2018 has seen science fiction continue to embrace the theme of sentient machines. And, perhaps understandably given the bleak news cycle, both science fiction and fantasy have been growing increasingly vibrant and escapist. A good number of our top science fiction and fantasy books for 2018 are sequels or entries in existing universes, which may also reflect a desire for some stability and continuity, the comfort of a familiar but impossible world.
End of year lists may abound right now, and be somewhat overwhelming if you already have a towering pile to read – but I like to think it’s a good way of seeing which books are really permeating the common cultural consciousness and of course, the benefit of hindsight allows the real standouts to rise to the forefront of our minds. So, without further ado, take a look at our edit of 2018’s best science fiction and fantasy books (in our opinion!)
When you think of downright hilarious science fiction, it’s got to be Douglas Adams and then perhaps John Scalzi. Catherynne M. Valente might be a new addition to that list, thanks to her galactic-Eurovision novel Space Opera.
Clever, witty and utterly glam, the book imagines first contact with a galactic civilisation, and joining it being contingent on participating in the ‘Mega-galactic Grand Prix’. The only problem is, whichever race scores lowest is annihilated to give that planet a second chance at raising a ‘worthy’ race.
The action follows Earth’s entry — ‘Decibel Jones and The Absolute Zeros’ (my favourite member of which is named ‘Oort St. Ultraviolet’!) — and their struggle to get the band back together. Full of big ideas and big hair, this is irreverent sci-fi at its best. Dix points!
A re-telling of the myth of Circe, Madeline Miller deftly explores the eponymous story of the Sun god’s daughter. Circe — like any good mythical character — is punished and tormented by the gods for possessing a strange power, and so takes up with us mere mortals. Ultimately, this is a story of a woman standing alone, having to choose between the home and race to which she belongs, or the lesser beings she has come to love. It’s lyrically written and balances the tragedy with empowerment. Whether you’re already well versed in Greek mythology or not, this is a powerful modernisation of a story that has stood the test of time.
The final book in the relatively bite-sized Binti trilogy finds the titular quantum-math prodigy thrust once again into the very violence she seeks so desperately to escape. Or indeed, to reconcile. Unfortunately it’s not the jellyfish-like Meduse that are causing trouble this time, but humans themselves, on Binti’s home planet no less. Okarafor has crafted a truly unique heroine in Binti, and it’s refreshing to see hopeful, almost Utopian tendencies at the forefront of a series. This is an economical and poetic novel, and series, about many things –– finding your calling, what home means and staying true to your roots. It would be a shame for anyone to miss out on it.
Loosely based on the second Sino-Japan war, this is an ambitious package with an on point list of contents. Magic school? Check. Shamanic magic and fickle gods? Check. A fantasy world extrapolated from modern Chinese history, cosy mentor figures and a ruthlessly talented orphan heroine? Check, and mate. Of course, things get much darker upon the main protagonist’s graduation from said magic school. And the whole is tightly plotted, economically worded and full of grounded yet evocative world-building. As addictive and much safer than the opium the title alludes to.
In this episode of the Uncaring Universe podcast, Danny discusses some of his favourite books of 2018 with writer Lulu Kadhim.
Ready for your next read?
Sign up to the Best of Pan Macmillan newsletter to discover the best of our books, events and special offers.