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.

76 thoughts on “2019 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Novella

    Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett (tor.com publishing)

    I think it takes a certain level of self-assurance to take Shakespeare’s iconic characters and write your own continuation of their story, but this version works nicely. It picks up the tale of Miranda as she arrives in Milan in the train of her father’s triumphant return. It’s quickly clear that all is not right – she’s engaged to a prince after growing up wild on an island, the Milanese treat her with great mistrust, a mystery surrounds her late mother,her father is clearly not who she thought he was…

    There’s a nice romance as Miranda finds someone other than her distance prince – I’m often a bit meh on romance but I rather liked this one, as it worked to create a realistic relationship and reveal the characters.

    This is really nicely written, an interesting concept that takes a different direction from some others I’ve seen but is justified by the source material, and the lead characters grabbed me.

    (Word count – I make it 40,111 which is within the tolerance for novella, so although it’s technically eligible for novel I’d suggest novella)
    —-

    +1 for Three Robots from Love, Death + Robots

    —-

    Novel

    Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear.

    +1 to dsr above. It’s the chewy thoughtful elements about the societies involved that I really liked, plus a really interesting MC. A more spoilerific review is here.

    I understand that there’s another novel in this sequence to come but that it focuses on different characters, I’d agree that this is satisfying as a standalone.

  2. I’ll second the recommendation for the novel Alliance Rising, by CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher. I’ve been a fan of her Alliance/Union universe since the 1980s, and it’s great to see her and her wife writing more stories there, particularly ones set before Downbelow Station. This one ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so there’s definitely more to come, but it’s a very satisfying read nevertheless.

  3. Pingback: Top 10 Posts for March 2019 | File 770

  4. I want to add to the recommendations for Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night. It’s a deliberately paced, thoughtful space opera with quite a few weighty themes, including how societies are formed and the parameters for fitting into them, and for the main character, guilt and forgiveness and deciding who and what she wants to be. (And visiting the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core, and alien space whales/seahorses that are as big as planets.) There is a lot going on here, and I think it would be even more rewarding with a second read.

  5. The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

    Novel

    Adding my voice to this one. A narratively interesting — as is usual for Leckie — and engaging extended riff on [rot13] Unzyrg (jvgu fbzr funqrf bs gur Vyvnq va gur onpxfgbel nf jryy.) [/rot13] I could have asked for deeper characterization of some of the supporting characters, but overall I found this an immersive, page-turning read. And that’s saying something when you consider that it’s [rot13] aneengrq ol n urnivyl cuvybfbcuvpny ebpx. [/rot13]

  6. Terminal Uprising, by Jim C. Hines

    Novel (2nd in a series)

    My feelings on this one are slightly mixed, but on the whole very positive. Overall, it’s a solid sequel with plenty of action and laugh-out-loud humor. Cate is a welcome addition to the cast (although it’s a pity that Azure isn’t given a lot of time in this one.) The book doesn’t pack quite the punch of the first one, and it bogs down a bit in the middle. But in spite of these issues, the series remains a breath of fresh air for the space opera / milSF subgenres.

    … and it is really obvious when I have just gone book shopping, isn’t it?

  7. Indeed, while I doubt the Hines will make my nomination list, I can’t yet exclude it; it was an awful lot of fun. The series so far is my favorite thing he’s done. And he’s usually fun.

    (Worth mentioning that the series name is “Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse”, which should give some idea of the flavor.) 🙂

  8. Ship of Smoke and Steel, by Django Wexler

    Novel (YA, first in a series)

    For the most part, this was a pretty cool fantasy adventure YA with an awesome and creepy setting, well-written action scenes, and some nifty twists and turns.

    For the most part.

    I say that because the beginning of this book was so bad, it nearly put me off the whole thing. Seriously, for gritty fantasy, “I have a sibling who is the only person I love and I support them financially but keep them innocent of the crimes I must commit to do so” is as tired a cliche as “the butler did it”. Then it sets the main character up as a ruthless, heartless killer which is completely at odds with her characterization for the entire rest of the book.

    (Come on, Django Wexler. You’re better than that.)

    However, all that is dispensed with pretty quickly. If the beginning of the book had simply been lopped off, I’d be giving it a much stronger recommendation here. I will most likely still pick up the sequels on the strength of where the book goes. So, take that as you will.

  9. Short Story: “Move the World,” by Carla Speed McNeil.
    This story is bewildering at first, gradually you find your feet and are delighted, and finally the whole thing clicks into place. I really enjoyed this one 🙂

    Part of the “Better Worlds” project from The Verge, “the science fiction project about hope.”

  10. Short Story: “Painless,” Rich Larson, Tor.com 4/10/19.

    I think Rich Larson is one of the best short story writers working today. The worldbuilding in this one is subtle and intriguing, without a single infodumping sentence. This story has a stinger you won’t see coming (or at least I didn’t), and has themes of wanting to belong, of refusing to let yourself be manipulated or taken advantage of any longer. For my money, it packs quite a punch.

  11. I’m about halfway through Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars–the first book in his Axiom series–and really enjoying it. If the second and third books are of similar quality, I could see it being a Best Series contender.

