If you've surfed the Internet in recent weeks, you've undoubtedly seen many "Best Books of the Year" lists popping up all over the place. These are fun lists to check out because they usually result in finding new and interesting books to read. However, an abundance of "Best of" lists begs the question: which books truly deserve that label? Which books are the absolute best?
Allow me to help.
After an intense session of list aggregation and spreadsheet manipulation (I may also have been wearing one of those green accountant visors), I've come up with "The Definitive List of The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books" based on which titles received the most mentions.
But before I dispense with the Best of the Best, a few notes:
This is not a scientific process. Each source list was compiled by different people, each with their own subjective criteria and ideas of quality. This is why no two lists are ever the same. That's a good thing—the end result is more lists and more book suggestions.
I used fifteen different sources to arrive at the aggregate "Best of the Best", each of them geared specifically towards both science fiction and fantasy books: Amazon, Amazon Book Review, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Book Marks, BookPage, Chicago Review of Books, The Guardian, The New York Public Library, NPR, Publishers Weekly, The Verge, Vulture, The Washington Post and, of course, Kirkus Reviews.
I have included only books that garnered mentions on five or more lists. That yielded a final list of nine books, which seems like a workable size. That said, I also include below a list of "Honorable Mentions" for titles that appeared on at least three lists. More good stuff to read!
There were a whopping 142 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 even more "Best of" book lists, head over to the website of Largehearted Boy. For more than a decade, the proprietor has been helpfully compiling an annual list of "Best of" Lists.
And now, on with the list!
2018 SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY - THE BEST OF THE BEST
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (8 mentions)
In this historical military fantasy debut inspired by China's history in the twentieth century, a young girl named Rin finds herself at Sinegar, a prestigious military school, where she's deemed an outcast by her peers. At Sinegar, Rin learns that she possesses an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Aided by her seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns to hone her powers and prepare for an inevitable war with a neighboring rival Empire.
How Long 'til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin (7 mentions)
This is award-winning author N. K. Jemisin's first collection of short fiction, and it will show you why she is one of literature's brightest stars. Stories here include a variety of fantastic elements and resonating themes. You'll find dragons and hateful spirits haunting the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; a parallel universe in which a utopian society watches our world; a black mother in the Jim Crow South trying to save her daughter from a fey offering an impossible promise; and a young street kid fighting to give birth to an old metropolis's soul.
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (6 mentions)
Miller takes readers to a highly imaginative but eerily familiar floating city in the Arctic Circle after the climate wars, where a self-sustainable city meant to be a template of a well-balanced equal society...isn't. The city is decaying while crime, political corruption and a significant imbalance of wealth have divided its citizens. Enter the so-called orcamancer—a newcomer to the city riding an orca with a polar bear by her side—who becomes the catalyst for a resistance and rebellion.
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (6 mentions)
In this tongue-in-cheek space adventure, the fate of the world rests upon the outcome of an intergalactic talent show where aliens compete to see who, in lieu of waging war, is the better performer. This is Earth's first year being represented. The only catch: the losing species is wiped out of existence. Good luck, humans!
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (5 mentions)
Set in a city that runs on industrialized magic—magic that can alter reality itself—a thief who can sense magic and a streetwise cop team up to thwart the shady dealings of the ruling merchant houses. Bennet's new series turns ordinary epic fantasy tropes on their head with a clever magic system that readers are applauding for its inventiveness.
Severance by Ling Ma (5 mentions)
In this apocalyptic satire, Candace Chen is a millennial, content with her routine of going to work at a New York publishing house and watching movies with her boyfriend. Then disaster strikes in the form of a plague that renders its victim slaves to mundane routines—routines they repeat over again until they die. Candance documents the apocalypse from the inside. This 2018 Kirkus Prize winner simultaneously serves as a story of the apocalypse and a tongue-in-cheek reminder that variety is the spice of life.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (5 mentions)
In this imaginative retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, Miryem sets out to collect the debts owed to her family of moneylenders and along the way gains a reputation for figuratively turning silver into gold. This catches the attention of the king of the fey creatures, who demands that she literally turns silver into gold or risk being frozen solid.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (5 mentions)
In this debut novel (and the start of the remarkable Sixth World series), the climate apocalypse has arrived and what was formerly the Navajo reservation is now known as Dinétah, where gods and heroes of legend walk the land. But there's monsters, too. Maggie Hoskie is a supernaturally gifted Dinétah monster hunter enlisted to help finding a missing girl in a nearby small town.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson (5 mentions)
Thompson's inventive novel is set in a near-future Nigeria, where the town of Rosewater sits on the edges of a mysterious alien biodome that provides even more mysterious healing properties. Kaaro is a government agent and also a "sensitive"…one of the rare humans who possess psychic abilities. He's also got a criminal past—one that collides with the findings of his most recent investigation: a deadly plague that is killing off the sensitives like him. Rosewater is the kind of novel that tells a good story while also providing sharp social commentary.
As noted above, another handful of books (11 of them!) got mentioned on three or four lists, thus warranting an honorable mention. They are:
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
- Semiosis by Sue Burke
- Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
- Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
- Temper by Nicky Drayden
- The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
- Before Mars by Emma Newman
- Witchmark by C.L. Polk
- Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar
- Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
To sum up 2018: That's 20 books deemed "Best of the Best". That's a lot of great science fiction and fantasy to read!