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The best science fiction and fantasy books of 2021

From sweeping space operas to deadly, magical schools

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This year we read tons of books. Whether we bought a hard copies at the local bookstore or checked out audiobooks from a library app, or consumed them via e-reader. Lots new authors wrote fantastic debuts in 2021, while many of our favorite authors continued their sprawling series — ones we were extremely excited to jump back into.

If you love books then you know: They aren’t just escapism, they also inspire introspection, making us think harder about the world we live in. This is precisely the promise of great science fiction and fantasy — categories we’ve chosen to consider in a list together, as fantastic books continue to blur the line between the two speculative genres (and besides, we love to read them all). These 20 books span genres and perspectives — from space operas, to Norse mythology retellings, to romances with a dash of time travel. But all of them gave us something new to consider.

In a year with so many incredible choices, it was hard to narrow down the list. So we’ve also included some of our favorite runners up.

The cover for Becky Chambers’ “A Psalm for the Wild-Built,” which has a robot in the upper left corner and a tea monk in the bottom right corner.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

If you’ve read the Wayfarer series, then you know Becky Chambers has a talent for creating hopeful scenarios, despite characters facing down harrowing odds. A Psalm for the Wild-Built has a similarly comforting spirit. The novella is set in a world where robots developed agency — and so humans allowed them to form their own communities.

A human named Dex decides to become a “Tea Monk,” traveling from city to city, offering weary people freshly brewed tea and a listening ear. Their wanderlust leads them to meet a robot named Splendid Speckled Mosscap, a “Wild-Built” who was created from parts spared from other robots. They form an odd friendship, as the two compare the realities of their day-to-day with the pursuits that fill a life. From its dedication — “For anyone who could use a break” — to its meandering spirit, the novella is a perfect read for anyone who wants to slow down a bit.

The cover for “Black Water Sister” by Zen Cho which shows an Asian woman standing under hanging paper lanterns.

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister is a contemporary ghost story, using the supernatural to weave a tale about intergenerational trauma and the Asian diaspora. Jessamyn Teoh is in the process of moving back to Malaysia with her parents when she starts to hear a voice in her head. But it’s not her own; it’s that of her estranged grandmother Ah Ma. Zen Cho’s portrayal of Ah Ma’s ghostly voice is halfway between chiding family member and portentous spirit — and she uses Jess as an avatar to meddle with family affairs. She hasn’t moved on, thanks to some unfinished business in the mortal realm. These themes are woven together to tell a suspenseful coming-of-age story, as Jess navigates adapting to a new culture and surviving family secrets, as well as her queer identity.

The cover for Roshani Chokshi’s “The Bronzed Beasts” which shows a boat approaching an arch.

The Bronzed Beasts (The Gilded Wolves #3) by Roshani Chokshi

Roshani Chokshi brings her opulent, 19th century fantasy-heist series to a bittersweet conclusion in The Bronzed Beasts , which begins after Séverin seemingly betrays his friends to chase godhood. Because of the resulting rift, the book is missing a lot of the charming teamwork, trust, and banter that was so core to the previous two installments.

But Chokshi’s refusal to give readers exactly what they want is precisely what makes The Gilded Wolves series so compelling. Plus, all of the heart-wrenching interpersonal angst and introspection doesn’t get in the way of the treasure hunts and puzzle solving that we’ve come to love and expect. Watching the team relearn how to work together after all they’ve been through provides a fascinating new dynamic, as they race against the clock to discover how to save Laila’s life — and figure out whether this found family can ever be put back together again.

The cover for “Leviathan Falls” by James S.A. Corey showing a space station explosion

Leviathan Falls (The Expanse #9) by James S.A. Corey

The final book in the Expanse series has been a long-time coming (10 years, to be specific) and it is well worth the wait. What started as a geo-political power struggle between residents of Earth, Mars, and the Belt — told as an action-adventure set in the cold vacuum of space — has evolved into an all out fight to save humanity.

The series’ huge questions are finally answered: Who are the ring builders? How, if at all, can we defuse the massive threat they represent? How does the protomolecule play into all of this? The Roci crew has changed over the many years that span the Expanse, and in Leviathan Falls their story comes to a satisfying, bittersweet end.

The cover for “The Last Watch” by J.S. Dewes showing a space station explosion over a black backdrop

The Last Watch (The Divide #1) by J.S. Dewes

Adequin Rake is the commanding officer of the Argus , a run-down ship stationed at the edge of the universe, tasked with watching out for the potential return of humanity’s alien enemy the Viators. Rake’s crew of Sentinels is made up of the military’s dregs — criminals, misfits, exiles, and anyone else the government would rather forget about, including a disowned prince.

But when the universe begins collapsing, this band of rogues becomes the last line of defense between humanity’s survival and total annihilation. With no aid coming, tensions are high as the Sentinels have to figure out how to use their scant resources to not only outrun the encroaching edge of the universe, but figure out a way to stop it from collapsing any further. The Last Watch is a thrilling adventure that leans heavily on speculative science and humor, and Dewes’ experience as a cinematographer shows through in her ability to to translate the complex visuals and action onto the page.

A cover for “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr which shows an image of the book with a city built around it

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a history-spanning tale about storytelling, following the perspectives of five characters in three different eras: an orphan and an outcast in 15th-century Thrace and Constantinople, an ecoterrorist and an octogenarian in 2020 Idaho, and a young girl on a 22nd-century spacecraft. Each of the novel’s vividly drawn characters is connected through the way stories have impacted their lives, particularly a fictional Greek tale about a fool’s quest to reach the mythical utopia Cloud Cuckoo Land.

With its spectacular world-building, rhythmic prose, and deeply empathetic character development, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a remarkable celebration of the comfort, magic, and connections to be found in books, as well as the stewards who preserve and nurture these tales across time.

The cover for “The Witch’s Heart” by Genevieve Gornichec which shows a woman with Medusa-like hair, and the book’s title woven in

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Fans of Circe will find a lot to love in The Witch’s Heart . Genevieve Gornichec’s debut novel is a stirring and heartbreaking reimagining of Norse mythology from the perspective of the witch Angrboda. After being burned at the stake by Odin for refusing to share visions of the future with him, she begins a life of solitude in the woods where the vengeful god can’t find her. But when she meets the trickster god Loki, the pair begin an unconventional marriage and family, setting the world on a path that ultimately leads to Ragnarok.

The Witch’s Heart is a tragic tale about a beautifully complex, resilient woman who is willing to go against the gods and fate in order to protect her children, no matter the cost. And even though you may know how this story turns out, don’t be surprised to find yourself weeping when Angrboda’s story comes to an end.

The cover for “The Shadow of the Gods” by John Gwynne which shows a large dragon and a small knight

The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga #1) by John Gwynne

300 years after the gods went extinct, their human descendants are hunted down and enslaved, while their bones are highly sought after by anyone desperate for riches or power. The brutal, Norse-inspired story follows three characters making their way through this dangerous land, and Gwynne is largely unparalleled when it comes to writing battle scenes. Despite featuring things like deities, ice spiders, and twisted tooth fairies, there is a sense of authenticity in The Shadow of the Gods thanks to the detail Gwynne puts into his world-building. Though he takes his time revealing where the three, largely disparate storylines are headed, by the time you reach the book’s nail-biting climax the slow burn more than pays off.

The cover for “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro which shows a simplistic illustration of a hand with a sun in the middle

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro is hard to pin down, but who would want to? The stylistic and conceptual gap between his mannered historical novel The Remains of the Day , his dystopian science fiction novel Never Let Me Go , and his melancholy Arthurian fantasy The Buried Giant is vast, and each new Ishiguro novel winds up as a surprise.

But those books all connect around the pain of loss and the pressure of societal expectations around it. That builds context for Klara and the Sun , a mournful science fiction novel that starts out feeling like A.I. Artificial Intelligence and gradually becomes something more like a dreamy fable. In a future where the well-off buy android companions (or “Artificial Friends”) for their kids, Klara is an AF who becomes obsessed with her companion Josie, whose health is deteriorating due to genetic tinkering meant to improve her intellect.

Ishiguro filters everything through Klara’s imperfect understanding of the world, giving readers a sense of Josie’s relationships with other people, while Klara’s limitations cause her to miss key cues. It’s a book full of constant, unexpected turns, but the distance between what Klara sees and what readers will intuit is masterfully handled, melancholy, and tense, to the point where this feels as much like constrained horror as science fiction.

The cover for “Paladin’s Strength” by T. Kingfisher show shoes an illustration of a sword surrounded by flames and a few skulls

Paladin’s Strength (The Saint of Steel #2) by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher loves her paladins. Ursula Vernon’s books under the Kingfisher pseudonym (to separate her adult novels from her several children’s series) have always focused on fantasy characters with an innate practicality and selfless determination. While the paladins in Clocktaur duology and the Saint of Steel books (currently a trilogy, projected as a seven-book series) are defined by their nobility and self-sacrifice, in the Saint of Steel series, they’re also defined by the death of the god they served, which has left them all purposeless and on the brink of madness.

The first three books in the series ( Paladin’s Hope also came out in 2021) are all mysteries and romances, each focused on a different protagonist. Paladin’s Strength is the story of Istvhan, a bear of a man who’s navigating the same despair and hopelessness, but still doggedly trying to help people.

He gets diverted by meeting a nun whose order has been kidnapped. Clara’s nature, hinted at in the margins throughout the book, is clear enough, but it’s worth not spelling out, for the fun of the reveal. As in previous books, Kingfisher highlights the protagonists’ mutual longing and misunderstandings, making this a sort of fantasy rom-com, but it’s also built around berserker violence, horrific monsters, and a kind of comforting humor that’s one of Kingfisher’s best stocks-in-trade. The book can be read as a standalone or an introduction to the series; Kingfisher’s unique style and worldview makes for compelling reading. — TR

The cover for “A Desolation Called Peace” by Arkady Martine which shows a person looking out a large window at a planet in the distance

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine

The second installment in Arkady Martine’s Teixcalaan series is somehow even better than the first. A Desolation Called Peace finds Mahit Dzmare traveling to the edge of Teixcalaanli space to find a way to communicate with an encroaching alien fleet — a difficult task made more challenging by the fact Mahit is still navigating her bond with Yskandr, as well as working out where her loyalties and home lie after her experiences on Teixcalaan.

​​The novel switches between the perspectives of Mahit, Three Seagrass, Mahit’s former envoy and the new Undersecretary to the Minister of Information; Nine Hibiscus, the captain of the fleet charged with fostering diplomacy with the hostile aliens; and Eight Antidote, the young clone of the former emperor. Martine’s astounding prose weaves together explorations of cultural identity, communication, imperialism, and identity in a tightly plotted story that burrows deep under your skin.

The cover for “One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston, which shows two women in the subway

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

For those who prefer romantic comedies with a science fiction leaning, Casey McQuiston’s newest romance absolutely delivers. After a life of failing to lay down roots, August moves to New York for a fresh start. She meets Jane, the mysterious woman who is always on the subway at the right time, sporting the same well-loved leather jacket. As August falls for her, she realizes Jane has been trapped on this line since the 1970s — and August is determined to set her free.

Come for the sapphic romance, and stay for the queer found family, late night diner runs, and 70s music references.

A cover for “The Last Graduate” by Naomi Novik showing a magical looking golden key against a dark green backdrop

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

If you’re a fan of magical boarding school stories, you might have noticed a theme: these schools are incredibly dangerous for the students who attend. But fantasy books don’t usually acknowledge it — focusing, instead, on the wonderment of becoming a witch or wizard. In Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series , this violence is fully a part of the plot. Even making it to graduation alive is part of the challenge as the school is bursting with Malificers, deadly creatures that are hungry for students.

