Every year I push myself to read a variety of fiction, new and old, and a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Here are some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels published in 2016:
Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
Best known for the fantasy classic The Last Unicorn, Beagle returns with a subtle fantasy set on a fictional island in the Pacific Northwest. An older couple who are long-time lovers take a young woman under their wing only to discover that she is not who she pretends to be. Who she is and what she represents will change their lives forever.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
If you are tired of dystopias and wish more fantasy was like getting together with your favorite characters from Firefly, then this is going to be your thing. Chambers’ previously self-published novel is the first in a series about a motley crew of humans and aliens aboard a ship with a whip-smart AI and a young woman who joins them to run from her past. Witty, fast-paced and cued up for more.
Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen
For a science fiction debut with thriller elements, try this book about an unnamed agent who manages to get into trouble even when on enforced vacation in space. Chen is a Northwest author.
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
This sequel to The Fifth Season (in a projected trilogy) is more straightforward in its telling but just as complex in its themes, and features a strong, Black woman at its core. Jemisin weaves emotional depth into the storytelling in a way that brings the strands and characters together all the more powerfully and memorably.
Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine
It’s 1813 and while Arabella Ashby grew up on Mars her mother thinks it best she return with her to England to be raised as a proper lady. But Arabella has training in fighting and in the maintenance of automata, skills and interested unsuitable to a woman. Thus begins a fantasy adventure with a plucky heroine that is a cross between Jules Verne and Jane Austen. Oh, and Levine is also a Northwest author!
An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
I love portal fantasy and this did not disappoint! A bisexual Australian teen follows a woman of color who saved her from a nasty interaction with her school’s bully, only to watch as she walks through a portal to another world. She follows, and discovers a fantasy realm that is anything by idyllic. Things get serious very fast in this fantasy involving strong female characters, polyamory and a matriarchal society. I want to quote Liz Bourke from Tor.com: “It has heart. It has guts. It has soul. It has dragons, marvelous unexpected dragons. It has secret rituals and complicated families of blood and choice.”
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
This Seattle author’s debut is a literary steampunk alternate history novel that envisions a utopia created amidst King Leopold’s bloody reign of the Belgian Congo. This is a lush, intellectual look at the possible past if allies had come together to save Africans from Leopold’s wholesale slaughter. But even utopia isn’t without its tensions and struggles and Shawl shows how no utopia is as perfect as the ideal. Yet—as Shawl said in a Locus magazine interview—people grasp for perfection and it eludes them, but the act of grasping makes things better.
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
I raced through this quartet of teen fantasies in quick succession, and while the fourth is not as strong as the first three this is still one of the most satisfying series I read all year. There is a house full of psychics, a group of prep school boys who are obsessed with the occult and gangsters in search of occult items. Pick up The Raven Boys and you are bound to read through to the final book.
The Root by Na’amen Gobert Tilahun
I have a hard time finding urban fantasy that I really enjoy, but Tilahun’s debut is exciting for a variety of reasons. The Root is urban fantasy that didn’t feel formulaic or predictable, with a queer former teen TV star at the helm. He learns he was born with powers he didn’t know he had when he encounters a demonic angel on the streets of San Francisco. This is a novel about parallel worlds featuring magic, a largely POC and LGBT cast, and vivid world-building.
Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World and Other Stories by Caroline M. Yoachim
Seattle is home to a staggering amount of amazing authors and Yoachim is definitely a voice to watch. If you like short stories that range from beautiful to philosophical to creepy and to witty, then try this debut collection.