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Best books to give (and get): Top sci-fi and fantasy picks of 2015

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Top scifi and fantasy picks of 2015
Get lost in new wild worlds with this year's top sci-fi and fantasy picks.
Courtesy of publishers

This week, The Thread is looking back at some of our favorite books of the year. If you're on the hunt for a great read — or a good gift — don't miss these must-reads.

Sci-fi and fantasy picks

"The Vorrh" by Brian Catling

The Vorrh is a forest, a vast expanse of woods with the power to bend time and erase the memories of those who travel within it. It's populated by powerful entities — demons, angels and other dark forces. When one rogue soldier set outs to be the first man to cross through the Vorrh, many forces conspire to stop him.

Catling's mythical journey is compulsively readable, and both terrifying and poetic. It deserves a spot on the shelf of fantasy classics.

"Dark Orbit" by Carolyn Ives Gilman

In science fiction, planets that seem empty never are. In "Dark Orbit," the mysterious new habitable planet that a team of scientists goes to investigate is no exception. 

On the surface of the planet, the team is struck by a murder, a disappearance and even deeper mysteries as they discover who already lives there: blind beings armed with extrasensory powers. But the unknown beings turn out to be only the beginning of the scientists' problems. 

Gilman has previously been nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo award, and may very well be again for "Dark Orbit." 

"Radiance" by Catherynne M. Valente

Are you ready for an alternate-history space opera mystery? That rhyming mouthful perfectly defines "Radiance," which blends old Hollywood, the Wild West and space travel into a wild romp of a novel.

Valente's imagination enters overdrive when telling the story of Severin Unck, heir to a filmmaking dynasty, who begins shooting documentaries about her adventures on Neptune and Mars. The book is set in an alternate 1986, where the Edison family's tight grip on sound technology has prevented talking films from blossoming. 

"Ancillary Mercy" by Ann Leckie

Stop. Go get "Ancillary Justice," then "Ancillary Sword." After that, you can have "Ancillary Mercy," the conclusion to Leckie's groundbreaking "Imperial Radch" trilogy. Book one in the series was the first book ever to sweep the sci-fi awards, taking home a Hugo, a Nebula and an Arthur C. Clarke Award.

The series is set far, far in the future, on a group of planets that make up the Radch empire. Artificial intelligence controls the body of humans — called "ancillaries — turning them into soldiers. The books follow Breq, the sole survivor of a starship destroyed by the empire, as she seeks revenge for the ship's destruction.

"The Three Body Problem" by Cixin Liu

A confession: This book was published last year. But this year, it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, marking the first time a book not originally written in English has won the prize. 

"The Three Body Problem" is a sensation in China. It tells the story of an alien invasion that polarizes humanity: One camp wants to welcome the aliens; the other wants to fight against the invaders. Ken Liu, the American author who translated the book into English, told PRI it's on par with "Harry Potter" in popularity.

"The Watchmaker of Filigree Street" by Natasha Pulley

A watch with the power to transport its owner through time is at the center of this magic-steeped mystery. The story darts through time and space, from Victorian England to Japan at the height of its civil war. 

This book marks Pulley's debut, and she delivers an impressive mix of fantasy and history.

"The Library at Mount Char" by Scott Hawkins

Carolyn was normal once — before her parents died, before she was taken in by a new Father, before she studied at his Library. His Library is where she and the other adoptees learned the secrets of Father's powers. His powers are so great, they even think he might be God. 

So when Father goes missing, leaving his Library unguarded, the very secrets of creation are up for the taking — and Carolyn must protect them. Bizarre, supernatural and dark, "The Library at Mount Char" has earned comparisons to Neil Gaiman's "American Gods."

"Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson

"The moon blew up with no warning and with no apparent reason." 

That's the premise of "Seveneves." A freak lunar explosion triggers a series of disastrous events back on earth, and Stephenson follows society's attempts to maintain order and preserve the human race in the violent aftermath. An ark is built to evacuate people — the Cloud Ark — but politics, disease and betrayals take their toll.

Books covered by The Thread are available for sale through the Public Radio Market. Your purchase supports our work.