2021 Staff Picks: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Our expert staff members look back at the year and share their favorite titles.

  • Remote Control

    2021 by Okorafor, Nnedi

    Folklore meets advanced (possibly alien?) technology in this short but dense novel. I love that this "orphan girl on a lonely journey" has power from the very beginning, so you never have to worry about her bodily safety--only the safety of those around her. Recommended by Jane.

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  • Project Hail Mary

    2021 by Weir, Andy

    This is even more gripping than The Martian in that it's not just one guy's life at stake--it's the entire planet. A true page turner, but also well written and full of great plot twists and cool science. Recommended by Shelley.

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  • The Echo Wife

    2021 by Gailey, Sarah

    This one hooked me right from the start with its interesting premise (what if your husband cheated on you...with your clone). I found Gailey’s take on the nature versus nurture debate very interesting in this sci-fi spin on the domestic thriller. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • The Chosen and the Beautiful

    2021 by Vo, Nghi

    I thought this was a clever retelling of The Great Gatsby for the modern reader. It elevated the classic by taking a closer look at the race, gender, and sexuality of the characters. Recommended by Rummanah.

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  • The Conductors

    2021 by Glover, Nicole

    With a lot of cool magic at the center, taking place in post-Civil War Philadelphia, it is an ideal science fiction read for mystery-loving history buffs. Hetty Rhodes, who uses her unique skills to investigate mysterious incidents, is a very interesting character, and I can’t wait to see where this new series goes next. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • Under the Whispering Door

    2021 by Klune, TJ

    I cried through the last 25% of this novel, but it was such a good, cathartic cry. Absolutely beautiful. Recommended by Becca.

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  • Smithy

    2021 by Desiree, Amanda

    In the 1970s a scientific study went off the rails when a chimpanzee named Wordsmith began reacting to things humans couldn't see. This ingenious take on the epistolary novel builds serious eeriness out of letters, diary entries, Unsolved Mysteries transcripts, Opposing Viewpoints: The Paranormal excerpts, etc. And what haunted house story wouldn't be improved by discussions of primate behavior and the nuances of American Sign Language? Recommended by Andrew.

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  • The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry

    2021 by Waggoner, C. M.

    Utterly delightful from start to finish. I loved this excellent historical fantasy adventure tale that also manages to have a sweet and hot love story at the center. At turns laugh-out-loud funny and heartwarming, you will find yourself rooting for Delly and her fellow female bodyguards. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • A Marvellous Light

    2021 by Marske, Freya

    The characters are the highlight of this book (though the magical system gets an honorable mention, as I loved every bit of it). The two leads are layered and complicated, and getting to watch them interact is fantastic. Recommended by Perry.

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  • Cackle

    2021 by Harrison, Rachel

    This book looks like it is just for spooky season, but it is not just a Halloween book. It's definitely more than that. If you love a feminist witch story any time of the year, this one is for you. Recommended by Becca.

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  • Trashlands

    2021 by Stine, Alison

    I loved this thought-provoking, harrowing, feminist tale that is a natural extension of our current climate crisis. Like the main character Coral and the art she creates out of trash, all the characters find love and small comforts and joy amidst their grueling day-to-day existence. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • Far From the Light of Heaven

    2021 by Thompson, Tade

    British author Thompson shows there's still some life in the Space Opera subgenre with this (I hope!) series opener. There are great characters--human, AI, alien--and some very timely dunking on zillionaires who regard outer space as their personal playground while refusing to accept responsibility for the messes they left on Earth. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • A Master of Djinn

    2021 by Clark, P. Djèlí

    I thought this was a really fun and inventive mystery set in an alternative steampunk Cairo. I can't wait to read more from this series! Recommended by Rummanah.

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  • She Who Became the Sun

    2021 by Parker-Chan, Shelley

    Fantastically complicated characters and decisions and genders. Yes, this is "Chinese history but more women and also ghosts," but it's also a brutal book about systems of power and cycles of violence and people making really bad choices. Recommended by Perry.

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  • We Could Be Heroes

    2021 by Chen, Mike

    Amnesia! Superheroes! Mad scientists! Normal the cat! I am a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I am the natural reader for this book. Even if you don't like tights and capes, you will enjoy this novel of friendship and identity. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • The Ministry for the Future

    2020 by Robinson, Kim Stanley

    By mapping out what he considers a "best case" scenario for the next several decades of human history, Robinson avoids lazy nihilism but poses lots of (deliberately?) provocative questions. This is capital-H Hard Sci-Fi, the kind that makes the reader think, whether or not they agree with everything the author has to say. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • The Dark Archive

    2020 by Cogman, Genevieve

    Because it’s steampunk. Because it is time travel friendly and has alternate worlds. Because it has dragons, Fae, a Victorian private eye, and a superspy librarian. With all my favorite things, the 7th book in the Invisible Library series does not disappoint. Librarian Irene is at her most innovative and competent to foil her opponents and keep universal order. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • The Blacktongue Thief

    2021 by Buehlman, Christopher

    Kinch is our guide on this journey, and his sardonic, world-weary narration is a delight. I loved this fully realized fantasy world, full of adventure, magic, humor, and a touch of romance. Hopefully, Buehlman will write quicker than his other fantasy counterparts and we won't have to wait years until the next book in the series. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • Wild Sign: An Alpha and Omega Novel

    2021 by Briggs, Patricia

    This might be my favorite Alpha and Omega book yet. The mystery of what happened to the residents of Wild Sign is an engrossing puzzle for our main leads. Briggs expands her already fascinating world with new elements that kept my eyes glued right from the first page. Recommended by Rummanah.

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  • The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni

    2021 by Wecker, Helene

    Those of us who loved The Golem and the Jinni waited seven long years for Wecker to write a sequel; fortunately, it was worth the wait. Chava the golem (now called Charlotte Levy) and Ahmed the jinni are still navigating the human world of early 20th century New York City. But what happens when each meets a creature like themselves? Recommended by Andrew.

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