The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2013

The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2013

We’re awarding the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2013 based on the works that not only transported us to impossible, only-dreamt-of lands, but also held up a lens to contemporary society. Authors Mira Grant, Max Barry and Will McIntosh made us confront the uncomfortable truths about dating, healthcare and the written word. Legends including Margaret Atwood, Charles Stross and John Scalzi wrapped up or continued beloved series about radical futures. Neil Gaiman and Phoebe North took us on incredible journeys through the eyes of young-but-wise narrators. Ann Leckie and Ned Beauman took risks with out-there premises that paid off in droves. And George R.R. Martin took a break from killing our favorite characters to edit the ultimate girl-power anthology featuring new short stories from SFF greats. What a year!

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    1. Dangerous Women

    Most bang for your buck: “Dangerous Women,” edited by  George R.R. Martin

    Want to know more about the Dance of Dragons, the war that split Westeros centuries before the “Game of Thrones” books? How about a never-before-seen Harry Dresden tale or a new installment from the magical world of “The Magicians”? This anthology offers 21 new stories from some of the genre’s top authors–starring female superheroes, queens, rogues, private investigators and dragon riders. If you’ve got an SFF itch to scratch, chances are you’ll find what you want here.

  2. Best metaphor for modern society: “Love Minus Eighty” by  Will McIntosh

    Will McIntosh examines contemporary dating rituals through this literally and figuratively chilling novel: A guilt-stricken man visits the woman he accidentally killed, who is now stuck forever in a cryogenic dating facility–until, that is, someone decides to buy the right to revive her. Then there’s the insecure dating coach who helps a client woo her dream man in a female, digital take on “Cyrano de Bergerac.” “Love Minus Eighty” resonates with the Internet dating and liveblogging-obsessed generation–at times, uncomfortably so. (Bonus: McIntosh breaks down futuristic dating rules from classic sci-fi novels for us.)

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    3. Parasite

    Most terrifying vision of the future: “Parasite” by  Mira Grant

    “Feed” author Mira Grant delights in thinking up ways to end the world, whether she’s listing her favorite civilization wipeouts or turning us all into germaphobes with her new series, in which the “SymboGen” implants eliminate the need for healthcare. But, what happens when the parasites develop consciousness and the desire to be more than just a tool for their host bodies?

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    4. Starglass

    Best YA crossover: “Starglass” by  Phoebe North

    The children are our future, but so is space travel–making an intersection of both the logical choice for many authors. If you loved Beth Revis’ “Across the Universe” trilogy, this year’s generation ship story will entice you with those same elements: a plucky heroine who knows only space travel but looks forward to colonizing a new planet; a deadly inter-ship conspiracy; and all the typical teenage dramas, amplified in space.

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    5. Ancillary Justice

    Most “WTF” premise: “Ancillary Justice” by  Ann Leckie

    You won’t get anywhere in SFF if you’re not willing to think outside the box–or, in this case, the spaceship. Breq, the protagonist of Ann Leckie’s debut novel, used to be a starship with a far-reaching artificial intelligence–until all that was ripped away and she was left with a single, fragile human body. This soldier’s tale of revenge makes for a stunning space opera.

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    6. MaddAddam

    Best closure: “MaddAddam” by  Margaret Atwood

    Not only does “MaddAddam” tie up the loose ends created by “The Year of the Flood,” the second book in Atwood’s post-apocalyptic trilogy–but it also goes all the way back to “Oryx and Crake” to further explain how one super-genius disappointed with mankind engineered the human race’s downfall. It’s a wild ride to the finish, but there’s plenty of closure for readers who have been following this trilogy for the last nine years.

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    7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane

    Best book for your inner child: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”by  Neil Gaiman

    Fans of “Coraline” will delight in another dark tale from Neil Gaiman, starring a pint-sized narrator still young enough to recognize when bad magic is at work. Gaiman has hinted that much of the book is autobiographical, though some details–worms pulled out of skin, an evil, shapeshifting nanny–are more fantastical than others. Even when the story is at its most otherworldly, chances are it’ll pry loose some childhood memories.

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    8. Neptune’s Brood

    Silliest sci-fi: “Neptune’s Brood” by  Charles Stross

    While it exists in the same universe as “Saturn’s Children,” Charles Stross’ new standalone novel is about banking and economics–presented through a sharp and often silly satire. Metahuman “historian of accountancy practices” Krina’s search for her missing cousin sends her into space and the deep sea, and has her evading pirates, zombies and insurance companies. While a lack of exposition means you’re dumped into the story from the first page, the book also promises a rich ride filled with a clever commentary on the demise of the human race.

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    9. Lexicon

    Biggest tongue-twister: “Lexicon” by  Max Barry

    This fascinating piece of speculative fiction from “Jennifer Government”author Max Barry presents the simplest, most insidious weapon: words. Unlike the kinds of mind control we’re used to seeing in sci-fi, the deadly “poets” of “Lexicon” reach inside their victims’ minds to unlock deep-seated memories of language. All it takes is a single letter to turn people into slaves–or force them to stop breathing. Like the poets’ victims, you’ll be mesmerized by the wordplay.

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    10. The Teleportation Accident

    Funniest time travel snafus: “The Teleportation Accident” by  Ned Beauman

    Just as its hero careens through time from Nazi Germany to McCarthy-era America, Ned Beauman’s novel skips merrily through various genres: sci-fi (thanks to the titular time machine), noir, comedy, romance and, of course, history. The twisty, fast-paced plot and layers of mini-parody will delight SFF fans.

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    11. The Human Division

    Most hotly-anticipated follow-up: “The Human Division” by  John Scalzi

    It’s been five years since John Scalzi published the most recent novel in his Old Man’s War series. What’s more, he released “The Human Division” in online installments over the past year–so, this military sci-fi adventure has been a long time coming. Whether you’ve been eagerly awaiting the latest book or are new to the series, you’ll be drawn into Earth’s impossible decision whether to join forces with an alien army against the human Colonial Union who protected, but also lied to, them. It’s the oldest conflict–man vs. man–but with the action and wit readers have come to appreciate from Scalzi.

Natalie Zutter
Seeing as Natalie spent her childhood reading Star Wars and Tamora Pierce novels, she’s used to being the token geek at anything from celebrity websites to book websites. (Though she’s also a recent romance convert!) A graduate of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, she stages plays about superheroes, sex robots, and Internet fandom in her spare time. As a pop culture blogger, she has written for, Crushable, Quirk Books, BlackBook, and other outlets.