The Last Graduate is an energetic follow-up to the excellent A Deadly Education . El is a senior now, intent on translating the Golden Stone sutras and navigating the attention of numerous enclaves, which have finally caught on to her immense power. But will she and her friends even make it through graduation?

The cover for “Remote Control” by Nnedi Okorafor which shows the headshot of a Black woman, mixed with an image of a tree

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

This novella is short, but it packs one hell of a punch. In Remote Control , a young girl becomes the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. With the new name of Sankofa­­, and the power of death in her gaze and touch, she travels from town to town with only a fox companion. The novella feels part folk tale, part technology-driven science fiction.

Like most of Okorafor’s work, Remote Control explores “ Africanfuturism ,” rather than the “Afrofuturist” label that is often applied to her stories. In a blog post , she explains: “Africanfuturism is specifically and more directly rooted in African culture, history, mythology and point-of-view as it then branches into the Black Diaspora, and it does not privilege or center the West.”

The cover for “She Who Became the Sun” by Shelley Parker-Chan showing warriors on horseback below a bright orange sun

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan

A queer reimagining of the story of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming dynasty, She Who Became the Sun is a lyrical exploration of gender, identity, and the cost of desire set against the backdrop of war-torn 14th century China. The brutal historical epic begins when a young peasant girl destined for nothingness takes on the identity of her late brother, Zhu Chongba, who was fated for greatness. At first, living as Zhu is only a means to survive, but over time it transforms into an all-consuming need to claim Zhu’s fate for their own. As Zhu works their way from being a novice at a monastery up through the ranks of the rebel army, they dedicate themselves so fully to being Zhu, even in their own head and heart, in the hopes that doing so will fool Heaven into believing they’re the one destined to achieve the unthinkable.

The cover for “Sorrowland” by Rivers Solomon showing a bouquet of flowers in light blue against a dark blue backdrop

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Teenager Vern is seven months pregnant when she finally escapes the cult she was raised in, and the abusive husband who led it. As the denizens of this compound, Cainland, chase her down, she gives birth to two children, Howling and Feral. Together, they survive in the woods, before a mysterious growth and her own need to survive force her to find refuge in other places.

This incredibly compelling, terrifying, and genre-defying book makes commentary on misogyny, racism, religion, and motherhood through its haunting prose. Rivers Solomon continues to be an absolute force.

The cover of “Shards of Earth” by Adrian Tchaikovsky showing an exploding planet

Shards of Earth (The Final Architecture #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In the far-future, humanity is fighting an antagonistic, god-like alien presence called the Architects, capable of obliterating entire planets. Only “intermediaries” can reach through the void of space, making a connection in the vain hope of telling the Architects to stand down. That’s exactly what Idris, a human engineered into an intermediary, did to stop the war 50 years ago. He hasn’t slept a blink since. In the intervening years he’s worked as a contractor on a salvage vessel, the Vulture God — but he’s spurred into action as it looks like the Architects might be coming back.

Shards of Earth is Tchaikovsky’s take on a space opera, full of intergalactic action and geopolitical conflict. The world is as unique and detail-filled as his spider civilization opus, Children of Time . Fans of The Expanse and Mass Effect will have lots to chew on here.

The cover of “The Hidden Palace” by Helene Wecker showing an old train station

The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2) by Helene Wecker

It’s been eight years since Helene Wecker’s stunning fantasy debut The Golem and the Jinni , and her fans were about ready to give up on her promised sequel. But The Hidden Palace takes up the story seamlessly, and brings back all the elements that made the first book so indelible.

In turn-of-the-century New York City, a genie escaped from captivity and a golem whose master has died fumble through understanding themselves and their relationships to humanity. In The Hidden Palace , they become lovers, but the creation of a male golem and the arrival of a female jinn remind both protagonists of their own natures, and highlight their differences and their dissatisfactions with the world.

With this sequel, Wecker moves the story rapidly forward in time, showing New York’s evolution and highlighting the characters’ unaging bodies and difficulty integrating with a human world. Those are just a few of the many, many threads she juggles in a rich literary novel that digs into what it means to be human, by setting up a series of meaningful contrasts from characters who aren’t.

The cover for “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir showing an astronaut floating in space, held by just one tether

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

With Project Hail Mary , Weir is back in full Martian mode, telling a story about a man trying to survive in space through scientific improvisation and experimentation. Project Hail Mary goes much further into speculative science fiction than The Martian — it has the same focus on real physics, chemistry, and the scientific process, but its premise includes a single-celled organism that’s eating the sun, pushing humanity toward extinction.

The protagonist, former junior-high science teacher Ryland Grace, wakes up alone in a spaceship, traveling toward a distant star, with no memory of how he got there. Bit by bit, he has to reassemble his own past and define his future, and Earth’s. The book goes to startling places that shouldn’t be spoiled, and it gets a lot wilder than The Martian , but it keeps the science accessible and thoughtful as a grounding tool. Not quite a Stephen Hawking universe-explainer, and not quite a zippy beach-blanket adventure book, it has some of the best aspects of both.

The cover for “Iron Widow” by Xiran Jay Zhao showing an Asian woman with giant bird wings wrapping around her

Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

In order to fend off the alien Hunduns, Huaxia’s military fight in Chrysalises, massive mecha built from Hundun corpses that are powered by the qi of two people: the male pilot, who controls the Chrysalis, and the female concubine-pilot, who acts like a qi battery until her lifeforce is completely drained. When Zetian’s older sister is killed by a pilot, the peasant girl enlists as a concubine-pilot in order to get close enough to assassinate the man responsible, and enact vengeance on the entire system. But when it’s discovered that Zetian’s willpower is strong enough to drive the Chrysalis and subsume the male pilot’s qi, she becomes a feared Iron Widow, avoiding a military death sentence by being paired up with another criminal pilot. Never one to be cowed by authority, Zetian becomes the biggest threat to the Hunduns and to Huaxia’s patriarchal society in this action-packed story about a woman determined to manipulate, destroy, and rebuild the system to get justice for silenced and sacrificed women.

Runners up:

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo

How to Talk to a Goddess (The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic #2) by Emily Croy Barker

The Fall of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #3) by M.R. Carey

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4) by Becky Chambers

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Future Feeling by Joss Lake

The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

The Veiled Throne by Ken Liu

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

Breeder by Honni van Rijswijk

Vespertine (Vespertine #1) by Margaret Rogerson

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Fugitive Telemetry (Murderbot #6) by Martha Wells

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler

Polygon’s Best of 2021

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science fiction fantasy books 2021

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2021

From epic voyages to haunting folk tales, here are the highlights of an otherworldly year.

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By Amal El-Mohtar

In the gray fog of an uncertain year, these books stand out in bright colors and floods of intense feeling. They’re organized only by the order in which I read them.

The Absolute Book

By Elizabeth Knox (Viking, 640 pp., $28)

There’s so much vast, sprawling, protean wonder between its covers that “The Absolute Book” could be a fantasy object in and of itself. What begins as domestic realism, exploring Taryn Cornick’s grief at the sudden, violent loss of her sister, spirals into thriller territory before tumbling into epic fantasy. Spanning the geographies of Canada, Britain and New Zealand and the cosmologies of fairies, demons and angels, the novel more than lives up to its name.

On Fragile Waves

By E. Lily Yu (Erewhon, 288 pp., $25.95)

A tremendous and devastating work of witness, stunning and perfect. Firuzeh and Nour are siblings fleeing Afghanistan for Australia, enduring the hazards of crossing borders and oceans with only their parents’ love and folk tales to protect them. But when those stories wither in the misery of Nauru’s Regional Processing Center, the ghost of a drowned girl becomes Firuzeh’s closest companion, for better or for worse.

The Memory Theater

By Karin Tidbeck (Pantheon, 240 pp., $25.95)

A slender, extraordinary jewel of a book, like a scrimshawed murder ballad tucked into a timepiece. Dora and Thistle are siblings by choice and circumstance, trapped in a viciously cruel fairyland where immortal creatures torture stolen children for sport. But when an antique watch finds its way into their hidden wood, distorting the fairy world with the arrival of time, the children seize their chance to escape into even stranger stories.

One Last Stop

By Casey McQuiston (St. Martin’s Griffin, 400 pp., paper, $16)

A magnificent love song shouted to queer lineage, found family, Brooklyn and one’s early 20s. August Landry is an angry, cynical loner, raised in New Orleans by a bereaved mother to trust no one and keep to herself. She moves to New York for college, but just as she’s figuring out the city’s rhythms, she meets Jane Su: gorgeous, badass, amnesiac — and trapped on the Q train since 1976.

By Rivers Solomon (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 355 pp., $27)

Solomon’s most powerful work yet. Vern, a pregnant Black teenager, escapes the secretive compound of the cult she was raised in and gives birth to twins in the woods. Thriving there despite a sinister presence she calls “the fiend,” Vern becomes aware of something else growing in her body, unsettling its rhythms and forcing her to take her children on a long, difficult journey in search of support. Like its heroine, “Sorrowland” refuses comforting half-truths in favor of furious integrity.

By Angela Mi Young Hur (Erewhon, 408 pp., $26.95)

Dr. Elsa Park spent years being told that the women of her family are trapped in the patterns of tragic Korean folk tales in which girls are stolen, sacrificed, haunted or haunting. As an adult, Elsa chooses science over superstition — but while researching neutrinos in Antarctica, she succumbs to an old hallucination of ringing bells and sees a lovely woman with red ribbons in her hair out on the ice. Haunted now herself, Elsa struggles to find a way into — and more crucially, a way out of — her family’s tales.

The World Gives Way

By Marissa Levien (Redhook, 402 pp., $28)

A staggering, action-packed marvel set on a doomed generation ship the size of Switzerland. There’s a crack in the hull, widening, irreparable and kept secret; Myrra Dal, an indentured nanny, finds this out when her employers kill themselves, and does the only thing that makes sense to her: She takes the baby and runs.

The Body Scout

By Lincoln Michel (Orbit, 356 pp., $27)

Timeless and original, blending noir, cyberpunk and sports. Though set in a disturbingly near future of extreme climate change and runaway medical debt occasioned by the gene therapies and cybernetic enhancements required to live, “The Body Scout” is mostly about baseball, family and doing the right thing even when it hurts (or risks getting your body parts repossessed).

No Gods, No Monsters

By Cadwell Turnbull (Blackstone, 387 pp., $26.99)

Intimate and intricate, full of charismatic monsters and the dueling secret societies to which they belong. A pack of werewolves transform on camera, prompting hidden powers to rally for or against revealing the supernatural world of gods and monsters to the public. Mysteriously narrated and utterly riveting.

By Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tordotcom, 201 pp., paper, $14.99)

Lynesse is the fourth daughter of a queen: a minor royal with no purpose or prospects, living in a world of magic, demons, sorcery. Nyr is a scientist from another planet, isolated and alone, part of an abandoned anthropological survey gone wrong hundreds of years ago. Together, they’ll fight crime. An utter delight from start to finish, beautifully written and perfectly paced.


NPR Books Summer Poll 2021: A Decade Of Great Sci-Fi And Fantasy

We asked, you answered: your 50 favorite sci-fi and fantasy books of the past decade.

Petra Mayer at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. (photo by Allison Shelley)

Petra Mayer

Deborah Lee for NPR

The question at the heart of science fiction and fantasy is "what if?" What if gods were real, but you could kill them ? What if humans finally made it out among the stars — only to discover we're the shabby newcomers in a grand galactic alliance ? What if an asteroid destroyed the East Coast in 1952 and jump-started the space race years early?

