2018 Recommended SF/F List

By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2018-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:”
  • (Please rot-13 any spoilers.)

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

175 thoughts on “2018 Recommended SF/F List

  1. +1 for Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. I really enjoyed it. Chambers continues to tell stories which are more of a vignette of a group of people’s experiences rather than plot-driven ones. This is her third book and I think she achieves a good balance – bringing everyone’s story along at an interesting pace and bringing the whole thing to a satisfying close.

  2. For those who’ve read Record of a Spaceborn Few… do I need to re-read either of the other two books for background or does this one largely stand on its own? I remember the milieu; I’m just shaky on characters, so if it’s a different set of characters I’m good to go….

    I guess what I’m asking is, is it a direct sequel or is it a same-universe book?

  3. +1 for Semiosis by Sue Burke.
    Our SF book club read it and loved it. A well-done exploration of what plant intelligence might be like with a hilarious Easter egg:
    ROT-8
    Bpm uiqv qvbmttqomvb xtivb bisma bpm vium Abmdtivl. Abmdtivl eia bpm nqzab vium wn Abmdqm Ewvlmz epw ezwbm iv itjcu Bpm Amkzmb Tqnm wn Xtivba.

    I have to agree, though, with the Kirkus reviewer:
    “When the prevailing trend in science fiction is to turn even the flimsiest plots into bloated trilogies, cutting this extraordinary story short feels like a deplorable waste.
    An outstanding science-fiction novel hobbled by its rushed story structure.”

    I’m glad that there is a sequel coming.
    Also, if you read it and are puzzled by a lack of explanation about one important plot point (Rot-8 Epg bpm Otiaauismza tmnb bpm kqbg), check her blog. Apparently the answer was left out by accident.

  4. An emphatic +1 for Semiosis by Sue Burke.
    Our SF book club read it and loved it. A well-done exploration of plant intelligence in episodic form with a great Easter egg:
    Gur znva vagryyvtrag cynag gnxrf gur anzr Fgriynaq, juvpu vf Fgrivr Jbaqre’f svefg anzr. Ur jebgr na nyohz pnyyrq “Gur Frperg Yvsr bs Cynagf.”
    I do have to agree with the Kirkus reviewer:
    “When the prevailing trend in science fiction is to turn even the flimsiest plots into bloated trilogies, cutting this extraordinary story short feels like a deplorable waste.
    An outstanding science-fiction novel hobbled by its rushed story structure.”
    It’s a good thing that there will be a sequel.
    Also, if you are puzzled for a lack of explanation by a plot point (Jul qvq gur Tynffznxref yrnir gur pvgl?), check the blog for the book. Apparently, the explanation got accidentally left out during editing.

  5. @Bonnie I’m sorry that I double-posted. I didn’t see the first comment post and thought I had screwed up somehow. https://www.rot13.com/ works for the second comment for me (the Rot 13 comments were the same).

  6. Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers

    Novel

    I wavered a long time about whether to add my voice to those recommending it here. There isn’t any overarching plot, and that sometimes made the story feel plodding or meandering to me. Basically, it’s a slice-of-life depiction of a small town slowly losing its population to more exciting locales, except the small town in question happens to be a former generation ship orbiting an alien sun. However, Chambers is as deft as ever with her characters, and I did ultimately enjoy the book. So even though I didn’t like it quite as much as her first two entries in the Wayfarers universe, I’m still giving it a recommendation.

    It can be read as a solo work without reading the other books set in the universe first; only a few brief references to certain types of alien beings might be confusing.

  7. @Cora, I’ve just watched the sixth and final episode of Hard Sun that you mentioned (BBC One & Hulu, 2018 — Auntie Beeb are not going to go any further, even though show runner Neil Cross said he planned a five-year arc a la Straczynski). It’s difficult to know what to make of the series.

    It’s ultimately a sort of overwrought police procedural / thriller despite a SF-genre premise (something is wrong with the sun, and life will come to an end in five years) that brings little to the plot except to inspire pervasive gloom and more people going unhinged than usual. I like that the writers avoided the cliche of a police buddy movie, and instead have partners Hicks and Renko undermining, investigating, and fighting with each other. OTOH they adopted nearly the entire collection of other police cliches.

