2018 was a fantastic year for Science Fiction.
Last year's line up was healthy but compared this year... well...
- Breakout debut novels about super-powered amnesia
- Grimdark, epic, galaxy-spanning series
- Fast-paced novellas with weird, sometimes hard-to-swallow concepts and satisfying endings
This year is some of the most addicting SF I've read in a long time.
Let’s look at the best science fiction books of 2018… so far...
Author's note: This list is in no particular order. All of these books are worth reading for different reasons.
Empire of Silence is about the man who killed a sun, a single act for which he is both revered and reviled.
Looking for epic and grim science fiction for the Modern era?
What does Christopher Ruocchio write well?
Reluctant heroes, complex characters, and sprawling, epic worlds.
Ruocchio threads in all the hallmarks of good science fiction into his universe:
- Far future empires
- New worlds and alien cultures
- Events made possible only by powerful advances in technology
This is the first novel in a new series of good, Dune-esque science fiction.
Science Fiction with humor - but don't expect a “Hitchhiker’s Guide” read-alike.
Powell weaves an emotional character tapestry, through which humor is one of his strongest threads.
This far-future novel features a sentient ship and a misfit crew who head into a rescue mission, and find themselves near the center of a blossoming galactic conflict.
What does Gareth L. Powell write well?
Powell's novel rides along at a commanding pace, jumping from multiple points of view while keeping the story on the tracks.
But it’s his characters that shine the most.
Humor, excitement, tragedy all work together to create well-rounded characters. Each one feels real, with a history (and baggage) of their own.
Sherlock Holmes in space...
...except the Watson character is a spaceship with a (flawed) mind of its own. And the universe is steeped richly in Asian culture.
Comes with a heavy dose of lyrical prose, and a side of space drugs.
Want a quick science fiction read? The Tea Master and the Detective is a fantastic, tightly-spun novella.
What does Aliette du Bodard write well?
- You can hear her writing.
Her prose lingers in the sonic space, and pulls the sounds of the environment out at just the right times.
- Bodard is a master "borrower of History"
I don’t want to say more, in case I ruin anything.
- Lastly, the familial relationships in her stories are deeply emotional, complex, and beautifully flawed.
There’s definitely a few moments where I wanted to scream at the characters in the book, which meant I was hooked.
4. Iron Gold
This one had to make the list because Pierce Brown’s epic science fiction series, Red Rising, is so incredibly popular.
And what trilogy would be complete without a fourth book? Right?
Actually, Iron Gold is supposed to be the start to a new trilogy, using many of the same characters from the last. So if you're thinking of diving into this series, I'd suggest you start with the first book.
What does Pierce Brown do well?
Brown's readers are in love with his prose. Personally, it didn’t work for me, but I haven’t tried to dissect my feelings too much. So, in this case, you might want to listen to the massive amount of praise.
What I think Pierce does well is the feel of his universe: romantic, almost fantastical, without actually using magic.
It feels more like reading a Greek Epic wrapped in Science Fiction trappings. Iron Gold is the first in the series to focus on more than one characters’ point of view, so it’s getting harder for me to not call this A Song of Ice and Fire in space.
A parody of everything I love about Science Fiction. Probably the funniest science fiction books you’ll read in 2018:
What happens when...
You discover a mysterious alien artifact...
And your first contact doesn’t go as planned…
And your whole planet gets framed?
What Patrick S. Tomlinson Writes Well:
I talked (briefly) with the Author himself, and I asked him why he wrote Gate Crashers:
I wrote GATE CRASHERS because I've always been a big fan of comedy and satire and believed it was long past time someone try to fill that niche in sci-fi and Fantasy again after Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett passed on.
So why not a stand-up comic sci-fi author?
The comparisons to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are well-deserved.
It's familiar, it feels light-hearted and cozy, but there are enough new ideas here to make this stand on it's own as "fresh" science fiction.
Humor is always "hit and miss," but if you've been missing humorous science fiction in your life... give Gate Crashers a shot.
6. Freeze Frame Revolution
I spent the last month tearing through Peter Watts’ bibliography, and it almost destroyed me. His science fiction is deeply depressing, usually disturbing, and insanely fascinating.
Somehow, Watts always finds a way to take a concept so far outside of human reality, and makes it matter.
Freeze Frame Revolution is another installment in his Sunflower Cycle, though it can definitely stand alone.
What’s kind of Science Fiction is it?
- 65 Million Years into the Future
- Black Holes and FTL Travel
- Super-ascended humans, AI, and a new breed of insanity
What Peter Watts Writes Well:
I really need to state this:
I love Peter Watts’ science fiction.
He thrusts you into a far-flung “what if?” world, the kind you can only see in Science Fiction. Most authors might stop at one or two concepts, but Watts keeps layering them on, never letting you get comfortable with the premise.
