2019 Recommended SF/F List

By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2019-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.

270 thoughts on “2019 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Have you heard of the Hilda animated series on Netflix? Did you know that it’s based on a graphic novel series? It’s been running since 2010, featuring much of the same adventures of young Hilda and the Scandinavian folklore-inspired world of Trolberg. On a whim I decided to check out Pearson’s newest installment, Hilda and the Mountain King (Flying Eye Books), and wow. Was not expecting the strong emotional reaction I had to this story, especially as someone who had not read the other comics. From what I could gather, this is the saga’s darkest book, picking up from Book 5’s cliffhanger which saw Hilda turned into a troll, kidnapped and swapped with a troll child that her mother Johanna finds herself taking care of. One notable difference between the Netflix show and the comic series is that the latter feels rougher, more willing to push the boundaries of what is ostensibly a children’s comic, both thematically and tonally. We get deep into the history of Trolberg as Pearson fully explores the thorniness of the need to “keep the trolls out.” I’m only thinking about this now as I type it, and I don’t know if Pearson intended it, but this exploration feels rather timely. It helps to give the book an aspect that appeals to adults, along with Pearson’s ability to not talk down to his readers and the persistent thread of parenthood, of mothers who would do anything for their children. May very well end up on my ballot.

    Amazon; B&N; Publisher

  2. The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher


    An engaging modern riff on a classic Machen occult horror story, this will appeal to fans of botany, dogs, and gradually increasing threat.

  3. +1 to The Twisted Ones. I just finished it, and thought it was wonderful. Oor Wombat is a master at depicting perfectly ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Also there’s a lot of humor alongside the horror in this book, not snark necessarily but just finding the absurdity in some of the tropes she’s dealing with. It’s delightful.


    So, The Lighthouse.

    I’ve been talking up (read: cheerleading) this film on File 770 well before it came out, because its mere existence excited me; an indie, A24-distributed film starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, directed by the man who brought us The VVitch, filmed in black-and-white and set in a confined location, taking cues from dark fantasy? I was all in. Now, having finally seen it, I’m happy to report that it’s met my expectations.

    I wish I could say what qualifies this film as fantasy. I’d like you to find that out for yourself. I will say that this aspect of the film’s genre is more…ambiguous than I was expecting. It’s one of those ostensible fantasy films whose fantastical imagery is entirely reliant on the subjective view of the protagonist. And usually the protagonist is going, slowly but surely, absolutely insane. You can just as well see the surreal aspects of the film as occurring solely within Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson)’s mind.

    That said, I think The Lighthouse is still fair game for consideration. Throughout the film there’s this grimy, overpowering sense of a supernatural otherworldliness. If The VVitch was a Puritan’s tale modernized, then this film is some sort of perverted sea shanty. It’s a horror film that’s less about “scares” and more about getting under the audience’s skin by increasing the level of discomfort until it all boils over. That’s largely due to the relationship between the two characters, a trainwreck built on skewed dynamics of power, secrets, and possible attraction, amicable one second and at each other’s throats the next. The light within the titular lighthouse seems to draw in the two men, with Tom Wake (Dafoe) being extremely protective of it and Winslow wanting in, wanting access to its secrets. It describes their entire relationship.

    One of the best films of the year, hands down. Still a mainstay on my ballot. Fair warning: this movie gets extremely gross. It’s a Hard R. There are moments of levity, though – it has a surprisingly palpable sense of humor to it. It probably needed to.

  5. Jade War, by Fonda Lee

    Novel (second in a series)

    On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade. Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, and confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers.

    Jade War is more ambitious and more expansive than Jade City, exploring more of the world, more of the issues, and more of the growing problems in Kekon. This also makes the book more diffuse; while there is something of an overarching plot, it lacks the focus of the great Clan War of the first book. Nonetheless, the story does not lack for action or interest, and it’s worth following for the characters alone. That’s saying something when the protagonists are sometimes awful; the book does not flinch from the fact that they are criminals and killers. One does something so unforgivably awful that I completely despise him now, and another tacitly condones his action. Keeping the reader invested in the characters after something like that is a difficult thing to manage, but Fonda Lee pulls it off.

  6. Russian Doll Season One, for your further consideration (video contains spoilers but it’s also an in-depth look of why the show’s so great)

  7. Der-Shing Holmer’s webcomic Mare Internum is ending for real this time, and what a ride it’s been. If you’re looking for a heartbreaking, hard sci-fi tale of self-discovery I highly recommend it. Consider it for your Best Graphic Story ballots.

    Starts here.

    TW: Scenes of attempted suicide/suicidal ideation, implied sexual assault

  8. Stealing Worlds, Karl Schroeder, novel, Tor (June, 2019).

    This is an old-fashioned very hard SF work taking place in the fairly near future. It involves mixed-reality larping, blockchains, and autonomous corporations. The main character, Sura Neelin, is a cat-burglar.

    I was confused at one point, but I like the complete story.

  9. Best Dramatic Presentation, Long

    Terminator: Dark Fate

    I know this movie has had a mixed reception and isn’t doing well at the box office, but I loved it. It makes abundantly clear, if we didn’t already know, that the Terminator films are not about Ah-nuld or John Connor–they’re Sarah’s story. Here, I think Sarah gets the resolution and send-off she deserves.

