2016 Recommended SF/F List


By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2016-published works, which people have read and recommend to other Filers.

There will be no tallying of recommendations done in this thread; its purpose is to provide a source of recommendations for people who want to find something to read which will be Hugo-eligible next year.

You don’t have to stop recommending works in Pixel Scrolls, please don’t! But it would be nice if you also post here, to capture the information for other readers.

The Suggested Format for posts is:

  • Title, Author, Published by / Published in (Anthology, Collection, Website, or Magazine + Issue)
  • Hugo Category: (Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, Graphic Novel, etc)
  • link (if available to read/view online)
  • optional “Brief, spoiler-free description of story premise:”
  • optional “What I liked and didn’t like about it:”

There is a permalink to this thread in the blog header.

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196 thoughts on “2016 Recommended SF/F List

  1. For the past month, Strange Horizons has been doing exceptionally well. The four stories are:

    “Meltwater” by Benjamin Kinney. In the far future, a few posthumans, who can split off new versions of their consciousness in separate bodies, roam a shattered earth. One of them, lonely, sends a self to seek out an old beloved. (Why I like it: as you might expect from the author being a neuroscientist, the reflections on consciousness and personality are sophisticated. It is not too mournful.)

    “The Name of the Forest” by Margaret Killjoy. A guy who’s a habitual drifter is standing hitchhiking in a forest that’s “shrubby and shitty and full of ticks.” A woman picks him up, they become friends, and after a few days she invites him to go camping; she has a reason…. (Two good characters, memorable narrative voice, reflections on relation to “nature”, splendid payoff at the end of the story).

    “The Right Kind of Monsters” by Kelly Sandoval. Since the Godswalk landed near town, things have been strange. Viette, like others who went into the Godswalk as children, has had all her babies born dead. But she knows that you can go into the Godswalk and bring back a baby if you sacrifice. (This is emotional without being overstated; the writing manages to hit just the right note of quiet intensity.)

    “This Is a Letter to My Son” by KJ Kabza. Kellsey’s mother died before her birth and left a huge file of video letters addressed to the “son” she didn’t know would be trans. This virtual presence is like a third parent beside Kellsey’s father and stepmother. One day her father utters a bombshell revelation that may change her future decisions…. (A family story that is messy and real. Kellsey is confused and courageous, her parents fumbling to do right.)

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  3. I hadn’t come across Haskins, thanks Vasha.

    I’d also recommend Quick Sip Reviews for coverage of some of the smaller interesting venues. Although, it’s a bit difficult to work out which stories he likes best because he’s enthusiastic about everything!

  4. Mark:

    It’s a bit difficult to work out which stories he likes best because he’s enthusiastic about everything!

    True, but Charles Payseur also does a Monthly Round at nerds of a feather that’s more selective.

  5. Simon Bisson on April 14, 2016 at 9:43 pm said:
    The Wicked + The Divine: Commercial Suicide

    I think the last issue this collects was originally published in 2015 (issue #17?). So even though the trade paperback didn’t come out until 2016, I don’t believe it’s eligible.

  6. @JJ: Ah, the point of this is to pad your TBR stack? Okay, okay. My suggestion right now . . . was already suggested by @Joanna Rivers. (grin&shrug) And +1’d by others, darnitall I’m so late.

  7. @Kendall,

    Just shows there’s some excellent taste around here. That story can’t get too much good press. It still cracks me up.

  8. Just this morning I finished the first TPB of Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang.
    Rather splendid, though there remain lots of unanswered questions. Roll on book 2.

  9. Dune Time,” by Jack Nicholls on Tor.com (short story), is an engaging combination of horror and fantasy, set in a Sahara Desert that’s as alien as anything H.R. Giger could have nightmared up. You’ll never look at a sand dune the same way again.

  10. Just read “This Is a Letter To My Son” by KJ Kabza.

    (Edit: Looks like someone else already recc’d it – I even opened it in a tab to read later – but I forgot and then stumbled upon it myself after finishing another story at SH.)

    I’m not sure how an ending can make my thinky brain go, “Well, that was a little pat, wasn’t it?” while my feelingsbrain is busy bawling all the tears.

    I think I’m going to go with feelingsbrain on this one. It’s a lovely story, about family and identity and risk, about deciding who you really want to be, and maybe realizing you already made that decision, and that regardless of whether it’s going to be OK, it really is going to be OK.

  11. Looks like some comments got lost in the downtime after the Hugo announcement. I’m reposting the ones I had in email:

    tofu on Apr 23
    The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray (novel).