    I think I’ll consider this one proof that police/SF series based on Bowie songs aren’t always good, and give it a pass when doing nominations.

  8. Novel: The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal

    A +1 for this, albeit if I’ve only got one slot I suspect I’ll be nomming The Calculating Stars ahead of it.

    I was expecting it to carry on directly from The Calculating Stars but it actually takes a little time jump, and this helps it stand alone better – I’d still read tCS first though. Much of what I said about tCS stands for this as well, with bonus points for portraying some previously-unexplored problems with space travel.

    A couple of things that struck me after reading both books, firstly it felt like the books went for a consciously retro feel – which fits nicely with the setting – but try to marry that with a more modern sensibility to social issues, and sometimes the two don’t quite mesh.
    Secondly, the books take a fairly US-centric approach to the story. Perhaps that’s not much of a criticism for a book by a US author primarily for a US audience, but it did strike me here and there. Although the space program in the book is nominally worldwide it is US-dominated, which isn’t entirely supported by a couple of the alt-history decisions that MRK throws in which weaken the impetus for the US to dominate.
    The one bit that did genuinely peev me is that in The Fated Sky MRK needs a character to be a full-bore racist to contrast with her lead US characters who are struggling slowly towards understanding the issues. That role gets taken by a South African, and the choice not to fill that particular role with an American character rather stands out.

    Novel: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

    Whew! I don’t know what I was expecting from this, but it wasn’t the fantasy with a cyberpunk plot that I got. I recommend this very highly.

    The setting is a city run on industrialised magic, dominated by merchant houses that rule their own areas, leaving the poorest areas to lawless anarchy. The magic based on writing complex instructions to run arcane devices is really interesting (and RJB gives a good lesson in how to ‘splain without being too ‘splainy) but the characters are where it shines. Initially you meet Sancia, an escaped slave who is surviving in the lawless areas by putting a unique talent for thievery to use. She’s not a chirpy urban thief with a heart of gold type though – she wants a big pile of cash to fix her problem and then get as far away from their as she can. Other chars come in later and probably don’t quite rise to Sancia’s level.
    When I say it’s a cyberpunk plot, what I mean is that you have a urban environment controlled by big corps, with hardscrabble thieves and other operatives running around doing jobs for mysterious (probably corporate) benefactors, getting their hands on something they weren’t supposed to and getting into Big Trouble as a result. There are some further callouts in the magic-tech that convince me RJB was doing this deliberately.
    Similarly to the Divine Cities this is all in service of exploring some big themes about power, how cities and economies work – with technology in particular – oh and the nature of his world and what gods there may be in it.
    While this is the start of a series it definitely stands together, leading up to a very satisfying high-octane ending. I’ll be very interested to see if he writes a trilogy with a tighter plot than Divine Cities, or if he goes wider again. I rather hope it’s the latter.

    If I were to criticise, I would say that having recently read some novels that tackle the subject of slavery in an unrelentingly grim manner, the treatment here comes over as a bit lightweight – honestly meant, I think, but not as strongly examined as it could be.

  9. The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark, novella (25k words)

    I picked this up on the strength of the author’s shorter work A Dead Djinn in Cairo and I’m very glad I did. The setting is the star here – a lush,evocative alternative New Orleans in a magical steampunk world where the US fractured from the civil war and New Orleans is a free city acting as a neutral zone for the various powers, including a Haiti who gained independence by calling up the power of its gods with a weapon called The Black God’s Drums. The writing really does justice to the setting.
    The lead is a young girl with the disconcerting nickname of Creeper, who survives on the New Orleans streets seemingly as much by preference as by poverty – she has friends who would look after her, it seems, but she doesn’t want to be tied down, she wants to be away to adventure! To avoid spoilers I’ll simply say that she falls into a definite Adventure and then Shenanigans occur.

    The plot is fairly straightforward as you’d expect from a shortish novella but rattles along nicely. It’s self contained but leaves room for some more steampunk airship adventures, and I really hope it does well enough that we get them.

  10. Alternate Routes by Tim Powers is fun book that uses familiar sort of urban mysticism to tie ghosts, LA freeways, math, Daedalus and the Crete Labyrinth together to make a tale of people on the run from a spy agency. Good stuff but two of the main characters interactions with each other felt off. Still Powers is almost his own sub genre and this book is another great example of him doing what he does well.

    Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Post apocalyptic urban fantasy with Native American tribal abilities, monsters and mythos. I liked the setting, and Coyote was great, but felt that the mourning of a sort-of ex and constant character’s self doubt hijacked the momentum and while the setting and monsters were unique the story itself is similar to other urban fantasy books. If urban fantasy is your genre though there’s a lot to enjoy in it and I think that audience is going to love these books.

    This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Two of Us by Edgar Cantero is an odd detective story about a gumshoe that is actually two people who are chimeric twins that share one body. Much like Space Opera one of the things I really enjoyed about it is that the author is obviously having a great time just telling the story and it comes through in the writing. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking and intentional subversion of genre tropes and one of the more bizarre sibling rivalries on paper. Really enjoyed it.

  11. +1 for Space Opera — some will love it, some will hate it. Wall-to-wall absurdist humor, with some warm-heartedness instead of nihilism. I had a great time with it, but definitely YMMV.

    +1 for Trail of Lightning — this one is promising more than an outstanding work in its own right. It has definite flaws, but as a first novel it sets a pretty good foundation for future books in the series.

  12. Novel: Before Mars, Emma Newman

    I hesitated before picking this up at the library, as I haaaaated the ending to Planetfall. I finally decided to take a chance, and I’m glad I did, as this is a much stronger book.

    This is the final book in the Planetfall series, which makes it eligible for Best Series (although I probably won’t be nominating it, due to my dislike of the first book’s ending). Nevertheless, this book stands alone quite well, with its story of the Mars Principia colony, and Anna Kubrin, the geologist/artist sent there to churn out expensive paintings for the gov’t-slash-corporation that owns and runs the colony. She falls into a neat little puzzle box of a mystery, which also has some interesting things to say about motherhood and how society treats women who become mothers. There’s even more pointed themes of privacy, human rights, and how corporations and capitalism can destroy democracy, which ring scarily true in the times we now live in.

    I wish the first book ended as well as this one. I had avoided the second book, After Atlas, but now I will look for it.

  13. I will second the recommendation for Before Mars. It’s a great space station mystery, and it’s on my Best Novel Hugo longlist for next year.

  14. Novella – The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky

    This is a slightly odd title. I suppose it makes sense once you’ve read the book though.

    It’s quite hard to talk about it without spoilers, because the setting is the Big Idea, and the gradual discovery of the setting is the main point of the story. It’s not a mystery as such – it’s pretty obvious what the broad strokes are from the outset – but the characters need to learn about their world. So it’s a combination of coming-of-age and exploration. The young main character, Handry, loses his place in the world through no real fault of his own beyond some youthful exuberance, and when his situation becomes very dark indeed he is tempted into take a leap into the unknown by a charismatic stranger. This reveals much more about his world than he could have guessed.
    I suppose the setting could be considered a bit of an old chestnut by some, but I thought Tchaikovsky gave it life, plus some additional interest from his perpetual obsession with putting insects in everything. I think it would be fair to say that the plot is a bit of a straight line through the job of exploring the setting, but given the limitations of novella length I’m not sure he could have done much more. Overall an enjoyable novella.

    Novel – Alternate Routes by Tim Powers

    I’m a massive Powers fan, albeit perhaps more for his historically set novels than his weird modern Americana, so if you’ve tried Powers and found him not to your liking then this is unlikely to change your mind. That said, this seems to be a bit more entry-level Powers than some other works of his, with action from the off and more-and-earlier explanations of the Weird Stuff, so it might be worth trying if you’re new to Powers.

    In this case the Weird Stuff revolves around ghosts, freeways, and some greek mythology. The main character Vickery is Tortured By His Past in a slightly cliched fashion but Powers is a good enough writer to make him a fully-featured character anyway. He was a Secret Service agent (of the more boring fraud investigation type) until he heard something Weird on the radio in a motorcade vehicle and his colleagues promptly tried to murder him. Now he’s hiding out under an assumed name and driving vehicles for a private agency that specialises in getting you past supernatural obstacles. The plot quickly kicks into high gear as former colleague Ingrid Castine pops up to warn him that he’s been spotted but she’s for some reason not prepared to let them get to him – it turns out she’s not happy with what’s she’s been learning on the inside – and the pair are quickly on the run from gunmen who can track them with intel extracted from ghosts. Without running into spoilers, the weirdness ramps up from there. It’s a quick and pacy story with Power’s trademark of Secret History interacting with Americana.

