Looking for space opera or alternate Earths? Here are some of the science fiction books that came out in 2020 that you might want to check out.
Top New Science Fiction Books in December 2020
The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2020 Edition by Rich Horton
Type: Short story collection
Publisher: Prime Books
Release date: Dec. 22 (Kindle)
Den of Geek says: It’s that time of year. Year’s best anthologies are here. This one draws from stories previously published in the genre’s top magazines, like Analog, Asimov’s, and Clarkesworld.
Publisher’s summary: This eleventh volume of the year’s best science fiction and fantasy features twenty-six stories by some of the genre’s greatest authors, including Marie Brennan, Maurice Broaddus, John Crowley, Theodora Goss, Xia Jia, John Kessel, Kelly LInk, Sam J. Miller, Michael Swanwick, Fran Wilde, E. Lily Yu, and many others.
Gallowglass by S.J. Morden
Release date: Dec. 10
Den of Geek says: We’re taking a chance on this one. It’s one of those SF paperbacks that sometimes get lost in the churn and probably won’t end up with much marketing. But the author’s science background and the sense of a vivid understanding of just how big space is adds to the good vibes.
Publisher’s summary: The year is 2069, and the earth is in flux. Whole nations are being wiped off the map by climate change. Desperate for new resources, the space race has exploded back into life.
Corporations seek ever greater profits off-world. They offer immense rewards to anyone who can claim space’s resources in their name. The bounty on a single asteroid rivals the GDP of entire countries, so every trick, legal or not, is used to win.
Jack, the scion of a shipping magnate, is desperate to escape earth and joins a team chasing down an asteroid. But the ship he’s on is full of desperate people – each one needing the riches claiming the asteroid will bring them, and they’re willing to do anything if it means getting there first.
Because in Space, there are no prizes for coming second.It’s all or nothing: riches beyond measure, or dying alone in the dark.
Doctor Who: All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack
Publisher: BBC Digital
Release date: Dec. 10
Den of Geek says: We’re going out on another limb. Tie-in novels can be tricky recommendations. What if you don’t know the source material? What if you don’t know what happened in 154 other books? But Doctor Who’s episodic nature (the story about the last creature alive on a living world) and fan-pleasing fun (multiple doctors) mean this one might be a good balance for people who love Doctor Who or only vaguely know what a Dalek is and are curious.
Publisher’s summary: A wasteland. A dead world… No, there is a biodome, rising from the ash. Here, life teems and flourishes, with strange and lush plants, and many-winged insects with bright carapaces – and one solitary sentient creature, who spends its days watering the plants, talking to the insects, and tending this lonely garden. This is Inyit, the Last of the Kotturuh.
In All Flesh is Grass we are transported back to The Dark Times. The Tenth Doctor has sworn to stop the Kotturuh, ending Death and bringing Life to the universe. But his plan is unravelling – instead of bringing Life, nothing has changed and all around him people are dying. Death is everywhere. Now he must confront his former selves – one in league with their greatest nemesis and the other manning a ship of the undead…
Top New Science Fiction Books in November 2020
From A Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
Type: Short story collection
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: Nov. 10
Den of Geek says: A collection of 40 Star Wars stories spanning The Empire Strikes Back and beyond, this is a smorgasbord of different authors, styles, takes, and genres within the movie saga.
Publisher’s summary: On May 21, 1980, Star Wars became a true saga with the release of The Empire Strikes Back. In honor of the fortieth anniversary, forty storytellers re-create an iconic scene from The Empire Strikes Back through the eyes of a supporting character, from heroes and villains, to droids and creatures. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors and trendsetting artists.
Stillicide by Cynan Jones
Type: Short story collection
Release date: Nov. 17
Den of Geek says: Literary fiction publisher Catapult crosses over into science fiction with this print release of a highly acclaimed series of climate fables written for radio.
Publisher’s summary: Water is commodified. The Water Train that serves the city increasingly at risk of sabotage.
As news breaks that construction of a gigantic Ice Dock will displace more people than first thought, protestors take to the streets and the lives of several individuals begin to interlock. A nurse on the brink of an affair. A boy who follows a stray dog out of the city. A woman who lies dying. And her husband, a marksman: a man forged by his past and fearful of the future, who weighs in his hands the possibility of death against the possibility of life.
From one of the most celebrated writers of his generation, Stillicide is a moving story of love and loss and the will to survive, and a powerful glimpse of the tangible future.
