One of the best aspects of speculative fiction is the sheer scale of imagination it offers. Want to read something about Ancient Greece? Here you go. How about a story set 10,000 years in the future? Right this way. A story could be set right here on Earth in the present day, on a made-up world, or in an entire multiverse.
Mysteries, romances, action … whatever you want to read or write about, there's a place for it in speculative fiction. It's only fitting that this year's best works (as judged by the Hugo Awards) displays such a wide variety of offerings. Some of the titles dream up massive creatures and apocalyptic stakes, while others tell cozy stories about pastries.
No matter what draws you to speculative fiction, you're likely to find something to read on this list. Try one of these books (or all of them, if you're fast enough) before the Hugo Awards are announced on October 21.
2023 Hugo Nominees for Best Novel
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Historical fiction meets science fiction in Silvia Moreno-Garcia's The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. The story spotlights the distant, luxuriant estate where the titular Doctor Moreau conducts his experiments on part-human, part-animal hybrids that may prove useful in the conflict on the Yucatán peninsula. There the doctor is joined by a cast of characters including his daughter, Carlota; his overseer, Montgomery Laughton; and the arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of the doctor's patron.
Here's what The New York Times had to say about The Daughter of Doctor Moreau: “The imagination of Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a thing of wonder, restless and romantic, fearless in the face of genre, embracing the polarities of storytelling— the sleek and the bizarre, wild passions and deep hatreds—with cool equanimity.”
The Kaiju Preservation Society
You might be more familiar with John Scalzi's series like Old Man's War and The Interdependency, but The Kaiju Preservation Society is a standalone work that offers multiple worlds in one standalone volume.
Jamie Gray is a driver for food delivery apps. When COVID-19 shuts down the restaurants in New York City, Jamie is desperate enough to take a job for an animal rights organization he knows nothing about.
He never expected to be helping his new employer care for Kaiju—massive dinosaur-like creatures that live in an alternate dimension. Jamie soon learns that there are several organizations who have harnessed the power to hop through dimensions, and if something isn't done soon, the consequences could be disastrous back on Earth.
Legends & Lattes
Have you ever wondered what orcs do when they retire from the battlefield? Well, in Travis Baldree's version, famous warrior Viv hangs up her sword to open a coffee shop.
Viv quickly finds, however, that the business world is pretty bloodthirsty, too. She needs allies if she wants to succeed, and she finds magic in the connections she makes along the way.
You can tell the sort of book this is by the title: Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes. Where so much of fantasy is defined by apocalyptic threats, this story offers a cozy tale and a comforting read.
Nona the Ninth
Book Three of The Locked Tomb Series (which began with Gideon the Ninth) follows Nona, who woke up in a stranger's body six months ago. As the world seems to crumble around her—zombies returning, her city under siege—Nona would kill for a sense of normalcy. All she wants is to remain with the people she loves, even while she knows that's likely impossible.
The world is calling to her. Even in her dreams, Nona is haunted by a woman with a skull-painted face…
Publishers Weekly gave Nona the Ninth a starred review, saying, “Nona’s lovely, simple, and occasionally silly voice works especially well in juxtaposition with the dark, dense backdrop of the series so far, creating a riveting contrast. Readers will be on the edges of their seats.”
Nettle & Bone
You can tell that T. Kingfisher's Nettle & Bone is going to be a subversive piece of storytelling by the tagline. “This isn't the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince. It's the one where she kills him.”
Though protagonist Marra is a princess, she was the third-born, meaning she was sent to be raised away from the throne at a convent. Her older sister had the misfortune of marrying an abusive prince, and Marra plans to free her.
To do it, she will need to build a dog out of bones, sew a cloak out of nettles, and capture moonlight in a jar. Simple enough, right? Well, that's only the beginning.
The Spare Man
The Spare Man is a classic whodunit in space. Need we really say more? The plot follows inventor and heiress Tesla Crane on her honeymoon cruise. Only, instead of going to the Caribbean, Tesla's ship is traveling between the moon and Mars.
When someone is murdered, the on-ship security believes her husband is the one responsible. Tesla is forced to crack the case alone (with some help from her small service dog) and find a way to free him so they can get back to enjoying their vacation.