    I’m not sure whether to even call this sci-fi, but in cases of genre confusion, I like to generously include things in as many buckets as possible. It begins with, “This morning, at 08:47 EST, I woke up to find myself excused from time.” The main character finds himself in a time singularity that resembles the home of his eccentric aunts, and he is surrounded by writing materials. He seeks to free himself from the singularity by finishing the family history he is working on, which forms the bulk of the novel. He starts with his great-grandfather, a Czech pickle-maker and amateur physicist who dies leaving cryptic notes that imply that he has discovered the secret of time travel. The need to understand time, time travel, and what exactly happened to the pickle-maker becomes a family curse, one that turns them against the history of physics while being a part of it, and eventually leads them into sci-fi literature and science cults. The writing itself is quite Wes-Anderson-esque, both literary and twee, but since it concerns itself with the “golden age” of science fiction (along with concentration camps, romance, and of course pickle-making), there’s a lot for science fiction fans to enjoy in this work.

    tofu on Apr 23
    Also read Paper Girls, which left me with similar thoughts as NickPheas: I liked it, but I also have no clue what’s going on and need to read more.

    Cora Buhlert on Apr 24
    2016 seems to be a good year for Carrie Vaughn so far, because after her recent Tor.com I also found myself liking “Origin Story” at Lightspeed a whole lot.

  12. Mr. Splitfoot (novel) by Samantha Hunt. A literary ghost story that alternates between a present-day road trip and the childhood of one of the characters who grows up in a foster home for the most unwanted of children. Full of delightful weirdness. Motherhood is a major theme, which is refreshing; seeing it at the forefront of this book made me realize how rarely I see it anywhere in the types of things I read.

  13. I seem to have come un-tickied. In an attempt not to make a content-free ticky, I’ll link to Martin Morse Wooster’s Review of Glen Weldon’s “The Caped Crusade” as deserving to be mentioned in this thread.

    Oh, and I don’t think anyone’s mentioned that Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer is hopefully eligible this year – I strongly recommend it, to the extent that I was going to nom it this time around before eligibility questions popped up..

  14. Lee Whiteside on May 8, 2016 at 11:06 pm said:

    A note for the 2016 Graphic Novel consideration – This Damned Band – Written by Paul Cornell with pencils by Tony Parker from Dark Horse comics. It was briefly discussed last year, but the final issue and trade came out this year (with the trade hitting shops this past week). Definitely a fun take on the occult and 1970’s Rock and Roll. The writing and idea is first rate and Tony Parker really knocks it out of the park with the 1970’s look and different perspectives. It is part documentary and part artist’s representation of what happened. It got a fair amount of publicity, but they didn’t go for multiple variant covers (although some variations are included in the extra stuff in the trade).

  15. The Spider’s War, by Daniel Abraham

    Novel (fifth and final book in a series)

    As the world goes to war as a result of the machinations of creatures long dead, an unlikely group of allies struggles to think of a way to keep it from turning into an endless cycle of devastation.

    Pros: The fifth and final book of The Dagger And The Coin sequence is a fitting end to a great fantasy series. An approach to epic war stories which is just as concerned with finance as it is with swords and sorcery, the books toss aside many of the easy-answer approaches to fantasy even as they remain page-turning action-adventure rides. In addition, they have provided the genre with one of its most original and memorable heroes in Cithrin bel Sarcour, as well as a villain terrifying in how readily recognizable he is, and a host of other distinct and well-drawn major characters. This book provides a fitting capstone to the series, continuing the combination of heroics, gritty cynicism, and original thinking which characterizes the books.

    Cons: One part of the ending was just a little too neatly and tidily wrapped up for my taste. This is a minor objection, especially as there were several bits where a point was made of NOT wrapping them up neatly and tidily, but there was one aspect where I thought things perhaps went just a bit too easily.

  16. Kyra: Thanks for that review of Daniel Abraham. It sounds like a series I want to read.

  17. Kyra, just like Mike, I’m adding “The Dagger and the Coin” series to Mt. File770. (Darn you. Darn you to heck.)

  18. Today’s read — A Tangle of Gold, by Jaclyn Moriarty

    Novel (Third and final book a series)

    OK, so I’ll start by saying … why. Why are you not already reading tthe “Colours of Madeleine” trilogy? Oh, it’s always the same excuses. “Because I’ve never heard of it.” “Is that a book?” “Jaclyn who?”

    How good is this series? When this arrived in the mail, my spouse with the 900-hour-a-week job grabbed it and read it before I could. That does not happen.

