Internet readers are inundated with lots of lists throughout the year, but the end of the year is very special. That's the time when we see an overabundance of book-related "Best of the Year" lists. That's just fine by me. I love reading book lists to see what made the cut, what's different between lists, and how an entire list might differ from my own selections. Invariably, such lists guide me towards my next good read.

But having so many lists on hand begs the question: with so many books being tagged as "best", which ones truly deserve that label? Which books are the absolute best?

Since I am a science fiction and fantasy bookworm (not to mention one with a verifiable case of OCD), I took these lists and began an intense session of number crunching and spreadsheet finagling to determine the answer. The result is a very unscientific – but nonetheless worthwhile – "Best of the Best" list of the science fiction and fantasy books that debuted in 2016.  

But first, a few notes:

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  • See previous note about this list being very unscientific.  Each source list was compiled by a different person or set of people. Not only does everyone have their own idea of "best" subject to their individual tastes and world view, but each list is likely composed from a different set of criteria allowing a book to make the cut. This is why no two lists are ever the same…which is OK! The end result is more lists and more book suggestions.
  • I used 7 different sources to arrive at the aggregate "Best of the Best": Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Publishers Weekly, Washington Post, The Guardian, NPR, and Kirkus Reviews. All of these lists are specifically geared towards science fiction and fantasy books.
  • I only included books that garnered three or more mentions. That yielded a list of six books, which seems like a workable size. That said, I also include below a list of "Honorable Mentions" for titles that appeared on two lists.
  • There were 90 books that appeared on all the lists combined. That means there are dozens more titles that somebody thought was worth including in a "Best of" list. It's worth a peek at the above-named sources to get additional reading suggestions.
  • For yet even more "Best of" book lists, head on over to the website of Largehearted Boy. For the ninth straight year, he's been helpfully compiling an annual list of "Best of" Lists.

And now, on with the list!




All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (5 mentions)

In this notable debut novel, Anders combines science and magic via its two protagonists. Laurence possesses a two-second time machine.  Patricia knows magic. They were teenage friends who drifted apart. As adults, they are reunited, but separately work their own skills to heal a dying Earth. Laurence believes humanity's only hope is to abandon Mother Earth and escape through a wormhole to another world. Meanwhile, Patricia and her witch friends want to hocus-pocus their way to a healed Earth.

12.28 Obelisk The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (5 mentions)

Tied for the most mentions, The Obelisk Gate is the riveting continuation of the story started in the Hugo Award-winning novel The Fifth Season, a book that made last year's "Best of the Best" list. The setting is a world all-too-familiar with extinction-level events that wipe out humanity. Amidst the latest calamity, a woman named Essun—whose growing magical abilities could position her as both a savior and one to be feared—tries to reunite with her daughter.

Death's Endby Cixin Liu (5 mentions)

Also tied for the most mentions is the latest from China's most beloved science fiction author. Cixin Liu's Death's End completes his thoughtful examination about intelligent life on other worlds and what it could mean for humankind. In this trilogy ender (following the acclaimed books The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest), the Trisolarans, who are kept at bay by humankind's threat to reveal their planet's location to their mortal enemies, once again set their sights on Earth.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (3 Mentions)

In the space-based nail-biter Ninefox Gambit, Kel Cheris, a captain disgraced for her unconventional methods in the galactic fight against heretics, is given a chance to redeem herself. Her mission is to regain control of the Fortress of Scattered Needles which has been captured by heretics. Her best hope? A resurrected tactician named Shuos Jedao whose brilliance at military strategy is offset by the fact that, during his first life, he went dangerously insane. What could go wrong?

12.28 Infomocracy Infomocracy by Malka Older (3 mentions)

Infomocracy, another debut novel on this list, is described as a post-cyberpunk political thriller. It features a powerful, monopolistic search engine company called Information which monitors a new voting process that heralds in a new age. All over the world, governments have collectively made the switch from a group of warring nation-states into a global micro-democracy. But what happens when Information goes down on Election Day? The answer: individuals try to take advantage in a bold bid for power.  


Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (3 mentions)

When you read fiction books about space travel – specifically mankind's migration to the stars – the stories typically revolve around the drama unfolding on spaceships and new planets. But what about the people left behind on the old planet? What becomes of them when most of humanity has moved off-world? That's the focus of an impressive array of stories from Lavie Tidhar in his collection Central Station. Set in a culturally diverse Earth after the human diaspora, these optimistic stories examine the importance of family and togetherness among the people who live around the base of a massive space station.


As noted above, another handful of books (thirteen of them) got mentioned on two lists, thus warranting an honorable mention. They are:

  • Borderline by Mishell Baker
  • Morning Star by Pierce Brown
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  • The Devourers by Indra Das
  • The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  • The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood
  • Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip
  • After Atlas by Emma Newman
  • Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
  • Version Control by Dexter Palmer
  • Crosstalk by Connie Willis
  • Super Extra Grande by Yoss

John DeNardo is the founding editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning science fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal.