2023 has been an incredible year for sci-fi, particularly when it comes to debut authors. A glut of new voices have announced themselves on the scene over the last twelve months, while established writers have continued to up their game. Chances are, either your favourite author has released their best book this year, or you’ve discovered an emerging writer that’s blown you away.
Here are my top five books from 2023, in no particular order.
THE TEN PERCENT THIEF by Lavanya Lakshminarayan
What an incredible debut from Lavanya. I can’t express how much I loved this book. It tells a mosaic of stories set in a future Bangalore where society is measured by productivity. The top contributing 20% live in luxury, while the bottom 10% are subject to poverty. With perspectives that cover the entire range of human experience, this is guaranteed to astound you. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and everything in between. Utterly brilliant.
I AM AI by Ai Jiang
Ai Jiang is an author to watch. She’s already been nominated for a Nebula Award for her short fiction, and when she releases a novel at some point in the future, it’s going to be one of the greatest ever. In the meantime, you need to check out her novelette, I AM AI. It’s a cyberpunk folk tale which examines our relationship with creativity, our dependence on technology, and the meaning of humanity. And it does all of that in about 15,000 words! An augmented freelance writer is trying to meet a deadline. If I said more about the plot, I’d spoil it. But trust me — this is one you don’t want to miss.
THE FERRYMAN by Justin Cronin
You know how some books just hit you in the feels, and there’s nothing you can do about it? This year, the book that struck me deepest in the heart was The Ferryman. In an idyllic world, people who age are sent on a ferry to be renewed. Their memories are wiped and they come back younger to reintegrate into society. A ferryman helps people transition from one life to the next. But something is amiss, and he begins to question whether society is everything it claims to be. What begins as a cerebral story morphs into something soulful and emotive. If you want to be moved, I thoroughly recommend it.
THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SEA by Ray Nayler
Ray’s debut is an unmissable analysis of sentience that probes the responsibility of language, and the relationship between consciences and consciousness. When sentient octopuses make contact with humans, it’ll be up to Doctor Ha Nguyen and an artificial life form to figure out how to talk to the sea-dwellers, and determine if they intend peace or war. I loved the way this book opened up the ocean to me in new ways, and how thought-provoking it was by asking all the right questions. It makes for a deeply satisfying read.
SAINT ELSPETH by Wick Welker
I just finished reading this yesterday, and WOW! What a fantastic book! Alien ships (Hila) arrived on Earth twenty years ago, and then did nothing. They just hung there. But that didn’t stop humanity from warring on itself and causing its own downfall. Now, amidst the colonies that rose from the devastation, a wizened doctor will strive to prevent a post-apocalyptic city from descending into all-out militia war, all while striving to answer the mystery that’s plagued mankind for two decades — why did the Hila come? I’m a sucker for characters who are doctors. This reads like ER meets The Last Of Us, with aliens thrown into the mix. I adored everything about this book. 10/10. Watch out for a full review which I’ll be writing up soon.
A QUANTUM LOVE STORY by Mike Chen
Okay, now I know I said that I’d only pick my five favourites, but I get to exploit a massive loophole here. Mike’s book isn’t released until January 2024, so although I’ve read an early copy, it technically doesn’t fall into 2023. But I HAD to list it, because it’s absolutely immense! It’s no surprise to anyone to hear that I love time travel stories. But this time looping romance is something else. I don’t know how Mike pulled it off, but it’s just perfect from beginning to end, and is guaranteed to be one of the best books of next year. Do yourself a favour and pre-order it. The characters feel real. The romance is natural. The plot is mind-boggling. The whole thing is just *chef’s kiss*.
Descendant Machine by Gareth L. Powell is absolutely awesome. It’s got everything you love about Gareth’s storytelling rolled into one fantastic book.
Stark Holborn wrote the perfect sequel in Hel’s Eight, her next addition to the Factus universe. I don’t know how she managed to write something that outshone Ten Low, but she did!
Lords of Uncreation by Adrian Tchaikovsky gave us the strongest conclusion to a trilogy I’ve ever read. It’s an instant classic, and fully deserves to win all the awards. Amazing.
Thick As Thieves finished MJ Kuhn’s fantasy-heist duology. What a perfect ending and amazing follow up to her debut, Among Thieves. MJ is the best. Her characters have the greatest banter. And her books are guaranteed to entertain.
And if, like me, you’re a fan of reading scripts, The Dex Legacy (Season One) Collected Scripts by Emily Inkpen is a brilliant book, detailing how the The Dex Legacy audio drama series was made. It’s a great resource for any writer who wonders what scriptwriting for audio drama is all about, as well as a total must-have for fans of the show.
What a year it’s been! 2023 truly was stacked with modern masterpieces and debuts galore. As a fan of sci-fi, I couldn’t be happier to see how speculative fiction continues to expand, and I can’t wait to see where next year will take us.
On a personal note, I also want to thank everyone who’s picked up a copy of my own releases this year. My debut novel (New Yesterday) came out in April. And my latest book (Time’s Ellipse) released earlier this month. If I’m listing all my favourites from 2023, then everyone who’s read, reviewed, or reached out to me about my stories is at the top of my list. You’re all my favourites, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Now, roll on 2024!