It’s been a good year of reading, and I have already amassed quite a few favorites–more than enough to throw my hat into the ring with another entry in “Best of the Year” season. But with so many annual favorites posts reshuffling the TBR, I recognize that today’s post is far from final. There will be plenty of works on other people’s favorites posts that I read over the next 3-4 months and add to my own. So just think of this as a first edition, with the second planned for award nomination season in early March.
Keep in mind, I am only one blogger, with limited time and idiosyncratic tastes. As such, this is not a list of the best works of sci-fi and fantasy that were published in 2022. This is a list of the works that I liked the best. It is limited by what I’ve read–15 novels, 6 novellas, 23 novelettes, and 129 short stories–as well as my preferences, and even my mood and reading environment. All that to say, this list is far from exhaustive. But I feel very confident in declaring each entry to be well worth the read. So let’s get to it.
Entries within each length category are alphabetical by the author’s last name, and I’ve tried to include enough information to give readers a sense of whether one of my favorites may also suit their own tastes. Novels and novellas have full reviews elsewhere, so feel free to click the titles if you’d like more complete thoughts. Short stories and novelettes that are available free online are linked. Additionally, following the favorites list, I have included a few quick observations about my year of reading. Read or skip as you wish.
- Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham, published in February 2022 by Orbit. An epic fantasy from the perspective of petty thieves who don’t know much of the big picture, with a slow pace, rich prose, and some of the best-written frenemies you’ll find in the genre.
- Babel by R.F. Kuang, published in August 2022 by Harper Voyager. A historical fantasy in which Oxford is the hub of translation magic that powers the British Empire, with a Chinese lead who loves life at Oxford even as he recognizes how little Oxford values him–highly recommended for fans of languges, magic systems, school novels, and unsubtle critiques of imperialism.
- The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler, published in October 2022 by MCD. A thriller plot turned in a philosophical direction, with an octopus-based undersea first contact, AI, dystopia, and lots of reflection on the nature of humanity and consciousness. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you don’t mind your sci-fi leaning a little literary and a little philosophical, this one is tremendous–perhaps my favorite of the year.
- Neom by Lavie Tidhar, published in November 2022 by Tachyon. Another literary-leaning sci-fi that has the feel of future myth, with a mosaic of marginalized characters seeking love and belonging in a far-future Arabian Peninsula.
- Lonely Castle in the Mirror (YA novel) by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated by Philip Gabriel, published in October 2022 by Erewhon (originally published in Japanese in 2017). A slow-paced school novel without the school, as a small group of bullied and otherwise traumatized tweens discover a portal world open only when they ought to be in school. There’s enough plot to satisfy, but this one is mostly about the characters, and is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys exploration of adolescent mental health struggles.
- Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky, published in March 2022 by Solaris. One human’s revolution against Ogre overlords, told with an indirect, second-person narration that keeps the pace slow to start before coming together for an explosive conclusion.
- Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo, published in October 2022 by Tordotcom. The third entry in the Singing Hills cycle, but totally readable as a standalone, featuring a local historian traveling the rough-and-tumble riverlands and swapping stories with larger-than-life travel companions. Beautifully written, it comes together well enough to justify the novella form–as opposed to simply being a collection of stories–but this should appeal to fans of lower stakes tales of interesting journeys.
- “Lost and Found” by M.L. Clark, published in the October 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. A fascinating rescue mission on an isolated planet of arachnoid biocomputers that never loses the tension in the plot, even as it reflects on personhood and comments on contemporary divisions without ever feeling simplistic.
- “Rogue Enchantments” by Isabel Ibañez, published in Reclaim the Stars in February 2022. This story of a girl opening a shop in a magical marketplace over the objections of those around her may not break new ground, but it’s immersive and engaging from start to finish–a simple but wonderfully-executed tale.
- “A Dream of Electric Mothers” by Wole Talabi, published in Africa Risen in November 2022. This story of a country who outsources major decisions to a computerized representation of their ancestors expertly weaves the main storyline with a much more personal secondary plot to deliver a conclusion with every piece fitted perfectly into place.
- “Border Run” by Octavia Cade, published in the September 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. A chilling slice-of-life story set in a world devastating by overfishing, on a ship that shows no mercy to poachers. Engaging, unsettling, and morally complicated.
- “The Bones Beneath” by Vanessa Fogg, published in Podcastle in June 2022. A story of a child growing up in a totalitarian state in which even the bones rise up against the abuses of those in power. There aren’t many surprises in the plot, but the beauty in the storytelling make it well worth the read.
