42 must read science fiction books of 2021!

Hi everyone,

I’m here with another post of books to look out for in 2021. Today, I’m looking at science fiction, and all I say is wow, we have an absolutely incredible year of scifi coming! For some personal most anticipated novels, check out YA books The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He and Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao; and for adult, Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki and the brilliant Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell which I have read and adored!

YA

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

DOESN’T THIS JUST SOUND DELIGHTFUL?!?! Two sworn enemies from the last two remaining countries on Earth are sent to space to conduct a resuce mission, with missing memories, strange things happening on the ship, and a handsome brooding shipmate. Sign me the fuck up.

Two boys, alone in space.

After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing is his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Legendary adult science fiction author, Charlie Jane Anders, is coming to YA with her debut Victories Greater Than Death. I have an ARC of this one and I can’t wait to read it in the next month or so! It’s described as Star Wars meets Dr Who so there’s almost no way I could dislike this.

A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

From internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky) comes a thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war—Anders’s long-awaited YA debut.

Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson

Yesterday is History is a time travel novel about and by a Black, queer man and I very much need this book in my life. It’s about a boy who gets a liver transplant and can now travel through time. He is torn between one boy in the past and one in his present as he tries to learn the consequences of jumping through time and changing the future.

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Rise of the Red Hand is coming from a publisher that has only been around about a year, but have published some of the most exciting novels in the genre (Erewhon). It sounds so incredible, a scifi portrayal of the future of climate change set in South Asia and following a hacker and revolutionary trying to take down the government.

A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

One of TWO very exciting Pacific Rim style YA scifi novels coming this year, Gearbreakers follows a rebel who takes down mechanised weapons and finds herself in prison after one of her missions, where she teams up with one of the weapon pilots to take down the rulers who use the weapons to wage war and oppression.

Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.

We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

I’ve only read one novel from Akemi Dawn Bowman (Starfish), but it was such a brilliant book that I know I need to read everything else she has and will write. The Infinity Courts is an afterlife book, set in a place called Infinity, where a virtual assistant used on Earth forces humans into servitude in repayment for how she has been forced to serve in the real world. This sounds different and interesting and I can’t wait to read Bowman in a scifi realm.

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Joan He is one of the most exciting authors in YA, I absolutely adored her debut Descendant of the Crane and I am just as excited to read her newest one, The Ones We’re Meant to Find. This is a Black Mirror-esque scifi with He’s trademark twisty nature, and follows two sisters. One is on an abandoned island with no memory of anything except that she has a sister, the other is a STEM prodigy in an eco-city, the last unpolluted place on earth.

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

Aetherbound by E.K Johnston

I really loved E.K Johnston’s The Afterword, a quiet fantasy novel about what happens after the quest is over. I can’t wait to see what she does in a scifi context, in a book about a family-run interstellar freighter.

A thought-provoking new YA space adventure from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Ahsoka.

Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston’s latest is story of survival and self-determination.

Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.

Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora

I’ve had an ARC of this book since last year, but as it was pushed back to a 2021 pub date because of covid, I haven’t read it yet! But soon! Fragile Remedy is about a world with genetically engineered medi-tissue people, who have been created as a cure for the rich suffering from fatal lung rot. But GEMs have a failsafe: their health will rapidly deteriorate unless they are regularly dosed with medication by the creators, a way to keep the GEMs close. The book follows a GEM called Nate who has to decide whether to work for the shadowy terrorist organisation to keep himself alive, or stay and die with the boy he loves.

Sixteen-year-old Nate is a GEM—Genetically Engineered Medi-tissue created by the scientists of Gathos City as a cure for the elite from the fatal lung rot ravaging the population. As a child, he was smuggled out of the laboratory where he was held captive and into the Withers—a quarantined, lawless region. Nate manages to survive by using his engineering skills to become a Tinker, fixing broken tech in exchange for food or a safe place to sleep. When he meets Reed, a kind and fiercely protective boy that makes his heart race, and his misfit gang of scavengers, Nate finds the family he’s always longed for—even if he can’t risk telling them what he is.

But Gathos created a genetic failsafe in their GEMs—a flaw that causes their health to rapidly deteriorate as they age unless they are regularly dosed with medication controlled by Gathos City. As Nate’s health declines, his hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy. Violence erupts across the Withers, his illegal supply of medicine is cut off, and a vicious attack on Reed threatens to expose his secret. With time running out, Nate is left with only two options: work for a shadowy terrorist organization that has the means to keep him alive, or stay — and die — with the boy he loves.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

The Electric Kingdom looks to be a more hopeful outlook on a deadly flu pandemic that what the actual world has given us. It follows a girl and her DOG and really that’s all I need to know (and NO the dog does not die!!!! At least according to Goodreads).

