Over the weekend, the premiere award in science fiction and fantasy writing – the Hugo Awards – announced their six finalists for Best Novel. There are some familiar names up for this year’s award, which is set to be announced later in the year, and a fresh new face, too.
If you want to dive in to some of the best science fiction and fantasy writing from the last year – these are the six books the Hugos suggest you read!
There is one caveat, however! Of the books included here, three are part of a series. The Collapsing Empire is the first in the Interdependency series, while Raven Stratagem is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series and The Stone Sky is the conclusion to N. K Jemisin’s Broken Earth series.
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Synopsis: In the far future, humanity has left Earth to create a glorious empire. Now this interstellar network of worlds faces disaster – but can three individuals save their people?
Why You Should Care: Scalzi won the Hugo for Best Novel back in 2013 for his tale Redshirts, so he’s got the literary chops. Collapsing Empire has earned praise for being overtly funny, while also telling a pretty solemn tale of humanity’s demise. Categorised as a space opera will not appeal to everyone but Wil Wheaton loves it (though that could just be because he’s Scalzi’s good mate).
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Synopsis: The waters rose, submerging New York City. But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever.Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island.Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides. And how we too will change.
Why You Should Care: 2140 is a very dense novel but it’s punctuated by tiny, human moments that makes the idea of climate change and the way we interact with the Earth feel all the more important. When I say dense, I mean both long and a slog – this is one I couldn’t wait to read after 2312 – but it did take me a long time to punch through it. It has a lot to say about how we live right now, so if you like a dose of politics in your science fiction, give New York a look in.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
Synopsis: Ingray has just one chance to make her name and earn the esteem of her politically powerful mother. She must – in secret – regain priceless lost artifacts, bartering for the life of a criminal exiled to Shadow, a prison from which no one has ever returned. The prisoner is the thief who stole these artefacts years before. Ingray and her charge will return home to find their planet in political turmoil at the heart of an escalating intergalactic conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family and her world, before they are lost to her for good.
Why You Should Care: Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy was so bloody good, that’s why you should care. Provenance is set in the same universe, though you don’t have to have any knowledge of Imperial Radch to enjoy it. I found that I had a more rollicking time in Ancillary Justice and its sequels, with a much more interesting antagonist, whereas Provenance feels a bit more procedural.
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
Synopsis: When the hexarchate’s gifted young captain Kel Cheris summoned the ghost of the long-dead General Shuos Jedao to help her put down a rebellion, she didn’t reckon on his breaking free of centuries of imprisonment – and possessing her. Even worse, the enemy Hafn are invading, and Jedao takes over General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, which was tasked with stopping them. Only one of Khiruev’s subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, seems to be able to resist the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao. Jedao claims to be interested in defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev or Brezan trust him? For that matter, will the hexarchate’s masters wipe out the entire fleet to destroy the rogue general?
Why You Should Care: Read that synopsis back five times really quickly. You can’t. It’s mostly unintelligible if you haven’t read Lee’s Ninefox Gambit before jumping in here. You should not read this novel first. One of Lee’s great strengths in this series is how total the world-building is. You will feel, constantly, like you have to grapple with who’s who and what’s happening and where it’s happening and why. This is concrete science fiction. It’s harder than nearly anything else you’ll read – especially on this list.
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Synopsis: Maria Arena awakens in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood. She has no memory of how she died. This is new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died. Maria’s vat is one of seven, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it can awaken. And Maria isn’t the only one to die recently…
Why You Should Care: Lafferty is the sole ‘new’ nominee for this year’s Hugo Awards and rightly so. Six Wakes plays out like a science fiction murder mystery with all the trappings and tropes of those genres, and excels further with great characterisation. The crew of the Dormire stick in your head long after you put the book down and the world that Lafferty creates is so engrossing.
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
Synopsis: The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the phenomenal power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every outcast child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.
Why You Should Care: Because Jemisin is going for the back-to-back-to-back sweep of the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Both prequels to The Stone Sky earned her much praise and critical acclaim and it’s easy to think that she will again hold the trophy up this year. Notably, she was the first African American to win the Hugo for Best Novel with The Fifth Season in 2016. The novel is set on the Stillness, a supercontinent that suffers climate change every few centuries. You’ll need to jump into the series back at the start – The Stone Sky is not where to begin – but strap in, it’s an extraordinary ride.