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If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ll know I’m terrible at picking favorites. Movies, TV shows, books. I just can’t choose. How can I number my list of top sci fi and fantasy reads for the year in a way that makes sense? How can I reasonably rank wham-bam action against beautiful, lyrical writing and still share the books I loved with people sure to geek out with me about them? 

So this year, I’m categorizing my favorite reads a little differently. I’ve been thinking of it like superlatives in areas like characters, worlds, action, and series finales. 

Also, just a note — this is a list of the best sci fi and fantasy books I read this year. Not all of these books were released in 2020 🙂 

Without further waffling, my favorites were: 

For characters: 

  • Network Effect by Martha Wells 
    • If you’re a sci fi fan and you haven’t checked out the Murderbot Diaries series (which starts with All Systems Red), I cannot recommend it more highly. In fact I really don’t want to say anything more about it here, because it’s just that good and a single detail could spoil the delight. Just go check it out. 
  • The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
    • Another book I want to scream about forever — this one deserves so much more attention than it’s gotten. Lyrical historical fantasy about Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, who was a talented composer in her own right. All of her compositions are lost, and this book explores her story. I was a music major, and I found this book to be completely enchanting. Seriously underrated. 

For unforgettable worlds:  

  • The Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire
    • These books follow the adventures of children who travel through doorways — think Narnia, only with endless (often creepy) variations — and their attempt to find those doors again if they get stuck back in our world. My favorite volumes so far have been Beneath a Sugar Sky and In an Absent Dream, but the whole series is gorgeous, thought-provoking, and fun. The books are short, and excellent as audiobooks. 
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer
    • This stand-alone story set in Wonderland could have fit in several of my categories — I loved the characters and could hardly rip myself away from it. Absolutely gorgeous, funny, heartbreaking. One could argue that Wonderland belongs to Lewis Carroll, and certainly it does — but Marissa Meyer deftly makes it her own, and I loved the way she explored the whimsy and the darkness of the place.

For action: 

  • Bypass Gemini by Joseph R. Lallo
    • The perfect book for all your pew-pew, spacetastic racing needs. Fun, exciting. 

For humor:

  • Soulless by Gail Carriger
    • I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book. Set in Victorian England among vampires and werewolves, Soulless is hysterically funny in a way that Charles Dickens would approve of. 
  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman 
    • Usually I’m a book-first kind of person, but I’ll admit I watched the Amazon series before I read this one. I loved both the novel and the adaptation.  
  • Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
    • Definitely a great choice for fans of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. 

For sweetness: 

  • The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole
    • I’m not generally drawn to sci fi romance, but I’ll read anything Alyssa Cole writes. The woman is a force of nature. And I seriously loved this sweet, Earth-based story. 

For satisfying conclusion to a series:

  • Supernova by Marissa Meyer
    • I enjoyed the Renegades series before I reached this final volume, but when I got there? Holy moly, it just absolutely took off. Such a great payoff. 
  • Kill Shot by Jessie Kwak
    • So satisfying. No spoilers. Looking forward to the spinoff series. (This one could also go under characters. Love this crew.) 

For thought-provoking themes: 

  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
    • I didn’t quite appreciate the depth of this novella until I got through the whole thing. And then it hit me, full force. I love a book that makes me work to put the pieces together, and then delivers.  
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
    • Here’s another one I had trouble categorizing. A voicey, memorable narrator plus zombie-filled action plus creative alternate history… it’s just awesome in so many ways. But ultimately, as many zombie stories do, Dread Nation stuck with me as a story that holds a mirror to society — and reveals the monsters within it. 

And finally, for uncategorizable awesomeness: 

  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
    • Funny, irreverent, and addictive. Page-turning awesomeness. Unforgettable characters. Yeah, this one’s gotten a lot of attention — but it deserves every ounce of it. 

That’s that! Have you read any of these books? What did you think? And what were your favorite reads of the year?

About Kate Sheeran Swed

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