Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2019 | Books – The Guardian

Todays science fiction, the cliche runs, is tomorrows science fact. Considering how SF tends towards the pessimistic, from cyberpunks urban cynicism in the 80s to todays glut of post-apocalyptic dystopias, thats a worrying thought. Still, we cant ignore geopolitics, or the planets climate emergency. SF is the literature most attuned to contemporaneitys harsh music and so remains the best predictor of our collective future.

In 2019, authors turned a clear eye on these dark possibilities. My pick for the book of the year, Tim Maughans Infinite Detail (MCD x FSG Originals), is a before-and-after tale of near-future social collapse after a coordinated attack takes the internet down. Its hard to believe it is a debut, so assured and evocative is Maughans writing. As a portrait of the fragility of our current status quo it is as thought-provoking as it is terrifying; you wont ever take your wifi for granted again. Running it a close second is Vicki Jarretts Always North (Unsung), another before-and-after-the-disaster novel, about climate collapse. Protagonist Isobel is on an Arctic mapping expedition for an oil-surveying company when she encounters something strange: though there are echoes of Ballard and Joanna Russ here, Jarrett is very much her own writer, with a talent for extraordinary images.

If I say The Migration by Helen Marshall (Titan) is about a plague called Juvenile Idiopathic Immunodeficiency Syndrome, whose fatalities dont stay dead, you might think it yet another zombie story. But this emotionally resonant, cleverly creepy novel has much to say about climate change.

Ben Smiths Doggerland (4th Estate), another debut, is also set in a climate-collapsed near future. An old man and a boy inhabit a North Sea wind-turbine, no longer within sight of the shore. This vision of a flooded world possesses a pared-down, Beckettian plangency.

In Chuck Wendigs Wanderers (Del Rey), a new plague sends crowds of people sleepwalking around the globe. This slow shuffle through a world coming to an end takes a while to build momentum, but by its conclusion the book parses societal and climate change via a satisfying SF twist. Chen Qiufans Waste Tide (Head of Zeus) is set on Silicon Isle, a dumping ground for the worlds discarded computers and tech trash. Theres an old school cyberpunk quality to the book, and though its plotting is a touch choppy, its a compelling reflection on a world defined by its waste.

Post-apocalypse wasnt the only flavour in 2019: in Claire Norths The Pursuit of William Abbey (Orbit) a witness to a racial murder becomes literally haunted by the crime, but in a way that grants him the ability to see the truth of peoples motivations. As ever with Norths work, its a clever and thought-provoking conceit. Arkady Martines excellent debut A Memory Called Empire (Tor) is proper space opera, with lots of hi-tech, juicy political intrigues spread across a baroque interplanetary empire. Charlie Jane Anderss City in the Middle of the Night (Titan) has a classic Le Guinian vibe: culture clash and community on an unforgiving distant planet. Joe Abercrombies first volume in a new fantasy trilogy, A Little Hatred (Gollancz), gives us incipient industrialisation, a refugee crisis, violence, politics and magic, all handled with darkly funny aplomb.

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstones This Is How You Lose the Time War (Jo Fletcher) is hard to categorise: we might call it an epistolary time-travel spy love story, but that doesnt really convey the books poetic quality its one of a kind. Annalee Newitzs The Future of Another Timeline (Orbit) is the sharply plotted story of a murder and the spiralling consequences of trying to undo it. Ted Chiangs Exhalation (Picador) is only the short-story masters second collection, while the connected tales of Lindsey Dragers The Archive of Alternate Endings (Dzanc), each set roughly 75 years apart to coincide with the appearance of Halleys Comet, are eloquent on the centrality of storytelling to who we are. Beginning with Hansel and Gretel as the prototype tale, the narrative spins forward into the future of space exploration, and the whole is quietly brilliant. The Rosewater Redemption (Orbit) brings Tade Thompsons award-winning Nigerian alien-encounter trilogy to an end.

Some of 2019s releases find magic in the darkness. The Starless Sea (Harvill Secker) by Erin Morgenstern features an ancient subterranean library whose books about pirates, spies and lovers bleed into reality. Booker-winner Marlon Jamess venture into fantasy, Black Leopard Red Wolf (Hamish Hamilton), is a dense, multi-stranded novel about (among many other things) a mercenary searching for a lost child through a fantastical Africa: stylistically ambitious, full of arresting images, and crammed with the myriad ways humans can be ghastly to one another.

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Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2019 | Books - The Guardian

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