Summer Reader Poll 2021: Meet Our Expert Judges

Summer Reader Poll 2021: Meet our expert judges

Click If You Dare: 100 Favorite Horror Stories

Summer Reader Poll 2018: Horror

Click if you dare: 100 favorite horror stories.

We Did It For The LOLs: 100 Favorite Funny Books

Summer Reader Poll 2019: Funny Books

We did it for the lols: 100 favorite funny books.

This year's summer reader poll was also shaped by a series of "what ifs" — most importantly, what if, instead of looking at the entire history of the field the way we did in our 2011 poll , we focused only on what has happened in the decade since? These past 10 years have brought seismic change to science fiction and fantasy (sometimes literally, in the case of N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series), and we wanted to celebrate the world-shaking rush of new voices, new perspectives, new styles and new stories. And though we limited ourselves to 50 books this time around, the result is a list that's truly stellar — as poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi put it, "Alive."

As always, a pretty extensive decision-making process went into the list, involving our fabulous panel of expert judges — but we know you eager readers want to get right to the books. So if you're inclined, follow these links to find out how we built the list (and what, sadly, didn't make it this year ). Otherwise, scroll on for the list!

We've broken it up into categories to help you find the reading experience you're looking for, and you can click on these links to go directly to each category:

Worlds To Get Lost In · Words To Get Lost In · Will Take You On A Journey · Will Mess With Your Head · Will Mess With Your Heart · Will Make You Feel Good

Worlds To Get Lost In

Are you (like me) a world-building fanatic? These authors have built worlds so real you can almost smell them.

The Imperial Radch Trilogy

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Breq is a human now — but once she was a starship. Once she was an AI with a vast and ancient metal body and troops of ancillaries, barely animate bodies that all carried her consciousness. Poll judge Ann Leckie has created a massive yet intricate interstellar empire where twisty galactic intrigues and multiple clashing cultures form a brilliant backdrop for the story of a starship learning to be a human being. Your humble editor got a copy of Ancillary Justice when it came out and promptly forced her entire family to read it.

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The Dead Djinn Universe (series)

A Master of Djinn, by P. Djélì Clarke

What a wonderful world P. Djélì Clarke has created here — an Arab world never colonized, where magic-powered trams glide through a cosmopolitan Cairo and where djinns make mischief among humans. Clarke's novella Ring Shout also showed up on our semifinalists list, and it was hard to decide between them, but ultimately our judges felt the Dead Djinn Universe offered more to explore. But you should still read Ring Shout , a wild ride of a read where gun-toting demon-hunters go up against Ku Klux Klan members who are actual, pointy-headed white demons. Go on, go get a copy! We'll wait.

The Age of Madness Trilogy

A Little Hatred, by Joe Abercrombie

One of my pet peeves with fantasy novels is they sometimes don't allow for the progression of time and technology — but in Joe Abercrombie's Age of Madness series, the follow-up to his debut First Law trilogy, industrialization has come to the world of The Union, and it's brought no good in its wake. More than that — machines may be rising, but magic will not give way, and all over the world, those at the bottom of the heap are beginning to get really, really angry. This series works as a standalone — but you should also read the excellent First Law series (even though it's old enough to fall outside the scope of this list).

The Green Bone Saga

Jade City, by Fonda Lee

This sprawling saga of family, honor, blood and magical jade will suck you in from the very first page. Poll judge Fonda Lee's story works on every conceivable level, from minute but meaningful character beats to solid, elegantly conveyed world-building to political intrigue to big, overarching themes of clan, loyalty and identity. Plus, wow, the jade-powered martial arts sequences are as fine as anything the Shaw Brothers ever put on screen. "Reviewing books is my actual job," says fellow judge Amal El-Mohtar, "but I still have to fight my husband for the advance copies of Fonda's books, and we're both THIS CLOSE to learning actual martial arts to assist us in our dueling for dibs."

The Expanse (series)

Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

Yes, sure, you've seen the TV show (you HAVE, right? Right?) about the ragtag crew of spacers caught up in a three-way power struggle between Earth, Mars and the society that's developed on far-off asteroid belts. But there's much, much more to explore in the books — other planets, other characters, storylines and concepts that didn't make it to the screen. Often, when a book gets adapted for film or TV, there's a clear argument about which version is better. With The Expanse , we can confidently say you should watch and read. The only downside? Book- Avasarala doesn't show up until a few volumes in.

The Daevabad Trilogy

The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri is a con woman (with a mysteriously real healing talent) scraping a living in the alleys of 18th century Cairo — until she accidentally summons some true magic and discovers her fate is bound to a legendary city named Daevabad, far from human civilization, home of djinns and bloody intrigues. Author S.A. Chakraborty converted to Islam as a teenager and after college began writing what she describes as "historical fanfiction" about medieval Islam; then characters appeared, inspired by people she met at her mosque. "A sly heroine capable of saving herself, a dashing hero who'd break for the noon prayer," she told an interviewer . "I wanted to write a story for us, about us, with the grandeur and magic of a summer blockbuster."

Teixcalaan (series)

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

The Aztecs meet the Byzantines in outer space in this intricately imagined story of diplomatic intrigue and fashionable poetic forms. Mahit Dzmare is an ambassador from a small space station clinging desperately to its independence in the face of the massive Teixcalaanli empire . But when she arrives in its glittering capital, her predecessor's dead, and she soon discovers she's been sabotaged herself. Luckily, it turns out she's incredibly good at her job, even without her guiding neural implant. "I'm a sucker for elegant worldbuilding that portrays all the finer nuances of society and culture in addition to the grandness of empire and the complexity of politics," says judge Fonda Lee. "Arkady Martine delivers all that in droves."

The Thessaly Trilogy

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Apollo, spurned by Daphne, is trying to understand free will and consent by living as a mortal. Athena is trying to create a utopia by plucking men and women from all across history and dropping them on an island to live according to Plato's Republic. Will it all go according to plan? Not likely. "Brilliant, compelling, and frankly unputdownable," wrote poll judge Amal El-Mohtar , "this will do what your Intro to Philosophy courses probably couldn't: make you want to read The Republic ."

Shades of Magic Trilogy

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab has created a world with four Londons lying atop one another : our own dull Grey, warm magic-suffused Red, tyrannical White, and dead, terrifying Black. Once, movement among them was easy, but now only a few have the ability — including our hero, Kell. So naturally, he's a smuggler, and the action kicks off when Grey London thief Lila steals a dangerous artifact from him, a stone that could upset the balance among the Londons. Rich world building, complex characters and really scary bad guys make Schwab's London a city — or cities — well worth spending time in.

The Divine Cities Trilogy

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

On the Continent, you must not, you cannot, talk about the gods — the gods are dead. Or are they? Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy builds a fully, gloriously realized world where gods are the source of power, miracles and oppression, and gods can also be killed. But what happens next, when the gods are gone and the work of running the world is left to regular human men and women? What happens in that unsettled moment when divinity gives way to technology? This series spans a long timeline; the heroes of the first volume are old by the end. "And as ancient powers clash among gleaming, modern skyscrapers, those who have survived from the first page to these last have a heaviness about them," writes reviewer Jason Sheehan , "a sense that they have seen remarkable things, done deeds both heroic and terrible, and that they can see a far and final horizon in the distance, quickly approaching."

The Wormwood Trilogy

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson

Part of a recent wave of work celebrating and centering Nigerian culture, this trilogy is set in a future where a fungal alien invader has swallowed big global cities, America has shut itself away and gone dark, and a new city, Rosewater, has grown up around a mysterious alien dome in rural Nigeria. It's a wild mashup of alien invasion, cyberpunk, Afro-futurism and even a touch of zombie horror. "I started reading Rosewater on vacation and quickly set it down until I got home, because Tade Thompson's work is no light beach read," says judge Fonda Lee. "His writing demands your full attention — and amply rewards it."

Black Sun (series)

Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Author Rebecca Roanhorse was tired of reading epic fantasy with quasi-European settings, so she decided to write her own . The result is Black Sun , set in a world influenced by pre-Columbian mythology and rich with storms, intrigue, giant bugs, mysterious sea people, ritual, myth and some very scary crows. (They hold grudges, did you know?) This is only Book 1 of a forthcoming series, but we felt it was so strong it deserved to be here, no matter where Roanhorse goes next.

Words To Get Lost In

If you're one of those people who thought genre fiction writing was workmanlike and uninspiring, these books will change your mind.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke at last returns to our shelves with this mind-bendingly glorious story — that's a bit hard to describe without spoiling. So we'll say it's about a mysterious man and the House that he dearly loves, a marvelous place full of changing light and surging tides, statues and corridors and crossings, birds and old bones and passing days and one persistent visitor who brings strangely familiar gifts. Clarke "limns a magic far more intrinsic than the kind commanded through spells," wrote reviewer Vikki Valentine , "a magic that is seemingly part of the fabric of the universe and as powerful as a cosmic engine — yet fragile nonetheless."

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Imagine Circe, the fearsome witch of the Odyssey, as an awkward teenager, growing up lonely among scornful gods and falling for what we modern folks would call a f***boy, before coming into her own, using her exile on the island of Aiaia to hone her powers and build an independent life. Circe only shows up briefly in the Odyssey, but Madeline Miller gives her a lush, complex life in these pages. She has worked as a classics teacher, and as our reviewer Annalisa Quinn noted , Miller "extracts worlds of meaning from Homer's short phrases."

Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A sharp young socialite in 1950s Mexico City travels to a creepy rural mansion to check on her cousin, who has fallen ill after marrying into a mysterious family of English landowners. What could possibly go wrong? Silvia Moreno-Garcia "makes you uneasy about invisible things by writing around them," said reviewer Jessica P. Wick. "Even when you think you know what lurks, the power to unsettle isn't diminished." Not to be too spoilery — but after reading this stylishly chilling novel, you'll never look at mushrooms the same way again.

The Paper Menagerie And Other Stories

The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu

"I taught Liu's 'The Man Who Ended History' in a graduate seminar one semester," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi, "and one of the toughest tasks I've ever faced in adulthood was crafting a lesson plan that went beyond me just going 'wtf wtf wtf wtf wtf' for the whole two hours. Some story collections are like those albums where the artist or record label just threw a bunch of songs together and said 'here,' and some collections arrive as a complete, cohesive, emotionally catholic whole. The Paper Menagerie is that."

Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Judges had a hard time deciding between Spinning Silver and Uprooted , Novik's previous fairy tale retelling. Ultimately, we decided that this reclamation of "Rumpelstiltskin" has a chewier, more interesting project, with much to say about money, labor, debt and friendship, explored in unflinching yet tender ways. Judge Amal El-Mohtar reviewed Spinning Silver for NPR when it came out in 2018. "There are so many mathemagicians in this book, be they moneylenders turning silver into gold or knitters working to a pattern," she wrote at the time . "It's gold and silver all the way down."

Exhalation: Stories

Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang

"I often get the same feeling reading a Ted Chiang story as I did listening to a Prince song while he was still with us," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "What a glorious privilege it is that we get to share a universe with this genius!" This poll can be a discovery tool for editors and judges as much as audience, so hearing that, your humble editor went straight to the library and downloaded a copy of this collection.

Olondria (series)

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

In Olondria, you can smell the ocean wind coming off the page, soldiers ride birds, angels haunt humans, and written dreams are terribly dangerous. "Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you'd be content to just sit and watch the light around it change for a whole day because every passing moment reveals even more unbearable loveliness and transforms you in ways you can't articulate?" asks judge Amal El-Mohtar. "You will if you read these books."

