Skip to main content

15 science fiction and fantasy books to read this December

15 science fiction and fantasy books to read this December


Space operas, fairy tales, and a whole bunch of trilogy-enders

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

We’ve reached the end of 2017, and it’s been quite the year for books. December tends to be the slow period of the publishing calendar, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some exciting books hitting stores this month.

I’ve been trying to find time to pick up more nonfiction books this fall, and one of the more interesting ones that I’ve dug into is American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse. It’s a quick read about a a string of fires set by a pair of arsonists in Virginia’s Accomack County. Hesse weaves in the backstory of the county — which used to be one of the wealthiest in the nation — with a bizarre romance that led to over dozens of abandoned houses being set ablaze. If you enjoyed the Serial podcast, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

There are plenty of science fiction and fantasy books coming out this month — interestingly, many are the conclusions to trilogies — all of which should make for good reading material during the holidays.

December 1st

Everyone: Worlds Without Walls edited by Tony C. Smith

Tony C. Smith is the co-founder of the online podcast magazine Starship Sofa. Following last year’s divisive election, he found himself growing concerned about divisions and injustice, and decided to Kickstart an anthology that showcased the diversity of authors that science fiction has within its ranks. Smith recruited some impressive names for the anthology, such as Ken Liu, JY Yang, and Lavie Tidhar, and in this time of troublesome politics, this looks like it’ll be an essential read.

December 5th

Star Wars: Canto Bight by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, John Jackson Miller

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is almost here. But these films aren’t self-contained stories: they come with additional novels and games that support the narrative. This new anthology is set in one of the film’s upcoming locations, the casino world of Canto Bight. It features four new stories from Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, Rae Carson, and John Jackson Miller. They write about a hapless traveling salesman, a fight over a bottle of wine, gambling, and power struggles among the lavish halls of the world’s casinos.

Image: Del Rey Books

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

One of my favorite reads this year was Katherine Arden’s debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale, a fantasy story inspired by Russian fairy tales and the first of her Winternight trilogy. In it, Vasilisa Petrova, who can see the fantastic creatures that inhabit the Russian landscape, saved her village from destruction. In Arden’s follow-up, The Girl in the Tower, Vasilisa has been driven out of her home by her frightened neighbors. Instead of marrying or entering a convent, she dresses as a man and sets out for adventure. Her exploits and heroism brings her to Moscow, where she discovers a plot to unseat the Grand Prince. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “fairy tales don’t get better than this.”

Defiant by Dave Bara

Defiant is the final installment of Dave Bara’s Lightship Chronicles. In the trilogy’s first installments, Impulse and Starbound, Bara introduced readers to Lieutenant Peter Cochrane and his adventures in the Quantar Royal Navy. With the galaxy in a peaceful state, Cochrane and his new wife depart on a diplomatic mission to Sandosa, a new member of the Union. But upon his arrival, his ship is attacked, and he’s pulled into a new conflict, one that will decide the future of humanity.

Immortal Life: A Soon to be True Story by Stanley Bing

A wealthy tech inventor named Arthur Vogel oversees a vast corporate empire that stretches all the way to Mars. But despite his wealth and power, he’s come to the end of his life at the age of 127. To try and cheat death, he’s engineered a human body to house his consciousness for a chance at a second life. But this body, Gene, has some other plans, kicking off a battle between two minds for the control of one body. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that its “optimistic nightmare will appeal to any reader wanting a glimpse down the slippery slope of technological domination.”

The Chaos of Luck by Catherine Cerveny

In November, Orbit released the first book of Catherine Cerveny’s Felicia Sevigny series, The Rule of Luck. This month, it’s releasing the next installment, The Chaos of Luck, in which fortune-teller Felicia Sevigny arrives on Mars after her prior adventures with crime boss Alexei Petriv. She’s hoping that Mars will prove to be a clean slate for the two of them, but her tarot cards keep predicting more challenges ahead, not only for the couple, but for all of humanity. RT Book Reviews says that it’s a “worthy successor” that posts “serious ethical questions about where today’s social and political trajectories might lead.”

