This month's new science fiction, fantasy, and horror releases offer something for everyone. Here are my picks for the best speculative fiction reads hitting shelves in December. This month, you can find stories about space pirates, water worlds, rogue AIs, haunted hotels, the weird west, angry aliens, and time travel.


Nine of Stars by Laura Bickle

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Petra Dee, the daughter of an alchemist, must contend with a murder investigation that leads police to her now-mortal partner and a creature (rumored to be a nineteenth-century wraith) who stalks the backwoods of the small Wyoming called Temperance.

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WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: There's something cozy and appealing about weird westerns and Laura Bickle's latest hits that sweet spot.


SF_Babylon's Babylon's Ashes by James S. A. Corey

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In this latest installment of The Expanse series, the revolution that has been slowly brewing comes to a head. The Free Navy, a group of violent black market pirates in military ships, threaten the colony ships that are taking mankind to the faraway worlds made available to them through alien technology.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Space pirates! Mutiny! Intrigue! An alien mystery! James Corey – the pseudonym given to the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck – have constructed one of the most loved science fiction series in recent memory. Read the books before you check out the television show!


The Nature of a Pirate by A. M. Dellamonica

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: On the parallel water-world of Stormwrack, Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa applies her knowledge from our more technologically-advanced Earth to solve cases – the latest one being the sinking of government ships by magical sabotage. 

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: The world building in this series – from the island nations of this water-based world to the discovery of a strange-looking creature called a Fright – is top-notch.


Alien Nation by Gini Koch

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Katherine "Kitty" Katt, the first lady of a United States that is no stranger to aliens from Alpha Centauri, must deal with a race of aliens who are seeking protection from a deadly race of an altogether new aliens.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Koch's Alien series has always maintained an appealing blend of science fiction action and steamy paranormal romance. And they're fast-paced; these books just don't stop moving.


SF_Insurgence The Corporation Wars: Insurgence by Ken MacLeod

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Ruthless corporations grapple for control over an Earth-like planet called DH-17 located light years away from any human-inhabited world. But on the edges of space, where recruited soldiers must contend with rebellious artificial intelligences, things rarely go according to plan.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: This gripping space opera doesn't keep you waiting – it's being released hot on the heels of the first book, Dissidence.


Five Stories High edited by Jonathan Oliver

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: This is a collection of five novellas which all take place in a haunted house called Irongrove Lodge, a five story Georgian mansion that has been converted into separate apartments.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Each of the collection's contributors – Sarah Lotz, K.J. Parker, Nina Allan, Robert Shearman, and Tade Thompson – subvert the haunted house trope in  order to bring readers something fresh, yet still terrifying.


SF_Eclipse Eclipse the Flame by Ingrid Seymour

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Half the world’s population is infected with sentient parasites, and the only hope of freedom may be the resistance group known as Ignite and Marci Guerrero, a skilled teen hacker in Seattle who also happens to be infected. 

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: This is an alien invasion story of a different kind.


The Liberation by Ian Tregillis

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: An army of mechanical men called "Clakkers", once considered second-class citizens by their human masters, are now (mostly) free beings and are not at all happy with having been enslaved. One Clakker in particular, Queen Mab, is hellbent on nothing less than total domination over everyone – humans and Clakkers alike.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Tregillis' thoughtful examination of slavery and post-colonialism shows science fiction at its thought-provoking best.


After Crown After the Crown by K. B. Wagers

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Hail Bristol, a former gunrunner who was pulled back to her planet to become its Empress, must avert the encroaching war by reverting to her gunrunning ways.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Come for the interesting story of the Indranan empire in peril, stay for the space adventure.


Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: The technology exists to open doorways to past alternative versions of Earth, but once that passageway is closed, it cannot be opened again. Jesse Cullum is a native of an alternate, late 19th-century Ohio which is used as a fun destination for future travelers.  The precariously balanced order of things is threatened when Jesse falls in love with someone from our time.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: The premise of opening one-time doorways into pasts-that-might-have-been is intriguing…but it's the human story of Jesse that makes this widely accessible.



Looking for a shorter read? Fear not! Besides Five Stories High, mentioned above, here are some other worthwhile short fiction books:

  • If This Goes Wrong... edited by Hank Davis
  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli
  • Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi

Happy reading!

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