee, accompanied by a rogue’s gallery of companions and allies, including a vampire-jinn in the form of a dog and his sister, who takes the form of a cat. Inspired by a bit of verse they’ve known since childhood, Fatima and Hassan seek the island of Qaf, where the legendary Bird King resides, and where they believe they might be safe from the intolerant Inquisition. Wilson’s imagination overflows from each page as she crafts a fantasy quite unlike any other you’ll encounter this year. Read our review.

10 More Books We Loved

Because 2019 really has been that good a year for new science fiction and fantasy, we’re extending the list with ten more books that can’t be missed. (Straight talk: It’s here we stashed many of our favorite sequels of the year—many of them written by authors you might recognize from our Best SFF of 2018 list.)

Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S.A. Corey
Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck—the brains behind the James S.A. Corey pseudonym—have a lot going on, not the least of which is serving as producers of the fantastic streaming series based on their space opera/political soap opera saga The Expanse (of which Tiamat’s Wrath is a part), so you’d be forgiven for thinking they might have let something slip with the penultimate volume of their nine-book magnum opus. But no: It might be the best one yet. Read our review.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C.A. Fletcher
The title kind of says it all, doesn’t it? We live in anxious times, and apocalyptic visions are a dime a dozen. C.A. Fletcher’s stands apart for its singular focus on the title characters: a young boy journeying a blasted landscape with his canine friend, in desperate pursuit of the man who stole away with his other pup. You just don’t separate a boy from his dog, apocalypse be damned. Read our review.

The Record Keeper, by Agnes Gomillion
The worldbuilding in this apocalyptic afrofuturist debut is fascinating and stark: In a ruined future America, the dark-skinned Kongoese are kept in servitude to the ruling white class, forced to take a pill that causes them to forget their own pasts. Arika is a Kongoese Record Keeper, living more comfortably but trained to pen false histories to replace those erased ones—which is some kind of metaphor for America’s long (and ongoing) struggles with racism, injustice, and inequality.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall
When an an idea doesn’t know when to stop, you call it putting a hat on a hat. Alexis Hall’s bonkers debut—a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that is also a queer romance set in a wild, war-torn multiverse teeming with magic, monsters, mind-eating gods, and a pissed-off shark—is a hat on top of a hat, but the hats are worn by a many-tentacled Lovecraftian monster sipping a mug of tea. It is, as the kids say, extra—in the very best way. Read our review.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Jenn Lyons debut entered 2019 as one of the year’s buzziest books, and it mostly lived up to the hype—a fantasy bildungsroman telling of the strange trip that brought a very particular prisoner to his cell, and of the jailer listening to the story play out, it has worldbuilding to spare (a good thing, considering the first of four planned sequels arrives before the end of the year). Plus, there are footnotesRead our review.

Fleet of Knives, by Gareth L. Powell
The sequel to Gareth L. Powell’s British Science Fiction Award-winning Embers of War does everything right, crafting an adventure for its crew of ragtag, haunted heroes that is bigger and more mysterious than that which came before. But most of all, it gives us more of the sentient ships at the center of the story, including the Trouble Dog, an ex-warship with something to atone for. Read our review.

Waste Tide, by Chen Quifan, translated by Ken Liu
In telling the story of a young woman eking out a meager living—and then leading a rebellion—on an island choked with toxic electronic trash, the latest work of Chinese science fiction to come to America by virtue of the work of translator Ken Liu delivers on a premise with an immediacy that makes it a difficult read—or would, if it weren’t so darkly compelling.

Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning, the first Hugo- and Nebula-nominated book in the Sixth World series, shocked urban fantasy back to life with a story set in a post-apocalyptic America consumed by rising waters and haunted by the monsters of Indigenous American legend, with a fiery, flawed, deeply angry, and totally badass protagonist at its center. The sequel proves Maggie Hoskie’s first adventure was no fluke, and solidifies Roanhorse’s status as the next genre superstar. Read our review.

Today I Am Carey, by Martin L. Shoemaker
Martin L. Shoemaker’s debut novel expands on an award-winning short story that revisits familiar tropes of an artificial mind’s awakening to the world and gives them an entirely fresh, emotional, and utterly human dimension. This is science fiction at its most achingly sad and genuinely heartfelt. Read our review.

Titanshade, by Dan Stout
This fantasy twist on Chinatown subs in for Los Angeles’s waning water stores the similarly in-short-supply essence of an imprisoned god, and the Chinese-American tensions with a brewing unrest between humans and a race of aliens. A noir pastiche this pastiche-y has no right to work so well, or be so godsdamned entertaining. Read our review.

