The Best New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Read in 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

We’ve already shared the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s picks for the best new science fiction and fantasy books of 2018 (not to mention the best SFF as chosen by B&N’s team of experienced booksellers). But we’re not done yet: We also asked our crack time of bloggers, reviewers, and essayists—the folks behind every review and reading roundup we’ve published this year—to do the impossible, and select the one new book they read in the past year that will stick with them forever.

These are our bloggers’ picks for the year’s most memorable, rewarding new sci-fi and fantasy books.

The Wild Dead, by Carrie Vaughan
The Wild Dead is the sequel to 2017’s Bannerless, so I’m going to cheat and recommend both. Though the overarching plots center around murder mysteries, these books are about much more than figuring out whodunnit. They are also a rather frightening look at a potential future of the United States after a major climate catastrophe has decimated Earth’s population and the government has collapsed. What happens when a crime is committed in a society lacking the usual systems of control? Enid of Haven was born after the Fall, and her insatiable curiosity about the world both before and after it led her to become an investigator, one of an independent group of nomads who travel up and down the Coast Road society and offer their services to the various tiny enclaves of civilization in need of judges and justice. What she learns reveals so much about how this changed world works. It’s a fascinating portrait of survival, love, and family. –Ardi Alspach

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
Bold, funny, heart-wrenching, and utterly unexpected, Space Opera was, by far, the most fun I had reading all year. Valente’s uses her masterful talent for voice to create a compelling tapestry of characters—human and alien—that juggle that fine balance between comedic and believable. Just like the rest of her writing, it’s wrapped around a thoughtful core and has an unfair amount of heart. Get ready to laugh, cry, and read it again—just like putting your favorite track on repeat. – Aidan Moher 

The Fall of Gondolin, by J. R.R. Tolkien
Not just a tale of adventure, betrayal, and a truly epic battle, this early work from a fantasy master is also a glimpse of Tolkien’s process at work. Editor Christopher Tolkien offers several versions of this story of a mighty elven city’s destruction at the hands of Morgoth, letting us see how his father revised and expanded it as the mythology of Middle-earth grew and evolved. – Ed Grabianowski

Wonderblood, by Julia Whicker
There are times you finish a book and immediately know it’s not just good, but great. Wonderblood is a great book: a gothic, post-apocalyptic fantasy set in a bizarre world where occultism and religion have absorbed science, and the chain of turbulent events that occur after two strange lights appear in the sky. It’s an imaginative setting, one in which where the earth literally bleeds and scientists have to pretend they’re wizards lest they be set upon by zealots, with an epic apocalyptic struggle at the center of the plot, matching the decor beat for beat. – Sam Reader

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning gives us a post-apocalyptic landscape in what used to be an Native Reservation, centering on a main character who is a human monster fighting monsters of Navajo legend. Revelatory worldbuilding, vivid writing, and strong characterization make Roanhorse’s debut truly stands out—and not only as a debut, but as the best book of the year, period. – Paul Weimer

Sword & Sonnet: An Anthology of Battle Poets, edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler
Sword and Sonnet is a veritable treasure chest of short fiction, brimful with unique and exquisitely crafted tales. From A.C. Wise’s weird western about a gunslinger who can kill with a word; to C.S.E. Cooney’s fiery tale of resistance, “As For Peace, Call It Murder”; to Khaalidah Muhammead-Ali’s powerful and compelling “She Searches For God in the Storm Within”; to the lush, poetic prose of A.E. Prevost’s “Labyrinth, Sanctuary”, every story is a must-read. – Maria Haskins

Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown
Writing a follow-up trilogy to something as nearly perfect as the Red Rising trilogy could have resulted in a faint echo of past glory, but Brown brought a real sense of gravitas and the cost of victory to this new story cycle, somehow deepening the universe and characters while finding new twists. The weary, worried, older characters make this feel lived-in rather than tired, and there’s a chance this new trilogy will be better than the first. – Jeff Somers

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
This was a tough choice, with several books vying for the top spot in my head. I’ve realized, though, that Adrian Tchaikovsky’s book—just officially released in the U.S., and thus new to me—combines many of the elements that I’ve liked in other books, and does them better. With a plot spanning thousands of years, it throws a harsh light on big issues of religion and cross-cultural conflict without ever losing a sense of empathy, and does so in a story with a cool cryoship, uploaded intelligence, AI, and (best of all) HYPER-INTELLIGENT SPIDERS. – Ross Johnson

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, by Alex White
The only reason the first book in in White’s The Salvagers Series is on the list and not the second is that you want to read this one first, so you don’t miss a second of an adrenaline-filled series that packs in more twists, more characterization, and more action than anything I’ve read this year. The LGBTQ representation is a lovely bonus as well. Pick up this one (and sequel A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy) and prepare to have a blast. – Corrina Lawson

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee
The first two books of the Machineries of Empire Series were groundbreaking space opera, but Lee manages to take it to another level in the final book. The complex relationship between Cheris and Jedao becomes even more tangled. The depth of the AI servitors’ personalities and culture is revealed. And the story reaches one of the most satisfying conclusions I have read in a long time. – Tim O’Brien

Temper, by Nicky Drayden
Nicky Drayden blew me away with her debut, The Prey of Gods. She follows it up this year with a novel equally wild and complex.Temper, a rowdy blend of demons and science, is a study of contrasts. Its world is populated almost entirely by twins, each pair carrying a different balance of vice and virtue. Rather quickly, brothers Kasim and Auben find out just how rare (and troublesome) their balance is. – Nicole Hill

We Sold Our Souls, by Grady Hendrix
Reading this book is like standing in front of a full stack of amps at the loudest metal concert ever. It blows your socks clear across the venue and leaves you cheering for more. We Sold Our Souls offers a heady mix of horror and music, weaving a tale around Kris, a now middle-aged metal guitarist who discovers the former lead singer of her band made a Faustian bargain, selling not just his own soul, but the entire group’s. She embarks on a bloody, vicious journey to get hers back, and the result is part VH1’s Behind the Music and part David Cronenberg. Hendrix wields a clever metaphor like Tony Iommi wields a guitar, so I feel OK saying this book feels like being in the middle of a mosh pit. It’s pure adrenaline with a killer soundtrack. It rocked my face off. – Meghan Ball

Witchmark, by C.L. Polk
It’s not often that a book simply won’t allow itself to be put down, but C. L. Polk’s Witchmark may have been the book I had the most trouble prying myself away from this year. This compelling Edwardian-inspired fantasy’s combination of magic, mystery, and steamy romance had me flipping pages faster with every tantalizing clue and catching my breath at every shared glance between protagonist Miles and his transcendently handsome paramour. – Kelly Quinn Chiu

Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft
I’ve read a lot of great new SFF this year, but Josiah Bancroft’s incomparable debut was the only book that instantly made my list of all-time favorites. It’s easy to recommend (I’ve shoved copies into the hands of at least five people), but tough to describe—because it’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever read. Stiff, starch-collared small-town school teacher Thomas Senlin imagines his honeymoon journey to the fabled Tower of Babel—the center of culture and technological advancement in his vaguely steampunk-ian world—will fulfill all his intellectual dreams. Instead, he encounters a place far stranger, and more sordid, than he ever read about in his books. When he loses track of his young bride, he must plunge in—and up—the Tower, and discover its terrible secrets, if he ever hopes to find her. It’s a little bit Peake, a little bit Borges, and as addictive and imaginative as Lev Grossman’s Magicians Trilogy. And the sequel is even better. – Joel Cunningham

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
An asteroid impact accelerates the space race and gives it a very different edge, and a very different set of flight crews and choices. Along with sequel The Fated Sky, Kowal has written a bona fide modern classic: a story that explores issues of gender, race relations, hard science, and romance alongside the barely contained, effervescent joy of flight and space travel. Relentless, compassionate, hopeful, and extraordinary. – Alasdair Stuart

Mecha Samurai Empire, by Peter Tieryas
Set a generation after the Axis powers won the war (and about a decade after the events of standalone predecessor  United States of Japan), Mecha Samurai Empire follows war orphan Mac as he tries to follow in his parents’ very large footprints and become a mecha pilot. I found Mac so endearing in his struggles and failures, his determination and resolve; he does not smoothly level up, but really has to work at it. Giant fighting robots are pretty awesome too. – Ceridwen Christensen

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
This novel is relentless and gorgeous. I couldn’t step away from Novik’s stunning, frank prose, and the pace of the narrative kept me locked in. Spinning Silver is its own kind of fairy tale, one that reclaims traditional narratives and digs into the underlying biases that propel the stories we tell each other and the ways we let each other come to harm. I can’t recommend it highly enough. – Sarah Gailey

What was your favorite sci-fi or fantasy book of 2018?

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Our Favorite Manga of 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

December brings shorter days, endless Christmas songs, and a strong urge to compile best-of-the-year lists. This was a good year for manga, with strong showings by blockbuster ongoing series and the launch of some intriguing new ones. Here’s a look at some of the manga we thought were the cream of the 2018 crop.

Best New Series

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, by Hideyuki Furuhashi and Betten Court
This spinoff of the mega-popular school-for-superheroes manga My Hero Academia may actually be more entertaining than the original—which is saying a lot. This one is about a trio of would-be superheroes who didn’t make the cut. Koichi has a quirk—a mildly useful superpower—but as he’s not hero material, he’s not supposed to use it. When he dons his Nice Guy suit, though, he does good deeds—picks up dropped phones, gives directions, takes out the recycling. Pop Step, another outlaw, uses her quirk to draw crowds to her idol-ish act; her scanty costume doesn’t hurt. And Knuckleduster: Janitor of the Fist takes out a different kind of trash—he’s looking for users of a new drug, Trigger, that amps up people’s quirks, allowing them to become supervillains. While some of the characters of the original series drop in from time to time, Vigilantes is really a whole new story set in the world of the original, exploiting a different set of possibilities, and completely enjoyable on its own. The creators add some notes about character development, and they make a number of allusions to American superheroes, which adds to the richness of this story.

Ran and the Gray World, by Aki Irie
Ran is a little girl who wants to be a sorceress, like her mother. Unlike other manga girls, she doesn’t need to go to a special school to learn magic powers—all she has to do is put on her magic sneakers. When she does, though, she also transforms into an adult—a beautiful woman, natch—but she’s still mentally a kid. Knowing the perils this will expose her to, her father and brother try to keep her away from the shoes, but she outsmarts them every time. Irie’s clear-lined art beautifully depicts the chaos of Ran’s world, and her elongated characters are reminiscent of Natsume Ono. Viz has made a good choice in giving this first volume the deluxe treatment, with a larger trim size than usual and a heavy cover with French flaps. It really shows off the distinctive art, and makes the book feel special.

Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, by Junji Ito
This pairing makes a lot of sense: Ito is a master of stories where ordinary things turn horrific and then spiral out of control, and that’s exactly what happens in Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. Ito’s adaptation is faithful to the original; the opening scenes are fairly deadpan, but when it comes to depicting the monster and its destruction, the manga-ka is in his element. This manga pulls out the stitches on the layers of clichés that have accumulated around this story over the years, taking it straight back to its roots.

RWBY: Official Manga Anthology, by various
“Various” is a good description of the creators of this anthology: each volume centers on a single character from the title quartet—Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long—and shows her in a variety of settings and situations, from baking cookies at home to fighting the darkest of monsters. Because the characters are so different, we learn details of their backstory and the quirks of their personalities, all in a series of short pieces. These books are a great companion to the hit animated series.