When a deadly Fly Flu sweeps the globe, it leaves a shell of the world that once was. Among the survivors are eighteen-year-old Nico and her dog, on a voyage devised by Nico’s father to find a mythical portal; a young artist named Kit, raised in an old abandoned cinema; and the enigmatic Deliverer, who lives Life after Life in an attempt to put the world back together. As swarms of infected Flies roam the earth, these few survivors navigate the woods of post-apocalyptic New England, meeting others along the way, each on their own quest to find life and light in a world gone dark. The Electric Kingdom is a sweeping exploration of love, art, storytelling, eternal life, and above all, a testament to the notion that even in an exterminated world, one person might find beauty in another. 

The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris

Brittney Morris’s debut, Slay, was absolutely brilliant (in fact, it is the only book I’ve been able to get my very-not-a-reader partner to read in the past 2 years). Her next novel, The Cost of Knowing, follows a Black teen with the power to see into the future who forsees his brother’s death.

Dear Martin meets They Both Die at the End in this gripping, evocative novel about a Black teen who has the power to see into the future, whose life turns upside down when he foresees his younger brother’s imminent death, from the acclaimed author of SLAY.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short.

It’s hard to for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life.

And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes.

With Alex now in a race against time, death, and circumstances, he and Isaiah must grapple with their past, their future, and what it means to be a young Black man in America in the present.

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li

Clues to the Universe reminds me of the kind of soft scifi we saw with K. Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars, and I just love this genre!! Clues to the Universe follows Rosalind, a teen who is building a rocket with her dad before he dies, and Benjamin, who loves space comics and whose dad left years ago, when they become science partners and help each other with the unfinished business their dads left behind.

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

Alone Out Here by Riley Redgate

Lord of the Flies but in space and written by an author of colour?! Yes that sounds absolutely incredible!! This space thriller is set in a future where the first daughter and 53 other teens escape a dying Earth as the only hope for humanity’s survival.

SEVEN WAYS WE LIE, NOTEWORTHY, and FINAL DRAFT author Riley Redgate’s ALONE OUT HERE, pitched as LORD OF THE FLIES in space, a thriller set in a future in which the first daughter and 53 other teens end up on the only ship escaping a dying Earth and must contend with being the last hope for humanity’s survival as they fight to preserve their own humanity

City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

There is nothing I can say that will sounds more fun than what the author has on her website so, City of Shattered Light is about: Cyborgs! Guns! Flirting! 🔥 Matriarchal crime syndicates! Heists! Brain-tech interfaces! 🎮 Girls kissing girls! Girls kissing boys! 💋 Bass-pumping cyberpunk nightscapes! 🌃 Queer found family! Possessed murderous tech! 💀 Drugged bubblegum! Creepy labs! Organ piracy! ⚡️ Cute girls who are actually steel-and-silicon death machines! Gravity-shifting gladiatorial pits! 🌆154-hour nights!

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue A.I. hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gun-slinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The A.I. exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Another of my most anticipated books of the year! Iron Widow is a polyamourous retelling of the rise to power of the only female Chinese emperor, Wu Zeitan, if you mixed it up with Pacific Rim and the Handmaid’s Tale.

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But when she gets her vengeance, it becomes clear that she is an Iron Widow, a rare kind of female pilot who can sacrifice males to power up Chrysalises instead.

To tame her frightening yet valuable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest male pilot in Huaxia, yet feared and ostracized for killing his father and brothers. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will take over instead, then leverage their combined strength to force her society to stop failing its women and girls. Or die trying.SEE LESS

For All Time by Shanna Miles

I always love a good time travel romance, I think there at least 3 on this list which is so exciting! For All Time follows two lovers repeating their story across hundreds of lifetimes: fall in love, fight to be with each other, die. But now it’s time to break the cycle!

Outlander meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this teen romance that follows two lovers fated to repeat their story across hundreds of lifetimes, who hope to break the cycle once and for all.

Tamar is a headstrong slave in Mali, a high school junior with a terminal illness on a last-chance trip, a young woman struggling for independence in a segregated train car steaming her toward an arranged marriage. She is a musician, a warrior, a survivor.

