IoS Books of the Year 2012: Sci-fi, fantasy and horror

Probably the best books in this world – and the others

Iain M Banks celebrates 25 years of his advanced intergalactic society The Culture with his ninth book in the series, The Hydrogen Sonata (Orbit, £20). It is epic in scope, ambitious in its ideas and absorbing in its execution, and more fun than you'd expect an ultra-liberal space utopia to be. Another pair of big names, Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, teamed up for The Long Earth (Doubleday, £18.99), a rollicking tale of almost endless multiple Earths, that neatly combined the big picture with personal stories.

From the near future to the 19th century, and Cherie Priest's wonderful steampunk adventure Boneshaker (Tor, £7.99), which is the tale of a determined mother venturing into a zombie-infested Seattle to find her errant son. Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway (Heinemann, £12.99), is a high-octane pulpish spy thriller with more ideas per page than most novelists can dream up in a lifetime. It is highly recommended. And Danie Ware's Ecko Rising (Titan, £7.99) is a curious genre-bender that thrusts its anti-hero from a dystopian future into a traditional, Tolkienesque fantasy world. It is more successful than not and marks Ware as one to watch.

Joe Abercrombie's Red Country (Gollancz, £16.99) doesn't just tear up the fantasy rule book, it hacks it to pieces. Epic fantasy redrawn as a Wild West revenge story, it is a book that everyone should read, if only to blow away any preconceptions they might have about the genre.

Ben Aaronovitch's Whispers Underground (Gollancz, £7.99) and Paul Cornell's London Falling (Tor, £12.99) tread similar ground but are very different. Aaronovitch's book is the third outing for his "trainee police wizard" Peter Grant, and is easy to read but fulfilling. Cornell, who is primarily a comic book and TV writer, turns in a far darker, more violent book – The Sweeney to Aaronovitch's The Bill, perhaps – which shows Cornell to be a master of yet another discipline. Sarah Pinborough's cracking The Chosen Seed (Gollancz, £7.99) closes her Dog-Faced Gods trilogy. It, too, features a detective as the central character, but her urban fantasy world is more apocalyptic and the story unfolds at an unrelenting pace.

Chuck Wendig has created a memorable protagonist for Blackbirds (Angry Robot, £7.99): Miriam Black, who can foresee people's deaths. Wendig writes hard and fast and this is a slick noirish thriller. Far more cosy is Brenda and Effie Forever! (Snowbooks, £7.99), the sixth and sadly the final book in Paul Magrs's series about two women of a certain age dealing with supernatural shenanigans in Whitby and beyond. It's a fitting and moving conclusion to the saga.

From cosy horror to horror proper: Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, writing as S L Grey, present The Ward (Corvus, £7.99), a follow-up to their debut The Mall. Set in the same twilit subterranean world, it equals – if not trumps – the disturbing, creepy horror of their first, while shining a harsh light on real life.

Possibly earning itself the Book of the Year title is Jo Walton's thought-provoking Among Others (Constable & Robinson, £13.99), which stays with you for a long time after reading. It is the story of a young girl from a magical family who is sent to a mundane boarding school and, through her discovery of classic SF novels, has her mind and world expanded.

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