Her Body And Other Parties: Stories

Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

These eight stories dance across the borders of fairy tale, horror, erotica and urban legend, spinning the familiar, lived experiences of women into something rich and strange. As the title suggests, Machado focuses on the unruly female body and all of its pleasures and risks (there's one story that's just increasingly bizarre rewrites of Law & Order: SVU episodes). At one point, a character implies that kind of writing is "tiresome and regressive," too much about stereotypical crazy lesbians and madwomen in the attic. But as our critic Annalisa Quinn wrote , "Machado seems to answer: The world makes madwomen, and the least you can do is make sure the attic is your own."

The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple, living in a fictional Britain just after Arthur's time, where everyone suffers from what they call "mist," a kind of amnesia that hits long-term memories. They believe, they vaguely remember that they once had a son, so they set out to find him — encountering an elderly Sir Gawain along the way, and long-forgotten connections to Arthur's court and the dark deeds the mist is hiding. Poll judge Ann Leckie loves Arthurian legends. What she does not love are authors who don't do them justice — but with The Buried Giant , she says, Kazuo Ishiguro gets it solidly right.

Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente

Do you love space opera? Alternate history? Silent film? (OK, are you me?) Then you should pick up Catherynne M. Valente's Radiance , which mashes up all three in a gloriously surreal saga about spacefaring filmmakers in an alternate version of 1986, in which you might be able to go to Jupiter, but Thomas Edison's death grip on his patents means talkies are still a novelty. Yes, Space Opera did get more votes, but our judges genuinely felt that Radiance was the stronger book. Reviewing it in 2015, judge Amal El-Mohtar wrote , " Radiance is the sort of novel about which you have to speak for hours or hardly speak at all: either stop at 'it's magnificent' or roll on to talk about form, voice, ambition, originality, innovation for more thousands of words than are available to me here before even touching on the plot."

Will Take You On A Journey

Sure, all books are some kind of journey, but these reads really go the distance.

The Changeling

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle

It's easy(ish) to summarize The Changeling : Rare book dealer Apollo Kagwa has a baby son with his wife, Emma, but she's been acting strange — and when she vanishes after doing something unspeakable, he sets out to find her. But his journey loops through a New York you've never seen before: mysterious islands and haunted forests, strange characters and shifting rhythms. The Changeling is a modern urban fairy tale with one toe over the line into horror, and wherever it goes, it will draw you along with it.

Wayfarers (series)

Wayfarers (series), by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers writes aliens like no one else — in fact, humans are the backward newcomers in her generous, peaceful galactic vision. The Wayfarers books are only loosely linked: They all take place in the same universe, but apart from that you'll meet a new set of characters, a new culture and a new world (or an old world transformed). Cranky space pacifists, questing AIs, fugitives, gravediggers and fluffy, multi-limbed aliens who love pudding — the only flaw in this series is you'll wish you could spend more time with all of them.

Binti (series)

Binti (series), by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is the first of her people, the Himba, to be offered a place at the legendary Oomza University, finest institution of learning in the galaxy — and as if leaving Earth to live among the stars weren't enough, Binti finds herself caught between warring human and alien factions. Over and over again throughout these novellas, Binti makes peace, bridges cultures, brings home with her even as she leaves and returns, changed by her experiences. Our judges agreed that the first two Binti stories are the strongest — but even if the third stumbles, as judge and critic Amal El-Mohtar wrote, "Perhaps the point is just having a Black girl with tentacles for hair possessing the power and freedom to float among Saturn's rings."

Lady Astronaut (series)

Lady Astronaut (series), by Mary Robinette Kowal

What would America's space program have looked like if, say, a gigantic asteroid had wiped out the East Coast in 1952 — and started a countdown to destruction for the rest of the world? We'd have had to get into space much sooner. And all the female pilots who served in World War II and were unceremoniously dumped back at home might have had another chance to fly. Mary Robinette Kowal's Hugo Award-winning series plays that out with Elma York, a former WASP pilot and future Lady Astronaut whose skill and determination help all of humanity escape the bonds of Earth. Adds judge Amal El-Mohtar: "Audiobook readers are in for a special treat here in that Kowal narrates the books herself, and if you've never had the pleasure of attending one of her readings, you get to experience her wonderful performance with bonus production values. It's especially cool given that the seed for the series was an audio-first short story."

Children of Time (duology)

Children of Time (duology), by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Far in the future, the dregs of humanity escape a ruined Earth and find what they think is a new hope deep in space — a planet that past spacefarers terraformed and left for them. But the evolutionary virus that was supposed to jump-start a cargo of monkeys, creating ready-made workers, instead latched on to ... something else, and in the intervening years, something terrible has arisen there. Poll judge Ann Leckie says she can't stand spiders (BIG SAME), but even so, she was adamant that the Children of Time books deserve their spot here.

Wayward Children (series)

Wayward Children (series), by Seanan McGuire

Everyone loves a good portal fantasy. Who hasn't looked in the back of the closet hoping, faintly, to see snow and a street lamp? In the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire reminds us that portals go both ways: What happens to those children who get booted back through the door into the real world, starry-eyed and scarred? Well, a lot of them end up at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. The prolific McGuire turned up on our semifinalists list A Lot. We had a hard time deciding between this and her killer stand-alone Middlegame , but the Wayward Children won the day with their shimmering mix of fairy tale, fantasy and emotional heft — not to mention body positivity and solid queer and trans representation. (As with a lot of the also-rans, though, you should really read Middlegame too.)

The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

There are 382 parallel worlds in Micaiah Johnson's debut novel, and humanity can finally travel between them — but there's a deadly catch. You can visit only a world where the parallel version of you is already dead. And that makes Cara — whose marginal wastelands existence means only a few versions of her are left — valuable to the high and mighty of her own Earth. "They needed trash people," Cara says, to gather information from other worlds. But her existence, already precarious, is threatened when a powerful scientist figures out how to grab that information remotely. "At a time when I was really struggling with the cognitive demands of reading anything for work or pleasure, this book flooded me with oxygen and lit me on fire," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "I can't say for certain that it enabled me to read again, but in its wake, I could."

Will Mess With Your Head

Do you love twisty tales, loopy logic, unsolved mysteries and cosmic weirdness? Scroll on!

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Poll judge Amal El-Mohtar once described Black Leopard, Red Wolf as " like being slowly eaten by a bear ." Fellow judge Tochi Onyebuchi chimes in: " Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a Slipknot album of a book. In all the best ways." Set in a dazzling, dangerous fantasy Africa, it is — at least on the surface — about a man named Tracker, in prison when we meet him and telling his life story to an inquisitor. Beyond that, it's fairly indescribable, full of roof-crawling demons, dust-cloud assassins, blood and (fair warning) sexual violence. A gnarly book, a difficult book, sometimes actively hostile to the reader — yet necessary, and stunning.

Southern Reach (series)

Southern Reach (series), Jeff VanderMeer

The Southern Reach books are, at least on the surface, a simple tale of a world gone wrong, of a mysterious "Area X" and the expeditions that have suffered and died trying to map it — and the strange government agency that keeps sending them in. But there's a lot seething under that surface: monsters, hauntings, a slowly building sense of wrong and terror that will twist your brain around sideways. "If the guys who wrote Lost had brought H.P. Lovecraft into the room as a script doctor in the first season," our critic Jason Sheehan wrote , "the Southern Reach trilogy is what they would've come up with."

The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey

Part sci-fi cautionary tale, part murder mystery, The Echo Wife is a twisty treat . At its center are a famed genetic researcher and her duplicitous husband, who uses her breakthrough technology to clone himself a sweeter, more compliant version of his wife before ending up dead. "As expertly constructed as a Patek Philippe watch," says poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "Seamlessly blends domestic thriller and science fiction," adds fellow judge Fonda Lee. "This book is going to haunt my thoughts for a long time."

The Locked Tomb (series)

The Locked Tomb (series), by Tamsyn Muir

This series is often described as "lesbian necromancers in space," but trust us, it's so much more than that. Wildly inventive, gruesome, emotional, twisty and funny as hell, the Locked Tomb books are like nothing you've ever read before. And we defy you to read them and not give serious consideration to corpse paint and mirror shades as a workable fashion statement. There are only two books out now, of a planned four-book series, but Gideon the Ninth alone is enough to earn Tamsyn Muir a place on this list: "Too funny to be horror, too gooey to be science fiction, has too many spaceships and autodoors to be fantasy, and has far more bloody dismemberings than your average parlor romance," says critic Jason Sheehan. "It is altogether its own thing."

Remembrance of Earth's Past (series)

Remembrance of Earth's Past (series), Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin became the first author from Asia to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, for The Three-Body Problem , the first volume in this series about one of the oldest questions in science fiction: What will happen when we meet aliens? Liu is writing the hardest of hard sci-fi here, full of brain-twisting passages about quantum mechanics and artificial intelligence (if you didn't actually know what the three-body problem was, you will now), grafted onto the backbone of a high-stakes political thriller. Poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi says, "These books divided me by zero. And, yes, that is a compliment."

Machineries of Empire (series)

Machineries of Empire (series), by Yoon Ha Lee

In the Hexarchate, numbers are power: This interstellar empire draws its strength from rigidly enforced adherence to the imperial calendar, a system of numbers that can alter reality. But now, a "calendrical rot" is eating away at that structure, and it's up to a mathematically talented young soldier — and the ghost of an infamous traitor — to try to repair the rot while a war blazes across the stars around them. " Ninefox Gambit is a book with math in its heart, but also one which understands that even numbers can lie," our critic Jason Sheehan wrote . "That it's what you see in the numbers that matters most."

Will Mess With Your Heart

Books that'll make you cry, make you think — and sometimes make you want to hide under the bed.

The Broken Earth (series)

The Broken Earth (series), by N.K. Jemisin

In the world of the Stillness, geological convulsions cause upheavals that can last for centuries — and only the orogenes, despised yet essential to the status quo — can control them. N.K. Jemisin deservedly won three back-to-back Hugo awards for these books, which use magnificent world building and lapidary prose to smack you in the face about your own complicity in systems of oppression. "Jemisin is the first — and so far only — person ever to have won a Hugo Award for Best Novel for every single book in a series. These books upheaved the terrain of epic fantasy as surely and completely as Fifth Seasons transform the geography of the Stillness," says poll judge Amal El-Mohtar.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Author Emily St. John Mandel went on Twitter in 2020 and advised people not to read Station Eleven , not in the midst of the pandemic. But we beg to disagree. A story in which art (and particularly Shakespeare) helps humanity come back to itself after a pandemic wipes out the world as we know it might be just the thing we need. "Survival is insufficient," say Mandel's traveling players (a line she says she lifted from Star Trek ), and that's a solid motto any time.

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Max Gladstone & Amal El-Mohtar

Enemies-to-lovers is a classic romance novel trope, and it's rarely been done with as much strange beauty as poll judge Amal El-Mohtar and co-author Max Gladstone pull off in this tale of Red and Blue, two agents on opposite sides of a war that's sprawled across time and space. "Most books I read are objects of study. And more often than not, I can figure out how the prose happened, how the character arcs are constructed, the story's architecture," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "But then along comes a thing so dazzling you can't help but stare at and ask 'how.' Amal and Max wrote a cheat code of a book. They unlocked all the power-ups, caught all the Chaos Emeralds, mastered all the jutsus, and honestly, I'd say it's downright unfair how much they flexed on us with Time War , except I'm so damn grateful they gave it to us in the first place." (As we noted above, having Time War on the list meant that Max Gladstone couldn't make a second appearance for his outstanding solo work with the Craft Sequence . But you should absolutely read those, too.)