Image: Orbit Books

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

The Expanse enters its homestretch with its seventh installment, Persepolis Rising. Last year, the two authors behind pseudonym James S.A. Corey chatted with us about the series, saying that the last three installments will be “one big plot arc coming to the finale.” In this installment, humanity has spread into the galaxy by way of an alien gate system. James Holden and his crew onboard the Rocinante have spent the years helping keep the peace. However, when a long-lost colonial world called Laconia reestablishes contact, it offers a violent new vision for the future of humanity, which could change the Solar System and the crew of the Rocinante forever. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that the book’s “tightly plotted story is stuffed to the brim with intrigue, action, awesome alien tech, multidimensional characters, and provocative ideas.”

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is a master storyteller with an amazing catalog of work behind her. In recent years, she’s been blogging. Her new collection No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters brings together 40 posts written between 2010 and 2015, covering her thoughts on writing, literature, aging, cats, and more. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “spirited, wry reflections on aging, literature, and America’s moral life.”

Mississippi Roll: A Wildcards novel edited by George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin became a household name with Game of Thrones, but he’s also well-known for editing the long-running Wild Cards shared superhero universe. Mississippi Roll is the 24th installment of the series, and is written by Stephen Leigh, John J. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Carrie Vaughn, David D. Levine, and Cherie Priest. The story is set aboard the historical steamboat Natchez, which is known for its superpowered entertainers. When a crew member mysteriously dies, a retired police detective picks up the case, which leads to a series of murky questions about the ship and its past. It might be a good time to check out the series: Martin revealed last year that Wild Cards has been optioned for television.

Image: Tor Books

The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

In her debut novel Too Like Lightning and its follow-up Seven Surrenders, Ada Palmer introduced readers to a utopian 25th century where the leaders of the great Hives conspired to ensure global stability, even if it cost some lives through secret, mathematically planned murders. But in The Will to Battle, that secret has been revealed, and the long years of peace are coming to an end.

A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall

Alex Marshall (the pen name for Jesse Bullington) concludes his Crimson Empire trilogy with A War in Crimson Embers. Marshall previously introduced readers to a former general named Cobalt Zosia, who returned to the world to exact revenge after the destruction of her village. In A War in Crimson Embers, she has to contend with what her vengeance has wrought: her reputation is in tatters and her allies have scattered, all while an inhuman enemy stands ready to destroy the world. Publisher’s Weekly calls the book a “must-read for fans of Marshall and the Crimson Empire’s antiheroes.”

Hymn by Ken Scholes

Ken Scholes brings his five-part Psalms of Isaak series to a close with Hymn. The series is a SF-fantasy hybrid set in the distant future where magic is commonplace, where generals and wizards fight for control over the Named Lands. That battle comes to an end in Hymn, as the fight between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y’Zirite Empire reaches a turning point. With his son feared dead, General Rudolfo infiltrates the enemy Y’zirite forces, hoping to destroy them from the inside. RT Book Reviews says that “Scholes wraps up multiple storylines with a neat bow and delivers exciting foreshadowing of future storytelling in this world.”

God's Last Breath by Sam Sykes

With God’s Last Breath, fantasy author Sam Sykes brings his Bring Down Heaven series to a close. In The City Stained Red, Sykes introduced readers to Lenk, an adventurer who just wants to get paid for their work, only to get caught up in a brutal civil war in which a cult is working to resurrect an ancient demon. In The Mortal Tally, Lenk is forced to save the city by tracking down the demon Khoth-Kapira, tempting him with promises of power and wealth. Sykes picks up the story with Khoth-Kapira’s escape into the mortal world. At first a reluctant champion, Lenk soon begins to doubt the demon’s intentions for the world. RT Book Reviews calls the book “the strongest of a memorable trilogy.”

December 12th

The Two of Swords: Volume 3 by K. J. Parker

In 2015, fantasy author K.J. Parker began a new experiment: he serialized his new novel The Two of Swords online. With each monthly installment, he told the story of an epic war, with a huge cast of characters fighting on each side. That serialized story has now been collected into three volumes, so you don’t have to track down each individual installment.

December 26th

Image: Tor Books

Survival by Ben Bova

Ben Bova is one of the best-known hard SF authors out there. His latest novel, Survival, continues his Star Quest series, in which humanity ventures beyond the Solar System and discovers an ancient alien civilization. (It’s also part of Bova’s much larger Grand Tour series, which began with New Earth, Death Wave, and Apes and Angels.) In earlier books, a group of human explorers met an ancient AI, which warned of a threat that could endanger all of humanity. In Survival, it’s refusing to let the expedition leave, worried that more humans will follow if they learn of its existence.