This week, The Thread is sharing some of our favorite books of the year. Below are our sci-fi and fantasy picks of 2016. Tell us your favorite books of the year @TheThreadMPR.
Perhaps unfairly, science fiction and fantasy always get smashed together — they're the tandem bicycle of the literary world. Some of these books pull elements from both genres, mixing and melding, while others stay to their strict traditions.
More than any other genres, sci-fi and fantasy are prone to series. We kept our list of this year's favorites limited to books that either stand alone, or are the first in a new series. That doesn't mean we don't love series: Everyone should check out N.K. Jemisin's "The Obelisk Gate," V.E. Schwab's "A Gathering of Shadows," Pierce Brown's "Morning Star," and all the books in those series that preceded them. Now, on with the list.
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!
"Sleeping Giants" by Sylvain Neuvel
In science-fiction, little kids are always finding weird stuff in their backyards — hello, "E.T." — but Sylvain Neuvel ups the stakes in this thriller. When a little girl named Rose falls down a sinkhole in South Dakota, she lands in the palm of giant, disembodied, 20-foot long metal hand. There's no telling where it came from — or where the rest of it is.
The book flashes forward nearly 20 years, to find a grown-up Rose working as a physicist, trying to unravel the mystery of the hand. When another piece of the robot surfaces, the puzzle deepens, drawing in experts and governmental powers from around the world. Neuvel has pulled off a nearly impossible feat: The entire book is told through "found" documents — readers must piece together the story through interviews, news articles, journal entries and other sources.
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu
The stories collected in this book are weighed down with big-name sci-fi awards: They've won Hugos, Nebulas and more. The book feels like a greatest-hits album for Ken Liu, who not only writes mind-ending tales, but translates them too. (He translated Liu Cixin's "The Three-Body Problem," which was one our sci-fi favorites of 2015.)
His short stories weave together influences from Chinese folklore with provocative and dark speculations from his own brain. In the title story, the narrator's mother creates magical origami creatures that come to life to entertain him as a child, but he doesn't realize the secret one of the creatures is hiding until after her death. Leave yourself time to just sit and think after consuming this book.
"After Atlas" by Emma Newman
This is a sci-fi book for mystery lovers, sent in a dystopic future world of corporate-controlled government, 3-D printed food, space travel and secret cults. The novel follows Carlos Moreno, whose mother left him behind when she boarded the spaceship Atlas 40 years ago. Now grown, Moreno is put in charge of investigating the murder of a powerful cult leader, who is tied up in the conspiracy involving his mother's ship. ("After Atlas" is technically a sequel to "Planetfall," but easily stands alone.)
"Version Control" by Dexter Palmer
Ever since the accident, Rebecca Wright's world hasn't been quite right. Something is off — at her job at the online dating call center, with the president on TV, everything. Even her marriage is off. Her husband, Philip, is constantly at work on a time machine, or, under its proper name, a causality violation device. Dexter Palmer's unraveling of reality makes for a dense book, and he never met a tangent he didn't want to take, but the novel is a stunning, complicated drama set against the fascinating backdrop of alternate timelines.
"Borderline" by Mishell Baker
Mishell Baker's dive into urban fantasy delivers one of the most compelling protagonists of the year. Millie is a filmmaker living with borderline personality disorder, whose legs were amputated after a failed suicide attempt. She's recruited by the Arcadia Project to help manage the relationship between Hollywood and the fairy realm, overseeing how fairies and humans interact. When a nobleman from the fairy world goes missing, Millie has to unravel the conspiracy surrounding his disappearance, while struggling to keep her own life on track. It's a page-turner of a mystery, with surprising depth.
"Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch
You know the hypnotic fascination that sets in when you stand between two mirrors, and your reflection seems to go on for infinity? You move your hand, and a thousand other versions of you wave back? That's the feeling that comes from reading "Dark Matter," Blake Crouch's twisty-turny sci-fi thriller that will mess with your sense of reality.
The book follows Jason Dessen, who has put aside his career as a quantum physicist to build a family. Even if his career isn't what he'd hoped, he's happy. Content. Comfortable. But when he goes out for a drink at a bar and wakes up to people he doesn't recognize welcoming him back, he knows something has shifted — and he doesn't know if he can put it back.
"All the Birds in the Sky" by Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders' flight of fancy puts time machines, magicians, the end of the world and modern-day San Francisco all together in a blender.
Laurence and Patricia are fellow misfits and childhood friends, but their unique aptitudes pull them apart. Laurence is an engineering whiz with an interest in time travel, while Patricia graduates from a secret magical academy. They reunite as adults, and their connection has the potential to save or destroy the world.
"Every Heart a Doorway" by Seanan McGuire
This crafty novella has a bit of a meta-twist to it: Imagine that every magical doorway you've ever read about was real. The wardrobe, the looking glass — all of it. What happens when the children who journey through them come home again? In "Every Heart a Doorway," the children who return and have trouble adjusting to the "real" world again are sent to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. There, they can commiserate about how desperately they want to return to their respective magical worlds — if only they can find the doors. When one of the students at the school is murdered, though, it shakes what little peace they've found.
"Monstress: Vol. 1" by Marjorie Liu
If you're already on the graphic novel train, perfect. If you're not, this would be a wondrous first trip. Set in a vividly illustrated steampunk incarnation of 1900s Asia, the book picks up in the aftermath of a deadly war between humans and Arcanics — animal-human hybrids. The novel follows a 17-year-old Arcanic named Maika, who is being held in captivity for scientific experiments. But Maika has a secret her captives don't understand: a psychic connection to a fierce monster. If she wants to escape — and find the truth about her abilities and her mother's death — she has to learn to master it.