Best SF/Fantasy of 2023

Full of riveting speculative stories, sci-fi/mystery blends, and enchanting fantasy worlds, the best science fiction and fantasy novels of 2023 provide engrossing reading adventures.


Adjei-Brenyah, Nana Kwame. Chain-Gang All-Stars. Pantheon. ISBN 9780593317334.

In a future United States, incarcerated people have the option to participate in gladiator-style battles to earn their freedom. An entire entertainment industry has grown around televising these events, captivating millions of viewers and raking in billions of dollars, although some protest against them. Telling the heartbreaking stories of some of these fighters, Adjei-Brenyah writes a riveting speculative novel that is also a sharp indictment of the present-day U.S. carceral system.

Hess, Al. World Running Down. Angry Robot. ISBN 9781915202239.

Valentine Weis is a desert scavenger in a postapocalyptic United States, hoping to save enough money to gain a visa into Salt Lake City and complete his gender-affirmation surgeries. An AI overseer offers a visa in exchange for retrieving some stolen androids, but Val faces a moral dilemma when he realizes that the androids are becoming sentient. Hess pens a delightful and thoughtful dystopian tale full of adventure, whimsy, and romance that explores identity, community, and belonging.

Leckie, Ann. Translation State. Orbit. ISBN 9780316289719.

Three discarded individuals, Enae, Qven, and Reet, are caught between forces that plan to use them either to stitch an empire back together or to further pry it apart. In the midst of empire-wide plotting and planning, the three manage to translate the demands of the various political factions into a bid for their own freedom. Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe offers a complex world full of fascinating, empathetic characters.

Mammay, Michael. Generation Ship. Harper Voyager. ISBN 9780063252981.

As their promised planet comes into view, the population of the colony ship Voyager descends into political skullduggery and fractured chaos. Workers revolt, the powers-that-be maneuver to maintain their control, and scientists worry that the planet isn’t nearly as habitable as it was supposed to be. The factions rush to different judgments in this taut, highly political SF thriller where the planet gets the last word.

Newitz, Annalee. The Terraformers. Tor. ISBN 9781250228017.

Destry works for the Environmental Response Team to help prevent ecosystems from collapsing. Her job to terraform Sask-E results in the discovery of a hidden city and the buried history of the planet. Centuries later, Destry’s protégé must deal with secrets of a real estate company trying to buy up most of the planet. Featuring advanced technology, sentient robots, and one angry cyborg cow, this thought-provoking and action-packed novel spans thousands of years and deftly considers personhood, corporate ownership, capitalism, and more.

Older, Malka. The Mimicking of Known Successes. ISBN 9781250860507.

This wonderfully cozy Holmesian mystery with a touch of sapphic romance takes readers to a refugee Earth colony on a gas giant planet, where scholar Pleiti researches Earth ecology while her former college roommate, investigator Mossa, hunts for missing persons and murderers. When Mossa’s search for a vanished professor leads her to Pleiti’s door, they find themselves in the middle of a case that will either make or ruin the return to Earth that the whole colony has been working toward.

Pardo, Paz. The Shamshine Blind. Atria. ISBN 9781982185329.

In this alt-history noir thriller, Argentina becomes a world power by employing weaponized psychopigments to induce paralyzing emotions in its enemies, which they use to win the Falklands War. A small-town detective in the no longer powerful U.S. investigates shady pigment dealers and uncovers a conspiracy among multinational corporations, big biopharma, and govern- ments—all ruthlessly vying for power. Blending sci-fi and mystery for a new twist on the genres, this novel is full of delicious red herrings and imaginative writing.

Parry, H.G. The Magician’s Daughter. Redhook. ISBN 9780316383707.

Tragically, magic is leaving the world, and teenage Biddy must leave her isolated island—the only home she can remember—to rescue her adopted father, bring the magic back, and defeat the evil mages who are holding back the last of this power for themselves and are unwilling or unable to admit that it’s their hoarding that has caused this dire situation in the first place. Parry creates a captivating, enchanting world, and Biddy’s journey is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Tesh, Emily. Some Desperate Glory. ISBN 9781250834980.

The Earth has been destroyed; while the remnants of humanity have settled on other planets, Gaea Station resolves to continue the fight. For her entire life, Kyr has trained with her cohort to face their foes, but when her brother is shipped off and she is placed on forced maternity detail, Kyr knows she must blaze a different trail. A fantastic, engrossing space opera filled with found family and an incredible character arc as Kyr grows and learns the truth of the universe.

Turnbull, Cadwell. We Are the Crisis. Blackstone. ISBN 9781982603755.

In his superb sequel to No Gods, No Monsters, Turnbull explores a political and social environment in which the entire world knows that monsters exist. Yet even monsters have foes, both human and supernatural; some monsters disappear without a trace, while others fight for their rights. Braided plotlines featuring established and new characters build the tension, and the presence of hate groups, magic, social change, and otherness textures Turnbull’s well-crafted world.

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