Join me as I count down my top ten speculative fiction releases of 2020! This post contains affiliate links for Bookshop.org, which will earn me a commission if used, and will raise money for independent bookshops.
I don’t think anyone will be sorry to see the back of this year, and I’m sure you don’t need a recap as to exactly why that is from me. It’s been pretty horrible, but as I realised whilst struggling to put this list together, there has at least been an abundance of brilliant books to help us escape the real world for a little while. Here are my personal favourites.
10. Eden, Tim Lebbon (Titan Books)
In Eden, Tim Lebbon crafts an interesting world, populated with likeable characters and packed with atmosphere. A menacing presence stalks a band of adventure racers as they attempt to trek across the oldest of the “Virgin Zones,” areas given back to nature in an attempt to undo climate change and pollution. But Eden is not like the other Virgin Zones, and the intrepid group face horrors both real and fantastical in this cli-fi horror. Read the full review here.
9. The Human Son, Adrian J. Walker (Solaris)
Adrian J. Walker sets his sights firmly on the heart of the reader in his latest effort. Humanity is long gone, Earth ruined in their wake. As a last throw of the dice, they created the Erta, a genetically engineered race of beings who have managed to undo humanity’s destruction and restore the Earth. Now the Erta are faced with a choice – do they reintroduce humanity, potentially undoing all their hard work? It’s left up to the coldly logical Ima to raise the single human they create as a test subject, with occasionally hilarious and frequently heart-warming consequences. Read the full review here.
8. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books)
Blending humour and horror can be a taller order than many realise. It’s almost unfair, then, that Bram Stoker Award winner Grady Hendrix seems to manage it with such ease. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires follows Patricia Campbell, who joins a book club with some fellow housewives to indulge in their love of true crime, as well as giving them a much-needed escape from their home lives. A mysterious stranger moves into the neighbourhood, and its not long before sinister events galvanise the loveably disparate group into action. Read the full review here.
7. The Rush’s Edge, Ginger Smith (Angry Robot)
Lab grown soldier Hal and his former commander Tyce operate as salvagers on the edge of the galaxy, foraging for technology from humanity’s war with the Mudar, a highly advanced race who have mastered AI. The pair are soon joined by Vivi after they come to her aid, and together they set off on their ship the Loshad with the promise of a huge payday to motivate them. But all is not as it seems, and it’s not long before this found family are on the run from shadowy agents and embroiled in something far bigger than they could have ever anticipated. Ideal for fans of Firefly, this has serious series potential. Read the full review here.
6. The Phlebotomist, Chris Panatier (Angry Robot)
With the oldest (human) protagonist on this list, The Phlebotomist is another Angry Robot debut to get excited about. Willa is a rock at the centre of this action-packed sci-fi dystopia, where nuclear attacks have resulted in the never-ending blood drive of “The Harvest”. She works as a phlebotomist in one of the mysterious organisation Patriot’s donation centres, witnessing on a daily basis the desperation of those selling extra blood as part of “The Trade,” the economic stratification resulting from the desirability of certain blood types driving citizens to donate more than they are safely able to just to get by. A seemingly innocuous secret discovered by Willa sets a chain of events in motion that will see this pink haired grandmother become a revolutionary lightning rod. Read the full review here.
5. The Trials of Koli, M.R. Carey (Orbit)
Carrying on from trilogy opener The Book of Koli, Trials takes everything that was great about the first book and expands upon it, showing us more of the deadly flora and fauna that make up the altered landscape of Ingland. We’re also treated to multiple viewpoints this time round too, with Koli’s former lover Spinner adding a wholly different narrative voice to proceedings. Events are likewise grander in scale this time around, and wide-ranging themes such as sentience, transgenderism and the exploitation of power make for plenty of thought provoking and emotionally impactful moments. With Koli’s homely narration, Carey showcases his ability to boil big ideas down to their fundamentals. Read the full review here.
4. Mordew, Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press)
With extraordinarily hallucinatory prose, Alex Pheby takes that most beloved of fantasy tropes – the chosen one – and manages to deliver one of the most memorable fantasies you’ll read this year. Young Nathan Treeves lives in the slums of Mordew with a mother forced to sell her body and a father dying of lungworms. Helping out as best he can, he wades through the Living Mud – itself a runoff from the corpse of God, who lies buried beneath Mordew – in an attempt to catch and sell malformed flukes, creatures given life by the mud’s power. After a journey to the Master’s Manse, only reachable by travelling up an enchanted glass road, Nathan falls in with a Dickensian gang of child thieves. His destiny gradually reveals itself over the course of this gloomy and gloriously gothic trilogy opener. Read the full review here.
3. The First Sister, Linden A. Lewis (Hodder & Stoughton)
It’s another trilogy opener at number three, with The First Sister, by Linden A. Lewis. The titular – and mute – First Sister calls the ACS Juno home; a spacefaring battleship crewed by Geans (one of the warring factions of humanity), it was captured from the technologically advanced rival faction the Icarii. In her role as ship’s confessor and comforter to the captain, she looks forward to following him planetside. But a last-minute betrayal forces her to re-evaluate her position, as she is forced to stay on the Juno under its new captain, Saito Ren. Meanwhile, Lito, an Icarii soldier, is dispatched to hunt down his former partner Hiro. Already tangled alliances become even more thoroughly knotted as both sides work to achieve their aims, with bombshell revelations coming thick and fast in this hugely exciting debut. Read the full review here.
2. The Shadow Saint, Gareth Hanrahan (Orbit)
Picking up shortly after the events of The Gutter Prayer, Gareth Hanrahan leads us once more into the grimdark streets of the alchemical, steampunk majesty that is Guerdon for The Shadow Saint. With the Godswar drawing ever closer to its shores, the city’s carefully maintained neutrality will be tested – not least by old ally Haith, the land of necromancy. New character Terevant journeys from this land of the undying to Guerdon following his harrowing experience of the Godswar, taking his place alongside beloved returning characters and soon becoming embroiled in politics, intrigue and sinister plots galore. With a richly imagined pantheon of mad gods and arcane technology, holy war has never been so much fun. Read the full review here.
1. The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson (Hodder & Stoughton)
Snagging the number one spot, it’s The Space Between Worlds, the debut novel from Micaiah Johnson. Protagonist Cara is a traverser, so named because she travels between parallel Earths assessing their worth in raw materials for Earth Zero. In a moment of adroit social commentary, it emerges that only those whose counterparts are dead in the world they’re going to are able to traverse. The other versions of Cara – a black woman from a bad neighbourhood – have died in myriad ways across multiple versions of Earth, leaving the privileged folk of Wiley City dependent on her and her fellow long-suffering traversers. The sharp satire never gets in the way of the well-paced plot though, with twists and turns aplenty, and Cara is a relentlessly interesting protagonist to follow. You can read the full review here.
There we have it, my top ten of 2020! Do you agree with this list? Is there anything you would change? Or are there any of these you haven’t read yet that you’re planning to pick up? Let me know in the comments!
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