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Five of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2023

Conquest by Nina Allan

Nina Allan (Riverrun)

Frank has a knack for recognizing patterns in all aspects of his life. He has a great passion for Bach’s music and excels as a coder, but his fascination leads him down a rabbit hole of a conspiracy theory involving aliens planning to conquer Earth. This theory is based on an obscure 1950s science fiction story by John C Sylvester. When Frank suddenly disappears, his girlfriend hires a private investigator to track him down. The novel follows the detective’s search and includes sections on concert reviews, true crime, film criticism, biographical sketches, and excerpts from Sylvester’s story. As the plot unfolds, it touches on topics such as David Bowie, Upstream Color, The X-Files, and Stephen Hawking. Is there a connection between these seemingly unrelated elements, or do they simply add up to a bigger picture? As the story progresses, the reader is left wondering if the characters are falling into a dangerous mindset or if everything ultimately fits together like individual notes in a musical composition. Allan’s novel is an intricately woven tale that explores complex themes, much like the Bach variations that Frank admires. It is considered her best work yet.

Him by Geoff Ryman

Geoff Ryman (Angry Robot)

Him is a captivating work of historical fiction, capturing the everyday life in Judea during the first century with vivid detail. However, it also delves into the realm of science fiction, exploring themes of multiple universes, otherness, and the nature of reality. The tale may seem familiar at first, following the childhood and ministry of a figure similar to Jesus, known as “Yeshu”, who is born as a girl named Avigayil but identifies as male from a young age (using Aramaic names for historical accuracy). The novel’s concept of a multiverse is overseen by a God who sends variations of redemption into each reality. This grand science-fictional idea is anchored by Ryman’s expertly crafted and evocative writing, immersing readers into a believable world. The relationship between Yeshu and his mother Maryam is beautifully portrayed, and while the ending is not entirely unexpected, it is deeply moving. Ryman’s gospel accomplishes what great science fiction does: challenging our perception of the familiar and provoking new thoughts and emotions.

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Some Desperate Glory
Emily Tesh (Orbit)

This dynamic debut combines elements of both space opera and military science fiction, revitalizing both genres. Desperate Glory moves at a fast pace, keeping the reader engaged and satisfied with its expansive world-building and thrilling adventures. However, it also maintains a level of complexity and avoids simplistic solutions. Humanity is just one of three galactic species to have discovered “shadowspace” technology, which powers starships. However, we are viewed by the other species as being inherently violent due to our evolution as apex predators on our dangerous planet, Earth. With Earth now destroyed, the protagonist of the novel, Kyr, grows up on the military space station Gaea, fully embracing its militaristic and fascist beliefs and seeking revenge. But as the story progresses and Kyr learns more about the universe, she begins to question her own assumptions, leading to a deeper understanding of the world around her. Kyr’s journey to maturity does not follow the expected plot cliches, making for an invigorating read. This book is sure to become a classic in its genre.

In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

In Ascension
Martin MacInnes (Atlantic)

The novel by MacInnes, which has been nominated for the Booker Prize, explores both the vastness and intimacy of life. The story follows two sisters, Leigh and Helena, as they take divergent paths: Leigh becomes a marine biologist, traveling the world, while Helena stays at home with their mother and becomes a financial lawyer. Leigh’s work on a survey-ship leads to the discovery of a deep fissure in the ocean bed. Later, she joins a space mission to investigate a strange object from deep space. However, the crew’s consciousness is affected during their pursuit of this object through the solar system. As Leigh looks out into outer space, she sees a single curved body consisting of planets, the sun, and moons, resembling an aquatic life form in its juvenile stage. This novel delves into profound ideas such as our place in the universe, our connections with each other and with nature. Despite its complex themes, it remains a captivating and exciting read.

The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar

Source: theguardian.com