Ibitsu, by Haruto Ryo
This manga, complete in one volume, starts with an urban legend about a girl who lurks near a garbage drop, dressed in tattered Gothic Lolita clothing and holding an equally beat-up stuffed rabbit. If you’re thinking “Nothing good can come from an encounter with her,” well, you’ve obviously read horror manga before. Kazuki finds outas much when he runs into her and makes the mistake of answering her question, “Do you have a little sister?” Soon he is being stalked by the mysterious girl, who lets herself into his apartment and starts rearranging things, then attacks his sister and the rest of his family and their friends, chasing them down and killing them in grotesque ways. This is a straight-up horror story with enough variation in characters and situations to keep it interesting, even as you know that whatever comes next isn’t going to be pretty.

Dementia 21, by Kago
Kago is a master of surrealistic horror, and this collection of short stories about a home health aid caring for patients with dementia allows him to show off his chops, as he creates a series of demented situations for the cheerful but hapless aide Yukie. Dentures that have a mind of their own, an addled woman causes people to snap out of existence when she forgets them, aging superheroes in diapers reprise their great battles, and a strange highway has different lanes for the dying and the dead… Each story goes barreling off in a different direction and doesn’t stop until it reaches the most absurd possible conclusion. There’s plenty of body horror in here, and it’s not for the squeamish, but Kago’s crisp, realistic style gives it an antiseptic feeling as well—which makes it all the more powerful when everything disintegrates.

Dr. Stone, by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi
You’d think that after all these years, the Shonen Jump people would run out of ideas for new series. Nope! This one is strangely original, yet it fits the template nicely: seems the entire world was turned to stone for 3,700 years, and a handful of survivors must recreate all of human civilization from shells, rocks, and bits of flora and fauna. Since this is a Shonen Jump manga, all the survivors (so far at least) are teenagers, and one of them is a pretty, bashful girl. That’s Yuzuriha. The others are a Senku, a science genius; Tsukasa, a powerful but amoral fighter; and Taiju, a regular guy with more brawn than brains and zero killer instinct. Since he cracked his stone shell, Senku has been devising ways to create everything needed to restore civilization, from the liquid that dissolves the stone to gunpowder—a necessity given Tsukasa’s violent tendencies. It’s a MacGyveresque survival story with a touch of Battle Royale, more than a little goofiness, and a sprinkling of fun science facts—how to make gunpowder, anyone?

Again!!, by Mitsurou Kubo
If you could do high school all over again, what would you do differently? For Kinichiro, the answer is “join the ouendan club.” Ouendan is a very particular type of cheerleading, different from the regular sort (with whom, in this series, the ouendan club is in competition). On his first day of school, Kinichiro was weirdly drawn to the captain of the squad—who was also its only member—but he never followed up. On graduation day, a fall down a flight of stairs sends him and a female classmate four years into the past, he this second time around he decides to get involved with the ouendan club and its odd captain. He could hardly do worse than he did before, as on his first try he graduated with no friends and no accomplishments to speak of. But the opposite is true of his companion on this trip back to the past, who is having a much harder time of it. The ouendan club puts an interesting spin on this time-travel high-school romance, written by one of the co-creators of the anime Yuri on Ice.

That Blue Sky Feeling, by Okura and Coma Hashii
This manga, which started out as a webcomic, is a refreshing break from the standard cliches of high school romance, particularly gay high school romance. Noshiro is the new kid in the class, and he quickly finds a crowd of his own, but he is fascinated by the loner Sanada. Sanada, for his part, doesn’t seem to be anxious to connect with anyone other than his sole female friend. When Noshiro learns that Sanada is being shunned because he is gay, his sense of fair play takes over and he insists on reaching out to the boy, refusing to be deterred by his standoffishness. By the end of the first double-size volume, the reader is a little ahead of Noshiro in realizing what is really going on—but that’s part of what makes this story feel so grounded and down to earth. For once, a high school romance in which the characters act like real people.

Hakumei & Mikochi: Tiny Little Life in the Woods, by Takuto Kishiki
This is a manga about two tiny little women who live in the woods, just as it says on the cover, although their tininess isn’t always obvious. Their cuteness is, however, always on full display. Rotund and adorable, they go about their business in this slice-of-tiny-life manga, riding beetles to get around, cooking up things from herbs and mushrooms, and meeting up with friends to have tiny little adventures. Kishiki’s art is both cute and super detailed, which is not an easy look to pull off. It works here: this series is delightful both visually and as a fun, relaxing read.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, by Akiko Higashimura
This is a smart comedy about a single woman who is worried her chances at marriage are dwindling, even though she’s not so sure that’s what she wants anyway. When career woman Rinko goes out drinking with her two best friends to celebrate her 33rd birthday, the food on her plate starts talking to her, questioning all her life choices so far. Not only does Rinko have to debate with a liver steak and a piece of cod milt, but she and her friends also get a scolding from a guy at the bar. Soon her world starts to fall apart, as she loses a scriptwriting gig thanks to that outspoken bar patron (who turns out to be a model) and the guy she thinks is going to propose asks out her barely-legal assistant instead. Fed up with it all, she decides she will get married by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020. That may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it’s a very entertaining disaster, especially when the talking bar snacks get into the act.

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii
This charming single-volume manga, done in a loose, diary-comic style, is a memoir of the author’s romance and marriage. It’s also a cheery account of transgender life and the complications that come not only with being transgender but with going through the transition. It’s very down-to-earth, as Chii explains the practical aspects, including some legal matters that are specific to Japan, and it also reads nicely as a breezy, fun romance.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, by Inio Asano
Aliens invade Tokyo but are beaten back by the local defense forces. That’s not what this manga is about, though—by the time we meet high-schoolers Koyama Kadode and Nakagawa Oran, the invasion is three years in the past, and while the spaceship continues to hover over the city, as the story opens, the aliens themselves are nowhere to be seen. This sense of heaviness and anticipation pervades the two girls’ worlds; Kadode’s father disappeared during the invasion, and her mother is barely coping, while Oran is fascinated by conspiracy theories she finds online. The two girls go about what passes for everyday life, playing video games and texting each other, but this is Asano, so there’s a lot more going on as well, including Kadode’s attraction to her teacher and a lot of political-military stuff that shows up on the news although the girls mostly ignore it. Asano regards this as lighter than his other manga (Goodnight PunPun, solanin) , which isn’t saying a lot, but it’s definitely interesting to see him take his considerable talents in a new direction.

City, by Keiichi Arawi
Arawi, the creator of the surreal school comedy nichijou,brings his talents to a slightly more structured story about slightly older characters. City follows Midori, a broke college student, through the streets of a large city where she has one encounter after another with friends, her landlady, the local policeman…This series has a similar vibe to nichijou, with short scenes, goofy characters, slapstick humor, and plenty of non sequiturs, but it feels a bit more like a traditional narrative, albeit one that is still shooting off in eight different directions at once.

Silver Spoon, by Hiromu Arakawa
If you were asked how Arakawa would follow up her legendary shonen fantasy Fullmetal Alchemist, how many of you would have guessed “a comedy about animal husbandry”? Unexpected or no, this series is undeniably charming, a slice-of-rural-life tale follows high school student Yuugo Hachiken, who escapes from his overbearing father by enrolling in an agricultural school in Hokkaido. Of course, it’s not what he expects at all, and there’s plenty of humor to be found whenever a city boy winds up in the country. Brainy Yuugo quickly learns farming is about a lot more than book smarts, and his stiff demeanor soon begins to crumble under the onslaught of his charming classmates, all of whom are more attuned to agricultural life than he is (and herein is revealed the series’ shonen DNA). In the end, just as Fullmetal Alchemist was about growing up more than it was alchemy, Silver Spoon is about more than just cows and pigs—it’s the story of a young man coming into his own.

The Best Ongoing Series

The Promised Neverland, by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu
The orphans who live at Grace Field House are a happy lot, well fed and cheerful, and headed to good homes: almost all of them are adopted out by the time they turn 11. Or so they think: In fact, the orphans are being fattened up to be fed to monsters on the outside. Emma and Norman, two of the older children, discover what is happening and enlist their super-brainy friend Ray to help them plot an escape. It’s not easy, with the seemingly benign “Mom” (and later, a less pleasant “Sister”) looking over them and an elaborate security system keeping them penned on the farm. They have to outwit their captors and get away before they are “adopted”—and Emma insists they rescue all the children, even the youngest, something the others don’t believe they can do. This story has all kinds of tension coming from all different directions: some allies are untrustworthy, some seeming successes are really double-crosses, and danger lurks around every corner. It’s a smart, suspenseful, beautifully drawn dark-fantasy manga, and one of the most addictive series running.

My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi
My Hero Academia is a superhero story set in a world where almost everyone has a weird, limited superpower, called a quirk, and the most powerful and best known superheroes are celebrities. Izuku Midoriya is one of the few born without a quirk, but what he lacks in talent, he makes up for in earnestness and studiousness, and in the first volume a washed-up superhero, All Might, bestows his own power on the young man, which gets him into the prestigious Hero Academy, a school for superheroes. The students don’t spend much time on lessons, because there’s always some villain crashing in or a practical exam cooked up by the bizarre faculty, and in addition, there’s the competition between Midoriya and his longtime nemesis and bully, Katsuki Bakugo. My Hero Academia combines the earnestness of superhero comics with the core elements of shonen manga—a plucky hero, quirky side characters, plenty of battles, and a dash of fanservice. What really makes the story a delight, though, is Horikoshi’s endlessly inventive imagination, as he populates the story with scores of odd-looking characters with abilities that really are more “quirks” than superpowers.

Tokyo Ghoul: re, by Sui Ishida
Tokyo Ghoul: re picks up its story directly from Tokyo Ghoul, and it’s almost impossible to describe it without spoiling the original series. Suffice it to say we are back in the world of ghouls and ghoul hunters, where the lines between humans and ghouls are sometimes blurred. This series follows a team of ghoul investigators who receive organ implants from ghouls in order to gain some of their powers without losing their humanity. Together they hunt the most notorious ghouls and try to tear down the ghouls’ organizations, but the past starts to catch up with them. Like the original Tokyo Ghoul, this series is filled with dark secrets, bloody battles, and unforgettable characters.

One Punch Man, by ONE and Yusuke Murata
One Punch Man should have been a one-joke manga, a spoof about a blasé superhero who is so strong he can dispatch any enemy with a single punch, which makes his life boring. The fact that ONE and Murata have been able to spin it out into so many volumes, and keep it entertaining, is a testament to their creative skills. Like My Hero Academia, it is filled with goofy superheroes and grotesque villains, as well as plenty of fighting, all done with tongue firmly in cheek. You get the feeling that both creators sit down and just dream up as many crazy characters as they can, then figure out a plot to set them all in motion at once. It’s funny, it’s full of action, and it never gets old.

The Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
Although it’s set in the northern region of Hokkaido, not the Yukon, this series has a Jack London feel to it. Saichi Sugimoto, who earned the nickname “The Immortal” during the Russo-Japanese War, heads north to prospect for gold, hoping to accumulate enough wealth to pay for medical treatment for his best friend’s widow. When a fellow prospector tells him of a hidden treasure, the game is afoot. The first complication is that the only map to the treasure is tattooed on the skins of a group of escaped prisoners, so Sugimoto must track them down one by one. The other complication is that despite his battle skills, he’s not really equipped to deal with the rigors of the Hokkaido wilderness. Fortunately, he meets Asirpa, one of the indigenous Ainu people of the region, and with that, this becomes a buddy story of sorts, as the grizzled soldier and the young native girl go after the human puzzle pieces, one at a time, while battling the others who are running after the treasure as well. Gory, action-packed, and beautifully drawn, this series is filled with intriguing details of Ainu life as well as quiet moments and suspenseful battles. Jack London would have loved it!