- “In the Time of the Telperi Flower” by David-Christopher Galhea, published in GigaNotoSaurus in May 2022. Probably the early leader for my favorite of the year, it’s an adventure fantasy with a much darker undercurrent told via a series of (often hilarious) annotations to an adventure guide’s journal–this one really is the whole package.
- “An Expression of Silence” by Beth Goder, published in the April 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. A quiet but expertly-written story of first contact and the difficulty in translating between fundamentally different beings–even when both are working in good faith. Recommended for fans of stories about communication.
- “Food for the Soul” by Elnora Gunter, published in the Food & Cuisine (summer 2022) issue of FIYAH. A teen girl tries to save her father’s restaurant in a spice-free dystopia. This one makes no real secret of its ultimate end, but it’s a lot of fun getting there.
- “Law of Tongue” by Naim Kabir, published in the December 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. The tale of a human negotiater who will do whatever it takes to keep the orcas at the table to protect the waters off the coast of post-climate disaster Seattle. Engaging and well-plotted. And fans of this one should also check out “Abitrium” by Anjali Sachdeva, which I also liked quite a bit–despite it not quite making this list–and also features human negotiations with non-humans (in this case, viruses).
- “Calf Cleaving in the Benthic Black” by Isabel J. Kim, published in the November 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. A compelling story of scavengers happening upon a dead ship full of riches beyond their wildest dreams, only to be confronted with a moral quandary much more difficult than they’d bargained for.
- “You, Me, Her, You, Her, I” by Isabel J. Kim, published in the 2022 Fund Drive special issue of Strange Horizons. An AI takes the place of an artist shortly after a fatal crash, where playing the role requires learning about what it means to create, and what it means to be human.
- “Fly Free” by Alan Kubatiev, translated by Alex Shvartsman, published in the October 2022 issue of Clarkesworld (published in Russian in 2001). Like “The Bones Beneath,” a totalitarian dystopia, only much weirder, with an unexplained avian ascendence rearranging the priorities of society into a chilling world where one is never sure when a wrong world could see them imprisoned or killed. Harrowing, excellent stuff.
- “The Summer Castle” by Ray Nayler, published in the February 2022 issue of Nightmare. A dreamlike story about war and memory that’s not totally cohesive but plenty creepy enough to make up for it.
- “To Live and Die in Dixieland” by Russell Nichols, published in the April 2022 issue of Apex Magazine. Both a virtual reality story and a slavery one, with heavy themes and plenty of tension alongside an ethical debate that feels all too grounded in contemporary reality.
- “Seen Small Through Glass” by Premee Mohamed, published in the February 2022 issue of Fireside. The creepiness of the opening scenes of a disaster story, with the urgency of a frantic search for a missing child, and a touching but messy relationship at the center of it all.
- “Godmaker” by J.A. Prentice, published in the January 2022 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Nothing but an extremely well-executed fable that perfectly captures the mythopoetic voice.
- “Two Spacesuits” by Leonard Richardson, published in the April 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. A weird, uncanny, and shockingly relevant story about coming home and finding your empty-nest parents in a bizarre internet cult. But while you might expect a lot of darkness following that setup, it’s not grim so much as just strange. This is one that has stuck with me all year–it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I hope others also resonate with this odd little tale.
- It’s no surprise that the short story list is longer than the rest, given that I’ve read three times as many short stories as the other three categories combined. Actually, with just over 10% of my reads showing up on my recommended list, short stories have had the lowest hit rate of any category. I attribute that to two factors: (1) I spend less time vetting potential short story reads than novel reads, and (2) picking and choosing from “Best of the Year” lists in January and February and award shortlists in the summer simply leads to a higher hit rate than reading what catches my eye as they come out.
- It’s also no surprise that the short story list is dominated by Clarkesworld, given that I started reading that magazine in full over the last few months. But the fact that Clarkesworld makes up about 20% of my short fiction reading and 40% of my favorites list just reinforces my decision to become a regular–they’re doing some fantastic work.
- No category had more near misses than novelette, where a full 30% of my reading ended up with ratings of 16/20–the one that indicates that I flirted with five stars and ultimately decided against it. I’m not sure if that’s a statistical fluke or something about the length category, which has more time to establish a compelling story (compared to the short story category), but also has more time to lull in the middle. At any rate, I may only have three novelettes on this list, but there were a lot more that I liked this year.