In 2017, current events make escape into a sci-fi story all the more appetizing, and there’s a lot of great choices already.
Although we’re still reading our way through this year’s best science fiction books, below are some of our favorites so far. They include stories about underground lunar societies, a Manhattan partially covered in water, and giant robots. Some are stand-alone books while others are part of a series. We’ll be continually updating this list as more excellent sci-fi new books come out, but for now, these 8 novels are a cut above the rest.
New York 2140
By Kim Stanley Robinson
Amazon | $18
The fear of living in a place that will one day be covered in water is very real for New Yorkers and many other coastal dwellers around the world. Although we have a little bit of time before rising sea levels will affect housing and businesses, it’s hard to not picture what the future of the most populous U.S. city will look like.
In New York 2140, sea levels have risen 50 feet and lower Manhattan is covered in water, and the MetLife building serves as a hub for the novel’s main characters. It’s a dystopian novel that doesn’t really feel like a dystopian novel because the plot is intimately tied to our current reality. We know that the planet is warming and that sea levels will dramatically change big cities in the future. Seeing how characters survive in this future is satisfying. In some ways, the novel is hopeful because it shows that humanity will figure out a way to adapt with the terrifying threat of climate change.
This book is fascinating for New Yorkers, but anyone with an interest in climate change and Robinson’s work will like it. Robinson has built a New York City that people would still want to live in.
By Jeff VanderMeer
Amazon | $20
Exploring the world of Borne is like navigating a video game. You don’t immediately know what happened to the city that the characters reside in, or what the rules are, but the protagonist, Rachel, slowly leads us through a ravaged city with obstacles at every corner. She first discovers the titular creature on a giant engineered bear named Mord. Mord was created by the Company, a biotech firm that lost control of its creations.
There are many more imaginative and frightening aspects of this world, including beetles that can remove and add memories when put in an ear and worms that can release drugs inside your body. VanderMeer is also the author of the popular Southern Reach Trilogy. If you liked that series, you’ll probably like his new novel.
Borne shows that VanderMeer is one of the strongest sci-fi writers of today. His work is accessible, fun, and filled with both interesting human and non-human characters. Plus, both his trilogy and Borne feature complex female protagonists, and we can always use more of those.
By Cory Doctorow
Amazon | $18
Walkaway is yet another sci-fi novel that looks at our future world affected by climate change. But that’s not the only issue that the novel is interested in exploring. Doctorow’s latest also covers capitalism, the gap between the wealthiest people and the poorest people, fluid sexuality, and 3D printing. It’s a world that seems shockingly realist if you’re reading tech headlines.
Surprisingly, Doctorow doesn’t see his work as a dystopian novel. In fact, he thinks it’s precisely the opposite. Despite depicting a world that is changed by our own technological advancements and ideologies, Doctorow is optimistic about future generations of humans. Walkaway follows characters who do just that—they walk away from society in search of something better. As the literary world keeps churning out dystopian novels, it’s a relief that they’re not all doom and gloom.
The Stars Are Legion
By Kameron Hurley
Amazon | $15
Space operas are so commonplace in the sci-fi world that they can seem overdone with no new ideas left. But The Stars Are Legion is like a magnificent storm tearing through the genre. It’s style and pacing is reminiscent of old school sci-fi stories, while its characters are people that you’ll actually care about. One big twist, though—all the people are women.
The story becomes essentially Mad Max: Fury Road in space. We are first introduced to Zan, who wakes up in a medical bay not remembering much of her life. “I remember throwing away a child. That’s the only memory I know for certain is mine. The rest is a gory blackness,” she says in the novel’s opening. Zan then meets Jayd, who claims to be her sister. As the novel progresses, we learn what the Legion really is and why people would want to escape it, all through highly immersive, action-packed pages.
By Mur Lafferty
Amazon | $11
Six Wakes begins with a list of laws related to cloning. Number 1: “It is unlawful to create more than one clone of a person at a time.” Number 7: “It is unlawful for a clone to end their own current life in order to be reborn.” How can you not want to know what kind of world this is?
Lafferty drops readers right into the action: a woman on a spaceship waking up to discover that she has been cloned. But she doesn’t know how she originally died, prompting the rebirth. Her crewmates were also cloned. The central mystery of the novel is who killed them, and Lafferty deftly shows us who these characters were before they died, leading up the finding out the identity of the killer. It’s a murder mystery set in the year 2493, which is just as cool and thrilling as it sounds.
All Our Wrong Todays
By Elan Mastai
Amazon | $18
Mastai’s debut novel taps into our past visions of the future—namely a Jetsons-esque utopia. His main protagonist, Tom Barren, claims that this kind of future actually came to be, until something happened and we got stuck in the current world we live in today, where we have tech like drones but we don’t travel using jetpacks. Clearly, some sort of time travel took place.
The novel pokes fun at our nostalgic look at an ideal future, and it includes some amusing elements in this utopia, such as avocados that never bruise and turn brown. The protagonist is witty, charming, and doesn’t always make the best decisions—he states early on, “I am not a genius.” It’s a character you’ll want to eagerly travel down the rabbit hole of time.
There is a love story at the core of this novel, and it impacts Tom’s decisions about which world he wants to inhabit. It’s probably one of the most light-hearted, easy-to-read sci-fi books on this list.
By Sylvain Neuvel
Amazon | $20
Waking Gods is the sequel to Neuvel’s 2016 Sleeping Giants. In the first book, a girl named Rose falls into a giant metal hand that is buried in the earth. As an adult, she became a physicist who dedicated her career to finding out the origins of the hand.
Waking Gods takes place a decade after the events of the first book. Now an organization called the Earth Defense Corps (EDC) has formed to utilize the first giant robot discovered, named Themis—and another robot just appeared. Obviously, this scenario sets up an action sequence involving a giant robot battle. But the result is much more interesting than typical robot battle fare à la Transformers. Neuvel’s sci-fi series is particularly great because of the way it’s told, through a collection of transcripts and interviews.
The Moon and the Other
If you’ve ever wondered what kind of society humans would build if they inhabited another world, The Moon and the Other offers up some ideas. In the 22nd century, 3.2 million people live on Earth’s moon in 27 different underground colonies. The colonies are carved out of rock, or located in volcanic bubbles and domed craters. The Society of Cousins is a matriarchal society where men can’t vote, but they are free to do whatever they want but they just don’t hold any power. But Persepolis, a sort of westernized version of Persia, is a society that more closely resembles our own.
The novel follows four characters who live in these different societies, and the struggles they face in finding their identities. The plot sets readers up for a serious book about gender politics of the future, yet it’s accessible and light-hearted for the subjects it focuses on. The book also serves as a warning about creating a utopian world. Humans, it suggests, would inevitably get in the way of creating a better society.
At around 600 pages, The Moon and the Other is one of the longer books on this list, but the rich characters and intricate lunar societies make it feel much shorter.