Nucleation by Kimberly Unger
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Release date: Nov. 13
Den of Geek says: Virtual reality meets aliens in a space opera packed with ideas about wormhole travel and first contact.
Publisher’s summary: Helen Vectorvich just botched first contact. And she did it in both virtual reality and outer space.
Only the most elite Far Reaches deep-space pilots get to run waldos: robots controlled from thousands of lightyears away via neural integration and quantum entanglement. Helen and her navigator were heading the construction of a wormhole gate that would connect Earth to the stars . . . until a routine system check turned deadly.
As nasty rumors swarm around her, and overeager junior pilots jockey to take her place, Helen makes a startling discovery: microscopic alien life is devouring their corporate equipment. Is the Scale just mindless, extra-terrestrial bacteria? Or is it working―and killing―with a purpose?
While Helen struggles to get back into the pilot’s chair, and to communicate with the Scale, someone―or something―is trying to sabotage the Far Reaches project once and for all. They’ll have to get through Helen first.
Top New Science Fiction Books in October 2020
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Release date: Oct. 6
Den of Geek says: Robinson’s intricate eco-thriller-flavored SF novels have proved prescient in a world of droughts and fires. His latest novel leans in to make a statement about both humanity and science in the face of climate change.
Publisher’s summary: The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us — and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.
It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.
To Hold Up The Sky by Cixin Liu
Type: Short story collection
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: Oct. 20
Den of Geek says: Cixin Liu engages with both hard science and the human heart in a short story collection from a master novelist.
Publisher’s summary: In To Hold Up the Sky, Cixin Liu takes us across time and space, from a rural mountain community where elementary students must use physicas to prevent an alien invasion; to coal mines in northern China where new technology will either save lives of unleash a fire that will burn for centuries; to a time very much like our own, when superstring computers predict our every move; to 10,000 years in the future, when humanity is finally able to begin anew; to the very collapse of the universe itself.
Written between 1999 and 2017 and never before published in English, these stories came into being during decades of major change in China and will take you across time and space through the eyes of one of science fiction’s most visionary writers.
Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard
Release date: Oct. 31
Den of Geek says: Aliette de Bodard’s Xuyan series is a creative blend of hard science fiction and space opera based on a network of space stations. A story from the point of view of a living starship who is also a trickster sounds like it’ll fit right in.
Publisher’s summary: Vân is a scholar from a poor background, eking out a living in the orbitals of the Scattered Pearls Belt as a tutor to a rich family, while hiding the illegal artificial mem-implant she manufactured as a student. Sunless Woods is a mindship and not just any mindship, but a notorious thief and a master of disguise. She’s come to the Belt to retire, but is drawn to Vân’s resolute integrity. When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship and to the devastating secrets they’ve kept from each other.
Top New Science Fiction Books September 2020
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Publisher: William Morrow
Release date: Sept. 22
Den of Geek says: This next-level meta take on superheroes looks witty and biting. But what really makes it stand out is the character’s predicament: she’s a laid-off henchman going from bad job to worse, struggling with her own moral code along the way.
Publisher’s summary: Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?
As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured. And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.
So, of course, then she gets laid off.
With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.
Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing. And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.
It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.
A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics.
Divergence (The Foreigner Universe) by C.J. Cherryh
Release date: Sept. 8
Den of Geek says: Why, you might rightly ask, would we recommend #21 in a series? This is because C.J. Cherryh is a master at what she does: slow, meticulous space opera with engaging characters and a transporting sense of completeness to its world of diplomatic clashes between humans and aliens. Really, we recommend you start at #1, Foreigner, if you haven’t read the series before. And if you have, this September is a real occasion.
Publisher’s summary: The overthrow of the atevi head of state, Tabini-aiji, and the several moves of enemies even since his restoration, have prompted major changes in the Assassins’ Guild, which has since worked to root out its seditious elements—a clandestine group they call the Shadow Guild. With the Assassins now rid of internal corruption, with the birth of Tabini’s second child, and with the appointment of an heir, stability seems to have returned to the atevi world. Humans and atevi share the space station in peaceful cooperation, humans and atevi share the planet as they have for centuries, and the humans’ island enclave is preparing to welcome 5000 human refugees from a remote station now dismantled, and to do that in unprecedented cooperation with the atevi mainland.
In general Bren Cameron, Tabini-aiji’s personal representative, returning home to the atevi capital after securing that critical agreement, was ready to take a well-earned rest—until Tabini’s grandmother claimed his services on a train trip to the smallest, most remote and least significant of the provinces, snowy Hasjuran—a move concerning which Tabini-aiji gave Bren a private instruction: protect her. Advise her.
