#SciFiMonth Top Ten Science Fiction Reads of 2020
As we say good bye to another year of Sci-Fi Month, it’s time again to put together a list of my top ten science fiction books (4 stars and up) that I’ve had the pleasure to read in 2020.
The God Game by Danny Tobey
Some books simply deserve five stars because of how thoroughly and overwhelmingly it hooked me, and The God Game was definitely one of these. Although the story largely follows a group of five gifted teenagers at a Texas high school, The God Game is a mature thriller heavily influenced by the likes of Black Mirror, Stranger Things, and the works of Stephen King. The characters are generally seen as outcasts, gifted kids who don’t really fit into any of the other social cliques, so they formed their own. Calling themselves the Vindicators, they began as a group of overachieving geeks who met frequently in the school computer lab, bonding over a love of video games and coding. But as the teens entered their senior year, much has changed in the recent past to alter the group dynamic. One day, they discover the G.O.D. game, an old-school style text-based program he claims is run by an A.I. chat bot that believes it is God. Good actions by the player will earn them “Goldz” currency, used to buy perks like special privileges and rewards, while disobedience will result in “Blaxx”, demerit points that can lead to bodily harm and even death. If you win though, the A.I. promises to make all your dreams come true. At first, the teens are awed by the augmented reality technology, especially once they earn special glasses so that they can be connected to the game world at all times. However, what started as a handful of innocent instructions from G.O.D. rapidly begins escalating into more dangerous, malicious, and underhanded attacks on others, including their fellow Vindicators. (Read the full review…)
The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
I enjoyed The Vanished Birds very much, which surprised me, because it ended up not being the kind of book I would typically like at all! The novel is difficult to categorize and the story itself can be a bit strange. Told in multiple parts, and via multiple timelines across a huge time frame, it introduces to Nia Imani who captains a transport ship. On one of her runs to a backwater planet, a mysterious boy falls out of the sky and into Nia’s life, giving it a new purpose and meaning. The boy doesn’t speak, but through music, he begins to form a connection with Nia, playing beautiful songs on his flute that tugs on something inside of her. There’s something special about the boy, whose name is Ahro, though no one really knows why, but his existence eventually catches the attention of some influential and dangerous people. Shifting between points-of-view, the novel tells a saga that spans more than a millennium due to the time dilation effects of space travel and suspended animation. In this way, the story explores a lot of the themes and issues that affect human civilization and history, among them environmental depletion and corporate greed. That said, the book also takes a look at life on a more personal level, as the plot follows the loves, desires, and ambitions of characters over a thousand years. Not a lot of futuristic fiction have the advantage of being told on a scale this vast, which gives The Vanished Birds a somewhat unique angle on a premise that is already very imaginative. (Read the full review…)
Watchdog by Will McIntosh
Watchdog might be a middle grade novel, but it was enjoyable and the fact that it was also packed with tons of kid-friendly action and a featured an adorable robotic watchdog certainly didn’t hurt. Protagonists Vick and Tara are thirteen-year-old twins who were left to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving world after their mom died. Tara is also autistic, and her brother is the only one who understands her struggle with emotions and knows how to help. The two of them live out of a makeshift shelter on the streets, barely surviving off what little they can make from salvaging at the local junkyard. Tara likes to build things and has a talent for figuring out how robots work, so she helps Vick figure out which useful tech parts they can sell. The pair of them are also always accompanied by their small robotic dog, Daisy, which Tara had cobbled together from the odds and ends left over from their trips to the scrapyard. Then one day, during one of their salvaging sessions, Tara discovers a mysterious component which appears to have been discarded by mistake. Once installed into Daisy, it enabled her to do incredible things that shouldn’t be possible. Unfortunately, this soon draws the attention local crime boss Ms. Alba, who now wants Daisy for herself, sending her goons after Vick and Tara after they refuse to deal with her. Thankfully though, the siblings are very resourceful, and Daisy is far from helpless with Tara’s new upgrades, allowing the little robotic pet to rival the strength and ferocity of Ms. Alba’s own expensive, weapons-grade watchdogs. (Read the full review…)
Unreconciled by W. Michael Gear
Unreconciled returns readers to the planet of Donovan to catch up with all the characters we’ve grown to know and love! As the story opens, the colony is abuzz with anticipation over the imminent arrival of Ashanti, a Corporation ship that had been given up for lost when it failed to show up years ago. But while they may have finally made it to their destination, the situation they bring is not good at all. Complications experienced during space travel had increased their journey time by a number of years which ended up stressing the life support systems on Ashanti, causing widespread starvation and death. In the midst of all this chaos, a man named Batuhan rose to power. Calling themselves the Unreconciled, he and his followers developed a set of beliefs about their place in the universe which also involved a twisted ritual that required eating their own dead in order achieve immortality. The captain of Ashanti, horrified by the actions of the Unreconciled, did what he could to isolate and quarantine the cannibalistic cult. Convinced that he would be persecuted for his decision once they arrive at Donovan, he is thus completely baffled by the nonchalance displayed by Supervisor Kalico Aguila even after he confesses to all that he had done. For you see, what newcomers do not understand is that all rules go out the window when it comes to Donovan, because everyone is too busy trying to survive. A mysterious creature, previously unknown to the colonists, has emerged, and whatever it is, it is hungry and eager to hunt. (Read the full review…)
