The best contemporary fantasy and science fiction books with new takes and fresh characters

Allen Stroud Author Of Resilient
By Allen Stroud

Who am I?

I’m a science fiction writer and academic who is interested in the big themes that challenge us as individuals and as a civilisation. My recent writing explores the representation of disability in science fiction. I want to create characters who readers can identify with and who provide different perspectives on the fictional future I am writing about. These characters are not trying to overcome any limitations, they live and accept who and what they are as we all do. The writers and stories I have chosen in this list do the same, showing us something about the human condition that we may not have thought about before.

I wrote...


By Allen Stroud,

Book cover of Resilient

What is my book about?

AD 2118. Humanity has colonised the Moon, Mars, Ceres, and Europa. The partnership of corporations and governments has energized the space program for one hundred years. That partnership is shattered when a terrorist attack destroys the world’s biggest solar array in Atacama, Chile, altering the global economic balance.

Resilient is a masterpiece of hard sci-fi, a worthy follow-up from events of his successful and highly-praised Flame Tree Press debut, Fearless.

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The books I picked & why

The Janus Cycle

By Tej Turner,

Book cover of The Janus Cycle

Why did I love this book?

This brilliant collection of interlinked urban fantasy short stories makes use of a variety of magical devices to change the lives of the featured characters. Each story is from a different character viewpoint, each character connected with the others in some way, and each story moves the narrative forwards to its heartfelt and dramatic conclusion.

Turner brings together a group of young, and young-at-heart, individuals all attempting to find themselves, and struggling with the circumstances they are in. Gradually, as the narrative progresses, they discover each other and help each other towards a powerful and profound intervention that showcases the best of human kindness, community, and acceptance.

This book moved me. After going through the different character stories building towards the end, the finale with an assemble moment of courage between many of the characters is such an empowering and cathartic moment. When I read it, I was listening in the car and found myself in tears - which is a rare moment for me.

By Tej Turner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Janus Cycle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Janus Cycle can best be described as gritty, surreal, urban fantasy. The over-arching story revolves around a nightclub called Janus, which is not merely a location but virtually a character in its own right. On the surface it appears to be a subcultural hub where the strange and disillusioned who feel alienated and oppressed by society escape to be free from convention; but underneath that facade is a surreal space in time where the very foundations of reality are twisted and distorted. But the special unique vibe of Janus is hijacked by a bandwagon of people who choose to…

Tangle's Game

By Stewart Hotston,

Book cover of Tangle's Game

Why did I love this book?

Tangle’s Game is a clever examination of the near future with an exploration of prejudice that is massively relevant in today’s society. The very best science fiction offers us a mirror to our own circumstances and situations. In the world of Tangle’s Game, we see the cultural behemoths of blockchain technology and social media as even more dominant forces than they are today.

Hotston uses this story to offer an informed and nuanced perspective on the world. Amanda’s descent from conformity highlights the ways in which we are measured and judged.

By Stewart Hotston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tangle's Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nowhere to Run. Nowhere to Hide.

Yesterday, Amanda Back's life was flawless: the perfect social credit score, the perfect job, the perfect home. Today, Amanda is a target, an enemy of the system holding information dangerous enough to disrupt the world's all-consuming tech-a fugitive on the run. But in a world where an un-hackable blockchain links everyone and everything, there is nowhere to run...

Book cover of The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection

Why did I love this book?

Included in this collection of the best science fiction from 2013, edited by the late Garner Dozois, is the novella, "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi" This is a story from the Mistress of Cyberpunk, Pat Cadigan, which is also available for free from Clarkesworld Magazine. Pat Cadigan has been writing thought-provoking science fiction for decades. Girl-Thing depicts a futuristic society where colonisation of our solar system means the transformation of our physiology. The parallel between this and current times is palpable. Cyberpunk has always concerned itself with asking the question, what makes us human? This question is usually explored through the interaction and integration of machines and technology into the organic form. However, in Girl-Thing, there is something else going on. The necessity of form to survive in different environments is combined with an exploration of identity and acceptance.

By Gardner Dozois (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Year's Best Science Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the new millennium, what secrets lay beyond the far reaches of the universe? What mysteries belie the truths we once held to be self evident? The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world through their short stories. This venerable collection brings together award winning authors and masters of the field such as Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Elizabeth Bear, Paul McAuley and John…

After Atlas

By Emma Newman,

Book cover of After Atlas

Why did I love this book?

The second book in the Planetfall series. Emma Newman writes reflective and profound science fiction with characters trying to find their way in a complex future Earth society. 

After Atlas deals with events on Earth some years after the first colony mission has departed. There is a feeling of hope, and a fusion of science and religion that drives it, but really, the lives of people are as unequal as they are today. The main character, Carlos Moreno is a corporate slave, forced to work as an investigator. He is assigned to a case in a hotel in Dartmoor, England, where Alejandro Casales, leader of the Circle, a religious cult from Texas has been murdered.

Newman’s work echoes Asimov. Her detective is constrained by powerful overseeing forces, but this is a far superior take, with real danger and consequence.

I grew up with Asimov’s Elijah Bailey stories. To read this novel from a contemporary author that uses a similar detective story structure, but then steps beyond it, like Asimov did, is great. In addition, Newman’s story has the kind of modern sensitivities and careful thought paid to her the context that is essential in twenty-first-century science fiction. This is an upgrade on what went before and well worth reading.

By Emma Newman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked After Atlas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed author Emma Newman returns to the captivating universe she created in Planetfall with a stunning science fiction mystery where one man’s murder is much more than it seems—an Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee.
Gov-corp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth…

The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Why did I love this book?

Written in 1969, Le Guin’s novel is an exploration of a world far in our future. Genly Ai is sent to the world of Gethen, to persuade its people to join the Ekumen – a collective of human worlds, but he is thwarted by his lack of understanding of their ways. 

Le Guin’s Gethen are ambisexual. They lack the concept of gender. Their society exists without it. The story explores this through the perspective of the outsider, Genly, but also inhabits it through the viewpoint of Estraven.

This book has been talked about ever since its publication with each generation finding new meaning and conversation from its themes. The story shows another society, one similar and different to ours. That gives us the opportunity to question the social constructs that bind our understanding of gender, sexuality, and love. 

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Left Hand of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction-winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants' gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an…

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