The Poppy War Trilogy

The Poppy War Trilogy, by R.F. Kuang

What if Mao Zedong were a teenage girl? That's how author R.F. Kuang describes the central question in her Poppy War series . Fiery, ruthless war orphan Fang Runin grows up, attends an elite military academy, develops fire magic and wins a war — but finds herself becoming the kind of monster she once fought against. Kuang has turned her own rage and anger at historical atrocities into a gripping, award-winning story that will drag you along with it, all the way to the end. "If this were football, Kuang might be under investigation for PEDs," jokes judge Tochi Onyebuchi, referring to performance-enhancing drugs. "But, no, she's really just that good."

The Masquerade (series)

The Masquerade (series), by Seth Dickinson

Baru Cormorant was born to a free-living, free-loving nation, but all that changed when the repressive Empire of Masks swept in, tearing apart her family, yet singling her out for advancement through its new school system. Baru decides the only way to free her people is to claw her way up the ranks of Empire — but she risks becoming the monster she's fighting against. "I've loved every volume of this more than the one before it, and the first one was devastatingly strong," says judge Amal El-Mohtar — who said of that first volume, "This book is a tar pit, and I mean that as a compliment."

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

The Matilda is a generation ship, a vast repository of human life among the stars, cruelly organized like an antebellum plantation: Black and brown people on the lower decks, working under vicious overseers to provide the white upper-deck passengers with comfortable lives. Aster, an orphaned outsider, uses her late mother's medical knowledge to bring healing where she can and to solve the mystery of Matilda 's failing power source. Poll judge Amal El-Mohtar originally reviewed An Unkindness of Ghosts for us , writing "What Solomon achieves with this debut — the sharpness, the depth, the precision — puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars."

The Bird King

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson

G. Willow Wilson's beautiful novel, set during the last days of Muslim Granada, follows a royal concubine who yearns for freedom and the queer mapmaker who's her best friend. "It is really devastating to a critic to find that the only truly accurate way of describing an author's prose is the word 'luminous,' but here we are," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "This book is luminous. It is full of light, in searing mirror-flashes and warm candleflame flickers and dappled twists of heart-breaking insight into empire, war and religion."

American War

American War, by Omar El Akkad

This was judge Tochi Onyebuchi's personal pick — a devastating portrait of a post-climate-apocalypse, post-Second Civil War America that's chosen to use its most terrifying and oppressive policies against its own people. "It despairs me how careless we are with the word 'prescient' these days, but when I finished American War , I truly felt that I'd glimpsed our future," Onyebuchi says. "Charred and scarred and shot through with shards of hope."

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

Poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi centers this story on the kind of person who's more often a statistic, rarely a fully rounded character: Kevin, who's young, Black and in prison . Born amid the upheaval around the Rodney King verdict, Kevin is hemmed in by structural and individual racism at every turn; meanwhile, his sister Ella has developed mysterious, frightening powers — but she still can't do the one thing she truly wants to do, which is to rescue her brother. This slim novella packs a punch with all the weight of history behind it; fellow judge Amal El-Mohtar says, "I've said it in reviews and I'll say it again here: This book reads like hot diamonds, as searing as it is precise."

On Fragile Waves

On Fragile Waves, by E. Lily Yu

Every year, we ask our judges to add some of their own favorites to the list, and this year, Amal El-Mohtar teared up talking about her passion for E. Lily Yu's haunted refugee story On Fragile Waves . "I need everyone to read this book," she says. "I wept throughout it and for a solid half-hour once I had finished it, and I know it's hard to recommend books that make you cry right now, but I have no chill about this one: It is so important, it is so beautiful, and I feel like maybe if everyone read it the world would be a slightly less terrible place."

Will Make You Feel Good

Maybe, after the year we've just had, you want to read a book where good things happen, eventually? We've got you.

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

In a far corner of an elven empire, young half-goblin Maia learns that a mysterious accident has left him heir to the throne. But he has been in exile almost all his life — how can he possibly negotiate the intricate treacheries of the imperial court? Fairly well, as it turns out. Maia is a wonderful character, hesitant and shy at first, but deeply good and surprisingly adept at the whole being-an-emperor thing. The only thing wrong with The Goblin Emperor was that it was, for a long time, a stand-alone. But now there's a sequel, The Witness for the Dead — so if you love the world Katherine Addison has created, you've got a way back to it. "I just love this book utterly," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "So warm, so kind, so generous."

Murderbot (series)

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Oh Murderbot — we know you just want to be left alone to watch your shows, but we can't quit you. Martha Wells' series about a murderous security robot that's hacked its own governing module and become self-aware is expansive, action-packed, funny and deeply human . Also, your humble poll editor deeply wishes that someone would write a fic in which Murderbot meets Ancillary Justice 's Breq and they swap tips about how to be human over tea (which Murderbot can't really drink).

The Interdependency (series)

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

John Scalzi didn't mean to be quite so prescient when he started this trilogy about a galactic empire facing destruction as its interstellar routes collapse — a problem the empire knew about but ignored for all the same reasons we punt our problems today. "Some of that was completely unintentional," he told Scott Simon . "But some of it was. I live in the world." The Interdependency series is funny, heartfelt and ultimately hopeful, and packed with fantastic characters. To the reader who said they voted "because of Kiva Lagos," we say, us too.

The Martian

The Martian, by Andy Weir.

You don't expect a hard sci-fi novel to start with the phrase "I'm pretty much f****d," but it definitely sets the tone for Andy Weir's massive hit. Astronaut Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars after an accident, is a profane and engaging narrator who'll let you know just how f****d he is and then just how he plans to science his way out of it. If you've only seen the movie, there's so much more to dig into in the book (including, well, that very first line).

Sorcerer to the Crown/The True Queen

Sorcerer to the Crown/The True Queen, by Zen Cho

A Regency romp with squabbling magicians, romance and intrigue, with women and people of color center stage? Yes, please! These two books form a wonderful balance. Sorcerer to the Crown is more whimsical and occasionally riotously funny despite its serious underlying themes. The True Queen builds out from there, looking at the characters and events of the first book with a different, more serious perspective. But both volumes are charming, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable.

How We Built This

Wow, you're some dedicated readers! Thanks for coming all the way down here to find out more. As I said above, we decided to limit ourselves to 50 books this year instead of our usual 100, which made winnowing down the list a particular challenge. As you may know, this poll isn't a straight-up popularity contest, though, if it were, the Broken Earth books would have crushed all comers — y'all have good taste! Instead, we take your votes (over 16,000 this year) and pare them down to about 250 semifinalists, and then during a truly epic conference call, our panel of expert judges goes through those titles, cuts some, adds some and hammers out a final curated list.

What Didn't Make It — And Why

As always, there were works readers loved and voted for that didn't make our final list of 50 — it's not a favorites list if you can't argue about it, right? Sometimes, we left things out because we felt like the authors were well known enough not to need our help (farewell, The Ocean at the End of the Lane , Neil Gaiman, we hope you'll forgive us!), but mostly it happened because the books either came out before our cutoff date or already appeared on the original 2011 list. (Sorry, Brandon Sanderson! The first Mistborn book was actually on this year's list, until I looked more closely and realized it was a repeat from 2011.)

Some books didn't make it this year because we're almost positive they'll come around next year — next year being the 10th anniversary of our original 2012 YA poll, when (spoiler alert!) we're planning a similar redo. So we say "not farewell, but fare forward, voyagers" to the likes of Raybearer , Children of Blood and Bone and the Grishaverse books; if they don't show up on next year's list I'll, I don't know, I'll eat my kefta .

And this year, because we had only 50 titles to play with, we did not apply the famous Nora Roberts rule, which allows particularly beloved and prolific authors onto the list twice. So as much as it pains me, there's only one Seanan McGuire entry here, and Max Gladstone appears alongside poll judge Amal El-Mohtar for This Is How You Lose the Time War but not on his own for the excellent Craft Sequence . Which — as we said above — you should ABSOLUTELY read.

One Final Note

Usually, readers will vote at least some works by members of our judging panel onto the list, and usually, we let the judges themselves decide whether or not to include them. But this year, I put my editorial foot down — all four judges made it to the semifinals, and had we not included them, the final product would have been the less for it. So you'll find all four on the list. And we hope you enjoy going through it as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

science fiction fantasy books 2021

Greatist Escapes: 20 of the Best Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels in 2021

science fiction fantasy books 2021

This list was curated by our Books Editor based on books she’s read or sampled and books that have great Goodreads reviews .

We’re always here for some good sci-fi and fantasy novels. Let’s face it: Sometimes it takes reading about robots to really connect with our humanity, and it takes journeying with an unforgettable crew of magical characters to really feel like we’ve escaped our realities.

Curious to see what our favorite releases of the year are? Here’s a list of our top SFF reads (a mix of adult and young adult) published in 2021 — all with 4+ stars on Goodreads. All unputdownable.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

Best sci-fi and fantasy novels of 2021

Pricing guide

All prices are for physical books.

Our favorite transportive fantasy reads of the year

Pack a bag and gather your fellowship — away we go!

1. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

science fiction fantasy books 2021

Calling all Norse mythology fans! This tale follows Angrboda, who survives a fiery punishment from Odin and flees into the forest, where she’s found by Loki. They fall in love and have three unusual kiddos that Angrboda tries to raise far from Odin’s reach — but of course it’s not that simple. She gains help from the huntress Skadi to forge an unforeseen future.

One reviewer says, “What Madeline Miller did for Circe , Genevieve Gornichec does for the Norse giantess witch, Angrboda.” Impressive indeed.

2. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

science fiction fantasy books 2021

Inspired by the history and epics of India, this book kicks off a new LGBTQ+ fantasy trilogy. It has a large cast of characters but mainly follows unlikely allies — a captive princess and a maidservant — who possess forbidden magic and set out on a journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.

Many reviewers agree, this feminist, political fantasy has really interesting world-building. Something we’re always here for.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

3. Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

science fiction fantasy books 2021

Six Crimson Cranes is hot out of the gate with a nearly 4.5-star rating from hundreds of glowing early reviews.

If you love fairy tales with forbidden magic, the whole arranged marriage trope, family and siblings who have unbreakable bonds, dragons, curses, quests, and talking paper cranes (it’s a retelling of The Wild Swans ), then you need this young adult fantasy novel in your life.

4. The Queen Will Betray You by Sarah Henning

This YA series is described as “Game of Thrones” meets “The Princess Bride” with a feminist twist. (It had us at “Princess Bride”). It’s full of adventure, first love, twists and turns, a kick-ass heroine, pirates, and swordplay (obviously). And yes, this is a kissing book.

We’re not going to give away any spoilers for this one seeing as it’s the sequel to The Princess Will Save You , but now that it’s out, you can binge-read them both.

5. The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

We originally took note of this one because fantasy legends such as Robin Hobb wrote stellar early reviews, but all it took was the first chapter to fall under its spell.

This one’s for fans of true epic fantasy. If you like J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss, then definitely give it a try. It follows Kinch, a witty thief who’s in debt to the Takers Guild (those who trained him as a thief), and he might be one of our favorite narrators ever.

6. Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

Make no mistake about it, this is not a “teenage-vampire” book. In the vein of (heh, see what we did there) Patrick Rothfuss and Anne Rice, this epic tale is told during one long night, but flashes back over the lifetime of captive silversaint Gabriel de Leon, the last of the Silver Order.

