Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2022 and 2023, Crunched

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Jenn Northington

Director, Editorial Operations

Jenn Northington has worked in the publishing industry wearing various hats since 2004, including bookseller and events director, and is currently Director of Editorial Operations at Riot New Media Group. You can hear her on the SFF Yeah! podcast nerding out about sci-fi and fantasy. When she’s not working, she’s most likely gardening, running, or (obviously) reading. Find her on Tumblr at jennIRL and Instagram at iamjennIRL.

I’ve been tabulating and crunching data again, friends, and I’m here to tell you about what’s getting recognition in science fiction and fantasy! I have been talking about this kind of thing on SFF Yeah! over the years, but I figured this year, why not share the love? 

A little on my Highly Unscientific Methology: As the 2023 awards shortlists and “Best Of The Year” lists start going up, I grab the links; once I get a critical mass, I start to check for speculative fiction titles. Some of these lists and awards are SFF specific and some are not, but there is often a book or two from our genres of interest mixed in with the others. Then, I dump the titles into a spreadsheet and run some formulas to calculate how many times they’re showing up, because…well, why not? It’s always interesting to see what books from the prior year are getting awards nods, and what from this year are getting all the end-of-year buzz. 

I try to check similar sources every year, and have a running list. Sometimes I’ll add a new one, sometimes I’ll skip one, because again…why not? We are still missing a few lists that I do like to incorporate; most notably, the Goodreads Choice Awards haven’t been voted on yet (although frankly, that’s the one I’m least interested in seeing the results of, because they are usually a snooze). I’ll be updating this post as those and others come in, so check back!

It’s also worth noting that I generally don’t distinguish by format between novel and novella, but I do screen out short stories since it doesn’t seem fair to the stories: very few end-of-year posts are highlighting specific ones. (That would be a really interesting separate list, though, note to self.)

I’m pretty delighted with the results from this year; even without some big-deal lists, there’s already a fascinating mix of usual suspects and surprises. So let’s dig into them!

Awards – Titles Published in 2022, Nominated or Awarded* in 2023

Book cover of Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk

Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk (6 nominations/wins)

Babel by R.F. Kuang (5)

Spear by Nicola Griffith (4)

Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn (3)

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (3)

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo (3)

The Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (3)

I was genuinely shocked that anything beat Babel — the publicity, word-of-mouth, and reviews for that book were out of this world, for good reason. It’s still possible as the year closes out that Babel could move up the ranks. But as a long-time fan of Polk’s, I can’t be mad about where this list stands right now! I think it’s notable as well what a cross-section of writers, styles, and sub-genres this list covers. 

It’s largely fantasy, but we’ve got a mix — historical, contemporary, second world, our world, adult, YA, etc. The only sci-fi-ish title on here is The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, which is historical. It’s not because my sources don’t have sci-fi titles; eyeballing it, it looks like more division in sci-fi around what got attention, whereas the fantasy contenders had a few heavy-hitters. I’ve read four of the seven, so no huge surprises here aside from the order.

Why only seven? Because that was the cut-off before we got into the long-tail of two mentions. 

Best of 2023 (Published in 2023)

Book cover of Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah; book cover is yellow with an illustration of an orange scythe on fire

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (6)

Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang (4)

Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez (4)

There were three clear “most picked” titles this year, and I don’t think they’ll be a surprise to anyone. Chain-Gang All-Stars took the world by storm, and it deserves every accolade its getting. I know Sharifah loved Our Share of Night (she talked about it on the pod!) and Land of Milk and Honey has been on my TBR since it was announced.

I struggled, I confess, with whether or not to present you with the “mentioned twice” list. It got longer and longer as this post developed and new lists went live (this is the third time before publication I’ve updated it, in just two days!). But it’s a really interesting selection, and since I get to decide, here you go! In no particular order, here is every book** (so far) that got at least two mentions in this year’s Best ofs:

the cover of Ballad & Dagger

Ballad & Dagger by Daniel José Older

Brother Alive by Zain Khalid

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

Future by Naomi Alderman

The Kindred by Alechia Dow

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang

Victory City cover

Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei

Prophet by Sin Blaché and Helen Macdonald

White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link

Translation State by Ann Leckie

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

Victory City by Salman Rushdie 

Again, there’s nice range here; we’ve got literary speculative fiction, YA is represented, there’s some horror, and one of my all-time favorites (The Spear Cuts Through Water) is here. (I would have been VERY UNHAPPY if it was not on there, everyone please read it.) One of them, Brother Alive by Zain Khalid, I was really excited to see twice, because that’s a debut and I love a new author to get excited about. More sci-fi, as well!

As I said at the top, I’ll update this post as the final round-ups trickle in; it’ll be interesting to see if there are any dramatic moves up and down in placement. I’m betting not, but you never know! In the meantime, I’ve got some catch-up reading to do.

*I don’t distinguish too much between shortlists and finalists/winners for Awards, because the shortlists are where the juicy stuff is to my mind.

**This is neither scientific, comprehensive, or 100% accurate, in part because I tried to feed my data into a chatbot to do the counting for me and it failed spectacularly no matter how I tried to get it to do what I wanted, AND it muddled the data for me. So there are probably others that should be on here and aren’t; mea culpa, and also AI is really not as useful as people keep insisting, even for data-crunching.