Best science fiction and fantasy of 2020 so far

Adrian Liang on June 29, 2020

Best science fiction and fantasy of 2020 so far

It’s here, it’s here! The Amazon Books editors’ list of their favorite science fiction and fantasy books published between January and June 2020.

Usually the real world doesn’t veer so close to science fiction. But this year, with its mix of global pandemic and racial justice protests, the social ills and bodily ills that are so frequently tackled in sci-fi have manifested in our day-to-day lives.

Which is not to say we should give up reading sci-fi and fantasy! Stories of heroism from unlikely heroes, opening one’s eyes to the magic in the world (sometimes literal magic), finding family, and rampaging sasquatches are among the best reads of the year so far.

Below are nine of our favorites, but be sure to check out all 20 books we selected as the best science fiction and fantasy of 2020 so far.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin brings her reality-ripping storytelling skills to her own backyard of New York City in this vivid series starter. In The City We Became, few people realize that Earth’s grandest cities—London, Hong Kong, São Paolo, and others—are alive. When New York City tries to join that select group, five people in the city unexpectedly become the living embodiments of each of the city’s boroughs and must fend off an ancient enemy that has successfully killed cities before. Fortunately, the city’s avatars also discover that with great responsibility comes great powers. Paranormal battles on top of cabs, hidden subway stations, New York City politics, and local artists’ galleries thread through each other in a live-wire love letter to the city and its diverse denizens. While Jemisin has won awards with her previous novels, this one may be the most likely to win readers’ hearts. We also named The City We Became one of the top 20 best books of 2020 so far across all categories. Read our interview with N. K. Jemisin about The City We Became.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Linus Baker, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), investigates orphanages that care for magical youth to make sure that the children are safe. But he does everything completely by the book, and once he makes his recommendations about the children, the orphanages, or the people who run them, he doesn’t look back. When Extremely Upper Management sends Linus on a top-secret trip to a “non-traditional” orphanage that houses six children of various abilities, Linus expects the month-long investigation to be straightforward. But he soon learns better in this heartwarming story of finding and making one’s family in the most unlikeliest of places. The House in the Cerulean Sea is like a much-needed hug, at the end of which you’ll utter a happy sigh. Read our interview with author TJ Klune about this delightful fantasy.

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Everyone’s favorite part-human, part-machine security unit is back in the fray with a full-length novel, accompanied once more by ART, a “research vessel” that carries a remarkable assortment of armaments. Murderbot’s parenthesis-within-parenthesis thought processes feel a bit unruly in the beginning, but soon the action fires up and Murderbot does what it does best: delivers a rip-roaring adventure punctuated with humor and explosions. Happily, the next Murderbot novel is already scheduled for spring 2021.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Set during the tenth annual Hunger Games, this novel stars 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow, whom readers met in The Hunger Games—set decades later—as President Snow. Senior editor Seira Wilson says of this Hunger Games prequel, “Clever Suzanne Collins takes a character we've disliked or even despised through all three books, and shows us a side of him we'd never imagined existed. A brilliant surprise for the reader who realizes that, much like Coriolanus Snow himself, we have made assumptions because we never saw the whole picture.” We also named The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes as one of the top 20 books of 2020 so far across all categories.

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie

Orphaned by the seizure of his planet by the Umber Empire, Ettian sees the Umber military academy as his path to living a pilot’s existence untroubled by hunger, fear, and bad dreams. But when his roommate, best friend, and secret crush, Gal, is targeted for assassination and then revealed to be the heir to the empire, Ettian finds that the past he’s tried to keep buried won’t stay put. Fast-paced, fun, and sweetly vibrating with longing, Emily Skrutskie's sci-fi adventure delivers a humdinger of an ending that will have readers lining up for book two in the series.

Devolution by Max Brooks

Mount Rainier erupts, and a small high-tech community nestled deep in the mountains is cut off from civilization and their weekly delivery of groceries. And now winter is coming. Some writers might think that’s enough conflict for a high-stakes adventure novel. Max Brooks, author of the groundbreaking zombie novel World War Z, stretches his imagination even further and gleefully lobs a troop of displaced and hungry Sasquatches into the mix. The big, foul-smelling predators are no surprise, but that doesn’t mean the tension isn’t page-twisting sharp. And the Sasquatches' presence gives Brooks an entertaining scenario through which he poses the hard but timely question about when one should be optimistic and when one should prepare for the worst. Readers of Andy Weir’s The Martian or Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series will want to clear their schedules so they can savor every chilling scene of Devolution. Just don’t take this book with you while camping in the woods.

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

Caruso launches a new fantasy series featuring a young woman who suffered an accident in her youth that left her magic twisted. Unlike the rest of her noble family, who specialize in life-growing magic, Ryxander has magic that can kill, and she does it just by touching someone. When a guest opens a forbidden door, a power like no other is unleashed and warps those it touches, and Ryxander soon discovers that humanity’s long-ago enemies are unleashed and on the hunt again. Caruso fills every page with action and emotion as Ryxander struggles with family, culture, and her own magic to do what she hopes is the right thing.

Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

Matthew Ward’s debut novel hits all the familiar notes of epic fantasy—noble houses in conflict, forbidden sorcery, soaring prose—but brings a fresh and vibrant sound that makes it stand out among its peers. While a seemingly crushed rebellion simmers beneath the surface, Josiri Trelan has to weigh the right moment to revive the fight against his people’s oppressors. But another enemy lurks across the border, its eyes on a bigger prize. Interweaving and conflicting motivations give Legacy of Ash complexity and depth even as you try to figure out which likable character to root for.

The Night Country by Melissa Albert

Albert’s sequel to 2018’s The Hazel Wood brings readers back to the eerie world of the Hinterland, where stories live. Yet not all stories are nice. After escaping from the clutches of the Hinterland, Alice Proserpine tries to live a normal life in New York City, along with several other Hinterland refugees and her friend, Finch. But someone starts killing off the storybook characters hiding in the city, and Alice must discover why. Said senior editor Seira Wilson about this book, “Albert has crafted a sequel that can also stand on its own, and for those among us who love a good fairy tale and a mystery, The Night Country is a dragon’s hoard of riches.”

If you’re looking for more, check out our full list of the 20 best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2020 so far, including new reads from Veronica Roth, Zen Cho, Sarah J. Maas, John Scalzi, and more.

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