    That being said, I wish my first review of the series on this site were for the first book or the second book, because the third book, while still good, has flaws which make it the weakest of the three. Bear in mind, though, I’m saying this about a book I stayed up until 6 AM reading.

    General background on the series: It kicks off when a teenager named Madeleine starts finding notes in a parking meter that claim to be written by someone from the Kingdom of Cello, where wild colors sometimes attack people. Come for the inventiveness of the concepts, stay for the deft and subtle characterization, which sneaks up on you so stealthily that it can be 100 pages before you suddenly realize that incredibly important emotional moments have been happening all along while you were trying to figure out how the weather works.

    On to this book.

    Pros: The beginning had me cracking up with laughter, and there was a perfect twist or two I did *not* see coming. The best and most memorable sequence occurs when the book shifts focus to to a previously supporting character for a long time, in a subplot which could be summed up as “big city girl ends up moving to a small farming town”, but that fails to get across how beautifully it is written.

    Cons: My spouse’s comment on handing it to me was, “So much happens!” But that isn’t necessarily always a good thing here, unfortunately. Parts of it felt rushed, there were concepts that were first mentioned immediately before they became important, and at least one major plot point, crucial for explaining why a major character was acting out of character, felt forced. I honestly think this should have been longer, or possibly even two books instead of one, to give everything in it time to develop and play out. So while this book gets a thumbs up, it’s a qualified thumbs up.

    The series as a whole, however, still gets a big unqualified thumbs up. It would take a lot more than flawed but still enjoyable third book to bring down the amazing heights of books one and two.

  19. This Census-Taker by China Miéville


    Weird, creepy tale of a small town with sinister secrets lurking under the surface. This story has many intriguing enigmas and a very unreliable narrator. For starters, did his mother kill his father, or his father kill his mother? Miéville’s prose is just hypnotic here, and I love the atmosphere he builds.

    Though the ending doesn’t reveal all the answers, it is very tantalizing. (I suspect this aspect won’t work for everyone). I really loved this and will probably re-read it sometime.

  20. Central Station, Lavie Tidhar. Not since Neuromancer has a near future felt so plausible and immediate. Despite the presence of data vampires, cyborgs, genetic engineering, and near-technomystical entities of various sorts, it nevertheless remains deeply grounded in human stories even as humanity huddles at the jumping-off point to the stars and some of the humans are robots.

    Beautifully written, full of pathos, at points terrifying and awe-inspiring, this feels like one of those books. Definitely one to be kept and re-read.

    ETA: Some excerpts: http://www.tor.com/2016/04/05/excerpts-central-station-lavie-tidhar/

  21. The Edge of Worlds, by Martha Wells

    Novel (fourth or sixth in a series, depending on how you count, and I’m sorry that every book I’ve been adding here for a while has been the umpteenth in a series)

    Background information about the series: Welcome to the Three Worlds, a place where more species of sentients than you can count walk or swim or fly and engage in trade or warfare or generally just try to get along. Except with shapeshifters. Everybody hates shapeshifters; they eat people, don’t you know that? Moon is a shapeshifter. (Note: he doesn’t eat people.) An orphan forced to hide what he is all his life among species not his own, when he finally returns to his people, he finds out that, unsurprisingly … he’s considered kind of weird.

    This isn’t exactly a return to the Three Worlds books for Martha Wells, since there’ve been two books of short stories set there after the initial trilogy. But it is the first full novel there’s been in a while. So how is it?

    Pros: It’s good. We get more of the brilliantly inventive world Wells has created, and she succeeds in ratcheting up the stakes while keeping them within plausible bounds. The story is propulsive and there’s a host of interesting characters both new and old. And of course, fans of Moon and Jade and Stone and Chime and the gang get to see them come back in all their complicated shapeshifting glory.

    Cons: If there’s a flaw, it’s that the central emotional dilemmas of the book aren’t quite as interesting as the early ones. Moon is by now pretty much settled the Indigo Court and accepted there, so the book lacks the fish-out-of-water tension that characterized the earlier books. Although Moon has some conflict around his status as a new father, it doesn’t inform much of what goes on.

  22. Lady of the Shard, by Gigi D.G.

    Graphic Story (Webcomic)

    A comic told in vertical scrolling format about an acolyte who falls in love with her goddess. Comics Beat told me to drop literally everything I was doing and read “Lady of the Shard” right now, so I did. And they were totally right!

    The art style takes a little bit of time to get used to, or it did for me at least, but after a few pages it stopped seeming primitive and started seeming expressive. The story is lovely and at times disturbing, but it includes adorable breakfasts.

    This is an early contender for my Best Graphic Story list for this year.