Fayard is a soldier that must obey all the rules set before him, a charming high school senior who wishes to give his high school sweetheart a promise ring, a lost young man who runs numbers for King Fats in Chicago. He is a con man, a pioneer, a hopeless romantic.

Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world go through revolutions and civil wars, and have even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: Tamar and Fayard fall in love. Tamar and Fayard fight to be with each other. Tamar and Fayard die. Over and over again until, perhaps at last, they learn what it will take to break the cycle.

Borderland by Graham Akhurst

We know almost nothing about Borderland, other than one line on Goodreads “A coming-of-age, YA eco-thriller about Indigenous land rights with sci-fi elements” and the fact this is a LoveOzYA book coming from an Indigenous author. Which, really, is exactly all I need to know to know I want to read this book!

Adult

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw

Adult scifi is looking extremely good this year and starting this list off is The All-Consuming World, a book about a team of half-clone, half-machine, former criminals who get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission. But they are up against the highly-evolved AI of the universe who will do anything it takes to stop the humans from being in control every again. Also it has sentient spaceships which is one of my favourite tropes in scifi!!

A diverse team of broken, diminished former criminals get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission and to rescue a missing and much-changed comrade… but they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the secret at the heart of the planet Dimmuborgir. The highly-evolved AI of the universe have their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to keep humans from ever controlling the universe again. This band of dangerous women, half-clone and half-machine, must battle their own traumas and a universe of sapient ageships who want them dead, in order to settle their affairs once and for all. 

Cassandra Khaw’s debut novel is a page-turning exploration of humans and machines that is perfect for readers of Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, and Kameron Hurley.

Machinehood by S.B Divya

I love a good scifi that tackles classic scifi tropes such as capitalism, AI, labour rights and big pharma, and that’s what Machinehood is giving us!! The blurb asks us “if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?” and yes this that just sounds excellent and the exact type of shit I expect to see if capitalism continues for the next 100 years.

From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy.

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Yes I have read this and yes it is every bit as excellent as it sounds!! It was my last read of 2020 and of course made it onto my 2020 favourites list. It’s just so brilliantly fun and comforting: it felt like the book equivalent of a hug, all cosy and warm and soft with all your favourite tropes and the best kind of character development. But just as a note, there is a big content warning for past domestic abuse, so do be aware of that going in.

Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I had such a great time reading Gailey’s novella Upright Women Wanted, a book about queer librarian spies fighting fascists, so I can’t wait to see how they handle something more scifiy. The Echo Wife is about a clone having an affair with her creator’s husband. But now the husband is dead and the two wives have to clean up the mess.

The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of “Killing Eve” and “Westworld­”

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

Loving all these Black Mirror books coming in 2021!! Dark Lullaby combines this with the Handmaid’s tale and follows a mother who decides to have a child in a world where parenting standards are extremely heavily surveilled.

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, in Dark Lullaby a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.

When Kit decides to have a child, she thinks she’s prepared. She knows how demanding Induction is. She’s seen children Extracted. But in a society where parenting is strictly monitored under the watchful gaze of OSIP (The Office of Standards in Parenting), she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

It feels more rare to find romance in scifi than fantasy, which means I’m extra excited for this science fiction romance! It follows a young astronaut trying to solve the mystery of her uncle’s lost spaceship who falls in love with her uncle’s protégée.

A young, ambitious female astronaut’s life is upended by a fiery love affair that threatens the rescue of a lost crew in this brilliantly imagined novel in the tradition of Station Eleven and The Martian.

June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention, who leaves home to begin a grueling astronaut training program. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world has forgotten them, June alone has evidence that makes her believe the crew is still alive.

She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégée, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the love that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create–and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.

Equal parts gripping narrative of scientific discovery and charged love story, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship and the costs of human ingenuity. At its beating heart are June and James, whose love for each other is eclipsed only by their drive to conquer the challenges of space travel.

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

It’s a new Becky Chambers!!! Queen of scifi, this is the fourth novel in Chambers’ exceedingly popular Wayfarer’s series. It’s bound to have Chambers’ trademark joy and hope in a genre that often tackles very bleak and pessimistic futures.

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

The Swimmers by Marian Womack

First off, what a stunning cover?! It’s so pretty?! Second of all, The Swimmers is set in a world ravaged by global warming, and now has lots of new strange animals and settings, with humanity separated into those who live on the surface and those who live at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere.

A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.

After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.

The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are ‘equal’. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her. 