Delicious in Dungeon, by Ryoko Kui
When a foodie manga meets a dungeon-fantasy manga, you get Delicious in Dungeon,a series about a group of adventurers who run out of food so they start eating the monsters they are slaying. But how will Laois and his team know what’s edible and what to cook? Other adventurers contribute their knowledge, and a fair amount of experimentation goes on as well. Kui leavens the story with quite a bit of humor, and like Astra: Lost in Space, this series is filled with critters and plants that are familiar enough to be plausible but different enough to look weird—and a little unsettling. And lest you worry the dish will get stale after a few volumes, it’s also worth mentioning: there’s a compelling ongoing narrative here, too: not just about the strange secrets of the dungeon, but in the relationships between the lovable cast of misfits at its center.

Behind the Scenes, by Bisco Hatori
Hatori, the creator of Ouran High School Host Club and Millennium Snow, mixes up some standard manga tropes with a gang of creative characters in this story about a college student who joins the Art Squad, the crew that creates props, costumes, and settings for film students. It’s a bit like Paradise Kiss, with a fairly normal character finding not only self-confidence but a sense of belonging among a group of crazy creative people. Ranmaru, the lead character of Behind the Scenes, comes from a fishing town and doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, but it turns out that he has some unique skills that are valuable to the Art Squad. Of course, the Art Squad has some strong personalities as well, and Hatori makes the most of the many opportunities it offers for conflict and drama. This manga is not too demanding on the brain, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, by Akira Himekawa
The two-woman team that goes by Akira Himekawa has been drawing manga based on The Legend of Zelda games for years, but this series breaks new ground for them: It’s darker and more nuanced than their earlier work. While it follows the basic plot of the game of the same name, this series stands well on its own and is worth reading not just for the story but also for the characters and settings, as they bring the elements of the game to life. (Want to know more? Check out my interview with Akira Himekawa.)

Astra Lost in Space, by Kento Shinohara
The first rule of manga is that all school trips go awry. This one goes spectacularly awry, as a group of high school students go to space camp and end up on a deserted spaceship millions of miles from home. With no communications system and limited supplies, their only option is to hopscotch from planet to planet to collect food and water on their way back to earth. Each member of the group has a unique skill set that they need to survive—one is good at identifying flora and fauna, one has a good memory, etc.—but there’s also plenty of tension, especially after it becomes clear that at least part of their situation was no accident. This is a classic setup, enlivened by a varied cast of characters and the author’s talent for creating alien flora and fauna that are familiar and weird looking at the same time. The art is clear and uncluttered, making this an especially good read for newcomers to manga.

Descending Stories, by Haruko Kumota
A story about storytellers sounds kind of meta, but this series really is a great soap opera set in the world of rakugo, traditional Japanese storytelling. At the beginning of the series, the lead character has just been released from prison, and he goes straight to the home of the rakugo master Yakumo Yurakutei VIII, begging to be his disciple. At first no one takes the young man seriously—they nickname him Yotaro, or fool—but he sticks with it, and Yakumo becomes fonder of him he introduces him gradually not only to the world of rakugo but also to the stories of his own past, including the mysterious death of his best friend and strongest rival, the storyteller Sukeroku. The third member of Yakumo’s household is Konatsu, Sukeroku’s daughter, who blames Yakumo for her father’s death and resents his insistence that rakugo is a male-only art. As the series goes on, more characters are introduced and the focus shifts back and forth between the stories and the real world. Complete in 10 volumes, this is an enthralling and memorable series.

Erased, by Kei Sanbei
At 29, Satoru Fujinuma is frustrated with his lack of success as a manga creator. He delivers pizza to make ends meet, and he doesn’t have much of a life outside of that job and his manga. Then, out of the blue, he starts moving backwards in time just a few minutes, and continues doing so until he spots what’s wrong and prevents a disaster. Then, when his mother is murdered—and he is blamed—he skips all the way back to his childhood, and he knows that he will have to stop the murder of a schoolmate and track down her killer in order to save not only his mother but also the innocent man who faces execution for the crime. Sanbei plunges us into both of Fujinuma’s worlds, his childhood and the present day of the story, with plenty of key details and realistic characters, and the resolution of the story includes a very clever twist.

To Your Eternity, by Yoshitoki Oima
Another unexpected followup to a hit series, Oima’s first major work in the wake of A Silent Voice couldn’t be more different in tone or subject matter. To Your Eternity is an apocalyptic science fantasy of sorts about a strange lifeform that begins its existence as an orb that can take on any shape, but seems to be compelled to continually evolve into ever more complex living things. It goes quickly from a rock, to moss, to a wolf, which becomes the companion of a boy living alone in a frozen wilderness. When the boy dies, it takes on his shape—but it must continue to travel, to evolve, and to die and be reborn in order to gain human qualities (both good and bad). The next phase of its journey brings it to a village where a young girl is about to be sacrificed to the local god—and for the first time, we see a flicker of humanity. A Silent Voice, was ultimately a story about bullying and forgiveness; this series has a very different setting, but the same skillful depiction of human society and emotions. With beautiful art and an ever-expanding premise, it’s definitely a keeper—the central character’s resilience in the face of the worst humanity can throw at it is oddly admirable, even when you aren’t sure the world it inhabits is worth the trouble.

What new or ongoing manga did you love most in 2018?

The post Our Favorite Manga of 2018 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/best-manga-of-2018/

Our Favorite Comics & Graphic Novels of 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Honestly, this list of our favorite comics and graphic novels of 2018 could easily have been twice as long. Surely we’re living in a golden age of comics, to the point that there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all the good stuff coming out on a monthly basis—though we’re trying our best. (It’s a good problem.)

This year, we’ve looked at old heroes in entirely new ways (Batman as a villain; Superman as a milkman) and encountered deeply personal narratives from creators with stories to tell. Some of the books on this list are charming and fun, some are riddled with drama and angst, and some are literally world-shattering. Long-running favorites upped their games with jaw-dropping twists, while newer ones took their first steps toward becoming classics. If there’s a common thread between all of these very different books, it’s that they are the products of bold, distinct, and individual voices—not a one of whom is afraid to toss out the rulebook when necessary.

Infidel, by Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, Jose Villarrubia, and Jeff Powell
This modern haunted house story follows Aisha, a Muslim woman who meets with hostility from the new neighbors in her apartment building. An act of violence years before set the stage for their xenophobia, but there’s also a more tangible hateful presence in the building, fueled by bigotry, possessing Aisha and tormenting them all. Could Infidel have said what it has to say (and it has a lot to say) if it weren’t also a nerve-jangling work of horror? Maybe, but the two halves of the story have been made inseparable, bringing home the terrifying isolation felt by someone feared only for her skin tone and head scarf. It’s a stunning accomplishment, all the more so for being so painfully timely.

Batman: White Knight, by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Gotham City has a new hero: Jack Napier, the reformed Joker, who is determined to bring healing to the city he once terrorized with the help of the long-suffering Harley Quinn. This new Joker becomes a civic hero by exposing corruption in Gotham City, part of a crusade which sees him discrediting the man he sees as Gotham’s true villain: Batman. The past soon closes in on both Jack and Bruce, threatening to destroy them both in a clever exploration of the fine line between the two men. This cinematic and stylish standalone work marked the debut of DC’s Black Label imprint, which gives A-list creators the chance to offer their own takes on DC’s iconic characters. If this is any indication of what the line has in store for us, we’ll be mad for it.

Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Alex Ross, Chip Kidd, and J. J. Abrams
There’s no one in comics quite like Alex Ross, whose style is somehow both hyper-realistic and painterly, creating the feeling that his superheroes are going to step off the page and bust up your living room. His stunning work for DC was previously collected in the bestselling Mythology, and this year, his work for Marvel comics got the same treatment. Marvelocity spotlights his work on iconic characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, the Avengers, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Fantastic Four. Drawing from both published and previously unseen material, as well as sketches and preparatory art, the collection is rounded out with a new 10-page Spider-Man story (the exclusive B&N edition includes a Spidery poster). It’s a retrospective, sure, but also a drool-worthy work of art in and of itself.

Bingo Love, by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, Cardinal Rae, Erica Schultz, and Genevieve FT
One of the year’s most exciting graphic novels doesn’t involve superheroes or explosions, instead telling a charming queer love story spanning half of a century. It’s a solid reminder that comics is a medium well-suited to all kinds of stories, and that a more intimate and personal book can have big emotional stakes. Hazel and Mari meet at church bingo in 1963, but their families push them apart, and each goes on to marry other people and carve out very different lives for themselves. Another heated bingo game 50 years later brings them back together, forcing them to reconsider their lives and what their love for one another means. The queer black love story is challenging and sweet, with gorgeous artwork.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
What began as a one-off audio experiment from veteran podcasting trio the McElroy brothers (Justin. Travis, and Griffin as Dungeon Master) and their dad (D&D neophyte Clint) became a cult sensation, attracting a loyal following and a million pieces of Tumblr fanart over the course of a three-year run. The show is essentially a Dungeons and Dragons campaign crossed with a comedy improv routine, plus a fair bit of heart. Here There Be Gerblins! is a graphic adaption of the first campaign, and it makes the transition surprisingly seamlessly, preserving the in-jokes and references fans will eat up, while remaining perfectly accessible to new readers (perhaps the book’s neatest trick). Worthy of particular praise is co-writer/artist Carey Pietsch, who accomplished with aplomb the seemingly thankless task of creating a visual style for a story that has taken on a life of its own in the fan community and in the imaginations of tens of thousands of listeners.

Saga, Vol. 9, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This past summer, we learned Saga is taking an extended break (for at least a year), but not before co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples dropped this game-changing volume, which races to a brutal conclusion made even more devastating by the indefinite hiatus. Volume 9 begins by exploring the fallout from Prince Robot IV’s idea to sell his life story to the press, a decision that comes to have truly horrific ramifications for himself, his family, and for Marko, Alana, and Hazel—and, well, just about every other character. Every volume of Saga is brilliant, but this (temporary) finale reminds us just how daring it still is, even nine volumes in. Only a book this good can traumatize us this much.

Paper Girls, Vol. 5, by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson
Things keep getting weirder and more time-twistingly complicated in the fifth trade collection of Brian K. Vaughan’s other blockbuster sci-fi series. He and and co-creator Cliff Chiang take things to the next level with this eventful chapter in the award-winning story about a group of paper delivery girls from the mid-1980s who find themselves bopping through time in the wake of the various forces waging a temporal war. Finally, a few questions about the whos and hows of the conflict are answered (even as yet more questions are introduced): we learn the origins of the “old timers” who have been hounding our girls, even as the plot hops from the year 2000 and the Y2K crisis into the far future. Like Vaughan’s Saga, this is a book that started great and only gets better with… time.

Dark Nights: Metal: Deluxe Edition, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
The best event comics are the ones that truly cut loose, and it doesn’t hurt that DC’s 2018 mega-event was crafted under the watchful eyes of two of its most reliable creators: the long-time Batman dynamic duo of Snyder and Capullo. Batman spent years researching metals with mysterious properties before discovering that the materials are linked to a grim multiverse: a nightmare realm of multiple worlds observed by an evil force determined to drag all of the other universes into the darkness. When our Batman becomes trapped on the dark side, multiple twisted and nightmarish Dark Knights invade, with only the Justice League to stand in their way. It’s all way over the top (Batman riding a dragon, oh my), and so much the better for it.

DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars, by Steve Orlando, Gerard Way, Jody Houser, Cecil Castelucci, Jon Rivera, ACO, Ty Templeton, Mirka Andolpho, Langdon Foss, Dale Eaglesham, and Nick Derington
Another of this year’s biggest, weirdest events also came from DC: this one a universe-jumping, milk-themed mega-crossover. In its brief lifetime, DC’s Young Animal  imprint (currently on hiatus) has produced some of the best new superhero comics on the stands of late: books that are smart, weird, and irreverent in the best ways. In this series, characters from the DCU proper meet up with the Young Animal teams and characters to battle a reality-bending corporation called “Retconn,” with dramatic, bizarre, and retro results. Superman becomes Milkman Man, monstrous paragon of wholesomeness taken to extremes. Wonder Wife fights dirt with a golden vacuum cleaner. And Funko Pop-esque toys are made of meat. It’s wonderfully oddball, while also taking a few sharp jabs at readers who cling too hard to empty nostalgia. It’s the perfect antidote to Big Event fatigue.