What’s the best new science fiction or fantasy book you’ve read in 2019?

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See the Apocalypse Through the Eyes of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

In the Talking Heads song “(Nothing but) Flowers” David Byrne playfully laments a world overtaken by nature: “This used to be real estate,” he sings. “Now it’s only fields and trees.” That is pretty much the world that C.A. Fletcher (a pen name of Charlie Fletcher, author of the children’s fantasy Stoneheart and the adult magical thriller The Oversight) shows us in A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, though there is little playful about the post-apocalyptic world he imagines. Nature has reclaimed our planet, yes, but only because, 100 years before the book begins, most of humanity died off.

The reason for humanity’s decline is chalked up to a “soft apocalypse”—a modern day global event of unknown origin that rendered the vast majority of the population unable to reproduce. This spontaneous outbreak of mass infertility was eventually dubbed “The Gelding.” The human race slowly aged into near-oblivion, leaving only small pockets of fertile survivors—less than .0001% of the world’s population now remains, struggling to build families and survive in a rustic new world in which most technology has become ancient history.

All is relatively right in the world for young narrator Griz, a child of this new epoch.  He and his family—mom, dad, a couple of sisters—live a somewhat self-contained lifestyle on a rocky island off the coast of Scotland, surviving thanks to a little farming, tending to sheep and horses, and the occasional forage off-island to “go a-Viking” for supplies. Their precarious but happy existence is through off kilter when a roguish traveler named Brand, full of stories and braggadocio about the outside world, makes landfall on their island. The visit does not end well, and by the time Brand sets sail again, he has claimed, among other things, possession of one of Griz’s two dogs.

But you just don’t separate a boy from his dog, apocalypse be damned.

That’s the setup for the main arc of this lightly fantastical tale. Griz heads out to parts unknown with his remaining dog Jip, hoping to track Brand (and his flamboyant red-sailed ship) across the sea to the lands beyond and reclaim his loyal pup. It’s a noble and headstrong act, but anyone who has ever experienced the immutable and undeniable human-dog bond will more than relate to the boy’s blind determination. It’s sweet, daring, and perhaps not completely thought out, as what’s left of the inhabited world—as sparsely populated as it is—can still be a dangerous place for a boy and his dog.

While the search for Jess the dog motivates Fletcher’s tale, there is much more going on in the story, and it is in these moments where the novel truly connects emotionally, above and beyond the universality of a master’s love for their dog. As our narrator, Griz recites/dictates/explains—often in bluntly honest terms—all he experiences in his post-Gelding world in a monologue spoken to a long-dead boy in an old photo he’d discovered on one of the family’s exploratory adventures long ago. The boy in the photo—taken well before things went south, apocalyptically speaking—provides a touching thematic bridge to a past Griz has never known. As the boy wanders the nature-reclaimed countryside, Fletcher shares, through the innocent eyes of his narrator, rich glimmers and glimpses of what once was, and what it has become.

Books, naturally, survived The Gelding, and Griz has devoured hundreds of classics. Those tales bleed into his perception of the real world, and the references to A Canticle for Leibowitz and The Hobbit serve as a sort of gently comforting breaking of the fourth wall, a sense that a piece of the beauty we’ve created will endure into the future, whatever sort of mess we make of it. One particularly monumental work of nonfiction figures seamlessly in and impacts massively the story’s final pages, delivering a resounding punch that moved me to near tears. It is a wonderful thing – it truly is.

Tales of the apocalypse are commonplace these days, a symptom of our national anxiety, but Fletcher has managed to infuse his with real heart; he had me at a boy searching for his pilfered pooch. Long before the I reached the final page, I knew the book was a likely contender for “year’s best” status, and I have found myself going back to  Griz’s world in my mind on more than one occasion since, usually as I walk my dog around my quiet, as-yet-unapocalyptic neighborhood. This is a story both achingly familiar at its most basic levels and daringly questioning at its deepest, and it’s all driven by (and for) the love of a dog.