The Effort by Claire Holyrode

The Effort sounds like the kind of scifi that really focuses on humanity and hope, which I think we all need a bit of right now! It follows a group of scientitsts studying a dark comet who have to come up with a plan to destroy the comet, the greatest threat the earth has ever seen, or accept the annihilation of humanity.

When dark comet UD3 was spotted near Jupiter’s orbit, its existence was largely ignored. But to individuals who knew better — scientists like Benjamin Schwartz, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies — the threat this eight-kilometer comet posed to the survival of the human race was unthinkable. The 150-million-year reign of the dinosaurs ended when an asteroid impact generated more than a billiontimes the energy of an atomic bomb.

What would happen to Earth’s seven billion inhabitants if a similar event were allowed to occur?

Ben and his indomitable girlfriend Amy Kowalski fly to South America to assemble an international counteraction team, whose notable recruits include Love Mwangi, a UN interpreter and nomad scholar, and Zhen Liu, an extraordinary engineer from China’s national space agency. At the same time, on board a polar icebreaker life continues under the looming shadow of comet UD3. Jack Campbell, a photographer for National Geographic, works to capture the beauty of the Arctic before it is gone forever. Gustavo Wayãpi, a Nobel Laureate poet from Brazil, struggles to accept the recent murder of his beloved twin brother. And Maya Gutiérrez, an impassioned marine biologist is — quite unexpectedly — falling in love for the first time.

Together, these men and women must fight to survive in an unknown future with no rules and nothing to be taken for granted. They have two choices: neutralize the greatest threat the world has ever seen (preferably before mass hysteria hits or world leaders declare World War III) or come to terms with the annihilation of humanity itself.

Their mission is codenamed The Effort.

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whitley

I have an ARC of this one waiting for me right now, better get my act together and read it!! Skyward Inn is about an inn in the middle of nowhere, removed from technology and politics. It’s a story about togetherness and community and belonging and sounds like it will be a beautiful and hopeful science fantasy novel.

This is a place where we can be alone, together.

Skyward Inn, on the moorlands of the Western Protectorate, is removed from modern technology and politics. Theirs is a quiet life – The Protectorate has stood apart from the coalition of world powers that has formed. Instead the inhabitants choose to live simply, many of them farming by day and drinking the local brew at night.

The co-owners of the inn are Jem and Isley. Jem, a veteran of the coalitions’ war on the perfect, peaceful planet of Qita, has a smile for everyone in the bar. Her partner Isley does his cooking in the kitchen and his brewing in the cellar. He’s Qitan, but it’s all right – the locals treat him like one of their own. They think they understand him, but it’s only Jem who knows his homeland well enough to recreate it in the stories she tells him at dawn.

Skyward Inn is Jamaica Inn by way of Ursula Le Guin, bringing the influences, too, of Angela Carter, Michel Faber and Jeff Vandermeer to create a fantastic story of love, belonging, and togetherness. Asking questions of ideas of the individual and the collective, of ownership and historical possession, and of the experience of being human, it is at once timeless and thoroughly of its time.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

The legendary Casey McQuiston is here with time travel romance number 3 on this list!! Yes I love this trope, it’s the yearning that knowing the love is impossible that really gets me. One Last Stop is about a girl who meets another on the subway and falls for her. There’s just one problem: she’s displaced in time from the 1970s.

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

This is one of my favourite covers of 2021! I want to be the person on the cover so much. Persephone Stations is a space opera about a backwater planet ignored by the government, where a bar that caters to wannabe criminals is located, and the bar owner who seeks out the head of a criminal organisation to do a job for them.

Hugo award-nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner—caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought to employ them.

Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing—is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will affect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire was one of the most unique, exciting and fresh science fictions I’ve ever read: part love letter to poetry, part murder mystery, part political thriller, part exploration of colonisation and imperialism. It was an absolute triumph of the genre and I am incredibly excited to read the sequel (and read it extremely soon because I have an ARC!!!)

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the beginning of a new novella series for sci-fi legend Becky Chambers. Aiming to give hope for the future, A Psalm for the Wild-Built is set centuries after robots gained self-awareness and follows a tea monk who has a run in with a robot who won’t leave until they work out what people need.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

The Unraveling by Benjamin Rosenbaum

Coming from one of my favourite new publishers (Erewhon), The Unraveling is set in a future society where biotechnology has revolutionised gender – everyone can have multiple bodies! It follows a bioengineer and a child who accidentally end up in the centre of a scandalous art piece and unintentionally become icons for revolution. Give me all the scifis revolutionising gender please!! I NEED THEM ALL.

