Some years are better than others for readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The last genuine blockbuster year was probably 2015, which gave us N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance, Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, Scott Hawkins’ The Library at Mount Char, and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, among many others.
Call me optimistic, but 2023 is shaping up to give 2015 a run for its money. We’re getting new books from legends like Fonda Lee, Kelly Link, Annalee Newitz, Malka Older, Shannon Chakraborty, and Leigh Bardugo, new translations of Mariana Enriquez and Yuri Herrera, and debuts from exciting new voices like Moses Ose Utomi, Jinwoo Chong, and Jade Song.
In fact, there are so many great books on deck for 2023 that I limited this preview to just January through June to keep it manageable (and since the back half of the year is still in flux at this point). Here are the most exciting science fiction, fantasy, and horror books coming your way during the first half of 2023.
Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo
Ninth House — Leigh Bardugo’s debut adult fantasy novel about secret societies delving into the occult at Yale University — was one of the best books of 2019. This year, she’s back with a sequel called Hell Bent, where sophomore Galaxy “Alex” Stern searches for a way to rescue her mentor, Darlington, from hell. Fans of Bardugo’s young-adult Grishaverse (adapted by Netflix into Shadow and Bone) often say each of her books is better than the last, and that’s certainly the case with Hell Bent, a fantastic adventure that deepens the series’ lore before ending with yet another devastating cliffhanger.
Please Report Your Bug Here by Josh Riedel
Riedel’s debut novel is a smart and timely thriller about Ethan Block, an entry-level developer in San Francisco who discovers a glitch in a popular dating app that physically transports him to other worlds. Or maybe… it’s not a glitch after all? If that isn’t tantalizing enough, here’s the kicker: The author was the very first employee at Instagram.
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
The Wired, io9, and Gizmodo alum returns with their third science fiction novel, The Terraformers, set on an exoplanet in the distant future when nearly all conscious beings are considered “people,” from animals to artificial intelligences. Written in three novellas set thousands of years apart, it’s an epic geo-engineering thought experiment on the scale of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and a refreshingly hopeful vision of humanity’s fate among the stars.
Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell
The brilliant Argentinian author of The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is back with a gothic fever dream of a horror novel about a father and son who travel to the ancestral home of their late wife and mother — only to find an ancient secret society called the Order is obsessed with making the son one of their own.
Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones
In Stephen Graham Jones’ last novel, My Heart Is a Chainsaw, a teenage girl of Indigenous descent named Jade Daniels used her obsession with horror movies to survive a slasher in Proofrock, Idaho. In this second book of a planned Indian Lake trilogy, Jade meets her match when another serial killer — Dark Mill South, a hook-handed murderer who escapes his prison transfer during a snowstorm — “knows all the same movies we do.”
The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
The HBO adaptation of Lovecraft Country didn’t get a second season, but fans of the book are getting a direct sequel from Matt Ruff. In the summer of 1957, the characters from the first novel are spread across the country on different quests: Atticus and his father Montrose retrace their enslaved ancestor’s journey through North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp, and Atticus’ uncle George Berry makes a deal with the ghost of a white sorcerer in Chicago. Meanwhile, Hippolyta, Horace, and Letitia make a research trip to Nevada for the family’s Safe Negro’s Travel Guide. Eventually, their storylines collide in a spectacular finale.
Users by Colin Winnette
Colin Winnette’s last novel was one of my favorite gothic horror books of the 2010s. This time, he’s satirizing Silicon Valley with a clever sci-fi thriller reminiscent of Apple TV’s Severance. When a VR developer named Miles creates a new app called The Ghost Lover — which simulates your real life, but haunted by the ghost of one of your ex-lovers — he sets off a chain of events that ruins his life.
The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
Shannon Chakraborty is best known for her Daevabad trilogy beginning with 2017’s The City of Brass. This action-packed new series starter, a 16th-century historical fantasy pitched as a cross between Ocean’s Eleven and Pirates of the Caribbean, is about a former sea captain who returns for one last mission to rescue a friend’s granddaughter from a sorcerer, with tons of lore and surprises along the way.
The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland
In 1830s New York, a young woman named Ana is on the edge of death from tuberculosis when her grandfather makes her immortal like him. In 1984, she goes by the name Collette LeSange — and if that doesn’t tell you what kind of immortal she is, I won’t spoil it for you here. Chapters alternate between her mysterious past and her present running a fine arts preschool out of her grandfather’s upstate mansion, until figures from her past start to catch up with her.
The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older
If you’ve ever wanted a Sherlock Holmes mystery set on the planet Jupiter, Malka Older’s new book is, well, exactly that. Instead of the cyberpunk geopolitics that defined her Centenal Cycle series (Infomocracy, Null States, and State Tectonics), this short novel is cozy, romantic, and sapphic, as a detective and her classics scholar ex-girlfriend investigate a murder at an exclusive Jovian university.
The Curator by Owen King
Stephen King’s younger son, Owen, returns after Sleeping Beauties with a third novel set in a Dickensian city called the Fairest, where cats are worshiped as divine creatures and a violent revolution is underway. It’s a complex, engaging, surprising historical fantasy that I applaud King for keeping under 500 pages, as it could have easily run twice as long in the hands of a less focused writer.
A Manual for How to Love Us by Erin Slaughter
Erin Slaughter’s debut short story collection is a speculative Cracker Jack box, with emotionally resonant and creepy tales set throughout the American South like Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters. It’s full of mystery boxes, twists, reversals, and grieving women searching for ways to survive.
Flux by Jinwoo Chong
I didn’t think I’d ever read another novel like Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War, but Jinwoo Chong’s debut novel is a similarly brilliant time-travel puzzle box. It’s about three characters — the 8-year-old Bo, 28-year-old Brandon, and 48-year-old Blue — whose lives intersect in surprising ways thanks to a corporation that seems to be using time travel to hide its dark side.