  23. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente

    Novel (fifth and final book in the Fairyland series, continuing my unfortunate streak of adding the umpteenth novel in a series to the rec list)

    Of potential special interest to file770 readers: This book has wombats in it.

    Fantasy about a girl who goes to Fairyland and has adventures there.

    Cons: The fifth book marks something of a return to form, since the fourth book in the series somewhat inexplicably decided to leave behind all major characters for a while and follow what is essentially a subplot. It wasn’t a bad book, just an odd choice that I’m not sure worked, and one of the results was that at the very beginning of this latest book I had to struggle a bit to remember what had been going on and I felt rather, to quote one of the characters, as though I “had skipped several chapters in [my] favorite novel and opened it up again only to find everyone much further along than [me].” In addition, as with another book I minireviewed recently, there was ultimately so much going on the some plot threads seemed a bit skimped.

    Pros: That being said, this book was a good ‘un, chock full of Valente’s wonderful descriptions (“The carriage-driver was a lady caught halfway between beautiful and terrifying — her face so gaunt, her hair so wild, and her eyes so huge that she looked like an electrified dragonfly who had once asked to be made into a human girl for Christmas and almost, almost gotten her wish.”) I’d recommend it just for those. The story caught me up and it ended in a way that ultimately made sense.

  24. Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire


    I am seconding Snodberry Fields’ recommendation of this piece.

    I am something of a heretic in my view of Seanan McGuire. I read the first October Daye book when everyone was raving about it and found it utterly unmemorable. I tried the first Incryptid book and thought the same. I thought I simply didn’t think much of her writing, but then I read Sparrow Hill Road and *loved* it, and I devoured both of her Indexing books with great delight. So, it’s not that I don’t like her stuff, it’s just that I apparently live in oppositeland.

    So where does Every Heart A Doorway fit into that? Somewhere in between.

    Pros: The characters and concepts are great, absolutely on the level of what I consider her best books. It gets recommended by me here on the strength of these.

    Cons: The plot; it was (in large part) a murder mystery where the perpetrator was completely obvious to me right away. I know she can write a mystery where that isn’t the case, Indexing certainly didn’t have an obvious villain, so I’m not sure why it happened here.

  25. Borderline, by Mishell Baker:
    Millie was an up-and-coming filmmaker with a highly-acclaimed independent film to her credit — until a year ago, when a disastrous affair with her professor culminated in her suicide attempt from the 7th floor.

    Now her life is a lot harder — she’s a double amputee who struggles to get around with either her prosthetics or a wheelchair. She has also been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and is treading psychological dead-end water in a mental health facility. Then one day she receives a visit from a young woman who offers her a job, working for a group which acts as the liaison between the human world and the dark, gritty world of faerie (of which most humans are not aware).

    This is pretty incredible as a novel, let alone as a first novel. It’s told in the first person, and I thought it was a pretty realistic depiction (if perhaps a bit too kind) of BPD thinking. The premise is very interesting, and the fantasy-linked plotline very well done. It’s not a perfect book — but it’s a great novel nevertheless. This is definitely going to be a strong contender on my Hugo longlist.

  26. Novel: Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky

    For the first two-thirds of the story, I wasn’t sure this book knew what it wanted to be–either a contemporary fantasy, magical realism, or an absurd tome on the order of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This seemed to vary from chapter to chapter (the chapters alternate viewpoints between the two main characters). Because of this, I felt the story meandered more than a little, so that I wondered when or if it would ever get to some sort of point.

    I was never tempted to put the book down though, because Charlie Jane Anders is an excellent writer. Her prose is rich and evocative, and she has a knack for metaphors and similes that turned my fingertips green with envy. She also moved the story right along, so even if I thought we might never get to where we were supposed to go, for the most part I was enjoying the trip.

    Then, about two-thirds of the way through the book, she dropped the bomb. (Figuratively, from my reaction, and literally in the story.) Looking back now, I can see how carefully the whole thing was set up, and how delicate some of the puzzle pieces were. When everything clicked into place, the book took off like Secretariat exploding out of the starting gate, and all I could do was hang on for what became a helluva ride.

    This book is definitely on my longlist. It didn’t wow me quite like Lovecraft Country, but I think it’s well worth checking out.

  27. Tardily re-posted from the 5/24 scroll:

    Story recommendation: “Fable” by Charles Yu in The New Yorker.

    Metafictional, story about story, story about choices and the lack of choices. Uses the elements of fantasy to tell a story about real life. And absolutely heartrending. (Not joking about that last. This is a very, very tough story to read.)

