Friday, February 26, 2016

The Ten Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2015

by The Wanderer


Ranking of 2015’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Books

This is our third year reviewing and writing about everything that’s related to fantasy and science fiction.  Admittedly we tend to focus heavily on reviewing movies and books, so we will be providing best of lists for each of those for 2015.

As the primary book reader at ATG Reviews, I wish I could have read everything I wanted to, but alas time isn’t unlimited. Nevertheless I took up as many reading projects as I could manage – both classics and newer books.  Our Top 10 List was made using the following guidelines:

  • Books must be related in some way to the genres of fantasy and science fiction.
  • Books must have a word count longer than 40,000 (So no novellas, short stories or anthologies).
  • Books must have been published for the first time in 2015 (Sorry classic SFF books and translations … looking at you The Dark Forest).
  • Books that are published from the same series are limited only to the best book in that series (Looking at Joe and Jo on that one).

Don’t agree with our list, feel free to list your favorite fantasy and science fiction books of 2015 in the comments below.



10. The Cinder Spires - By Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher's always wanted to write an epic fantasy, and now he's finally doing it ... but in his own very steampunky way. Set high in the clouds on giant spires readers can expect to find talking cat societies, flying dreadnoughts armed with cannons, and the magical etherealists who've all but lost their minds.  All of this comes together at the onset of a war between Spire Albion and Spire Aurora. For those of you out there who want to check out what the author is doing currently, but down want to read over a dozen Dresden Files books to do it, than this is a perfectly viable option.


9. The Familiar Volume One: One Rainy Day In May - By Mark Z. Danielewski

The first volume of The Familiar is setting in motion one of the most ambitious writing projects in the history of literature. This volume, only one of twenty seven, is already over 800 pages long. It's hard to get a distinct feel reading only 1/27th of a story, but what's out there now I like so far.

Promoting the release of this book, Danielewski said of his ambitious project that it's about a girl who finds a cat. While this is true, and it's even the focus of the first volume, readers should know that the girl is joined by eight other narrators that also have interesting stories. Mark Z. Danielewski, known for writing House of Leaves, continues writing with his usual distinct topographies ... albeit on a much larger scale. Should he be able to pull of this monstrously ambitious project, it could be something for the ages.


8. Ancillary Mercy - By Ann Leckie

The conclusion to Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch Trilogy simply delivers. Breq finally gets to confront Anaander Mianaai in an attempt to avenge the Justice of Toren. She still makes plenty of time for singing and drinking tea. The addition of translator Dlique? who's not even sure what her name is, brings the sci-fi satire to another level. The exploration of what makes a person human, along with the way Leckie displays the role of gender can have on the reader's psyche, makes this one of the most important stories in modern science fiction.


7. Half A War - By Joe Abercrombie

The final two books in Joe Abercrombie's Shattered Sea were released this year. I believe Half A War just edged out Half The World as being the better book. Like the previous two Shattered Seas stories, new narrators take the reins and readers are introduced to Koll, Father Yarvi's minister in training, Raith, Grom-gil-Gorm's guard and cup taster, and Princess Skara a young woman who's forced into ruling her father's kingdom before she's ready. Familiar faces like Thorn Bathu and Father Yarvi continue to influence events in the greater world, but the focus is on these three new protagonists. With all the kingdoms in the Shattered Sea now at war, it's only a matter of who will win and who will survive, and if you know Joe Abercrombie, that means anything can happen.


6. The Liar's Key - By Mark Lawrence

This is my favorite book by Mark Lawrence to date. It's lighter-hearted tone - and by lighter-hearted I mean compared to The Broken Empire Trilogy because this book is still very dark - works real well with cowardly protagonist Jalan Kendeth. His internal monologues are awesome. They give insight to Jalan's messed up view of the world as he tries to justify a number of dickish things he does like hitting women, insulting poor people, and stealing from friends. The Red Queen, who's been sitting in the background of both Lawrence's trilogies, also gets some light shed on her past in one of the more memorable Broken Empire moments.


5. The Price of Valor - By Django Wexler

I love The Shadow Campaigns. The Price of Valor, the third book in the series, blends the musket firing action of A Thousand Names with the political intrigue of The Shadow Throne. This is a great flintlock fantasy that any fan of 19th century history (particularly warfare and the Napoleonic Wars) should be looking into. The character development is stellar especially with Winter who's back at the forefront, while Janus continues to become creepier and more mysterious. What his deal is, is now the big question looking forward.


4. Radiance - By Catherynne M. Valente

This is my first venture into reading Valente, and the hype regarding the quality of her prose is certainly living up to my expectations. Just read the prologue of this book, it's the best I've seen since I read The Night Circus. Radiance is set on an alt-Earth timeline where humans, in the early 20th century, have colonized the planets of our solar system. It's a post-modern story that pays homage to the history of film and science fiction, all told with the typography you would expect to find from Mark Danielewski. The plot is not straight-forward, but the catalyst driving everything is the disappearance of young filmmaker Severin Unck and how her departure from the world affects those closest to her. 


3. Seveneves - By Neal Stephenson

After the moon blows up under mysterious circumstances, mankind has roughly a two year countdown until doomsday. Humanity's plan for survival is to launch as many people as possible into space so that they may one day return to Earth after the planet becomes inhabitable again. Seveneves is as hard of a hard science fiction book you can read. This may not be for everyone, as Neal Stephenson who's known for his lengthy info dumps really out does himself here. But I still loved every bit of this book. Dyna, Ivy, Tekla, and even JBF are a strong set of intelligent characters. And despite all the focus on mechanical details and theoretical observations, Seveneves still manages a strong dose of emotional impact.


2. The Just City - By Jo Walton

What would happen if the Just City from Plato's Republic were to exist? 

That is exactly what Book One of Jo Walton's new Thessaly Trilogy looks to answer. The Goddess Athena has gathered people from all time periods to test Plato's philosophies in one immaculately built dwelling. The Just City is very well written. It focuses more on discussion and rhetoric than it does on action and violence, although when the latter does occur it happens unexpectedly and brutally. Ideas and an excellent set of well crafted characters take center stage and deliver one of 2015's best new stories.


1. The Fifth Season - By N.K. Jemisin 

The Fifth Season is the start of N.K. Jemisin's latest trilogy and it's one hell of a start. Taking place on the Broken Earth, the planet is frequently besieged by seismic waves that cause catastrophic destruction. Orogenes have the magical ability to detect when these seismic waves are occurring, or are going to occur, and they can oftentimes stop them. They can also use their ability to cause seismic waves as well, which makes them amongst the most feared people on their planet.  

The Fifth Season begins shortly after a giant cataclysmic event has occurred. Three different Orogenes narrate the story - Damaya, Syenite, and Essun.  Each introduces a different perspective on what it's like to be essential to a society that hates you. With a fantastic concept for a world, and character development that shows how a brutal society can have damaging psychological effects on a human being, The Fifth Season stands out as the best new book of 2015.

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