The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin
As a fan of sci-fi stories that read like “what if” scenarios, I really enjoyed The Mirror Man and blew through it rather quickly. While it doesn’t place as much emphasis on the science aspect, the energetic pacing and thrills more than made up for it. In the story, human cloning has become a reality, albeit the technology is highly illegal. The possibility of creating a perfect copy of a human being, complete with same personalities and memories, is not something the world is ready to accept, so the company behind the scientific breakthrough can only conduct their experiments under the utmost secrecy. Now, the experts ViGen Pharmaceuticals believe they have found the perfect subject. Jeremiah Adams is a middle-aged husband and father living a disaffected life, who is also willing to be discreet. For ten million dollars, he agrees to be a part of their top-secret study, which involves being cloned. The catch? Jeremiah will need to be removed from his life for an entire year, while his clone takes over. After all, part of the experiment is “quality testing” to see if the copy is indeed indistinguishable from the original. If successful, no one should suspect Jeremiah has been replaced. However, he soon realizes that watching him clone live his life from afar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, watching someone else replace him so completely. Then, our protagonist receives another shock as stumbles upon the dark truth behind the real purpose of ViGen’s cloning technology. (Read the full review…)
Every Sky A Grave by Jay Posey
Every Sky A Grave was a high-flying, super massive, electrifyingly ambitious novel. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s a bit of something for everyone in here, from epic adventures in space to daring feats of survival. In this story, we follow Elyth, an agent of the galaxy’s peace-keeping order, the First House of the Ascendance. They’re also the custodians of great power, the Deep Language which was understood to control everything. And when a planet stepped out of line? That’s when the Ascendance would step in and rectify that. When the book starts, Elyth has just been dispatched on a secret mission to a system to quash a threat of insurgence. A true believer of the Ascendance and their creed, she carried out her task, which is to use the magic of the Deep Language to essentially cause the planet’s untimely death. Pleased with her work, Elyth’s superiors next send her to Qel, where she will put her skills of subterfuge to good use, investigating a mysterious phenomenon that shouldn’t be possible. Unfortunately for Elyth, nothing goes as planned. Her mission is compromised from the start as her ship crashes on the planet, and our protagonist is forced to get creative and improvise. The longer she persists, however, the more she begins to realize there is a lot to the Ascendance she has never thought to question before, while the strange presence on Qel continues to perturb her. (Read the full review…)
Ballistic by Marko Kloos
Hands down, The Palladium Wars by Marko Kloos is one of most character-oriented military sci-fi series I’ve ever read, and I think that’s why I’m enjoying these books so much. Ballistic is the second installment following hot on the heels of Aftershocks, picking up shortly after the cliffhanger we were left with, and fans will be happy to know it maintains a snappy pace and continues the trend of telling personal stories. We return to our four main characters: Aden, a former soldier for the Gretians; his sister Solvieg, heir to her family’s corporate empire; Idina, a Palladian now working as part of the occupying force on Gretia; and Dunstan, a commander in the Rhodian Navy. Through the eyes of these four characters, we watch as this incredible space epic continues to unfold, with a keen awareness that everything is pointing to another inter-planetary war between the three major factions. It almost feels as though history is repeating itself, and everyone who can remember the last war knows just how bad this news is indeed. No one is more aware of this than Solvieg, who barely knows her brother because of the falling out between him and their family when the conflict started. Now she’s poised to take over more of the family business but still finds herself chafing under the overbearing thumb of her father, who expects complete obedience. (Read the full review…)
Picard: The Last Best Hope (Star Trek) by Una McCormack
Covering the period between the discovery of the Romulan supernova to the start of Star Trek: Picard, The Last Best Hope gives the backstory for the major players like Jean Luc Picard, Raffi Musiker, Bruce Maddox and others, chronicling the events surrounding the Romulan evacuation and the fallout which ultimately led to the resignation of the titular character from his beloved Starfleet. As the story begins, Picard is promoted to Admiral and given the enormous, arguably impossible task of overseeing the transport and relocation of Romulan refugees before their planet is swallowed up by an exploding star. Not only is time running out, the demands of such a monumental mission is going to cost a lot in terms of funds and manpower—neither of which the Federation really has enough to give. Resources will have to be siphoned from already struggling worlds, leading to dissatisfaction from those community leaders as well as scientists who are upset that their own research will be put on hold. To make matters worse, the Romulans are a proud people who don’t always seem to appreciate the Federation’s offer of goodwill. As a franchise, Star Trek has always drawn on real-world issues and topical matters in our society for inspiration, and this novel is no different. Just as you’d expect, nothing is ever black and white, and sometimes there simply aren’t clear solutions to the questions asked. (Read the full review…)
Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik
With Chaos Rising comes the story of Catarina, the youngest daughter of the Von Hasenberg high house, as well as the epic conclusion to the Consortium Rebellion trilogy that exquisitely combines the sci-fi thrills of a space opera and the heated passions of a sultry romance. As the baby of the family, Cat is used to being underestimated. In fact, she uses it to her advantage, masking her true self behind a mask of flightiness and frivolity. But the truth is, she has lived a troubled life, growing up secretly experimented on by her father because he had wanted to mold her into a super soldier. Using deception and her cunning, however, Cat managed to make everyone believe that the experiments had failed, and that she is now nothing more than your typical spoiled princess of the Consortium. Not even those closest to her are aware that she still possesses the super strength and powerful abilities the tests had given her. Of course, this also makes her the perfect spy for her family, and Cat wants to do her part by going undercover at an upcoming gala held by a rival high house to gather information. Unfortunately, her overprotective older sister Bianca is about to ruin all those plans. Having guessed what Cat is about to do, Bianca has planted two of her most trusted operatives on our protagonist’s ship so that she would have others to help her on the mission. It’s a complication for sure, but nothing Cat can’t handle—except one of the agents, handsome and sexy Alexander Stirling, is proving to be a dangerous distraction. (Read the full review…)
Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
At first glance, Bent Heavens may seem like it falls into the category of sci-fi, but it’s more of a horror than anything, for reasons that will eventually make themselves known. Our story stars Liv Fleming, whose father Lee went missing more than two years ago, shortly after he started becoming mentally unstable and claiming that he had been a victim of alien abduction. The resulting paranoia had led Lee to take his daughter and her childhood friend Doug out into the woods to set traps for the aliens, which never ended up snaring anything more interesting than the odd squirrel. Still, even with her dad gone now, Liv continues to go out with Doug to the woods each day to check on the traps, partly out of tradition and partly out of hope. Then one day, they find a strange, monstrous-looking creature caught in one of them. With shock and horror, they realize Lee had been right, which now puts his disappearance in a whole new light. Bent Heavens is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I would recommend it—but with caveats. There are moments that get too “real” for comfort despite the story’s speculative fiction undertones, but if a truly unsettling horror is what you’re looking for and the novel’s description piques your interest, I would give it a try. (Read the full review…)
I really want to read more sci-fi, and since I haven;t read any of these, I should go check them out!
I hope you get a chance to try some!
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I like that list, most of the titles I haven’t read or heard of. Vanished Birds was nearly five stars for me; Picard was entertaining, but not extraordinary great.
Let me add one more title, the surprise of the year: House of Styx by Derek Künsken, because the awesomesauce of Venus – review‘s here: https://reiszwolf.wordpress.com/2020/05/16/the-house-of-styx-%e2%80%a2-2020-%e2%80%a2-sf-novel-by-derek-kunsken/
I honestly had fewer reads to choose from than anticipated. I guess it wasn’t a big year for sci-fi for me, I had exactly ten book rated 4 and above 🙂
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Your comment about The Palladium Wars series is very intriguing: while I tend to be cautious with military sf, because it tends to lean more toward tech than other elements, a series focused on characterization sounds like one I might enjoy. Let’s add this one to my poor, overburdened TBR… 😀
Thanks for sharing!
Yes, if you are a characters first kind of reader, I definitely recommend it!
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I really want to check out The Vanished Birds, it looks really fascinating. I’m glad to see Chaos Reigning on here! Hope to get to that one soon myself, maybe my husband will buy it for me for Christmas since I had it on my booklist lol. 🙂
Aw, that’s awesome! I hope you’ll find Chaos Reigning under the tree this year! 😀
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Crossing my fingers lol. 🙂
Glad to see there’s been so many great sci-fi reads this year. I like how The Vanished Birds made the list even though it wasn’t the kind of book you’d typically like. I love those sorts of surprises.
Yep, I do love unexpected gems like that!
I’m kind of surprised how different our lists are! It tells me that there are so many SF books out there right now😁
A lot of the bigger sci-fi releases ended up disappointing me this year, but it worked out I guess, since I was able to feature some of lesser known ones 🙂
It seems to me that you had a bery busy year and these all seem different! I am not much of a scifi fan but even I have heard of Vanished Birds LOl
That one was very strange, but beautiful and different! 😀
I’ve only read the God Game from this list but I did love it – it really took me by storm tbh.
I know, it was so good!
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I’ve been getting sooo many ideas from SciFi Month. Love it! I need to read Chaos Reigning and Bent Heavens.
Chaos Reigning was a great sci-fi romance mashup, and Bent Heavens was just disturbing…but in a good way! 😀
I so want more Mihalik!
Same! I wonder what she’ll work on next!
I’m not big on scifi, but I am looking forward to trying Bent Heavens one of these days. I want to sample more of Kraus’s work.
I think you will probably like Bent Heavens. It is quite dark and disturbing for a YA novel though. And it actually turns out to be something a little…different than sci-fi. But that’s all I’ll say about that, I don’t want to spoil 😉
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