I love the possibility that sci-fi and fantasy offer and there’s really never been a more exciting time to love this genre. All but one of these books were published in the last two years and the wealth of talent in the genre at the moment is ridiculous. There’s truly never been a better time to fall in love with these very wide, diverse genres and dream up a better future with them. If you want stories about hope, healing, and compassion, this list is a good place to look. Those were the stories I wanted to hear most this year and these books delivered.
1. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal When a meteor strikes the Earth, causing initial problems as well as long-term climate change, the need to get to space and establish a colony becomes increasingly critical. This alternate history takes place in the 1950s and centers around Elma York, a member of the WASP program during World War II and a scientist, who dreams of becoming an astronaut. But it’s still the 1950s in America and thoughts on what’s acceptable for (certain types of) women are what we know them as. She gets to struggle with the roles she’s placed in as well as becoming aware of the advantages she had in comparison to other women at the time. We get to see her learn and grow and struggle and overcome as she reaches toward and achieves her dream. It’s a story of drive and longing and friendship that I enjoyed from start to finish.
2. How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin I am not always a fan of short stories – it’s a format that I often struggle with, even when the work itself is good. With that said, this is an incredible collection. I didn’t love everything, as is to be expected, but the writing is undeniably strong. Most of the stories are standalones with one set in her Broken Earth universe (which I was delighted to return to) and another in her Dreamblood universe (which immediately got moved up my TBR list). Some of the highlights include “The Ones Who Stayed and Fight”, an interrogation of the concept of utopia that was no less enjoyable for the fact that I hadn’t read the Ursula LeGuin story it interacts with; “Red Dirt Witch”, which blends the Fae with the Jim Crow South and is above all about the necessity of hope; “The Trojan Girl”, a AI story about dreams helping to make us human; and “Cuisine des Mémoires”, which muses about memories and getting stuck in our past through the use of a restaurant that can recreate any dish so long as you know the place and date on which it occurred.
4. The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley I had previously read and loved Hurley’s nonfiction essay collection “The Geek Feminist Revolution” but hadn’t read any of her fiction yet and WOW was this a good way to be introduced to it. This is what I want my science fiction to be. Yes, it’s bloody and dark and the world created is both grim and all too believable, but in the end, that darkness doesn’t triumph. There is hope and people and things worth fighting to keep. The non-linear construction of the book is brilliant as Dietz jumps around time seemingly without rhyme or reason (with smart, thought out time travel!) alongside the interview snippets talking about a future event that gradually coalesce into a single narrative. It’s sharp, incisive, powerful and I need it to be nominated for awards next year.