The best books of 2020: the year’s great sci-fi and fantasy reads

2020 was quite the year for science fiction, but it wasn’t all about escaping to other worlds. It’s easy to imagine flights of fancy in a spaceship to be a reprieve to reality, but science fiction and fantasy literature is the product of people with real concerns about the real world, and accordingly, they write about the challenges that we see in the world around us. Over the last 12 months, I’ve been thinking about the value of speculative literature in a time like this. There’s a meme going around that reading is a collective hallucination that we get by staring at bits of a dead tree. That’s certainly accurate, but I like to think of science fiction as a sort of cheat guide or rough map of directions.

This year’s crop of books are ones that have a thumb on the pulse of everything that’s been going on around

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Mystery Boxes and Budding Loves: New Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here are two novels that are, in some ways, opposites: one by an author who’s been publishing celebrated work for 40 years, and one a debut; one that blends numerous genres with a skillful and inquiring hand, and one that glories in modeling a single genre by hitting every one of its notes. Between them they contrast the pleasures of surprise with those of satisfied expectations.

Elizabeth Knox’s THE ABSOLUTE BOOK (Viking, $28) contains multitudes, spanning the geographies of Canada, Britain and New Zealand; the cosmologies of fairies, demons and angels; and the genres of thriller, domestic realism and epic fantasy.

Taryn Cornick was 19 when her sister, Beatrice, was murdered, and her rage and grief over that loss have shaped her life: her distance from her famous-actor father, her marriage to a wealthy older man, and her strange, brief intimacy with a Canadian wilderness guide she calls the Muleskinner.

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