Monstress, Vol. 3 (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
In the shadow of war, teenager Maika Halfwolf shares a psychic connection with a powerful monster. The latest chapter in the multi-Eisner-winning epic fantasy series sees Maika forced to find allies as invasion looms (no easy feat for a woman so accustomed to standing on her own). Confronting trauma and racism with a cast of powerful and nuanced women, the series remains among the most visually stunning books on the stands, and continues to evolve its story and its world, inspired by East Asian history and aesthetics. The B&N edition features a variant cover and a two-sided poster, all of them filled with more of Takeda’s beautiful, detailed, character-rich work.

The Pervert, by Remy Boydell and Michelle Perez
Perez and Boydell share a series of vignettes drawn in a deceptively simple watercolor style that nonetheless perfectly matches the book’s washed-out look at life. It’s the story of a young trans woman doing sex work in Seattle, struggling to survive in a dangerous and stressful environment. At first refusing to work as anything other than a woman, she eventually gives in and passes as a rent boy when money gets tight. It’s a new type of coming-of-age story, with hope and inspiration to be found, even as a happy ending remains elusive.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan
A conversation had several times this year: here’s a book that has no business whatsoever being as good, nor as interesting, as it is. A second banana Hanna-Barbera character is reimagined as a queer southern playwright in the late 1950s who draws the attention of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Seen as a threat and a subversive, Snagglepuss loses almost everything he has before playing his last card. It’s a portrait of a specific era, but also resonates in any era in which its demanded that someone hide who they are to get by in the world. Snagglepuss works particularly well as a stand-in for any number of public figures who’ve paid a price for being true to themselves. It’s an unexpected and impossibly bold spin on a cartoon classic.

Maestros, Vol. 1, by Steve Skroce, Dave Stewart, and Fonografiks
Once banished from an alternate realm to Earth, Orlando-based millennial and magician-for-hire Will is surprised to inherit a magic kingdom after his entire otherworldly family is murdered by monsters. Now next in line to be Wizard King,  Will suddenly finds he has enemies on all sides—but he also has access to a spell that grants him god-like powers. This is punk rock fantasy with a dark sense of humor that will appeal to fans of Curse Words, with trippy, hyper-detailed, and gleefully gory art. It’s easy to see why it garnered that Best New Series Eisner nod.

Runaways by Rainbow Rowell, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka
This year saw two volumes of Rainbow Rowell’s relaunch of Runaways, and they’re totally worth a binge read. Created by Brian K. Vaughan, it was once one of Marvel’s buzziest series, but in the wake of the first run’s cancellation, the various characters (Alex, Nico, Chase, Karolina, Molly, telepathic dinosaur Old Lace, and others) were dispersed into the larger Marvel U. Novelist Rowell made it her mission to get the old gang back together, reassembling almost the entire original team—even if it meant literally resurrecting its (deceased) heart and soul, Gert. The book welcomes new readers but feels absolutely of a piece with Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s run, and the fashion-forward art from Kris Anka (with popping colors from Eisner-winner Matt Wilson) is pure candy. Like Rowell’s novels, perfect gems of pop culture fizz and real heart, this is killer stuff: angsty, romantic, and consistently surprising.

Isola, Vol. 1 (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, and Msassyk
Inspired by the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, but nevertheless its own animal, Isola is a visually stunning story about the Queen of Maar, who has fallen under the influence of an evil spell that has transformed her into a tiger, and the captain of her guard who will stop at nothing to save her—though the only hope lies half a world away on the mythical island of Isola. There’s a strong emphasis on the visuals, with the minimal dialogue reflecting the difficulty these two very formidable women find in mere communication—ostensibly because one’s a tiger and the other isn’t, but also because of their wide gaps in class and experience The story is compelling, but truly, Isola is is an absolute feast for the eyes. Aside from some preliminary sketches and a variant cover, thee B&N edition includes an exclusive 10-page prologue available nowhere else.

Von Spatz, by Anna Haifisch
The Von Spatz Rehabilitation Center for Artists caters to some of the 20th century’s finest: names like Tomi Ungerer, Saul Steinberg, and even Walt Disney himself. An exploration of drive and insecurity among artists, Haifisch imagines the trio as animal-headed patients at an art therapy retreat where the they develop a slow-earned friendship—sort of a Toon Town for cartoonists. It’s absurdist and experimental book, but also funny and heartwarming, with an impressively realized exploration of the creative process at its core.

Truth, Justice, and the American Way: The Joe Shuster Story, by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi
A comics industry history that’s itself an impressive piece of (gorgeously painted) graphic storytelling, this book presents the deeply researched life story of Shuster, the shy and visually impaired co-creator of one of the 20th century’s most enduring cultural icons (we’re speaking, of course, about Superman, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year). It’s an essential slice of history that’s both inspiring and poignant: an exploration of the creative process as well as the tale of an artist who resorted to a job  delivering packages before finally seeing some measure of recompense for his world-changing work.

Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso
One of the year’s most trenchant graphic novels isn’t necessarily an easy read, only because of how well it encapsulates our present moment. Three individuals connected by tragedy are drawn into the world of online conspiracy theories, each having their experiences co-opted and dismissed as theatre by people looking to use the web to weaponize opinion. It’s the first graphic novel ever to be nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and with good reason.

Fence, Vol. 1, by C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad, Rebecca Nalty, and Joana LaFuente
Troubled fencing prodigy Nicholas Cox gets accepted into the prestigious Kings Row only to find himself facing down his half-brother as well an an unbeatable rival. Inspired by the best sports manga, it’s an old-school coming-of-age story full of athletic competition and queer characters from the author of the Captive Prince novels. The art is bright and crisp, capturing the fluidity of the fencing scenes and the delicate character work with finesse. It’s a sports-centric book full of angst and romance, with dramatic action that just happens to take place during fencing bouts.

Moonstruck, Vol. 1, by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Caitlin Clark, Laurenn McCubbin, and Clayton Cowles
This book comes from Lumberjanes‘ creator Grace Ellis (working with co-creator Shae Beagle), and shares a similarly quirky, cute fantasy vibe: Julie wants nothing but to be a normal girl with normal girlfriend and a normal barista gig. Unfortunately, she turns into a werewolf when she gets upset. Whoops. Luckily, the world of Moonstruck is full of fantasy creatures living unremarkable lives, so Julie and her centaur best friend Chet don’t draw too much attention when they lock up the coffee shop in order to save their friends from a magical conspiracy. You know… just your typical werewolf-QPOC romcom-fantasy/magic book. At its heart, though, it’s about self-acceptance: loving yourself whether your hang-up is gender, body type, or occasional lycanthropy.

My Boyfriend is a Bear, by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris
Nora has had many awful boyfriends, but things turn around when she meets a charming, romantic bear. (Join the club.) But this is, like, a literal bear: a 500-pound American black bear, to be precise. The two meet in the Los Angeles hills, and it’s love at first sight. Of course, there are challenges: getting friends and family to accept her slightly unconventional romance isn’t easy; also, he hibernates all winter long. It’s an impressively heartfelt and funny book about the trials and triumphs of any relationship. Writer Pamela Ribon (who we’ve loved since her days as a prolific, early-internet blogger) also created roller girl saga Slam! and wrote Disney’s Moana and Ralph Breaks the Internet.

What’s your favorite comic of 2018?

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The Best Horror Books of 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Another year is ending. The days grow shorter; the nights, darker. The weird noises two streets over are a little quieter, and a little weirder, when muffled by the snow. With these black nights comes the harvest of the best dark fiction of the year. The past 12 months was an interesting time for horror, especially for experiments in form: two established masters sank their teeth into new veins of the genre, we shuddered at an absolutely brutal novel written entirely in a single running monologue, fictional oral histories explored terror from every angle, and even the oldest tricks in the blackest of books were given new life.

Whatever dark corners you might wish to curl up in, rest assured, you’ll find them below. Submitted for your approval: the best horror books we read this year.

I Am Behind You, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
A slow-burner compared to Lindqvist’s previous works, which tend to favor nauseating descriptions of undead biology and the horrifying aftereffects of trepanation, I Am Behind You is no less terrifying. The latest entry in Lindqvist’s literary canon sees the Swedish master of horror tackling more atmospheric and existential themes, depicting four families who become inexplicably stuck in an endless expanse of grass and blue skies that slowly reveals more about its itself only by turns, from the way it exploits its victims’ secret fears and flaws, to the strange creatures that stalk its distant borders. From the jump, there’s a weirdly claustrophobic air about the wide-open field, not the least of which is the music floating through it, seeming to cue up directly with the action (even creepier: the only tunes on offer are songs written by pop composer Peter Himmelstrand). That eerie feeling only builds to greater disturbances as Lindqvist reveals the true scope of his world, bringing to the fore the idea that all this torment is happening for a reason, but not a comprehensible one. Read our review.

Sleep Over, by H.G. Bells
On the surface, the premise invites comparisons to World War Z,: the gathered oral accounts of an apocalypse, in this case a sudden pandemic of sleeplessness. But from those roots, Sleep Over quickly blooms into a terrifying outgrowth of body horror, as the infected become trapped in their own waking delusions, minor scratches trigger a slow and painful death as the unsleeping bodies are unable to heal, and those desperate enough to close their eyes for even a few moments slip into catatonia or fall prey to mad science. While Bells leaves room for a small sliver of hope—albeit only in that all of this is being narrated in the past tense—she never once shies away from depicting the very real and truly horrifying implications of a world without sleep. This is a harrowing read, both for the micro-narratives it contains—even the happier ones seem to share a general sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop—and for the chilling plausibility of the wide-scale societal collapse. Bells’ debut novel will keep you turning pages, if only to see how the waking nightmare finally ends. Read our review.

Bedfellow, by Jeremy C. Shipp
Jeremy C. Shipp, author of some of the weirdest novels ever to be classified as “bizarro,” has long been known for finding ways to make the unusual seem commonplace just long enough for unsuspecting readers to put down their guards before he flings them headlong into even stranger waters, gleefully submerging them in pools of pure weird. In Bedfellow, he uses this gift to shift and change the landscape around an imperiled family being visited by an unusual interloper. “Marvin,” as the…thing calls him/itself, appears first as a homeless transient with odd eyes, but then, he changes, and every new detail he invents to change his appearance of explanation for bring there is added to the family’s memories without question. With terrible ease, he invades their heads, and takes up residence. Compounding the sense of unease, Shipp lets us in on what Marvin is doing, but in a way that portrays the family as helpless against him, their memories and sense of reality mere food for Marvin’s bizarre appetites. It’s a home invasion story as unusual as it is insidious; every moment in which Marvin consolidates his control is another moment in which you hope desperately that someone in the story will realize what is happening, the way you did.

The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul Tremblay
Tremblay is something of a modern master in the realm of psychological horror, twisting familiar premises (demonic possession, suburban gothic ghost stories, home-invasion horror) in such a way that they reflect the characters’ interior landscapes as much as any external supernatural threat. Cabin begins with a simple home-invasion premise: as Andrew, Eric, and their daughter Wen summer at a lakeside cabin, four strangers with unusual-looking farm implements attempt to force their way inside, telling the three that they have to choose which one of them dies, in order that the wider world can be saved. While the small family is at first skeptical, a series of strange disasters shown on television—and the odd behavior of their captors—seems to point to bizarre events on a global scale; coupled with the weird visions one one the vacationers begins experiencing, the house soon erupts into a philosophical and psychological uproar. It’s a horrifying thriller that manages to maintain the suspense over the mere question of its premise—a tiny, cunning bit of uncertainty that makes reading experience that much more terrifying. Read our review.