Advise her—perhaps. As for protection, she has a trainload of high-level Guild. But since the aiji-dowager has also invited a dangerously independent young warlord, Machigi, and a young man who may be the heir to Ajuri, a key northern province—the natural question is why the dowager is taking this ill-assorted pair to Hasjuran and what on this earth she may be up to.
With a Shadow Guild attack on the train station, it has become clear that others have questions, too. Hasjuran, on its mountain height, overlooks the Marid, a district that is part of the atevi nation only in name—a district in which Machigi is one major player, and where the Shadow Guild retains a major stronghold.
Protect her? Ilisidi is hellbent on settling scores with the Shadow Guild, and her reasons for this trip and this company now become clear. One human diplomat and his own bodyguard suddenly seem a very small force to defend her from what she is setting in motion.
An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner
Release date: Sept. 15
Den of Geek says: Putting a robot on trial is an old concept in science fiction: just look at Star Trek. This novella looks like an entry in the contemporary conversation with this pleasingly retro concept.
Publisher’s summary: The cybernetic organism known as 812-3 is in prison, convicted of murdering a human worker but he claims that he did not do it. With the evidence stacked against him, his lawyer, Aiya Ritsehrer, must determine grounds for an appeal and uncover the true facts of the case.
But with artificial life-forms having only recently been awarded legal rights on Earth, the military complex on Europa is resistant to the implementation of these same rights on the Jovian moon.
Aiya must battle against her own prejudices and that of her new paymasters, to secure a fair trial for her charge, while navigating her own interpersonal drama, before it’s too late.
Top New Science Fiction Books August 2020
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Release date: Aug. 4
Den of Geek says: Muir’s necromancers in space have gained an enthusiastic following for their irreverent tone and wild gothic magic.
Publisher’s summary: She answered the Emperor’s call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath ― but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.
Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Release date: Aug. 18
Den of Geek says: Portal fantasy of a sort, backed by hard science fiction from the author of the award-winning Children of Time, this novel looks inventive, rigorous, and adventurous.
Publisher’s summary: They thought we were safe. They were wrong.
Four years ago, two girls went looking for monsters on Bodmin Moor. Only one came back.
Lee thought she’d lost Mal, but now she’s miraculously returned. But what happened that day on the moors? And where has she been all this time? Mal’s reappearance hasn’t gone unnoticed by MI5 officers either, and Lee isn’t the only one with questions.
Julian Sabreur is investigating an attack on top physicist Kay Amal Khan. This leads Julian to clash with agents of an unknown power – and they may or may not be human. His only clue is grainy footage, showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.
Dr Khan’s research was theoretical; then she found cracks between our world and parallel Earths. Now these cracks are widening, revealing extraordinary creatures. And as the doors crash open, anything could come through.
Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May
Release date: Aug. 4
Den of Geek says: This ensemble cast space opera fits nicely into the “Expanse” model of adventure stories with enough political detail and blood to make you feel like you could walk into the far-future world. An early review calls it “epic, if occasionally bumpy.”
Publisher’s summary: When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.
Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.
When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.
Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.
Top New Science Fiction Books July 2020
The Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: July 7
Den of Geek says: Kate Elliott’s long career in fantasy has proven her a master of world-building. It has a heck of a tagline: “female Alexander the Great in space.” This series promises strong science fiction action.
Publisher’s summary: Princess Sun has finally come of age.
Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected―and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme―and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.
To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.
Take the brilliance and cunning courage of Princess Leia―add in a dazzling futuristic setting where pop culture and propaganda are one and the same―and hold on tight:
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Release date: July 21
Den of Geek says: Lindsay Ellis is known primarily as a YouTube pop culture critic. She excels at explaining why pop culture works or doesn’t work, as well as adding context to day’s top headlines. Her first book sounds like a mix between Arrival and The X-Files, set in the early 2000s.
Publisher’s summary: The alternate history first contact adventure Axiom’s End is an extraordinary debut from Hugo finalist and video essayist Lindsay Ellis.
Truth is a human right.
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government―and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him―until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human―and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.
The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronauts) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: July 14
Den of Geek says: The Lady Astronaut series tackles sexism (lots and lots of sexism) in an alternate world where the space race is hurried along by the arrival of a meteor strike. It has gained a lot of fans for its determined characters and convincing alternate history.
Publisher’s summary: The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.