Everything feels like it’s in place for a reason. And everything changes the way the characters interact with the world…
Science fiction + magic + a suspenseful space mystery.
And the stakes are life and death.
But what really makes this novel?
It’s all about the cast. I was trying to come up with my own description, but one reviewer put it best:
“This found-family/anti-hero squad of space witches takes you on one hell of a ride, FEELS and sexual tension galore included.”
You’ll definitely get The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet vibes.
What Alex White Writes Well:
- Cozy, loveable cast
- Great pacing (it only gets faster as you go)
- A magic that can interact with the machinery
The Murderbot Diaries will probably get a movie adaptation soon because it's some of the best “popcorn” science fiction. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way - it’s just easy to get into.
Artificial Condition continues the story of Murderbot (go read the first one if you haven't yet. It's a quick read.), this short book explores what it means to be an assassin robot…
...that can think for itself.
What Martha Wells Writes Well:
Surprisingly likable robots.
Normally, this is pretty easy… except she uses them as main characters. Which means you’re in their head the whole time.
Her writing is light, though laden with surprises. Definitely one of the easier science fiction series to start with.
This is a revenge story for the masses. Featuring…
- generation ships
- Murderous-yet-loveable AI
- And a hero who grows into her role as Assassin
And a revenge story that transcends humanity.
Though she’s been nominated for SF awards before, this is Emily Devenport’s first science fiction book in 10 years. You know she's been building up to this for a while.
What Emily Devenport Writes Well:
Devenport is not a stranger to Science Fiction. She toys with its tropes, and at times it can make the narrative… complex.
But she excels at pulling you through the story with twists and reveals. Especially the opening lines of the novel.
Also, if you’re looking to write a strong female lead - this is a good book to try out. (And when I say strong, I mean violent).
10. Head On
Scalzi is something of a bridge-maker. He’s been crossing the void from “Classic” to Modern Science Fiction for years.
Head On fits more in the Modern Era.
You’ll love Head On if you have any interest in:
- Brutal future sports
- Virtual Reality
- Strong leads of an unknown gender
What John Scalzi Writes Well:
This one is a return.
It’s full of his trademark snark, so if you’re on board with that - this is a great standalone book to pick up.
Also, he’s also really good at using SF concepts to explore the future social structure of humanity.
11. The Book of M
A dystopian novel where it's dangerous to lose your memory.
This is a story about what happens to a husband and a wife when one of them starts to forget.
A fantastic premise - and exceedingly good execution. The Book of M is Peng Shepherd’s debut novel that fits firmly in the “Science Fiction Fantasy” realm.
What Peng Shepherd Writes Well:
A Master’s in Creative Writing doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer. But can certainly tell Shepherd has experience.
Every line cuts a new emotion. If you’re looking for finely crafted prose, and something less “Science-y” in the Science Fiction world, check this one out.
Mary Robinette Kowal has been talking about her latest book on Writing Excuses for months.
It’s about the first female astronaut… sorta.
This is an alternate timeline where, in the mid 20th century, the future of Earth is threatened by astronomical events.
Take the side of Elma York, an extremely capable and intelligent young woman who decides this is the perfect time to break thousands of years of sexism and conventional boundaries.
What Mary Robinette Kowal Writes Well:
Kowal excels at economy of language. For years, she was the leading Short Story expert on the Writing Excuses podcast.
But lately, she’s been cracking into the Novel scene.
The Calculating Stars is her first full-fledged science fiction, and it’s the first “Historical” Science Fiction on this list.
Her research, her writing skills, and her take on social issues all combine into a quick, sharp, and easy read.
13. Elysium Fire
Want some “headier” science fiction?
I’m not sure if I would qualify his latest series as Hard Science Fiction, but Alastair used to be a scientist, so all of his stories feel grounded in the “possible.” Even his most outlandish novels, like The House of Suns.
Elysium Fire is a Space Drama, with heavy science elements.
It’s a mystery plot that teases you with an “easy answer” that turns out to be completely incorrect. And, like all of his other books, everything gets more complex the deeper you go.
It’s truly a wonderful experience for intrepid SciFi fans.
What Alastair Reynolds Writes Well:
Science. Sometimes, it’s mind blowing.
But, as I’ve been following his career, I’ve also watched him discover how to write more sympathetic characters.
Even the people on the “wrong side” of the plot have redeeming qualities.
2018 was an incredible year for science fiction. This list has everything you could possibly want, plus a few novels you probably didn't know you wanted.
One last thing I want to say to you: if one of these books "sounds interesting," but it feels outside of your wheelhouse... TRY IT. Sometimes, the least expected reads are the best.
Looking for More Great Books?
Check Out the Best Science Fiction of 2017.
Or check out The 17 Best Fantasy Books of 2020.