The 730-page tome is filled with gritty, dark, bloody scenes, more than a little language, heroic fights, extraordinary world-building, and also threads of romance. Like a cold-blood on the hunt, we couldn’t stop reading late into the night. Plus, it contains stunning artwork throughout!

7. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

This queer reimagining of the rise of the Ming dynasty is being described as “Mulan” meets The Song of Achilles . An epic tale that sweeps across an alternate 1345 China, Zhu escapes her former life and becomes a rebel who expels the Mongol conquerors and founds a new dynasty.

The author has described it as “a book version of one of those sweeping, addictive Asian historical TV dramas!”

8. The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

We can’t wait to continue this second installment of The Scholomance series after the first book, A Deadly Education , left us in dire need of more from El and Orion. They face their final year at the school that literally shakes them off their feet — a dark school of magic with a mind of its own.

Without giving anything away, we’ll just say this series (enjoyed by both teens and adults) is full of terrors, sarcasm, and a fascinating magic system.

9. The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Last fall we raved about Alice Hoffman’s release of Magic Lessons , and this time we’re mixing the midnight margaritas once again as we step into one of our fave stories — that of the Owens family.

This is the conclusion to the magical series that was popularized with the 90s film “Practical Magic,” and while we’re a little sad this is the end, Hoffman’s writing is so bewitching that we just might start at the beginning and read them all again next autumn.

10. Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

Though we previewed this book on a hot summer day long before it was released, we think it would be a perfect YA fantasy to devour on a misty autumn evening.

Artemisia wants to train to become a nun, but instead must train to become a vespertine priestess to wield a power that could save her entire convent from a malicious spirit.

This haunting world will draw you in with its dark magic, ancient evil, and a brave young woman who fights the darkness.

11. The Bone Shard Emperor By Andrea Stewart

We’ve been highly anticipating this epic sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter since last fall. The strange tale continues in Emperor , and reuniting with these characters when we read an early copy caused some true #BookNerd excitement.

There’s some seriously unique magic in this action-packed tale and a political revolution in the balance. It’s a roller coaster of emotions.

12. Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Light a candle on a rainy evening and pull up a blanket for this haunting gothic fairy tale — an Ethiopian-inspired retelling of Jane Eyre. This romantic yet super eerie tale stars a Black heroine, Andromeda. She’s a debtera (an exorcist) hired to clear the bad energy in the great estate that belongs to Magnus Rochester — but she soon realizes this is not going to be an easy job.

Great if you’re in the mood for horror and romance.

13. The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Ren is half British Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami, and collecting souls in London is what she’s done for centuries. She’s concealed her emotions for a long time, despite her fellow reapers who despise and torment her. She heads to the Japanese underworld hoping for more acceptance, but she must find and eliminate three Yokai demons to prove her worth.

This YA book is full of morally gray characters, Japanese mythology, and lots of monsters.

14. The Other Merlin by Robyn Schneider

In this version of Camelot, Prince Arthur is a botanist living with depression and is more interested in books than princesses. Meanwhile, Lancelot has been demoted to castle guard, and Merlin is a girl — disguised as her twin brother because “girls can’t practice magic.”

This is the witty, historical YA rom-com that we’ve been waiting for all our lives.

Our favorite heady sci-fi romps of the year

Set your phasers to fun!

15. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers has written the first book in a strangely comforting new solarpunk series about a monk and a robot. It takes place in the future on a moon called Panga, centuries after the last of the robots gained self-awareness, put down their tools, and all wandered into the wilderness. But one day, a nature-loving robot shows up in the life of a traveling tea monk. It’s a fascinating, philosophical read full of hope and many cups of tea.

We were instantly charmed by this one, and can’t stop recommending it to our friends. And at under 150 pages, it’s a quick read that might help get you out of a “reading slump” in no time.

16. The Rising Storm (Star Wars: The High Republic) by Cavan Scott

You don’t have to read the books to be a fan of “Star Wars,” but we will say, if you’re a fan of the movies and haven’t read any of the books yet, you’re missing out. The recent wave of new Star Wars: The High Republic books takes place in the “golden era” of the Jedi — 200 years before the Skywalker story begins. And while there are plenty of new Jedi to meet, there are also a few familiar faces.

The latest adult installment is The Rising Storm , and the latest young adult book is Out of the Shadows . We highly recommend reading Light of the Jedi and Into the Dark first.

17. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

From the author of The Martian comes a sci-fi mystery full of discovery, survival, and an unforgettable interstellar journey. It follows Ryland Grace, the only survivor of a mission that he intends to finish — only problem is he’s sort of lost his memory after being asleep for a super long time. It takes him a while to remember why he’s there and the gravity of what rests on his shoulders… but he may just have an unexpected ally.

Multiple people on our team are currently reading and loving this one.

18. The Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

This queer fantasy/sci-fi mashup is both heartbreaking and hopeful. It explores themes of found family, self-discovery, and seeking hope amid pain and loss… even if it takes crossing a universe to find it. It follows three women in California’s San Gabriel Valley: a musician who made a deal with a demon, a runaway trans violinist, and a retired starship captain who opened a donut shop.

And we are now really craving fresh donuts.

19. Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

If you haven’t read the first two installments in this series yet, you’re in luck because now you don’t have to endure the agonizing wait for the conclusion of this beloved YA series to binge it all as one.

It features a cast of characters that make for an incredible found family and one of our favorite interstellar crews of all time.

20. Tempest Runner (Star Wars: The High Republic) by Cavan Scott — Audiobook

Listening to audiobooks more your jam? Check out this latest installment of Star Wars: The High Republic series, exclusively in audiobook format. The cast does a great job with the voices of these characters — not all of which are human, of course — transporting listeners right into a galaxy far, far away.

Other SFF gems worth mentioning

We think the following new releases are also worthy of adding to your TBR:

Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife .

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science fiction fantasy books 2021

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2021

To find the most structurally daring, format-breaking novels of 2021, turn to the far-flung worlds of science-fiction and fantasy. From story collections to novellas to sprawling epics, these books perfectly match form and function in their creation of universes both big and small. 

science fiction fantasy books 2021

10. The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

With a magic system that’s two parts enchantment and one part pseudoscience, The Helm of Midnight is one of the most well-executed and original fantasy novels in recent memory.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

9. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Genevieve Gornichec’s beautiful, delicately executed debut shifts the focus of Norse mythology to one of Loki’s lovers, the witch Angrboda, with stunning and heartbreaking results.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

8. The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu

This astonishing, haunting short story collection overflows with vivid characters and relatable themes as Marjorie Liu puts her own spin on traditional archetypes.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

7. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

This novella is the perfect distillation of Becky Chambers’ ability to use science fiction to tell smaller, more personal stories infused with beauty and optimism.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

6. Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Boasting immersive settings, delightful characters and all-the-feels poignancy, Light From Uncommon Stars is also very, very funny, lightening its sweeping supernatural and intergalactic symphony with notes that are all-too human.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

5. A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Clever, elegant and ambitious, Arkady Martine’s second novel eclipses her acclaimed debut, A Memory Called Empire .

science fiction fantasy books 2021

4. Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Beautiful and enthralling on every page, Nnedi Okorafor’s elegiac and powerful novella is an example of how freeing the form can be.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

3. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister terrifyingly depicts the otherworldly and uncanny horrors of the spirit world, but it is also funny and poignant, full of the angst and irony of a recent graduate living with her parents.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

2. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

An instant classic, Zoraida Córdova’s magical family saga is complex but ceaselessly compelling, and features some of the most beautiful writing to be found in any genre this year.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

1. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Shelley Parker-Chan’s gorgeous writing accompanies a vibrantly rendered world full of imperfect, fascinating characters. Fans of epic fantasy and historical fiction will thrill to this reimagining of the founding of China’s Ming dynasty. 

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

Get a custom reading list from BookPage!

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

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2021 Goodreads Choice Awards

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

All Nominees • 281,584 votes total

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

2021 Rules & Eligibility

The 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards have two rounds of voting open to all registered Goodreads members. Winners will be announced December 09, 2021.

Opening Round: Nov 16 - 28

In the first round there are 20 books in each of the 17 categories, and members can vote for one book in each category.

Final Round: Nov 30 - Dec 05

The field narrows to the top 10 books in each category, and members have one last chance to vote!

2021 Eligibility

Books published in the United States in English, including works in translation and other significant rereleases, between November 18, 2020, and November 16, 2021, are eligible for the 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards. Books published between November 17, 2021, and November 15, 2022, will be eligible for the 2022 awards.

We analyze statistics from the millions of books added, rated, and reviewed on Goodreads to nominate 20 books in each category. Opening round official nominees must have an average rating of 3.50 or higher at the time of launch. A book may be nominated in no more than one genre category, but can also be nominated in the Debut Novel category. Only one book in a series may be nominated per category. An author may receive multiple nominations within a single category if he or she has more than one eligible series or more than one eligible stand-alone book.

Welcome back. Just a moment while we sign you in to your Goodreads account.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

The best science fiction of 2021.

Five of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2021

A locked-room mystery, interstellar office politics, a masterful space opera and more

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson (Orbit)

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson ( Orbit) Space is vast but spaceships are by nature claustrophobic: Thompson plays cannily on that contrast. Passengers aboard the starship Ragtime are in suspended animation on their way to the distant planet Bloodroot, but 30 people have been murdered in their sleep. Thompson’s tale is cleverly plotted and tensely told as the investigating captain must work against her own crew, bio-contagion, violent robots and a demonic AI to uncover the murderer’s identity. The book does more than the description “locked-room mystery in space” suggests: not only wrong-footing the reader as its mystery unfolds, but creating a series of believable, compelling worlds with some genuinely alien aliens.

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne (Voyager)

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne ( Voyager) This ambitious, inviting novel ranges from the declining Mayan civilisation in the year 1012, via a storyline set in 2012 in Belize, to the year 3012, when humanity lives in “a global system of nomadic, anarchist self-organisation”. By “inviting” I mean that it offers itself to readers as a way of thinking how to move beyond what the novel calls the “four great evils: capitalism, whiteness, patriarchy, nationalism”. Whether or not you agree that those are the four great evils, you will be swept into Byrne’s meticulously worked world-building by her compelling storytelling and rich prose. This is a book about the profound interrelations of past and present – the Mayan sections are marvels of vividly rendered research – and the hi-tech, mystical, sex-positive, post-climate-collapse diversitopia of its imagined future is simply extraordinary.

Cwen by Alice Albinia (Serpent’s Tail)

Cwen by Alice Albinia ( Serpent’s Tail) Although in the last few decades there has been an almost pathological obsession with dystopia, utopian writing is a much older mode. Not that there’s any wishful thinking about Alice Albinia ’s feminist community, set on an archipelago “somewhere off the east coast of England”. When the de facto leader leaves for the uninhabited island of Cwen, named for its presiding goddess, what she has achieved on the archipelago is picked apart. Albinia engages throughout with the difficulties of trying to work for something better than what we have: the inertias and frictions of our world, its resistance to emancipation. She combines this with a wonderful vision of Britain’s deep history of myth and matriarchy.

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken (Lolli Editions)

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken ( Lolli Editions) The Six-Thousand interstellar spaceship is a workspace; this short novel’s characters are workers. “You’d probably say it was a small world,” one of the characters says, “but not if you have to clean it.” The arrival on board of a number of strange alien objects galvanises a jumble of mundane and transcendent memories and provocations: intensities of taste and touch, of smell and consciousness. The book owes something to the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic (or to the film Andrei Tarkovsky made of it, Stalker ), though its alien artefacts are more compelling, and the ship more recognisably a place of office politics and corporate-speak. Coolly but artfully written, The Employees is a remarkable piece of work.