    I think this could be this year’s version of “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love.” Absolutely recommended, but, oh God, it’s not a feel-good story at all.

    ETA: There’s also an audio button on the webpage to listen to Yu reading his story. (The New Yorker started podcasting “The Author’s Voice“, writers reading their own stories, a few months ago. Yes, even The New Yorker is being dragged kicking and screaming — in, of course, a sophisticated manner — into the 21st century.)

  28. Just finished Victor Lavalle’s novella, The Ballad of Black Tom. This belongs to the same sub-[sub?]-genre as Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country–the Lovecraftian mythos as reimagined through the lens of characters and/or writers of color. This one is set in New York in 1924. Unfortunately (and this is probably due to the fact that it’s a novella and the plot has to move along) the cultural aspects are not so deeply explored. (Although there is one incident in particular that, sadly, could have been ripped out of today’s headlines.) It’s also more explicitly Lovecraftian–Cthulhu is namechecked and described.

    The story suffers, in my view, from an unnecessary POV shift about halfway through. It would have made for a tighter focus and characterization if the author had stuck to the original POV character throughout, although as the story unfolded, that would have resulted in going to some pretty dark places. This one would also have been better at a greater length, I think. As it is, it’s okay, but nowhere near the fantastic Lovecraft Country. (I think I’ve decided that the latter book will be my 2016 benchmark.)

  29. Kingfisher, by Patricia McKillip


    Fantasy; in a world with both knights and automobiles, the son of a sorceress goes off to seek his father. This book is mainly about what time does to myths — how they change and bend to accommodate the needs of the current era, but how the older stories still lurk just beneath the surface, needing only a prod to come rearing up in all their power. While the book is primarily a retelling of the Fisher King story, fans of Welsh legends (or Lloyd Alexander) will note the additional presence of a familiar and older set of ideas.

    Cons: It’s not the best thing Patricia McKillip has ever written, but her low bar is way above most author’s high bar.

    Pros: This is written in beautiful, evocative prose, and left me thinking about what it was saying for a long time after I’d finished reading.

  30. Seconding tofu’s recommendation of Mr. Splitfoot, by Samatha Hunt


    Literary fantasy about religions, death, birth, and life, told through two alternating narratives. In one narrative, a young con artist in the making leaves her foster home; in the other, many years later, she leads her niece on a strange journey through upstate New York. Really, really good. Beautiful prose.

  31. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, a novella from tor.com, about 36,000 words.

    Vellitt Boe is a scholar in the women’s college of the University of Ulthar, in the Lovecraftian Dreamlands. I have to say it’s a setting idea that just grabbed me from the start. Vellitt was a wanderer and explorer in her youth, meeting an Earthly dreamer named Randolph Carter among others, but is now middle aged and lecturing not adventuring. When a young student runs off for our real world, she has to find her old hiking boots (and sharp knife) and set off across the dreamlands after her.
    It’s very much a travelogue, and has some of the issues that come along with that – is this just a list of places she goes at authorial fiat? – but I think the character and the charm of the setting really pulls you along, and the stakes get built up nicely. I’m not sure how much you’d need to know Lovecraft’s dreamlands to appreciate it – I certainly found the mythos elements enriched it – and I think the ending wasn’t quite as strong as it might have been, but overall I enjoyed it.

    (Content note: two mentions of rape, in the sense of mentioning it has or could happen, not in the sense of featuring it in any way)

  32. Could you ROT13 content notes? One person’s trigger warning is another person’s spoiler.

  33. Novelette: “Teenagers from Outer Space” by Dale Bailey, Clarkesworld.

    Historical SF, set in a small town in the 1950s where aliens have assimilated into the culture. Interesting aesthetic, but the aliens aren’t the main focus here; the story follows the lives of two human girls going to high school. It’s very character-driven and poignant, with some interesting themes on agency reflective of its period setting. And it’s really well-written.

  34. I’m definitely voting for “Lovecraft Country” and “The Obelisk Gate”.

    Also liked Teenagers from Outer Space and Origin Story.

    I must sadly unrecommend “All the Birds…” b/c I haaaaaated the ending.

  35. From the Flood by Simon Stålenhag is available for pre-order from Amazon or can be bought now from Fria Ligan.

    Simon Stålenhag is eligible for Best Professional Artist. He makes drawings that are a mix of dinosaurs, giant mechas and Sweden from the 70:s. To see what kind of drawings he makes, see his tumblr.

  36. Lurkertype, I ran “Brushwork” through OpenOffice and came up with about 21,000 words; that puts it solidly in Novella territory.

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