The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud
Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters is one of the best speculative short story collections ever published, and now he’s back with a novel that sounds like a working-class Western set on the planet Mars. Set in the frontier town of New Galveston, 14-year-old Anabelle Crisp’s life changes when “the Silence” cuts off all trade and communications between Earth and its Martian colonies and a violent gang attacks her father’s diner, setting her on a course for revenge.
The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi
Moses Ose Utomi’s debut novella is the first of three planned books in the Forever Desert series. It opens in the City of Lies, which sends the tongues of young boys to the Ajungo Empire in exchange for water. But one of those boys, Tutu, embarks on a dangerous journey into the surrounding desert to search for another source of water to save his mother, and discovers several revealing truths along the way.
Ten Planets by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman
The science fiction stories that comprise Herrera’s slim new collection are philosophical thought experiments in the vein of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. In “Whole Entero,” a glob of bacteria in someone’s intestines gains consciousness. In “The Last Ones,” a man walks across the Atlantic Ocean on top of floating garbage. And in “The Conspirators,” two different groups of human colonists — from two different eras — arrive at a distant exoplanet at the same time.
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link
Kelly Link is one of the greatest speculative short story writers of her generation, and this collection is further proof. In “Skinder’s Veil,” a man agrees to watch his friend’s house, only to discover it’s some sort of portal between worlds. In “The White Road,” a nomadic group of actors stumbles upon a hastily abandoned town alongside a mysterious white road. And in “The White Cat’s Divorce,” three brothers attempt to win their eccentric father’s estate.
Chlorine by Jade Song
Song’s haunting, one-of-a-kind debut is about a first-generation Chinese American teenager named Ren Yu — a competitive swimmer who loves the water so much, she dreams about being a mermaid. And then she stops dreaming and starts… making it happen, “no matter how much blood she has to spill.”
The Last Catastrophe by Allegra Hyde
Allegra Hyde wrote one of 2022’s best novels, Eleutheria, and her second story collection, The Last Catastrophe, contains more optimistic visions of the future than most of the books on this list, despite the specter of climate change. In these 15 stories “spanning the length of our very solar system,” a woman fated for an arranged marriage befriends the artificial intelligence holding her captive on a spacecraft, a small-town girl grows a unicorn horn, and a caravan of RVs rambles across North America like the Traveling Symphony in Station Eleven.
Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling
As climate change warms the planet and creates more refugees by the day, a woman named Rose is sent to spy on a secretive American project in northern Canada called Camp Zero. Meanwhile, a group of women soldiers called White Alice have commandeered a nearby Cold War research station to start their own society. Camp Zero is full of surprising revelations and a welcome sense of optimism about humanity’s future.
Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee
Untethered Sky is Fonda Lee’s first book since concluding the Green Bone Saga last year with Jade Legacy, and it’s an epic fantasy about a woman who learns to ride a giant mythical bird called a “roc” to hunt down the manticore that killed her family.
Ascension by Nicholas Binge
Binge’s new novel has an irresistible premise: What if a massive mountain appeared in the middle of the Pacific Ocean overnight? A scientist of “mysterious phenomena” named Harold Tunmore leads a team to investigate, but they find that the higher they climb, the weirder things get — even the passage of time.
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
The author of the short story collection Friday Black returns with his first novel, set in a future where the most popular sports league in America isn’t the NFL or NBA, but something called CAPE — Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a gladiatorial combat tournament where prisoners compete for their freedom. Fan-favorite Thurwar is just a few matches away from a pardon when she discovers a way to help her fellow prisoners, but the private prison industrial complex has its own agenda.
Our Hideous Progeny by C.E. McGill
C.E. McGill’s debut novel is an ambitious Frankenstein sequel with several surprising twists. In 1853, years after Victor Frankenstein went missing, his great-niece Mary and her husband, Henry, are paleontologists who want to re-create Frankenstein’s experiment to create new life — but this time, instead of a human, they’re bringing a plesiosaur back to life.
More Perfect by Temi Oh
This science fiction retelling of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus is set in a near-future London where surgical implants let people experience social media via augmented reality, but the British government uses public safety as an excuse to turn the technology into something nefarious.
Witch King by Martha Wells
The author of the Murderbot Diaries novellas switches back to fantasy mode for this full-length novel starring a demon named Kai who wakes up after his mortal form was assassinated. He travels the world searching for his lost allies — including a witch, an Immortal Marshall, and a Lesser Blessed — to find out who killed them all and why.
Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig
Chang-Eppig brings a legendary Chinese pirate queen to life in this historical fantasy adventure, alongside myths of the ocean goddess Ma-zou. After her husband is murdered, Shek Yeung fights over control of his fleet just as the Chinese Emperor sends a force to destroy every pirate in the South China Sea.
The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson
Fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus will eat up this debut novel set in a big top called the Circus of the Fantasticals, where the ringmaster can travel through time, the performers all have supernatural powers, and a magic war is brewing.
Maddalena and the Dark by Julia Fine
This gorgeous and moving Italian historical fantasy is set in 18th-century Venice, when two violinists in Antonio Vivaldi’s all-female convent orchestra — Luisa and Maddalena — bond over their desire to be the best. But Maddalena has been meeting a mysterious stranger in a seemingly magical gondola at night, and making wishes at an abandoned sea shrine that will change the course of both girls’ lives.
The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang
S.L. Huang’s new novella is a queer epic fantasy about Lin Chong, a weapons expert who trains the Emperor’s army until an incident forces her into exile. While on the run, she falls in with a group of outlaws in the mountains, the Bandits of Liangshan, who might be powerful enough to help her take down the empire.