Top 10 Sci-Fi Novels of 2021 - Space Operas & Meditations On Humanity
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Top 10 Sci-Fi Novels of 2021 Brought Us Space Operas and Meditations On Humanity

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BY January 8, 2022

Another year has drawn to a close, and 2021 was filled with excellent genre fiction once again. Recently we discussed our favorite fantasy novels of the year. But we couldn’t forget about science fiction. This year brought us conclusions to beloved series like The Expanse and some stellar debut novels. Let’s dig into the top 10 sci-fi novels of 2021 for your reading lists. These titles are presented in no particular order.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater Than Death Charlie Jane Anders Image via Tor Teen

Charlie Jane Anders made her mark on the SFF genre with titles like All the Birds In the Sky and The City In the Middle of the Night. In 2021 she expanded into YA science fiction with Victories Greater Than Death. This queer space opera is a fun adventure/coming of age story centered around a girl who knows she is an alien. In fact she is a clone of a legendary hero. And she awaits the day that she will be called back to the stars to fulfil her destiny.  Victories Greater Than Death deals with some heavy adult themes like xenophobia, genocide, and the traumas of war. But somehow none of that detracts from the fun. Check out my podcast interview with Charlie Jane Anders for more on this excellent title.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine – Top 10 Sci-Fi Novels of 2021

A desolation called peace markady Image via Tor

The sequel to the bestselling novel A Memory Called Empire, this novel picks up after the dramatic events of that story. Our main character of Mahit is back on her home station. But she is utterly changed by what she has been through. Much like the first novel, this is a gorgeously written story centered around the questions of identity, loyalty, and what it means to hold power. A Desolation Called Peace expands the cast of characters and makes all of them compelling and fascinating. An excellent sequel that sets up for the third installment of this trilogy. One of the top sci-fi novels of 2021, and we are betting the third book will be making another best-of list in the future.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Top Sci-Fi Novels 2021 Psalm For The Wild Built Image via Tor/Forge

This novel is the first in a new series – Monk & Robot – and was one of the most acclaimed sci-fi books of the year. This is a world where a robot uprising is old news, and surprisingly ended in a peaceful manner. These robots gained self-awareness and walked away from humanity, disappearing into the wilderness and becoming legend. But one day a robot approaches a monk and asks the question: “what do people need?” This deeply philosophical novel addresses the age-old questions of what it means to be human and to be alive, but also what it means to live.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Top Sci-Fi Novels 2021 Light From Uncommon Stars Image via Tor/Forge

A genre-bending novel that involves both aliens and a deal with the devil. It is also a tender queer romance that deals primarily with both the immigrant experience and the transgender experience. Peeling back the layers of this story reveals new surprises and painful truths. But it is tender at the core – full of heart and magic. This is a story that explores art and creativity in vivid and compelling ways, while acknowledging how much of the self goes into creation. There are many ways we create our own stories, our own identities, and Light From Uncommon Stars explores that beautifully.

Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey – Top 10 Sci-Fi Novels of 2021

Leviathan Falls Image via Orbit Books

The final book in the popular space opera series – The Expanse. The publication of this book was perfectly timed to release simultaneously with the premiere of the (allegedly) final season of the show on Amazon Prime. The title hearkens all the way back to the first book in the series – Leviathan Wakes. And much like that final season, the last book is a slow burn that slowly wraps up some major storylines.

But the vital thing about The Expanse is the living breathing universe the authors have created. It feels like it has grown beyond them (and the television adaptation certainly is part of that) and will continue to exist after Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck stop telling these stories. This was always  planned to be the final novel in the series, and no matter how it ends it feels as though the universe will always be out there waiting for us. Perhaps someday we will have a chance to return. Until then, we have Leviathan Falls.

The Second Rebel by Linden Lewis

The Second Rebel Linden Lewis Image via Simon & Schuster

The sequel to 2020’s excellent First Sister, this novel continues to build the universe that Linden Lewis is creating. This series has been hailed as a queer feminist space opera, and it absolutely delivers in those areas. But The Second Rebel begins to dig into the way civilization works, and how cultures are oppressed and exploited by those in power. It introduces new characters and complicates the narrative significantly. But at the heart of the novel this is a story about relationships, and how we affect those around us even after they are no longer in our lives.

It is an excellent second installment that raises the stakes for every character, and makes it one of the top sci-fi novels of 2021. To hear more about The Second Rebel from the author directly, be sure to check out my interview with Linden Lewis that I conducted for the Comic Years Podcast.

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

2021 Science Fiction Remote Control Image via Tor/Forge

The queen of Africanfuturism returned with a new standalone novel that was one of the best of 2021. Like much of Okorafor’s work, this is a story that blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy to create its own surreal atmosphere. It is a story about the adopted daughter of Death who wanders the lands of a near-future Africa. The protagonist is searching for answers to understand her transformation – to figure out who she has become and why she wields these mysterious powers. It is folklore wrapped up in mythology, transported to a new age and time. Although Nnedi Okorafor doesn’t fit neatly into genre divides, we still feel comfortable declaring this one of the top sci-fi novels of 2021.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Andy Weir Image via Penguin Random House

The highly anticipated new novel by the author of The Martian did not disappoint in 2021. It follows the sole survivor of a desperate mission suffering from amnesia. He awakens millions of miles from home, with only corpses for company. Project Hail Mary plays on the author’s strengths: knowledge of real science and physics that he imparts to his characters so they can solve impossible problems with clever solutions. Weir takes a high concept premise and follows it through to its logical end. In this way, Weir hearkens back to the era of classic hard science fiction – while elevating it to new heights.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey – Top 10 Sci-Fi Novels of 2021

The Echo Wife Adaptation Image via Tor/Forge

Author Sarah Gailey has made a career out of mashing together genres, like her Wild West/Science Fiction tale of Upright Women Wanted. This time we are smashing together a murder mystery with a classic science fiction trope in The Echo Wife. Evelyn Caldwell is an award-winning genetic researcher. But she soon discovers that her husband has used her science to created a clone of Evelyn designed to be the opposite of her in every way. Her clone is “patient, gentle, and obedient,” and of course her husband prefers this version to the real thing. But when the husband is murdered, Evelyn and her clone must team up to solve the mystery. This is a thriller in every sense of the word, but it also a thoughtful text that explores questions of identity, morality, relationships, and the gender divide.

The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes

2021 Sci-Fi Novels The Last Watch Image via Tor/Forge

The debut novel from J.S. Dewes has been described as “The Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones in space.” Also drawing comparisons to The Expanse and Battlestar Galactica, there is no doubt that this is a serious space opera. It follows a group of rogues who guard the edge of the known universe in engine-less ships. But when they discover that the universe is on the verge of collapsing, it is up to them to find a way to stop it. Complex world-building and characters to root for make this a series to keep an eye on, and also makes it one of the top sci-fi novels of 2021.

There you have it, the top 10 sci-fi novels of 2021 according to Comic Years. Did we leave any of your favorites off our list? Let us know in the comments and join the conversation with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today.

(Featured image by Greg Rakozy via Unsplash)

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Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

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