If that doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you need to get a dog.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is available now.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Artificial Awakenings, Indigenous Monster Slayers, and Good Doggos of the Apocalypse

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C. A. Fletcher
After the Gelding, an event that rendered most of Earth’s population sterile, society has crumbled. On an island off the coast of Scotland, a boy named Griz lives with his family and his dogs Jess and Jip, and rarely sees any signs of other humans. When a stranger with long red hair arrives one day offering trade, the family is uneasy, but allows him ashore—but the interloper rewards their kindness by drugging them, stealing all of their supplies, and dognapping Jess. With no law or government left to appeal to, Griz doesn’t hesitate to act, grabbing Jip and setting off in pursuit of his beloved dog. His journey takes him on a nightmarish tour of a world that has been hollowed out and is falling apart—and which also isn’t quite as empty as Griz imagined. This is post-apocalyptic sci-fi with heart, and a few very good doggos.

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan
We’ll include this one here, even though the famous literary author who wrote it has loudly insisted that his new novel isn’t really science fiction because it deals with the ramifications of technology on a human level. Of course, regular readers of the genre know that this has long been a hallmark of its greatest works, but we’ll forgive the Man Booker Prize winner his snobbishness just this once. Certainly his book is our kind of thing—nominally it concerns a growing relationship (both physically and emotionally intimate) between a man (thirtysomething Londoner Charlie), a woman (Charlie’s girlfriend Miranda), and a machine (a new model of robot know an an Adam, with a mind that can learn and, like another android we know, a “fully functional” sex organ) in an alternate 1980s in which Alan Turning never died (he makes a cameo appearance). In exploring the growth of an artificial intelligence and considering the ways in which it can and cannot connect with the humans around it (in a plot involving messy human emotions like jealousy and a hunger for revenge), McEwan is of course also really commenting on the messy, imperfect connections between those of us made of flesh and blood. How literary. How science fictional!

Ragged Alice, by Gareth L. Powell
Detective Chief Inspector Holly Craig grew up in the small Welsh town of Pontyrhudd haunted by her mother’s murder and memories of a terrifying creature she called Ragged Alice. As soon as she could, Holly left that place, hoping to harness her ability to literally see evil in people by becoming a police officer. When her latest case goes terribly sideways, she asks for a transfer back to her home town, where she works a simple case of hit and run that quickly spirals into something much more terrible: the main suspect turns up dead, mutilated in exactly the same way as Holly’s mother, three decades before. As she delves into the dark threads running through the town, Holly must face her worst fears and the secrets of her peculiar talents. Powell has wowed readers with his science fiction (his space opera Embers of War just won the British Science Fiction Award); with this paranormal procedural, he proves himself just as adept at creeping them out.

Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse delivers a rip-roaring sequel to last year’s Trail of Lightning, the first book in the post-apocalyptic fantasy series The Sixth World and, oh yeah, a Hugo and Nebula award nominee for Best Novel. Navajo monster slayer Maggie Hoskie learns that her gifted medicine man beaux Kai has been kidnapped by a dangerous cult leader, so she sets off beyond the high wall separating Dinétah from the wastes of the former southwestern U.S. to save him. Facing new monsters (not to mention that titular plague of insects) and a blasted landscape, Maggie reckons with her toughest challenge yet—and makes some new allies along the way. Roanhorse continues to breathe new life into the urban fantasy genre with another fast and furious adventure built on Indigenous legends and beliefs.

Ravnica: War of the Spark, by Greg Weisman
The first novel set in the Magic: The Gathering universe to be released in years tells the story of Teyo Verada, a young man training as a shieldmage to protect his world from devastating diamondstorms. When the first real test of his abilities goes horribly awry, he’d buried alive. The incident should’ve killed him; instead, he finds himself transported to Ravnica, a city that spans an entire world. It seems Verada is a planeswalker, and has been called to the city by the Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas. Bolas seeks godhood by taking Ravnica, and his power and army is opposed only by the planeswalkers who have gathered together to defend the city, recruiting mages like Verada from around the multiverse. Fans of the vast universe of the collectible card game will find much to love in the lore and adventure of this canonical tie-in novel.

Emily Eternal, by M. G. Wheaton
As the sun shows signs of turning into a red giant and destroying the world about five billion years sooner than scientists predicted, humanity seems doomed. But Emily, an artificial intelligence programmed for morality and social interaction,  thinks it has a way for us to endure, after a fashion: by downloading every humans’ memories into its own databanks and launching itself into space. After Emily’s servers are destroyed by a mysterious group opposed to this form of digital salvation, it survives by downloading itself onto a chip implanted in the head of a Ph.D. student named Jason Hatta. Pursued by enemies hellbent on eliminating Emily, including a rival AI called Emily-2, Jason and his AI passenger soon learn what it means to be human—and more than human—as they race to evade capture and put Emily’s plan into action after all.

What are you reading this week?

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