Mutilation Song, by Jason Hrivnak
Hrivnak’s (The Plight House) second novel, released through the illustrious ChiZine Publications (fast becoming a stamp of quality in the world of bizarre fiction) begins with its demonic narrator DINN gleefully walking the reader through his torment and disappointment with his most recent “trainee,” a young neuro-atypical man named Thomas. While the framework will immediately evoke memories of similar disturbing works (Three Hundred Million is a fair readalike), anyone who’s struggled with the more persistent strains of mental difficulty will immediately see real-life parallels in DINN’s training program. The demon’s harsh and horrifying lectures about how he desires nothing more than to break Thomas in mind and soul create a curious portrait of the struggle against the sorts of internal forces (depression, anxiety) that would like nothing more than to snap their bearers in half, to turn them into something unrecognizable. While it might not be as explicit as far as “extreme horror” goes, putting the reader in the passenger seat for DINN’s process results in a pretty brutal experience—and one of the most psychologically disturbing and effective horror novels of the year.

Lost Filmsedited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle
Lost Signals was a collection with an fascinating premise: ask a bunch of modern horror heavies to pen stories involving the loose shared theme of radio or broadcast signals. The result was an eerie and unusual collection of works, from T.E. Grau’s story about a strange AM signal, to Josh Malerman’s dark tale about a cemetery’s sensor board. Booth and Michelle released their followup this year, carving the same dark paths through a different communication medium: movies. Horror stories about the movies have captured the imagination for a while now, and Lost Films is a worthy entry into that canon, featuring versatile writers like Brian Evenson and Eugenia Triantafyllou telling stories of missing films, an obsession with a historically infamous recording of a politician, lost entries in a filmic canon, and twisted film festivals. It’s also a great introduction to writers you might not be as familiar with, including a large number of smaller-press regulars who definitely deserve your attention.
Standout Stories: “The Church in the Mountains” by Gemma Files, “Ghost Mapping” by Eugenia Triantafyllou

The Hunger, by Alma Katsu
Bringing together historical fact and horror fiction in a story every bit as eerie and twisted as Cormac McCarthy, Katsu outlines the story of the Donner Party, a caravan hoping to make it from Missouri to California in the mid-19th century. Anyone familiar with the infamous history of the name “Donner” already knows that half the people hitting the trail are going to die as things go to hell in the mountains near California, but Katsu’s blend of supernatural horror, western-gothic flavor, psychological horror, and the eerie landscape of the American West all combine to make The Hunger unusually suspenseful anyway. It’s a work of unusual atmosphere and appetite, mining the harrowing story of the historical disaster of all its potent, terrifying potential. It’s a book that lingers—unforgettable from the first image of a corpse picked clean, to its final, haunting moments.

We Sold Our Soulsby Grady Hendrix
Dürt Würk was poised to be a major force in the rock world—until their lead singer ditched them all and became a mega-successful metal act. Now, years later, strange events force former lead guitarist Kris Pulaski (now the night manager of a Best Western, where a pillowcase-headed man harasses her nightly) to travel through America and get the band back together in the hopes of figuring out what happened. Hendrix brings a certain frantic energy and power to writing about music—often a difficult thing to in the soundless medium of prose, and Pulaski’s an incredibly strong lead, standing out in a killer lineup of them, from the opening recounting of how she practices “Iron Man” in her room, to the numerous knocks she takes in her nail-biting road trip. Hendrix’s horror chops are nigh-unassailable at this point, and this rock ‘n’ roll nightmare is a perfect reflection of America and its music: paranoid, dark, moderately insane, and heavy as all get out.

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, by Raymond A. Villareal
Another novel told as a fictional oral history, Villareal’s horror-satire begins with the CDC discovering the first case of what is later known as the “Gloamings,” and what popular culture would call vampirism. The corpses of victims of  a mysterious disease that turns blood solid begin to pile up, only to disappear and then rise again as a new species that subsists on a diet of human blood. As newly-minted Gloamings start to gain power and visibility—and healthy people follow their desires to join the ranks—a series of mysterious terror attacks target bloodsucker settlements and a political campaign from a Gloaming candidate threatens to throw the nation into disarray. Villareal has a good sense of modern medicine and politics, and his skill at blending genres (from Crichton-style scientific thriller, to horror, to political satire) with a strong sense of distinct character voices makes this a biting (pun definitely intended) takedown of the modern world.

The Best of the Best Horror of the Yearedited by Ellen Datlow
We’ve talked about Best of the Best Horror before, and with a name like that, there was little chance of it not ending up on this list. It’s an amazing anthology spanning a decade’s worth of year’s best fiction, drawing on diverse subgenres and modesBut even apart from being an absolute feast for horror fans, Datlow’s editorial magnum opus lowers the barriers of entry for new readers of dark fiction. It’s the perfect volume if you’ve always been curious about horror but don’t know quite where to start, and an excellent volume otherwise, packed with heavy hitters in every way, from John Langan’s story of a secret assassination gone very wrong, to Livia Llewellyn’s tale of time-looping Lovecraftian madness. After no less than three recommendations of this book, we’ve probably said all we need to, but it bears repeating: don’t miss it.
Standout Stories: “The Man from the Peak” by Adam Golaski, “In Paris in the Mouth of Cronos” by John Langan, “In A Cavern, In A Canyon” by Laird Barron

We Are Where The Nightmares Go, by C. Robert Cargill
C. Robert Cargill is a force to be reckoned with, an author and screenwriter whose dark fantasy and science fiction push the envelope of their respective genres and create heartfelt and imaginative (if sometimes downright scary) worlds. In this collection of eight stories, he turns his practiced hand to horror (maybe not entirely new ground for the screenwriter of Sinister, but still), with tales of nightmare dimensions, zombie dinosaurs, a tale set in the Nightbreed universe and other, stranger terrors. Cargill brings his off-kilter sensibilities to all of it: from nightmare clowns who can’t eat children (it’s against the rules), to a butcher who takes people apart for an unknown purpose. It’s all twisted, terrifying, and yet darkly funny and endlessly, disturbingly enjoyable. And all of it is very distinctly Cargill.
Standout Stories: “We Are Where The Nightmares Go,” “The Last Job Is Always The Hardest”

Alice Isn’t Dead, by Joseph Fink
After her wife Alice is declared dead, Keisha attempts to get on with her life and deal with her grief as best she can. But Alice can’t seem to stay out of her thoughts, appearing in the background of news broadcasts about major disasters. At first it seems to be a hallucination, but it’s clear Alice isn’t as dead as she might seem. So Keisha takes up a job driving a truck for Alice’s former employer, hoping to finally understand what exactly has happened to her wife—and falls deep into a monstrous backroads conspiracy stretching back centuries. While fans of the critically acclaimed audio drama will note many similarities with the text (the unusual atmosphere and worldbuilding—ominous billboards, hooded strangers, and utterly hypnotic and eerie roadways—make the transition from audio to prose completely intact), the novel hones in on the central thread of Alice, Keisha, and the unusual war they find themselves wrapped up in, creating a much more personal story of loss and the endless journeys we all undertake to understand the people we love. Read our review.

Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage
Beginning with the birth of its unsettling central character from her own point of view, Baby Teeth alternates chapters, pitting a beleaguered mother with chronic conditions against her precocious but somewhat… off daughter, who might be actively trying to psychologically sabotage her mother so she can have her father all to herself. The alternating narrative only ups the tension, showing things from Hanna’s unusual point of view while simultaneously casting doubt on exactly who or what she is, exactly, as well as the question of how much of her behavior has been colored by her mother’s clear psychologically disturbed nature. Each branch of the narrative is told in a distinct voice, and Hanna sounds plausibly childlike, a difficult thing for adult writers to pull off. Stage ably sustains an air of menace and tension, each chapter piling up evidence for each narrator’s version of events. It’s an unnerving take on the classic “bad seed” story.

The Outsider, by Stephen King
Beginning with a child’s mutilated corpse found in a park, King’s latest novel finds the master author on familiar ground. Yet as it goes, the book blends the police procedural elements of Mr. Mercedes with the unnerving suburban-gothic flavor that has defined most of his body of work. The synthesis is impressive: King builds dread as the investigation of beloved little league coach Terry Maitland and the possible atrocities he commits continues to mount evidence and reveal new facets of the sordid life teeming underneath the friendly surface of small-town Flint City. If you ever wished to see King bring the full brunt of his mature talents to bear on the subject matter of his earlier days, The Outsider shows he’s still a force to be reckoned with—and still has a ton of stories to tell.

Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey
In the midst of another of her husband’s violent “episodes,” suburban wife Liz feels something take over her body, just long enough to pick up a bottle and act in  her defense. While it saves her life and rebuffs Marc, Liz can’t help but feel a little off, especially as the “puppeteer” keeps pacing back and forth in the dark part of her mind, hoping to take control again during any high-stress situation. Meanwhile, a traumatized and vision-prone teenager named Fran sees Liz as two superimposed people, and feels compelled to figure out what exactly is going on with the older woman—all while trying to keep her own head and hallucinations in check. While Carey’s psychological horror paints a disturbing picture, there are enough real-world touches and genuine emotional honesty to set the novel apart from others trading in the usual psychological horror tropes. Anyone who’s experienced similar real-world situations will immediately find something to recognize, and the idea of mental health professionals who attempt to help the protagonists is surprisingly novel (and closer to reality) than most psychological thrillers get. All of it just serves to drive Someone Like Me deep into its readers’ minds, and mess with them all the more. Read our review.

The Gone Worldby Tom Sweterlitsch
Taking its cues from Scandinavian mystery novels and adding in a scoop of cosmic horror, The Gone World begins with NCIS investigator Shannon Moss called to the scene of a brutal series of murders involving the Navy’s secret expeditions into “Deep Time” and “Deep Space”—areas of time and space travel that remain relatively uncharted and difficult to explore. But this is just the tip of an iceberg of interlocking conspiracies involving a horrible future that indicates the end of time itself is approaching, and seeming to get closer every time Moss travels back in time to view the murders from another angle. Meanwhile, in the shadows lurks a group of villains who will do anything to survive and right what they believe history got wrong. It’s twisty, bleak, and complex thriller, but backs up a byzantine plot with clear motivations for the heroes and villains alike, and it definitely helps that the horror comes not from the unknown, but from the little-known, upping the scares as both side realize just how little they really understand about the things they thought were completely under their control. Read our review.

The Conspiracy Against The Human Race, by Thomas Ligotti
Out of all the books on this list—all the derangement, the creepy events, the sheer brutality—this is the one that comes with a warning. Reprinted by Penguin as part of their project to bring the author to wider audiences, Conspiracy is a book about horror, and probably a book that counts as horror, but is not horror fiction. Instead, it’s one part philosophical treatise, one part examination of the underpinnings of horror fiction, one part discourse on the nature of pessimism and why it makes sense to the author, and, well, one part collection of allegories about all of those things. What it is not is the feel-good hit of the year, and as it’s a nonfiction book, it doesn’t offer the same detachment one can find in fiction. It also inspired most of Rust Cohle’s more pessimistic tirades in the first season of True Detective, so if that’s not your thing, this book is probably not for you. But what it does offer is true insight into the philosophy of pessimism, the philosophical underpinnings of cosmic horror, and the why of existential horror. If you can endure the sheer tonnage of pressure delivered by such a pessimistic worldview, it’s a fascinating read.