In a far-future society where biotechnology has revolutionized gender, young Fift must decide whether to conform or carve a new path.

In the distant future somewhere in the galaxy, a society has emerged where everyone has multiple bodies, cybernetics has abolished privacy, and individual and family success within the rigid social system is reliant upon instantaneous social approbation.
Young Fift is an only child of the staid gender, struggling to maintain their position in the system while developing an intriguing friendship with the poorly-publicized bioengineer Shria–somewhat controversial, since Shria is bail-gendered.
In time, Fift and Shria unintentionally wind up at the center of a scandalous art spectacle which turns into the early stages of a multi-layered revolution against their strict societal system. Suddenly they become celebrities and involuntary standard-bearers for the upheaval.

Fift is torn between the survival of Shria and the success of their family cohort; staying true to their feelings and caving under societal pressure. Whatever Fift decides will make a disproportionately huge impact on the future of the world. What’s a young staid to do when the whole world is watching?

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Yes, Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro is back with a new book – the first since his win – and it sounds absolutely excellent! Klara and the Sun follows Klara, an Artificial Friend sitting in a shop and waiting for someone to choose her to take home. Look I’m sorry, but even this description makes me teary because WHY DOES NO ONE WANT HER?!

Klara and the Sun is a magnificent new novel from the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro–author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

Sarah Pinsker is the author of Nebula award-winning novel A Song for a New Day and her newest book sounds just as epic! We Are Satellites is a novel about a family divided by technology when their teenage son wants a new brain implant, but their teenage daughter rises up against the corporate tech powerhouse, pitting the family against one another.

From award-winning author Sarah Pinsker comes a novel about one family and the technology that divides them.

Everybody’s getting one.

Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

Future Feeling by Joss Lake

Future Feeling sounds all kinds of weird and wonderful! It’s about a dog walker who tries to curse fellow trans man (and Instragram influencer) but accidentally curses a different trans man by sending him to the Shadowlands, an emotional landscape where trans people journey to achieve self-actualisation. Yes this sounds weird but it also sounds magnifcently wonderful and fun and very different!

An embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man—and must adventure into mysterious dimension in order to save him—in this wildly inventive, delightfully subversive, genre-nonconforming debut novel about illusion, magic, technology, kinship, and the emergent future.

The year is 20__, and Penfield R. Henderson is in a rut. When he’s not walking dogs for cash or responding to booty calls from his B-list celebrity hookup, he’s holed up in his dingy Bushwick apartment obsessing over holograms of Aiden Chase, a fellow trans man and influencer documenting his much smoother transition into picture-perfect masculinity on the Gram. After an IRL encounter with Aiden leaves Pen feeling especially resentful, Pen enlists his roommates, the Witch and the Stoner-Hacker, to put their respective talents to use in hexing Aiden. Together, they gain access to Aiden’s social media account and post a picture of Pen’s aloe plant, Alice, tied to a curse:

Whosoever beholds the aloe will be pushed into the Shadowlands.

When the hex accidentally bypasses Aiden, sending another young trans man named Blithe to the Shadowlands (the dreaded emotional landscape through which every trans person must journey to achieve true self-actualization), the Rhiz (the quasi-benevolent big brother agency overseeing all trans matters) orders Pen and Aiden to team up and retrieve him. The two trace Blithe to a dilapidated motel in California and bring him back to New York, where they try to coax Blithe to stop speaking only in code and awkwardly try to pass on what little trans wisdom they possess. As the trio makes its way in a world that includes pitless avocados and subway cars that change color based on occupants’ collective moods but still casts judgment on anyone not perfectly straight, Pen starts to learn that sometimes a family isn’t just the people who birthed you.

Magnificently imagined, linguistically dazzling, and riotously fun, Future Feeling presents an alternate future in which advanced technology still can’t replace human connection but may give the trans community new ways to care for its own.

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Another excellent novella coming from Tor.com!! And also, what a beautiful cover? That illustration is gorgeous! In the Watchful City is a scifi novella about a city that uses a living security network to watch over the city, with ‘extrasensory humans’. The novella follows one of these extrasensory humans as ae comes into contact with a mysterious visitor who carries a cabinet full of curiosities from around the world.

In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in a mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest.

The city of Ora uses a complex living network to surveil its inhabitants and maintain order. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over the city. Aer knowledge of the world begins and ends with what ae can see and experience through the living network, and ae takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora’s citizens safe from all harm.