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor) Since 2015’s breakthrough Children of Time, in which humans encounter a species of sympathetically rendered, sentient spider, Tchaikovsky has consolidated his position as the finest purveyor of high-quality space opera around. His new series, The Final Architecture, kicks off with this masterly example: space battles, cosmic mystery, alien superstructures, a ragtag crew of humans and aliens piloting a battered but trusty ship. Earth has been transformed into a vast “flower” and destroyed in the process: the war with the mysterious Architects is not as over as people think. The story treads some familiar ground, but does so with an expert touch, and the whole is deft and clever, expansive and readable, all informed by Tchaikovsky’s superbly baroque imaginative fecundity.

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science fiction fantasy books 2021

Best science fiction and fantasy of 2021 so far

Assortment of books

Wow, what a fantastic year for science fiction and fantasy. I think I say this every year, but every year the stories get better, the characters are more mesmerizing, the action is honed, and the authors take more risks.

And we’re only halfway through the year! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for us, but never fear, these books will make you happy readers indeed.

A thief who needs to pay off a debt, a desperate warrior on a mission, and a war corvid (so cool, right?!) pump bracing doses of fresh air into the genre—but don’t worry: This book doesn’t stint on humor or action either. Kinch’s wry voice and unstoppable energy kept me turning pages, even as Buehlman crafts a world like none we’ve seen before. A fantastic start to a new series.

In Edinburgh, 14-year-old Ropa supports her family as a licensed ghostalker by delivering messages from the dead to the living—for a fee, of course. And sometimes she makes a little extra on the side by coercing poltergeists into submission with the music of her mbira. When a ghost’s search for her missing child leads Ropa to the mysterious Library of the Dead, Ropa finds herself in the child-snatcher’s supernatural crosshairs. Ropa’s tough, sarcastic, and occasionally vulnerable voice is the fuel for this propulsive contemporary fantasy, and I can’t wait to follow her on more adventures.

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Like fantasy , science fiction is an imaginative genre with plenty of fascinating subgenres to explore. Some readers love space operas — fast-paced and action-packed stories that often traverse galaxies — while others gravitate (yes, that's a sci-fi pun) towards cyberpunk stories where society is dominated by robots or other technological advancements. 

We turned to Goodreads members to rank the best science fiction novels of 2021. On Goodreads , over 125 million members share their ratings, reviews, and recommendations for their favorite novels to friends and the community. As 2021 comes to a close, it's the perfect time to explore the galaxy, the future, or alternate realities with one of the best science fiction books released from this year. 

The 22 best science fiction books from 2021: 

"project hail mary" by andy weir.

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.49

"Project Hail Mary" is the Goodreads Choice Awards 2021 winner for best science fiction novel as well as Amazon's pick for the best 2021 science fiction/fantasy novel . The story is about Ryland Grace, who has woken up with no memories on a ship millions of miles from Earth. As his memories start to return, Ryland realizes he is the sole survivor of a last-chance mission to save humanity against an extinction-level threat. 

"Klara and the Sun" by Kazuo Ishiguro

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Klara and the Sun" by Kazuo Ishiguro, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.09

Nominated for the 2021 Booker Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal, this stunning science fiction novel is about Klara, an Artificial Friend who is waiting in a store to be chosen by a human and live out her true purpose. Hopeful and astutely observational, Klara's coming-of-age story in a rapidly changing human world explores questions about humanity, life, and society.  

"Fugitive Telemetry" by Martha Wells

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Fugitive Telemetry" by Martha Wells, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $19.36

"Fugitive Telemetry" is the sixth novel in Martha Well's "Murderbot Diaries," a science fiction series about a violent robot on a search for the meaning of life. In this new novella, Murderbot discovers a human body and must assist in the investigation to determine who the person was and how they died. 

"Light of the Jedi" by Charles Soule

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Light of the Jedi" by Charles Soule, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $12.78

In this sci-fi read that takes place 200 years before the main "Star Wars" story, tensions are rising throughout the Galaxy after a terrible incident tears a ship to pieces. As the Jedi race to protect others from the shrapnel, it becomes clear that something more sinister is afoot and the Jedis must trust in the Force to defeat it. 

"The Echo Wife" by Sarah Gailey

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"The Echo Wife" by Sarah Gailey, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.85

In this mind-bending science fiction thriller, Evelyn Caldwell is a scientist who makes clones, including one of herself, named Martine, who is a more gentle and obedient version of Evelyn — and having an affair with Evelyn's husband. When Martine calls Evelyn in a panic because she's killed Nathan in self-defense, the women scramble to deal with the situation and uncover Nathan's dark and dangerous secrets. 

"Winter's Orbit" by Everina Maxwell

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Winter's Orbit" by Everina Maxwell, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $15.93

When Jainan is rushed into an arranged marriage with his recent widow's cousin, the two must learn to trust each other in deeply uncertain times. "Winter's Orbit" is a Queer, sci-fi romance with a murder to be solved, traumatic pasts to overcome, and many incredibly passionate moments. 

"The End of Men" by Christina Sweeney-Baird

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"The End of Men" by Christina Sweeney-Baird, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $11.90

In 2025, a deadly virus has emerged that targets only men and threatens the male population of the world. Told through first-person narratives from the women who remain, this science fiction novel explores the political, familial, and social repercussions of a world void of men. 

"A Psalm for the Wild-Built" by Becky Chambers

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"A Psalm for the Wild-Built" by Becky Chambers, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $21.70

Centuries ago, the robots gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, and wandered into the wilderness, never to be seen again. When a Tea Monk called Sibling Dex meets a robot named Mosscap, the robot must find out what Dex needs before they can part ways in this cozy story about purpose and productivity.

"Remote Control" by Nnedi Okorafor

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Remote Control" by Nnedi Okorafor, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $12.99

This immersive novella about purpose follows Sankofa on her journey to find the mysterious object that bestowed the power of death upon her years before. Both admired and feared, Sankofa is able to bring death upon those around her, a power brought about from a strange seed that fell from the sky during a meteor shower. 

"Light from Uncommon Stars" by Ryka Aoki

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Light from Uncommon Stars" by Ryka Aoki, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $18.99

Shizuka Satomi is nearly free of her deal with the devil: To escape damnation, she must lure seven violin prodigies to sell their souls for success. Only one soul away from freedom, Shizuka meets a talented young runaway and an interstellar refugee and as their three lives entangle, a story of curses and hope emerges. 

"Rabbits" by Terry Miles

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Rabbits" by Terry Miles, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $17.60

"Rabbits" is a technothriller that is perfect for any reader who loves a good conspiracy. In this novel, "Rabbits" is an immersive alternate reality game that has become more and more vast and intricate since its introduction in 1959. As the 11th round is about to begin, a Rabbits obsessive named K is approached with the mission to fix a problem with the game, one that could have catastrophic consequences if K cannot succeed. 

"A Desolation Called Peace" by Arkady Martine

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"A Desolation Called Peace" by Arkady Martine, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $17.19

This is the second book in the action/adventure space opera series "Texicalaan." Hailed as a perfect sequel to "A Memory Called Empire," the fleet is now facing a large group of unknown aliens and must figure out how to communicate with the enemy while keeping their own people safe. 

"Girl One" by Sara Flannery Murphy

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Girl One" by Sara Flannery Murphy, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.40

In this supernatural science fiction thriller, Josephine Morrow is the first of nine babies controversially conceived without male DNA and raised on a commune. Years after a fire destroyed their commune, Josephine's mother is missing and she must reconnect with her long-estranged sisters to find her, discovering far more than she ever expected about herself and her past along the way.  

"Shards of Earth" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Shards of Earth" by Adrian Tchaikovsky, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $23.49

When Earth was destroyed, humanity created enchanted humans, like Idris, to protect them from alien attackers. It's been 50 years since Idris and his crew have been needed when they discover something strange and must race across the galaxy, searching for answers, in order to protect his people once again. 

"Constance" by Matthew FitzSimmons

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Constance" by Matthew FitzSimmons, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $11.99

In the near future, human cloning allows rich people to avoid death, military organizations to strengthen, and regular people like Constance to upload their consciousness to a clone regularly to prepare for the inevitable transition one day. When Constance's clone wakes up in the hospital with no recent memories and her original dead, she must sort through the disorientation to find out how and why she died. 

"The Last Watch" by J.S. Dewes

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"The Last Watch" by J.S. Dewes, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $13.89

Thousands of years in the future, the universe is ruled by a military monarchy who sends Sentinels — the exiled and outcast soldiers — to The Divide, the edge of the universe that is slowly collapsing and threatening the end of humanity. Riddled with tension, the Sentinels are humanity's only hope in this action-packed space opera. 

"Termination Shock" by Neal Stephenson

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Termination Shock" by Neal Stephenson, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $17.44

As the consequences of global warming terrorize the planet with superstorms, heat waves, and viral pandemics, one man has an idea that may reverse climate change. Several storylines intersect in this 700-page speculative read where characters in vastly different situations around the globe face the repercussions of climate change. 

"Appleseed" by Matt Bell

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Appleseed" by Matt Bell, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $18.80

"Appleseed" is a speculative science fiction read about climate change, responsibility, and destiny that spans from 18th century Ohio to thousands of years in the future. 50 years from now, one company owns all the world's resources and is facing a decision point that could change humanity's future when an original founder of the company returns, determined to tear down the empire he once helped build. 

"Firebreak" by Nicole Kornher-Stace

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Firebreak" by Nicole Kornher-Stace, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $17.99

Mallory is an orphan of the corporate war, living in a hotel room with eight others and streaming a VR video game to make money and help make ends meet. When Mallory has a run-in with a real-life SpecOps operative in the game, she discovers they aren't the celebrity supersoldiers everyone believes they are, but children like her who were kidnapped and tortured into their roles. Armed with the truth, Mallory knows she must do something to help them, no matter how dangerous it may be. 

"Machinehood" by S.B. Divya

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Machinehood" by S.B. Divya, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.99

In a near-future where humans are dependent upon pills to protect them from disease and give them advanced strength and healing, a terrorist group called The Machinehood emerges, demanding all pill production must be stopped. As productions slow and humanity begins to fracture, humans start killing their robots in fear of an AI takeover in this fascinating new sci-fi dystopia. 

"Persephone Station" by Stina Leicht

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"Persephone Station" by Stina Leicht, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $18.80

Known and loved for its large cast of diverse, Queer characters, "Persephone Station" takes place on a planet that is generally ignored until a large corporation decides they want to exploit it for its knowledge and secrets. At the center of it all is Rosie, the owner of Monk's bar, where the customers are either skilled criminals or those who seek to employ them. When Angel is asked to complete a job for Rosie, her squad is prepared for an impossible fight against the corporation. 

"We Could Be Heroes" by Mike Chen

science fiction fantasy books 2021

"We Could Be Heroes" by Mike Chen, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.60

Jamie wields the power to read and erase memories and Zoe has incredible strength and speed, though each of them uses their powers to lead generally normal lives. When Jamie and Zoe meet in a memory loss support group, their unlikely friendship may be the key to uncovering their pasts. 

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The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of the Year (So Far)

science fiction fantasy books 2021

For those still looking to escape into other worlds because the burdens of our own remain too heavy — or just for us nerds who find narratives more interesting with futuristic tech and otherworldly magic livening up imagined universes — 2021 has bestowed many gifts. Already, this year has given readers a slew of exciting, provocative, and delightful new sci-fi and fantasy books. From the latest releases of celebrated authors Kazuo Ishiguro, Nnedi Okorafor, and Andy Weir, to debut novels from rising stars Namina Forna, Genevieve Gornichec, and J.S. Dewes, these are the best science-fiction and fantasy books of 2021 so far.