Unbury Carol, by Josh Malerman
Malerman’s tale of revenge wears its influences clearly on its sleeve while giving a modern spin on several classic pulp storylines. It’s an unnerving story of a woman prone to comatose spells that leave her corpselike, her outlaw former lover, and the murderous abusive husband who aims to have her declared dead and bury her alive. Malerman establishes the horror from the very first scene, showing Carol and Dwight’s relationship and building Dwight’s menace as he whispers ominous asides during Carol’s friend’s funeral. It’s uncanny how perfectly the author captures the tone and atmosphere of the best Western pulp and gothic stories, thickening the dread in the air slowly with each scene and conversation, just enough to keep readers riveted while moving at its own measured pace. The result is a dark and fascinating story from an author whose talents in horror go above and beyond.

City of Ash and Red, by Hye-young Pyun
An unnamed rat-killer is sent to the country of C for a long-term assignment, only to be detained for quarantine and kept from doing his job. He soon finds he’s been accused of the murder of his ex-wife, sending him spiraling further downward as the world around him similarly falls into chaos. Pyun’s narration creates a wonderful sense of desperation in his central character, sending him scrambling towards any attempt at salvation even as his life falls to pieces, and finding horror in the desperate yearning for something as simple as a couple of aspirin. The Kafkaesque Country C mirrors the protagonist’s unwinding, presenting its own mysterious pandemic and twisted customs, but it’s that feeling of paranoia as things continue to dissolve within the narrator’s mind that truly sets the book apart.

The Merry Spinster, by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Taken from his viral series of fairy tales gone wrong originally published on The Toast, Ortberg’s acclaimed collection spins horrifying visions out of children’s stories and beloved fairy tales. Included is a version of “The Velveteen Rabbit” reimagined as a body horror fable worthy of Clive Barker, a take on “The Little Mermaid” incorporating bizarre marine biology, and still others, all skewed as glimpsed through a modern lens and the author’s off-kilter sense of humor. What truly drives the stories home, however, is Ortberg’s ability to expertly mirror his subjects’ tone and voice, creating retellings that sound enough like the originals to stick in the imagination, and become terribly, immediately timeless.
Standout Stories: “The Thankless Child,” “The Rabbit”

What novel scared you the most in 2018?

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Our Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

As the real world grows each day stranger by leaps and bounds, the skewed secondary worlds, fantastical lands, and alternate histories that are the realms of science fiction and fantasy have only grown more vital, not only as a means of escape from blaring headlines, political turmoil, and the crescendo of climate change, but as a means of understanding them: truths more clearly viewed through the lens of fiction.

Of course, that kind of makes reading sound like a drag, doesn’t it? The best SFF books of 2018 aren’t about beating you over the head with an agenda, they’re about finding truth in the fantastical, whether it’s a story of animal revenge, an exploration of the philosophy of magic, a chronicle of a space program that could’ve been, an imagined war that echoes the horrors of a real atrocity, or a very strange trip up, up, up an impossible tower. These are our favorite science fiction and fantasy novels from another strong year for the genre, and another weird year for the world. (See our list of the best books from the first half of 2018, and browse earlier year’s best lists in our archive of editors’ picks.)

Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft
Bancroft’s buzzy debut was already a self-published sensation in ebook when Orbit acquired the rights to publish in print, with three sequels to follow in short order. It’s set in a steampunk universe whose main feature is the Tower of Babel, a legendary tourist attraction that soars endlessly into the sky, shrouded in clouds. No one knows how high the tower goes, and it seems to contain an infinite number of rooms, all of them unique. Thomas, a small town schoolteacher, and his beloved wife Marya take their honeymoon at the Tower, but Thomas loses his new bride in the immense crowd milling about the base. Desperate to find her, he begins to climb the Tower in hopes of finding her. Every room he enters is a world unto itself, as detailed and deeply imagined as any described in entire novels. Thomas finds himself in a mental and physical battle with various factions and personalities as he slowly ascends the tower and learns its secrets—well, some of them, at least. Deeply strange and instantly addictive, it’s one of the most original fantasy novels in years—and book two, Arm of the Sphinx (released in May) might be even better. Read our review.

Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett 
The author of the Divine Cities trilogy (a nominee for Best Series at the 2018 Hugo Awards) begins a new trilogy that’s as fun to read as its world is well-imagined. The city state of Tevanne runs on magic and pillage, as the four dominant merchant houses exploit the lands around them (not to mention the poor denizens who crounch outside their walls in a precarious shantytown known as Foundryside), as their scrivers create incredible machines and accomplish feats that look a lot like magic by way of intricate sigils that bend and break the laws of reality. Sancia Grado is a Foundryside thief who comes into possession of Clef, a sentient golden key—and is pursued by police captain Gregor Dandolo, reluctant scion of one of the richest houses. The unwitting Sancia falls into a scheme to destroy the power of the scrivers; putting a stop to it will bring her and Dandolo together as unlikely allies in the greatest theft theft in history, with the lives of everyone in Tevanne on the line. Read our review.

The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
In this audacious, unapologetically feminist alternate history, Bolander imagines one of the “Radium Girls”—the very real victims of early workplace dangers, they suffered radiation poisoning from their jobs painting wristwatches with radioactive paint—meeting the sentient elephant that will replace her at the factory (elephants, being both intelligent enough to weild a paintbrush and large enough to absorb a lot of radiation before it kills them, are deemed a worthy disposable workforce). Bolander conflates the tragedy of the Radium Girls with the story of Topsy, the legendary elephant cruelly electrocuted before spectators at Coney Island to promote electricity. The two women—of different species, each boiling with rage against the injustice of their mistreatments—bond in a way that is wholly unexpected, leading a terrible act of justice and revenge that transcends time and history. The probable winner of this year’s Hugo and Nebula best novelette awards, this one is less than 100 pages, and will stay with you forever. Read our review.

Temper, by Nicky Drayden 
Nicky Drayden’s followup to the her gonzo science fantasy debut The Prey of Gods is just as delightfully out there. In an alternate African country, your vices are more than just part of your private nature—they’re what determine your status in society. With only a single vice branded on his arm, Kasim Mutz is marked for a bright future. His twin brother Auben, however, has six vices on display, dooming him to a much darker fate. Auben is smart, mischievous, and charming—and jealous of his brother’s prospects. as Auben begins hearing a demonic voice instructing him to give in to his weaknesses and commit terrible crimes, he finds his self-control begin to erode, and both brothers find they will have to tame their inner demons if they’re going to save their world. Drayden’s worldbuilding boasts depth and nuance, but her real strength is in developing instantly relatable characters. It feels real in the ways of the best speculative fiction, as if we’re looking at ourselves in a funhouse mirror, noting the skewed beauty, the blemishes, and all. Read our review.

Vita Nostra, by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko 
Marina and Sergey Dyachenko stand with the best writers of fantasy in Russia, but very little of their work has been translated into English. Hopefully, Vita Nostra—which has been hailed as perhaps their greatest work (it was named the best fantasy of the 21st century by the attendees fo Eurocon 2008)—will begin to change that. It’s the story of a young girl named Sasha who, after a series of bizarre and disturbing events, is enrolled against her will in the mysterious Institute of Special Technologies, where she will learn a very peculiar sort of magic—think philosophy and linguistics rather than spells and wands. Hogwarts this isn’t—the Institute is a cold, austere place, and Sasha’s exploration of magic offers all the charm of cramming for a post-grad final—but the novel somehow makes her coursework thrum with the drive and suspense of a thriller, all the way through the mind-melting ending. Read our review.

Bloody Rose, by Nicholas Eames 
Eames jumps back into the Band series, picking up the story six years after the events of Kings of the Wyld and shifting the focus to the daughter of one of that book’s team of grizzled adventurers. Teenage bard Tam Hashford is thrilled to be invited to join Bloody Rose, the most famous adventuring band of all, but quickly discovers the worst thing you can do is meet your idols. Bloody Rose is content to play arenas in the south rather than head north to fight more monsters, and are working towards one final show that will earn them enough money to retire in peace. When that final gig goes completely off the rails, the band must once again put aside differences and overcome their own limitations to gear up and save the world. Eames brilliant “mercenary bands as rock stars” concept is only more delightful the second time around. Read our review.

Salvation, by Peter F. Hamilton 
That Hamilton remains under the radar of many sci-fi readers (particularly in the U.S.) is a crime; not only has he consistently offered up amazing science fictional concepts, he’s packed them into character-focused epics with the sprawl to rival Dickens. In his newest, which stands alone from his earlier series, is set in the 23rd century, by which time humanity has achieved a complacent sort of ascendancy, managing a far-flung interstellar empire via networked “jump gates” that allow for instantaneous travel to anywhere. The cargo on a crashed spacecraft found on a newly discovered planet, however, threatens to fatally undermine that hegemony. Paralleling that story is taking place in the 51st century, where an ancient enemy pursues the genocide of the human race and a team of genetically altered soldiers prepare to face it. Per usual for Hamilton, the ideas as invigorating as the plot, which earns the epic page count. Read our review.

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal 
Kowal offers up the first of a pair of prequel novels to her award-winning novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars, delving into the alternate history that resulted in humanity establishing a colony on Mars in the middle of the 20th century. In the spring of 1952, a huge meteor hits Chesapeake Bay, taking out most of the Eastern United States. Mathematician and former military pilot Elma York and her scientist husband Nate are there to witness the destruction, and Elma knows immediately that this is an ELE—an extinction-level event—and that humanity must look to the stars if it has any hope of survival. Although her experience as a pilot and her math skills earn Elma a place in the International Aerospace Coalition as a calculator, she begins to wonder why women can’t be astronauts as well—and she’s more than willing to confront racism, sexism, and more personal enemies on her quest to become the first lady astronaut. This is one of those books that seems to have come along at just the right moment, bringing together fascinating, inspiring characters; compelling, plausible worldbuilding; and a message that resonates—especially today. Read our review.

The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang 
In a world inspired by the recent history and culture of China, the Nikan Empire defeated the Federation of Mugen in the Second Poppy War, and the two countries have since coexisted in a fragile state of peace. Orphaned peasant girl Rin lives a life of misery in Nikan, but when she sits for the Keju, the empire-wide examination designed to find talented youth and assign them to serve where they will be most useful, she scores in the highest percentile and is shocked to be assigned to the prestigious Sinegard military school, home to the children of the Empire’s elite. At Sinegard, Rin is bullied for her dark skin and low social status—but with the help of an insane teacher, she also discovers she is a shaman, able to wield powers long thought lost to the world. As she grows into her power and communicates with living gods, Rin sees clearly that a third Poppy War is coming—and she may be the only one who can stop it. Kuang is Chinese-American, and the book’s worldbuilding is informed by her study of twentieth century Chinese history, but this is no mere academic exercise—the characters are flawed and true, and the choices they face are impossibly compelling. The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good. Read our review.

Severance, by Ling Ma
There are many ways to write the apocalypse. Ling Ma’s debut novel manages to bind all of them together into an artfully drawn satire, the kind with humor so dry you almost miss it, and so sharp you at first don’t feel the cut. It follows a woman named Candace Chen in overlapping vignettes: from Fuzhou to Salt Lake City as the child of Chinese immigrants; from post-college ennui, documenting the streets of New York for a blog called NY Ghost, to an entry level job at a company that facilitates the publication of specialty bibles; from a slowly, inevitably emptying post-plague Manhattan, to her own uncomfortable exodus with a group of survivors. The world has been undone by Shen fever, a fungal infection understood to originate in southern China—the same region where Candace’s company prints those bibles. Its sufferers become trapped in their bodies, miming the same actions again and again: a suburban mother sets the table, and clears it, over and over; one young woman tries on and discards all the dresses in her closet; another brays with laughter as she changes channels on her widescreen, the television rife with nothing funny. The actions of the  afflicted display a decided lack of contrast with the novel’s office drones and compulsory capitalists. The elegy of place—of New York—and the lapping blood tide of personal reverie and the uselessness of memory shape the novel as something warmer than irony and less combative than parody. Read our review.

Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller 
Set in the floating city of Qaanaaq, built in the arctic circle in the wake of the terrible climate wars that saw ground-level cities burned and razed, Miller’s adult debut (his lightly fantastical YA The Art of Starving won the Andre Norton Award) is an intricate jewel box of ideas. The floating city is a marvel of engineering, but is starting to show the strain: poverty is rising, and crime and unrest along with it. A new disease known as the Breaks—which throws the infected into the midst of other people’s memories—is sweeping the population. When a woman arrives in Blackfish City riding on an Orca and accompanied by a polar bear, she’s an instant celebrity, dubbed the Orcamancer. She takes advantage of her fame to draw together the citizens Qaanaaq and set in motion acts of resistance and rebellion that will have incredible impact, leading four people them in particular to see through the corruption, lies, and marvels of the city to the shocking truths beneath. This is the kind of swirling, original sci-fi we live for. Read our review.

Before Mars, by Emma Newman 
Newman returns a third time to her Planetfall universe with this creepy, moving psychological sci-fi mystery. Celebrated artist Anna Kubrin is struggling with postpartum depression after the birth of her child, so an offer from a billionaire to spend some time on Mars as its resident geologist and artist seems like the perfect escape. When she arrives on the Red Planet months later, she’s shocked to discover a painting clearly created by her—and the work seems to be warning her not to trust the colony’s resident psychiatrist. Other details don’t add up, and Anna begins to wonder if she’s enmeshed in some sort of huge conspiracy—or if she’s losing her mind. Isolated and far, far away from those she can trust, Anna sees only one way out, and that’s to delve deeper into the mystery. Newman is a fine fantasist, but her science fiction has proven to be truly otherworldly; Before Mars is equally stifling and unnerving, a futuristic mystery shot through with paranoia. Read our review.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
Drawing on Eastern European folklore and the classic fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, Novik tells the story of Miryem, daughter in a family of Jewish moneylenders led by her incompetent father. With their fortunes on the wane due to his poor business sense, Miryem must step in and turn the family business around. Inspired by a mixture of desperation and genius, she responds by spinning debts into gold—gold that attracts the attention of the Staryk, emotionless fairies who bring winter with them. The Staryk give Miryem Fairy Silver and demand she transform it, too. Miryem does so by turning the beautiful metal into jewelry that attracts the attention of the rich and powerful—but her success brings her more Staryk attention, and thus more problems. Novik’s first standalone novel to come along in the wake of the Nebula Award-winning Uprooted had a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver—expanded from a short story included in anthology The Starlit Wood—is every bit as enchanting. Read our review.

A Study in Honor, by Claire O’Dell 
O’Dell (aka Beth Bernobich) sets her alternate Earth fantasy in the wake of a second Civil War. The conflict has torn the country apart and inflamed racial tensions. Dr. Janet Watson, who lost an arm in the fighting, moves to post-war Washington D.C. to work at the Veterans Administration hospital and get used to her new mechanical arm. She rooms with the brilliant, arrogant Sara Holmes in a tidy flat in Georgetown, where the fact that they’re two black women cohabiting inflames lingering racial attitudes in an area still recovering from the hostilities. If you’re wondering, those surnames aren’t accidents—Watson and Holmes quickly find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving Civil War veterans who are dying off one by one, as evidence suggests a plot somehow connected to the upcoming election, with implications for the future of the country. Read our review.

Quietus, by Tristan Palmgren (March 6, Angry Robot—Paperback)
All you really need to know about Quietus is that one of the main characters is a transdimensional anthropologist—when’s the last time you read a book with one of those as the protagonist? Anthropologist Habidah’s universe is beset by a deadly plague. By way of study, she’s been assigned to research a similar calamity in our universe, and is dispatched to witness the Black Death as it swiftly decimates Florence. Moved by the tragic scene of a young Carthusian monk named Niccolucio, who watches as one after another of his brothers succumbs to the disease, Habidah breaks all the rules and saves him. This merciful act sets off a chain reaction that ultimately reveals there’s more to the plague in Habidah’s own universe than a simple illness, and her assignment to observe our world is not the task she believed it to be. There is a conspiracy at work, threatening to destroy a huge empire—and now, she and Niccolucio are part of it. The bells and whistles of sci-fi with the depth and worldbuilding of historical fiction mark this as a debut by a writer to watch. Read our review.

Witchmark, by C.L. Polk 
Polk’s debut is set in a universe resembling Edwardian England, except for the fact that in this reality, the elite families that sit atop government and the social order have magical powers as well as political ones. Miles Singer is from just such a family, but when he flees the lap of luxury to join the war effort, he grows disillusioned with the trappings of power, and takes the opportunity to fake his own death and assume a new identity. Posing as a doctor at a failing veterans’ hospital, he sees firsthand how war changes people, never for the good—soldiers are returning from the front plagued by terrible versions, and shortly thereafter, committing terrible acts of violence. When one of his patients is poisoned, Miles not only accidentally reveals his healing powers, he is thrust into a mystery that involves an aloof, beautiful man who is more than human—and who may hold the secret to stopping a brewing inter-dimensional war. This bewitching story of political maneuverings, dangerous magic, sweet romance, and bicycle chases is never less than addictive. Read our review.

Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell
Gareth L. Powell is the mad genius behind the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy, a British Science Fiction Award-winning saga of alt-history warfare and an uplifted monkey fighter pilot welding a machine gun. Sounds ridiculous, sure, but he managed to twist the premise in service of some really smart sci-fi, and he only tops himself in Embers of War, which turns some of our favorite space opera tropes (including sentient starships) to eleven. Trouble Dog was a vessel built for war, but after the conflict is over, the artificial mind at its core feels regret for its role int he conflict. She joins the House of Reclamation, a sort of rescue organization for trouble starships. Shortly after, she and a small human crew of miscreants are tasked with discovering what has happened to a passenger ship that has gone missing in disputed space. One of the missing ship’s passengers, On a Sudak, was a reknowned poet, but was also living a dangerous double life, the facts of which are teased out by government intelligence officer Ashton Chide, who uncovers secrets that could plunge the galaxy into war yet again—unless Trouble Dog can figure out how to stop it. This is a true space opera, full of suspense, and mystery, and stuff blowing up real good—but it’s the humanity of Powell’s vision that truly makes it something special. Read our review.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse 
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel,binding them two together in a way that could only and ever happen in Dinétah. Read our review.

Empire of Silence, by Christopher Ruocchio 
Ruocchio’s ambitious debut is the story of Hadrian Marlowe, who is about to be hanged in front of the entire galaxy. In a universe where the Earth is a dead memory and humanity has spread to many planets and come into bloody conflict with the alien Cielcin, Marlowe was a powerful heir to an empire and a hero in the war against the aliens—and a monster who killed billions, including his own emperor. As Marlowe tells his story in his own words, however, we learn the truth is far stranger—and more tragic—than the official account. Marlowe loses everything, endures horrific poverty and desperation, and claws his way back into power—only to find himself on a collision course with doom in a galaxy dominated by suffocating religion and twisted by horrific violence. It’s not often we encounter a first novel of this scope, or one quite this accomplished—this is Serious Space Opera with a capital S, more Dune than Star Wars, and it signals the arrival of a writer worth paying attention to. Read our review.

Vengeful, by V. E. Schwab 
Schwab’s Vicious, her adult debut, predating her breakthrough A Darker Shade of Magic, introduced Victor Vale and Eli Ever, two frenemies who figured out how to give themselves superpowers and both used them to become different sorts of villains. Victor was arrested for his crimes, but Eli was the true monster, identifying others with powers to rival his own and killing them one by one. When Eli went after young Sydney, a girl with the ability to raise the dead, he took on more than he bargained for. In the sequel, Victor is in hiding underground, recovering from his own resurrection, leaving Sydney to fend for herself alongside her dog Dol, who she’s raised from the dead three times already. Meanwhile, Eli remains at large, unpunished—and still very dangerous. The signed Barnes and Noble exclusive edition contains a short story set in Merit City and a special message from Victor Vale himself. Read our review.

The Book of M, by Peng Shepherd
This literary-leaning dystopian novel is set in a world set upon by a truly strange affliction: all over the globe, people are losing their shadows, a loss that grants then extranormal powers, at the cost of their memories. To escape the Forgetting plague, lovers Max and Ory flee to the wilderness. They think themselves safe, until Max loses her shadow and is forced to go on the run, lest she become a danger to the man she loves. Knowing his wife’s time, and memories, are running out, Ory sets out after her, exploring a landscape devastated by the unrest that rose up in the wake of humanity’s strange evolution, and, along the way, finds answers, and some cause for hope.

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson 
Thompson’s novel-length debut, published last year in ebook but now out in print from Orbit, is set in the near future, in the wake of Earth’s settlement by alien visitors, who have constructed a huge biodome in Nigeria. The newcomers are rumored to have healing powers, and the sick and suffering gather around the biodome, forming the city of Rose Water around it. Thompson, whose sci-fi/horror novella The Murders of Molly Southbourne was released last year to significant acclaim, was born in London to Yoruba parents, and brings a unique worldview to a story that runs the disparate threads of those disparate cultures through a sci-fi idea machine. The result combines a sprawling timeline, engaging speculative concepts, and aspects of old-school detective fiction to craft one of the most unique books of the year. Read our review.

Unholy Land, by Lavie Tidhar
In award-winner Lavie Tidhar’s positively Philip K. Dickian new novel, the suspiciously similarly named pulp writer Liro Tirosh returns to his homeland of Palestina, a Jewish state on Lake Victoria between Kenya and Uganda. Tirosh has been out of the country, living in the Reich for years, in a Germany that never perpetrated a Holocaust. But his father, a larger than life national figure, is dying, so he returns. When a visit from an old classmate goes horribly awry, Tirosh finds himself slipping in and out of reality: he imagines himself as a detective in one of his own novels, he speaks to his ex-wife on the phone but can’t quite connect with her, he seems to be aware of the plots of Tidhar’s other novels. Things only grow stranger as a wall in erected between the Jewish state and its African neighbors. Unholy Land plays in the strange, uncomfortable demilitarized zone between the national founding myth and the uninterrogated childhood, between the person who leaves the homeland and the one who returns. Read our review.

Sisyphean, by Dempow Torishima, translated by Daniel Huddleston
Set in a world where genetic engineering corporations have become living organisms unto themselves, their top executives transformed into grotesque alien beings who transcend all flesh, Sisyphean follows the corporate workers, students, and the other low-level denizens of this horrifying universe as they go about their daily routines. Torishima’s gruesome, fluid-drenched prose (translated from Japanese to English by Daniel Huddleston) lends gut-wrenching detail to wild plot elements, from gigantic eel corpses, to massive worms, to parasitic bugs that eat people on an ontological and existential level, and huge flesh-crafted symbiotic organisms that rampage with wild abandon through cities, transforming the flesh of everyone they encounter. The stories in this mosaic shared-setting novel begin in surreal, nigh-incoherent horror and somehow grow more comprehensible and grounded as they go along as you acclimate to a bizarro world. And then things get really bizarre, as Torishima revels in yet more twisted heights of genetically engineered depravity.

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
If you’ve been looking to get schwifty with a new space opera, look no further. Valente spins a truly nutty sci-fi story that begins with the Sentience Wars that nearly eradicated all intelligent life in the universe; when they ended, the scattered survivors regrouped and began a new tradition designed to avoid future apocalypses: the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a universe-wide competition of song and dance open only to recognized sentient species. When any new species emerges onto the universal stage to declare itself sentient—like, say, humanity—they must send contestants to the Grand Prix to prove their worth and quite literally sing for their lives (though alien singing doesn’t always sound like a Top 40 hit). Place anything but last and the upstart civilization is a part of the club. If they come in last…well, they’re quietly exterminated, in the name of preserving universal peace. (Tough choices, people…and not people.) When Earth is unexpectedly pulled into the next contest, the task of saving humanity falls to a has-been rock star named Decibel Jones, who must grapple with the demons of his past while venturing reluctantly onto the largest stage of all-time. It’s a a second chance to be a glitter-bombed rock star. or die trying—along with everyone else. Inspired by her dual love for Eurovision and Douglas Adams, this one is pure Catherynne Valente, from the first page to the last. Read our review.

