This was a good year for cross-genre pollination. It was packed with brilliant books that stretched the boundaries of what counts as science fiction and fantasy — and even what counts as fiction itself. Authors like Ken MacLeod and G. Willow Wilson spun tales that begin as near-future dystopian science fiction, only to turn abruptly into fantastical tales of supernatural creatures. Call it magical cyberpunk realism.
We also witnessed a strong resurgence of political themes in genre fiction, as Maureen McHugh and Kim Stanley Robinson explored what it means to be part of a civilization on the brink of transformation or collapse.
Here are six of the year's best works of science fiction and fantasy — two of which were favorites from our summer list, too.
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Every year, NPR's book critics and correspondents put together lists of recommendations, their favorite titles from the year across genres. Well, here is reviewer Annalee Newtiz with her top science-fiction pick of the year.
ANNALEE NEWTIZ, BYLINE: 2012 was a great year for science fiction that pushed boundaries. Books crossed genres. They veered into fantasy and literature, and political themes are making a comeback too. A great example is "2312" by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's a space opera, and it's about what happens to humanity once we've conquered the solar system. So what happens? Well, China tries to engineer Venus, so humans can live there. The outer planets fight over solar resources, and someone, or something, is destroying Mercury's biggest city. They're hurling millions of tiny meteorites at it, and nobody knows why.
"2312" also manages to be a love story and a murder mystery. It follows a performance artist, a diplomat, a detective and a scientist. They're all investigating what's happening on Mercury, and, of course, they stumble on something bigger. It's a book that's not ashamed to be utopian, but it feels plausible too. "2312" explores what it means to be human, and that's something even nonscience-fiction fans can appreciate.
SIEGEL: That was Annalee Newtiz, editor in chief of the website io9.com, which covers science fiction. Her pick of the year is "2312" by Kim Stanley Robinson. You can find a complete list of the year's best sci-fi at npr.org/bestbooks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.