All that changes when a mysterious visitor arrives enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s knowledge of aer world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—ae never before imagined to exist, ae finds aerself asking a question that throws into doubt aer entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is another icon in the SFF community and she is back with a new novella set in a future time, about the adopted daughter of death who wanders with no one except for a fox companion, searching for the object that fell from the sky and gave her powers.

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­–a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks–alone, except for her fox companion–searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

This scifi historical thriller sounds absolutely fascinating. It follows a race of aliens who exist to make sure humans reach space. They will do anything in their power to do so, no matter the cost. A History of What Comes Next follows two of these aliens as they try to lure Wenher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, to ensure the space race continues.

Showing that truth is stranger than fiction, Sylvain Neuvel weaves a scfi thriller reminiscent of Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, blending a fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940s rocketry with an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence in A History of What Comes Next.

Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.

Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.

But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.

A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them…

Dead Space by Kali Wallace

Kali Wallace is the mind behind creepy space horror Salvation Day, and now she’s back with Dead Space, a scifi thriller about a murder on an asteroid mine. Bring on creepy space books!

An investigator must solve a brutal murder on a claustrophobic asteroid mine in this tense science fiction thriller from the author of Salvation Day.

Hester Marley used to have a plan for her life. But when a catastrophic attack left her injured, indebted, and stranded far from home, she was forced to take a dead-end security job with a powerful mining company in the asteroid belt. Now she spends her days investigating petty crimes to help her employer maximize its profits. She’s surprised to hear from an old friend and fellow victim of the terrorist attack that ruined her life–and that surprise quickly turns to suspicion when he claims to have discovered something shocking about their shared history and the tragedy that neither of them can leave behind.

Before Hester can learn more, her friend is violently murdered at a remote asteroid mine. Hester joins the investigation to find the truth, both about her friend’s death and the information he believed he had uncovered. But catching a killer is only the beginning of Hester’s worries, and she soon realizes that everything she learns about her friend, his fellow miners, and the outpost they call home brings her closer to revealing secrets that very powerful and very dangerous people would rather keep hidden in the depths of space.

Unity by Elly Bangs

Unity is the debut novel from queer, trans woman Elly Bang and it sounds like an absolute brilliant piece of work! It’s a philosophical scifi thriller about Danae, a person who was once joined with a collective inside her body. She tries to escape the city, where she is a tech servant, with her lover and an ex-mercenary guide but is hunted by a warlord.

Evoking the gritty cyberpunk of Mad Max and the fluid idealism of Sense8Unity is a spectacular new re-envisioning of humanity. Breakout author Elly Bangs has created an expressive, philosophical, science-fiction thriller that expands upon consciousness itself.

Danae is not only herself. She is concealing a connection to a grieving collective inside of her body. But while she labors as a tech servant in the dangerous underwater enclave of Bloom City, her fractured self cannot mend.

In a desperate escape, Danae and her lover Naoto hire the enigmatic ex-mercenary Alexei to guide them out of the imploding city.

But for Danae to reunify, the three new fugitives will have to flee across the otherworldly beauty of the postapocalyptic Southwest. Meanwhile, Danae’s warlord enemy, the Duke, and a strange new foe, the Borrower, already seek them at any price.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

This one also featured on my 21 most anticipated books of 2021 because it looks incredible! This trans scifi is about three women trying to escape their pasts, including one who is trying to escape eternal damnation, and has an absolutely stellar review in from scifi legend Charlie Jane Anders, who described it as hopeful and kind which sounds like the exact type of scifi we need in the current world!

Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-baked donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe is found.

Losing Gravity by Kameron Hurley

We don’t know much about Losing Gravity, but it’s by scifi legend Kameron Hurley and so I don’t really need to know any more than that!

Hugo Award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s LOSING GRAVITY, pitched as Killing Eve meets Die Hard, in space, to Joe Monti at Saga Press, in a very nice deal, for publication in 2021.

And there you have it: a list of the science fiction novels I’m looking forward to reading this year (let’s all just ignore for the moment that there is no way I can read this many books okay?) What science fiction books are you looking forward to reading in 2021? Let me know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “42 must read science fiction books of 2021!

  1. Awesome list, Rach!! ❤ I’m super excited for Zoe Hana Mikuta’s Gearbreakers!! I also just finished A Psalm for the Wild-Built last night and it’s so cute and made me happy! Not sure if Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland counted as sci-fi, but I cannot wait for its official release so I can read the final version! (Yes, I’ve already read an uncorrected copy and I loved it!)

    Liked by 1 person

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