12 “Alternate Universe” Picks

There’s more great science fiction & fantasy being published now than ever before: so many more books from so many different voices, so many other worlds to explore and weird futures to contemplate. To put it another way, narrowing down a list of the year’s best books is a near-impossible task. With that in mind, we offer the following list of 12 books that could just have easily been included on the list above. They aren’t the “next best” or runners-up; think of them as our alternate universe picks.

Magic Triumphs, by Ilona Andrews
Because the final Kate Daniels novel signals the end of an era in urban fantasy, and the final (for now) adventure of one of the genre’s most iconic heroes. Before the end, Kate grappled with dark family secrets and forge desperate alliances in order to save Atlanta, and the world, one last time.

Treason of Hawks, by Lila Bowen
The fantastic final volume of Lila Bowen’s (née Delilah S. Dawson) Shadow series finds protagonist Rhett Walker facing the one enemy more lethal than all the monsters he has fought and felled thus far—his own past. Through four volumes, and against a fully realized landscape of a weird, monster-strewn west, Bowen has followed Rhett’s struggle with identity and self-acceptance; the final steps of that journey are every bit as gripping as the supernatural plots afoot.

Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown
In the Red Rising trilogy, Brown showed us how a revolution can change a galaxy. In this gripping first volume of the followup series, his protagonist, former Mars miner Darrow, discovers how much harder it is to build a better world.

Starless, by Jacqueline Carey
Carey has a great gift for creating a deep sense of place in her novels, and Starless is another kaleidoscopic book of a thousand colors—the arid desert where the crows eat you when you die; the steam- and gossip- filled baths teeming with secluded royal women; the biting, salt-filled sea wind as felt from the prow of a raider’s ship—every scene as richly hued as new pigment on vellum canvas.

Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers 
This standalone followup to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit explores what happens to those passengers on the generation ships humanity used to escape Earth who don’t know how to leave their vessels behind. Chambers’ books are celebrated for their warmth and diverse characters, but her worldbuilding is also stellar; it’s a delight to spend more time in this universe.

An Easy Death, by Charlaine Harris
The creator of Sookie Stackhose begins a new adventure set in the weird west of an America changed by the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and starring gun for hire Lizbeth Rose, who reluctantly takes on two wizards as clients and sees her world turned upside down. Meet another kick-ass woman with a wild, western tale to tell.

The Quantum Magician, by Derek Künsken
Belisarius is a small-time con man genetically engineered with super senses that give him an awareness of quantum realms. Pulling off his latest job—transporting warships through a wormhole—will take every skill he possesses, and the help of a crew of other augmented humans. This brainy sci-fi heist novel uses mathematics like magic to pull you through a caper worthy of Jean-Pierre Melville.

Grey Sister, by Mark Lawrence
Things only get worse for assassin nun Nona Grey in the followup to 2017’s Red Sister. This blood-spattered middle volume of the Book of the Ancestor trilogy features intriguing politics amid the scenes of sudden violence, and is populated by a host of fascinating, deadly women.

Fire & Blood, by George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin’s fictional history of the the rise of one of the most powerful dynasties in Westeros might not be the book the author’s fans were hoping to read in 2018, but that makes it no less satisfying on its own terms: a richly detailed, surprisingly gripping tome in the tradition of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Alternate Routes, by Tim Powers
The master of secret histories tries something a little less serious and a little more fun as we follow a disgraced secret service agent on a twisty road trip into the haunted history of California’s highway system. Watching Powers turn his prodigious research skills toward such a monumentally American system (in addition to the Daedalus myth, for funsies) is an absolute pleasure.

Summerland, by Hannu Rajaniemi
The author of The Quantum Thief crafts a confounding alt-history set in a world where access to the afterlife has made post-mortem spycraft a key espionage tool in a much-changed pre-World War II Europe. Rajaniemi blends familiar tropes in impressively weird ways, crafting a spy caper that will expand your mind even as it pummels it into submission.

Empire of Sand, by Tasha Suri
In her debut novel, Tasha Suri draws on the history of India’s Mughal Empire to create a story both claustrophobically personal and as large as civilizations. It is a study in contrasts: the sweep of history resolved down into a beaten girl on her hands and knees before a despot, and dancing out her inherent power and magic in a storm built by the dreams of the gods themselves. 

The Year’s Best Collections & Anthologies

The Best of the Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow
While the title really means this needs no introduction, it’s still worth discussing: for a decade, The Best Horror of the Year has provided a platform for the blacker side of fantastic fiction—everything from ethereal ghost stories about strange lights in the woods, to a gruesome class-based twist on The Masque of the Red Death; from the real, to the surreal, and back again. In this volume, legendary horror impresario Ellen Datlow collects the standout stories from 10 years of The Best Horror. The result is a collection that sets OG dark fiction writers alongside newer upstarts, organized in a way that seems to flow seamlessly from one horrifying scene to the next. An afterword listing notable horror novels of the past decade will further help you build out your reading list.

An Agent of Utopia, by Andy Duncan
Andy Duncan is a writer’s SFF writer—his short fiction has earned him a Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and three World Fantasy Awards and won him endless praise from genre giants like Gardner Dozois, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, and Jonathan Strahan. Now, Small Beer press has assembled his most noteworthy stories—along with two new tales—into a wildly varied and consistently brilliant collection drawing from tall tales and legends of old, and featuring a Utopian assassin, an aging UFO contactee, a haunted Mohawk steelworker, a yam-eating zombie, Harry Houdini, Thomas Moore, and more.

Worlds Seen in Passing, edited by Irene Gallo
Since 2008, sci-fi and fantasy fans have known Tor.com as one of the best sources for cutting-edge short fiction; publishing original stories weekly, to the tune of hundreds over the course of the decade, the site has featured acclaimed writers the likes of N.K. Jemisin, Ken Liu, Charlie Jane Anders, and Jeff VanderMeer. This anthology, painstakingly edited by Tor mainstay Irene Gallo (who, as art director for Tor, commissioned illustrations for every one of them—and thus has read everything the site has ever published), collects the best of the best. It’s a startling reminder of just how good their taste is, and how influential the site has become. Stories include new classics like Hugo-winner ‛The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (since expanded into a series of novels), Alyssa Wong’s “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” and the time-tripping, bittersweet romantic comedy of Charlie Jane Anders’ “Six Months, Three Days.” This is unquestionably one of the year’s essential anthologies, and a must for any reader interested in exploring sci-fi and fantasy’s universes in miniature.

The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, by Ursula K. Le Guin and Charles Vess
It’s nice to be reminded that there’s a reason to print books on paper. Weighing in at over five pounds and extending to nearly 1,000 pages, this is the definitive single-volume collection of all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels, stories, and essays concerning the magical island nations of Earthsea. Working in close collaboration with the author, illustrator Charles Vess presents a slightly whimsical new vision of this fantasy realm—its people finally depicted dark skin, as in the text; his dragons, pure magic. The real treat for fans: a new short story, published in the Paris Review just months after Le Guin’s death, gives us the author’s true final words on Earthsea.

Apocalypse Nyx, by Kameron Hurley
Nyx, who readers met in Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series, is a mercenary with a serious drinking problem, which is really only a coping mechanism for her serious everything else problem. In five standalone stories, Nyx and her messed-up crew take on a series of dispiriting jobs as they fight for survival in a world dominated by enormous insects—a world composed of war-blasted wastelands, in which bug magicians plot to exploit an endless war for their own gains. Nyx investigates the death of an ex-con, pays off old debts, and manages to keep her and her team alive—barely—in the midst of a holy war on a planet where technology is all about genetically-altered bugs. In the end, bare survival may be all they’re capable of—but fans of the Bel Dame books will catch plenty of arch references to future adventures and terrible fates that haven’t been served up just yet.

How Long ‛til Black Future Month?, by N.K. Jemisin 
N.K. Jemisin solidified her place as one of the most important SFF writers of the 21st century with her third consecutive Hugo win for The Stone Sky earlier this year. With her next novel still a year away, it’s a perfect time to explore the true breadth of her talent, which comes through to grand effect in her first collection of short fiction. The highlight is the Hugo-nominated ‛The City Born Great,” the biography of a living city and the basis for the aforementioned next book, but there is much more to savor in these 22 tales. Jemisin is an essential voice in modern-day SFF; she writes both as a fan—her story “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” for example, was penned as a direct response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”—and for fans—there’s a new story here set within the universe of the Broken Earth trilogy. Essential.

Tomorrow Factory, by Rich Larson 
This has been a year of debuts for Larson, a short fiction wunderkind who has had more than 100 stories published in just about every major SFF market, from Asimov’s to Tor.com. His debut novel, Annex, dropped in July, and now arrives his debut collection, loaded with twenty-three stories that make a case for his reputation as one of the most promising young writers in genre today. Across straightforward short fiction, flash, and even verse, Larson explores possible futures and alternate universes, putting an inventive spin on tried-and-true tropes and exploring new ideas all his own. The stories collected here have appeared in eight different “Best of the Year” anthologies; opener “All That Robot Shit,” voted the best short story of 2016 in an Asimov’s reader poll, is a great starting point.

Robots Vs. Fairies, by Navah Wolfe and Dominic Parisian 
The key to a great anthology is twofold: author selection, and theme. Wolfe and Parisian (the team behind the award-winning fairy tale anthology The Starlit Wood) nail both in this new project, gathering insanely great writers (including Seanan McGuire, John Scalzi, Ken Liu, Sarah Gailey, Annalee Newitz, and Lila Bowen, to name just a few) and asking them to choose sides. The result is an essential collection of stories exploring the eternal conflict between magic and technology—specifically in the form of robots and fairies. The question of whether mechanical or magical means would triumph in a battle royale is explored at locations both intimate (a man’s home, invaded by tiny fairies) and otherwise (an amusement park where fairies struggle to carve out a safe place among the talking automatons). Themes both humorous and serious, delivered by the best in the business. Robots and fairies battle on, and the only winners are SFF readers.

Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories, by Vandana Singh
Reading a Vandana Singh story is a bit like finding a new window in a familiar room, opening the blinds, and being astonished at the richness and beauty of the light streaming in: often, they show us the familiar, but illuminated strangely. Singh is both a physicist and a writer, and her stories combine scientific sharpness with quiet, lyrical power. She makes constant connections between history, the present, and the future; humans and nature; space and Earth. An old woman travels back in time in search of ancient poetry. A man tries to achieve immortality. A human looks for revenge against a machine by trying to find its true name. An engineering exam that considers the classification of three new types of machine life. In every story, she brings big, fantastically speculative ideas so close, it feels as if you can reach out and touch the worlds they inhabit.

Starlings, by Jo Walton 
Released last month in ebook and out today in print. Fans of Walton will rejoice at the variety on display in this collection, her first (though we’d expect nothing less from an author who seems determined to never write the same book twice). She offers up short stories, poetry, and plays that explore many of her favorite themes in new and interesting ways. From a tale that follows a gold coin as it changes hands on a space station to a story about a phone app that allows you to share in a loved one’s pain and loss, Walton’s lively imagination is the main selling point, as she deluges readers with ideas. Other standouts include a story about a biographer interviewing a simulation of a 20th century subject, three brief vignettes set at a weary inn, and, oh, the poems, which are wonderful whether or not you consider yourself a fan of the form.

What’s the best science fiction or fantasy book you read in 2018?

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