    Best Dramatic Presentation, Short

    She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Season 4 (Netflix)

    There’s some impressive character work done on (almost) all the main characters this year, and at the end, Etheria is thrust into a wider and more science-fictional universe. Standout eps: “Princess Scorpia” (probably my favorite episode of the season), “Mer-Mysteries,” “Hero,” and the finale, “Destiny Parts 1 and 2.”

  10. Best Novel and/or Lodestar for Best YA

    Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

    I’m not sure it’ll surprise anyone that this expansion of Cat Pictures Please is delightful, but I’m going to tell everyone anyway. I did the classic start-reading-late-evening-unable-to-stop-til-finished thing with it.

    This novel expands the ideas from the short significantly by telling the story of Steph, a teen girl whose mother drags her around the country in a series of apparently paranoid escapes from Steph’s father. Within a few pages you want someone to swoop in and look after Steph so well-drawn a character she is, and luckily her one escape is a small community on CatNet, a mysteriously well-moderated social site. Shenanigans ensue, but so does some really heartwarming characters and relationships. It’s not twee though, there’s a good sense of drama and a strong pace to the story.
    Behind all that there’s some interesting stuff to think about, like the differences between online and RL identities, and the ethics of AI.
    It could qualify in either YA or Novel, I suspect I’ll nominate it in YA but either way I really think this is going to do well.

  11. Novel (and Series)

    Silver by Lina Nagata (part of the Inverted Frontier series, sequel to the Nanotech Succession series)

    I already recced Edges and this is the second and (for now) concluding novel in this sub-series. Nagata says there may be more, presumably if it does well enough. It concludes the events that kick-off towards the end of Edges, and shows that this setting is a great combo of hard SF ideas, Big Objects, nanotech, and more.

    Interestingly this turns out to also be a continuation of sorts of Nagata’s earlier novel Memory. I don’t think not having read Memory will affect your enjoyment of this book, because I’ve not read it myself, although I had read her Asimov’s story Theories of Flight in the same setting.

    Therefore this and Edges also create eligibility for the shared world of The Nanotech Succession/Memory/Inverted Frontier. I’ve yet to read them all so can’t say if I recommend them, but based on these two I’m going to have to try to get to them soon!


    Look, I don’t know how closely Watchmen (HBO) dovetails with its source material, but I am willing to say that much, if not all, of the controversy surrounding it is misguided, especially in regards to a continuation of a story that was already political. I feel comfortable saying this, since “This Extraordinary Being” is one of the best pieces of media period I’ve seen this year. Every piece of it – the direction, writing, acting, story as part of the larger series, story as a standalone – is finely executed, fully bringing us into the mind of Hooded Justice. I don’t even want to say anymore – just watch it anyway you can. (TW: flashing images)

    I’ll also toss in a mention here of The Mandalorian (Disney+), with its third outing “Chapter 3: The Sin”. I greatly enjoyed this as someone who was never really into Star Wars and who has grown exasperated with its modern-day omnipresence (and all the discourse surrounding it), so take that as high enough praise. There’s more here than Baby Yoda, I swear.

  13. “The Athena Club”, Theodora Goss
    Premise: mostly-known female “monsters” from genre (Catherine the puma from “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, Rapacini’s daughter (Beatrice), the “Bride of Frankenstein” (Justine), and a byblow of the alter-ego Hyde) coalesce around Jekyll’s daughter to deal with the real monsters: the men (and occasional women) who created and are trying to use them. I raved here about the 1st of these a couple of years ago; the 2nd could maybe have been trimmed a bit, but the 3rd wraps up the narrative hooks from the 2nd and is a great story. (2 adds a number of other genre “monsters”; I don’t think 3 does, but I’m not up enough on 19th-century fiction to be sure.) The latest book ends with a six-months-after postscript rather than a cliffhanger, and one capsule review refers to a trilogy — so look at it now, as it may not be eligible after 2020.
    The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
    European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
    The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl

  14. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker


    A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons. To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is an engineer.

    Honestly … I had mixed feelings about this one, and it took me a long time to decide to put it here on the recommended page. But I did enjoy it and there’s a lot to like about it. Basically, the first half had me engrossed. Desperate straits, clever strategies, political plots and counterplots, all great, dramatic fun. Then we finally find out who is behind the siege of the city and why and … it’s all a little too neat and coincidental without really having enough depth of theme to back it up. It tries to go more deeply into its ideas about prejudice and empire, but it never really gets there. Ultimately, did I enjoy this book? Yes. Would I recommend this book? Maybe. Do I think it’s among the best of the year? No, not really. But on the strength of my answer to the first question, I’ll put it here anyway.

  15. Short story: “Inheritance” by Elise Stephens, Escape Pod Episode 702
    (This is a podcast, but you can also read the transcript.)

    Three siblings have parts of their recently deceased grandmother’s memories grafted into their own minds. For all three, this gives them some new skills but comes with some quirks they didn’t expect. For one, the main character, it also offers an unexpected opportunity for healing.

    This was a poignant story, and while the technology was interesting, the family relationships were front-and-center.

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