    (also read: The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams. Starting a new trilogy in his Dread Empire’s Fall/Praxis series, albeit carrying on with the same characters a few years later. As a fan of the series I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I’m not sure you could really pick it up cold from this point, and the story in this volume isn’t really self-contained either so I personally wouldn’t recommend it as a Hugo nom. Once this new trilogy is finished then Series may be a possibility though, and if you liked the previous ones then definitely pick this up)

  15. YA Lodestar:

    Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

    I gather this book was quite hyped when it came out. I will say this is a flawed but fascinating debut novel, based on Nigerian culture, gods and mythology. Where it falls down a bit is the characterizations: there’s an ill-advised romance that ups the teenage angst quotient considerably, and unnecessarily so, in my opinion. Still, it’s a fast-paced and interesting read, and I believe the author is also eligible for the Campbell. If so, she’s definitely on my list.

  16. Read:
    Suicide Club: A Novel About Living Which is a sci-fi dystopia book about a future where artificial augmentation essentially means living forever but you have to have the right genes for it. Basically you’re tested at birth and depending on what number it gives you it either means that you’re a ‘lifer’ or a ‘sub100’. Lifers essentially get all the privileges of good schools and optional additional life extending treatments while if you’re sub100 you’re going to be poor and die sooner.

    It’s told from two perspectives, one from a woman whose a lifer whose goal is career advancement which gives more access to life extending therapies but a run in with her estranged father starts off a chain of events that calls into question the point of focusing a while life around extending that life. The other perspective is another lifer whose mother’s body is alive though her mind is likely gone and is torn between thinking that it’s a horrible existence but unable to stop it herself.

    It’s well written and interesting. The writing is mostly focused on the internal struggles of these characters in the world and not much on the world itself and that’s my biggest problem with it. The worldbuilding is a second thought, like there’s a bunch of vegetables people consume but hardly anyone lives outside of a city anymore which makes me wonder who is growing this produce, but it’s also not the focus of the story so it’s more of a personal anecdote that I kept getting distracted by wondering about the details on all the things. Interesting read and the end goes real dark.

    Foundryside I’m a Robert Jackson Bennett fan and at this point I’m envious of his ability to write seemingly any genre and be amazing at it. This book is no different, and is one of those books I feel like I could spend all day pointing out all the little details I loved but this is a great book that’s a fantasy novel where the system of magic is essentially messing with the coding language of reality itself so it’s also oddly kind of a cyberpunk book with coders and hackers and people attempting to get admin level rights even if none of that language is used. Great characters, story, use of different themes, good action, great world, just great all around.

    Spinning Silver While I enjoyed her Temeraire books I think Novik is on another level with this and Uprooted. Spinning Silver feels less like a fantasy novel and more like a great piece of discovered folklore. It’s a wonderful book.

  17. +1 on The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

    I agree with everything Mark said about it (including the strength of the shorter “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”)

  18. I also loved “The Black God’s Drums.” I wrote a detailed review of it, but, in brief, not only does it have a very well-thought-out (and very interesting) setting, it has several memorable characters, and plenty of action and tension. Definitely one of the best of the year so far.

  19. Novel: The Robots of Gotham, Todd McAulty

    This book is 675 pages, but every page was worth it. I loved it. It’s a smart sci-fi thriller set in the year 2083, when artificial intelligence is in full bloom–in fact, a great many countries are ruled or governed by Thought Machines. The author is a software engineer, and needless to say the tech and the robot ecosystem/evolution is well thought out. He also has a deft touch with characters, especially the robots. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the characters are not stupid or do dumb things just because The Plot Demands It–they share information, and think and plan as their situation becomes more precarious (which leads to some lengthy conversations, but all this talking is relevant to plot and characterization). This book is pretty self-contained, but the worldbuilding is so interesting I would love to see further books in this universe, either about these characters or others. Definitely on my novel longlist, and probably shortlist.

  20. Thanks, Bonnie. I just finished The Babe and absolutely loved it. What was accomplished in such a short short story is writer magic.

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