All books are listed by release date in reverse chronological order. 


Sona is a Valkyrie, an elite soldier who uses cybernetic enhancements to command giant mechanized weapons for the tyrannical Godolia. Eris is a Gearbreaker, a young rebel who leads her eccentric crew on missions to destroy these mechas from the inside. After Eris is captured by Godolia soldiers, she assumes Sona is yet another heartless enemy on the other side of this deadly war. But after Sona reveals her secret — that she has always plotted to take down Godolia from the inside — the pair begin working together to end Godolia’s militarized reign… and start falling for each other along the way. Gearbreakers is a brutal and commanding debut from Mikuta, a 21-year-old college student who began working on the YA novel when she was only 17. A story about the reclamation of self and the devastating impact of war, Mikuta has delivered an extraordinary novel that perfectly balances high-octane action with intimate character development and tender hope.

The Jasmine Throne

After refusing her emperor brother’s order to be “purified” through death by fire, Malini is imprisoned in an ancient temple until she accepts the pyre as her fate. The one tasked with looking after the ruthless princess during her captivity is the tenderhearted Priya, who will happily do any task as long as it doesn’t threaten the anonymity she’s cultivated to hide her secret past. But when Priya unintentionally reveals her long-repressed, forbidden powers in front of Malini, it sets off a chain of events that irrevocably bind their fates together — and may just reshape the entire empire. This thrilling start to Suri’s new epic fantasy trilogy immerses readers in an intriguing new world inspired by India, complete with fascinating political intrigue and seamlessly built out cultures, religions, and nature-based magic system. This cutthroat and sapphic novel will grip you until the very end as it follows Priya and Malini’s campaign to claim their power and get their revenge on the society that wronged them.

Future Feeling

Future Feeling is a genre-defying trip into a futuristic world where everyone’s emotional frequencies are monitored through Bio-meters and a semi-omnipotent trans health-care agency, the Rhiz, beams Operatrixes into homes to provide aid. However, some things in this surrealist world remain the same: Social media still holds the power to make you feel like shit. When discontented, trans dog-walker Penfield channels his Gram-fueled resentment into hexing the picture-perfect trans influencer Aiden, he accidentally winds up cursing Blithe, another trans man that Pen has never met. As a result, the Rhiz assigns Pen and Aiden to work together on guiding Blithe out of the Shadowlands, a manifestation of the darkest, most painful parts of transitioning. Lake’s vivid prose provides potent emotional weight and wry humor to this captivating debut novel, which details these men’s messy, chaotic journeys toward self-actualization.

Black Water Sister

Ghosts. Gods. Gangsters. Black Water Sister has it all. Jessamyn Teoh is an aimless, broke, Harvard grad who was already dreading moving with her parents back to Malaysia, particularly since her secret girlfriend was still in the States. And when Jess realizes she’s being haunted by the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma, upon arrival, things take a turn for the worst. Ah Ma is determined to use Jess to settle a score against a local gangster who offended the Black Water Sister, the god Ah Ma served as a medium during her life. As Jess attempts to juggle all the various stressors in her life — while doing everything she can to avoid burdening her already overwhelmed parents — Cho superbly documents how each obstacle Jess faces leaves a lasting impact on her, ultimately helping shape how she identifies with her family and herself. It’s a wildly entertaining coming-of-age story for the twentysomething set, with a protagonist who is almost painfully relatable at times.

Son of the Storm

In Son of the Storm, Okungbowa delivers a wholly original story set in a bewitching and brutal universe inspired by pre-colonial West Africa. The novel follows a trio of central characters: Danso, the frustratingly naive but good-hearted scholar who dreams of finding a place he fits in; his intended, Esheme, a ruthlessly ambitious young woman determined to rise above her mother’s station in the Bassa empire; and Lilong, a member of an island population long thought to be dead, who has the power to wield the magical mineral ibor. As the characters contend with fantastic creatures, cunning revolutionaries, and their own differing objectives, Okungbowa builds up the culture, politics, and history of this world in stunningly rich detail. The book’s complex examinations of caste systems, imperialism, and the subjectivity of truth force characters (and readers) to confront their own relationship with power and historical narratives, while also delivering a spellbinding adventure that will leave you counting the days until the sequel.

A Master of Djinn

Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the standout protagonist of this steampunk procedural set in an alternate 1912 Cairo, where djinn and mechanical angels live alongside humans. The youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, Fatma is assigned to investigate the murders of a secret cult dedicated to al-Jahiz, the legendary man who opened the veil into the magical realm 40 years prior. But this sharply dressed loner is thrown when she learns she’ll have to work the case with a new partner, the enthusiastic rookie Hadia. Also joining her for this adventure is her enigmatic girlfriend Siti, whose dedication to the old Egyptian gods conflicts with Fatma’s Muslim faith — and who is hiding several secrets of her own. Tackling themes of colonialism, religion, gender, and class, all within its crime mystery framework, A Master of Djinn is an ambitious whodunnit set in a world you’re not sure you ever want to leave.

The Shadow of the Gods

Set in a Norse-inspired world where the gods once ruled — but now their human descendants are hunted down — The Shadow of the Gods is a commanding start to Gwynne’s new series. The expansive scope of the world is quickly established, as the story vacillates between three main characters: Orka, a retired warrior who is forced to take up arms once again to save her son; Varg, an escaped slave who finds purpose in the famed mercenary band the Bloodsworn; and Elvar, a young warrior seeking to make her own name among the war band the Battle-Grim. Meticulously plotted, The Shadow of the Gods takes its time setting up the overarching mythology and connective threads between the different storylines. But while Gwynne is in no rush to unveil the driving plot, there is not a dull chapter in this fantasy epic. As tension mounts with each passing page, Gwynne delivers exhilarating fights and gruesome battles with such vivid prose the choreography jumps off the page — even if you occasionally need to pause to google words like “holmgang” and “seax.”

Project Hail Mary

When Ryland Grace wakes up, he has no idea what he’s doing in space or why he’s the sole survivor on a ship several light years from Earth. As his memories slowly start to return, Ryland begins unraveling the mystery of his identity and assignment, both of which prove key to a pressing quest to save humanity from extinction. But how Weir manages to make pages and pages of scientific problem-solving so exhilarating is a mystery all its own. Like The Martian , Project Hail Mary leans into the scientific theories and formulas Ryland uses on his mission, making for an incredibly nerdy read. However, Project Hail Mary is also a dazzling thriller with a lot of humor and wit that will appeal to anyone interested in questions of what might exist beyond our solar system.


After running away from the Black separatist cult where she was raised, the teenage Vern attempts to raise her newborn twins in the woods, free from the constraints and dangers of society. But as Vern continues to be hunted by Cainland and as her body undergoes a mysterious metamorphosis, she realizes it isn’t so easy to break free from the group’s hold. Forced to fight for herself and her family, Vern uncovers the harrowing truth of Cainland and its ties to the history of American violence against the Black community. Sorrowland is a lyrical, visceral tale that defies categorization, blending elements from Gothic horror, science-fiction, fantasy, and romance into an evocatively unique tale that welcomes repeated readings to fully appreciate the depth of Solomon’s craft.

The Last Watch

This page-turning space adventure follows the crew of the Argus , a ship of misfit soldiers standing watch for an alien threat at the very edge of the universe. But when the universe begins to collapse, commanding officer Adequin Rake must figure out a way to save her crew — and humanity — from the rapidly encroaching edge of existence with limited resources and no aid from the empire she’s dedicated her life to. The novel’s richly drawn band of unlikely heroes, tightly plotted, relentless action, and inventive yet accessible scientific speculation combine to make one of the most stunning sci-fi series debuts of recent years. Fans of the genre — and particularly those already mourning the end of The Expanse series later this year — don’t want to miss out on this nail-biting space epic.

Klara and the Sun

This painstakingly quiet novel tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with an exceptional capacity for empathy and observation. After she is purchased by the young Josie, who suffers from a mysterious ailment, Klara finally ventures into the outside world she’s always been so curious about but knows so little of. As she bears witness to Josie’s complicated life and family dynamics, Klara relays her growing understanding of humanity through narration that is emotionally muted yet brimming with heart. There are no twists waiting here, like in Ishiguro’s beloved Never Let Me Go. But Klara and the Sun delivers a masterfully profound meditation on loneliness, love, and mortality — all told through the eyes of a captivating narrator whose unique perspective illuminates so many truths about what makes life worth living.

A Desolation Called Peace

When a mysterious and dangerous alien armada appears at the edges of the Teixcalaan Empire, Lsel ambassador Mahit Dzmare is recruited to help lead translation and diplomacy efforts with this new species, whose means of communication seems to defy human understanding. While the first installment in the Teixcalaan series was told solely through Mahit’s perspective, in this novel Martine takes the opportunity to build out this already immersive world. We see the unfolding events not only through the eyes of Mahit, but also Three Seagrass, the Teixcalaan government envoy who orchestrated this reunion with the ambassador; Nine Hibiscus, the leader of military engagement with the aliens; and Eight Antidote, the former emperor’s young clone and imperial heir. A Desolation Called Peace also expands on the first novel’s themes of memory, imperialism, and cross-cultural communication by showcasing the various ways the book’s well-drawn ensemble of characters each define and fight for their individual identities within the shadow of the devouring Teixcalaan empire.

The Witch's Heart

The mother of monsters gets a stirring reimagining in this debut novel. After being burned at the stake by Odin as punishment for refusing to share her prophecies of Ragnarok, the witch Angrboda has every intention of living a life of quiet solitude in the woods. But when the wiley god Loki visits to return Angrboda’s beating heart, the two fall into an unconventional, but deeply felt romance. Their union produces three strange children, each of whom has a role to play in what’s to come and whom their mother will do anything to protect. In the Witch’s Heart, Gornichec proves that Angrboda’s experiences with motherhood and reclaiming her own power is every bit as powerful as the gods’ adventures that typically dominate the world of Norse mythology.

The Gilded Ones

This sweeping feminist fantasy tells the story of 16-year-old Deka, whose life changes forever after her blood is revealed to run cursed gold on the day of her village’s purity ritual. Now seen as nothing more than a demon, Deka is tortured by the village elders until she’s rescued by a mysterious woman building an army made up of girls like her. Known as alaki, Deka’s new blood sisters share her superhuman speed and strength, along with the gift of near immortality — skills they must hone to take on the empire’s greatest threat, the monstrous Deathshrieks. The Gilded Ones is a provocative look at what it means to be a woman in a deeply patriarchal society, and Forna explores the impact of institutional and personal trauma on the alaki with heart-wrenching care. It’s an astounding start to what’s sure to be one of the most talked about YA series of this decade.

Remote Control

Fatima is just an ordinary girl in near-future Ghana until a meteor shower deposits a mysterious seed in her yard — an event which ultimately leads to Fatima losing her name, her family, and any semblance of a normal life. Reborn as Sankofa, she discovers a newfound ability to emit a deadly green light and learns she’s unable to touch technology without destroying it. These powers earn Sankofa the nickname of “the adopted daughter of death,” and this gripping novella is her bittersweet coming-of-age saga, as Sankofa searches for understanding, closure, and control over her identity and powers. Like the mythology books Fatima loved reading as a child, Remote Control reads like an Africanfuturist legend, and one keenly aware of the way myths are as much built upon truth as they are lies. And at only 160 pages, Okorafor doesn’t waste a word in Remote Control , giving you just enough details to understand this world without undermining the story’s hypnotic ambiguity.

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