  12. Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Watch:

    I’d like to take a moment to highlight a left-of-radar potential entry. Online animator Justin Tomchuk (alias u m a m i) has completed Part 1 of his web series Interface. It clocks in at 41:36.

    I’ve become a huge fan of it over the past year. Tomchuk imbues his characters and concepts with a sense of surreal mysticism and strongly-realized, subtle worldbuilding that leaves you wanting more. (Plus there’s Mischief. Especially Mischief.) I only just now thought of sharing it with other Hugo voters.

    Right now, it’s 12 short episodes. Watch it here.

  13. Just finished Ancestral Night. That’s proper science fiction, that is. I want to call out in particular how much incluing there is, and how there’s a joy in figuring things out from clues and context that only SFF can bring.

  14. Best Novel: The Winter of the Witch, Katherine Arden

    I started to read this to reacquaint myself with Arden for the Campbell, but soon got caught up in the story. Her writing has matured beautifully; she has control of her story at all times, and tells it with an assured hand. This is a superb ending to the Winternight Trilogy and an excellent 2019 book in its own right.

  15. Best Novel, or is it Lodestar? Just finished Charlie Jane Anders’ City in the Middle of the Night. I think it’s brilliant, but took a long time to get through because it’s not so much with the hopepunk. There are a lot of balls in the air: space travel and its discontents, very alien aliens, colonialism, repression, Lovecraft echoes, climate change.

  16. Novels

    The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

    +1 to Bonnie’s rec earlier. This is a bravura performance of a book, taking aim squarely at the place Starship Troopers takes in SF canon and giving us the modern version of what part-MillSF-part-political-polemic would look like. I really liked her previous The Stars Are Legion for the ideas and setting but had to admit that it was a bit of a hot mess as well. Here Hurley has much more control over this story and makes a quite complicated narrative structure look simple.

    A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

    This is a book I’m happy to put on my longlist but don’t quite see troubling my final selection. Nevertheless, if like me you’ve enjoyed Arkady Martine’s earlier short stories then her debut novel is well worth your time.

    It’s primarily set in the capital city of a space opera Empire inspired by the Aztecs and the Byzantines, which makes for a fascinating setting. The hook is a good one as well – Mahit Dzmare is an ambassador to the Empire from a small independent station that would very much like to stay independent, but the first thing she needs to do is investigate the death of her predecessor while picking up the threads of however he was persuading the empire to leave her station alone. Where the story falls down in parts is when explaining the intricacies of the setting gets in the way – I’m left with the impression that the whole thing was so rich and complex inside Martine’s head but that that hasn’t quite translated onto the page as smoothly as a reader would wish.

    This sits firmly in the CJ Cherryh tradition of tightly-focused space opera, and I can see some interesting comparisons to how e.g. Ann Leckie has also followed that lead. So, good ideas and there’s a suitably twisty plot to go with it. It’s intended to be part of a series, but acts as a standalone story for now. Further books could follow on directly – there’s plenty of space for what happens next – or could go elsewhere in the setting, and I’d happily read either.

    Content Note: (rot13 as it’s a spoiler) n fprar bs evghny fhvpvqr that frankly seems to me to be deployed for plot shock value and nothing more.

  17. Just finished CJ Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher’s Alliance Rising. It will will take a LOT to knock this off my Hugo list for next year; they nailed it. Tight-plotted space opera with suspense, politics, backstabbing, intrigue; this is Cherryh at her best. And you don’t need to have read ANY of Cherryh’s other space opera; this is a prequel to everything else, and as far as I’m concerned she sets up the universe just fine. And my socks are in orbit….

    (With the caveat that this IS a Cherryh book, and Cherryh likes to drop you into the middle of the story with a naive POV so you’re figuring out what’s happening in the middle of the action. On CompuServe twenty years ago, she wrote something like, “write your novel, then throw out the first three chapters.” And that’s still her style.)

  18. Galloglass, by Scarlett Thomas

    Novel (Middle-Grade, 3rd in a series)

    The third book in the Worldquake sequence equals the first in quality, and that quality is quite high; the scope is grand and the themes are nuanced. A couple of characters who previously got little time also get a lot more space here, which was welcome. Lexie’s storyline gets pretty dark, but I think it was well-handled. I’m looking forward to more books in this series as they come.

  19. Novel (or possibly Novella since it’s only 216 pages)

    Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

    I’m terrible at synopses, so I’m going to quote from Kim Stanley Robinson’s blurb: “Egan here doubles down on climate change with his typically rigorous exploration of a cosmic accident’s effect on Earth and all its people. His characters are sharp and funny and their courageous response to the massive challenge they face works as a spur to cause us to think—why couldn’t we do as well with our own great challenge? This is what the best science fiction can do that no other genre can, and we need it now more than ever. Bravo!”

    This was my favorite thing I’ve read so far this year. It’s not your typical post-apocalypse story as it focuses more on the slow build-up of stress and reaction as our protagonists try to find ways to help before civilization gets overwhelmed. It captured, in an understated way, how difficult it is when you’re just a few people trying to do the most you can but it’s horribly inadequate in the face of a slow motion, but global threat.

  20. Perihelion Summer is 41,810 words per Word, so technically eligible in novel but probably best suited to novella.

    I also liked it. It’s about people preparing for, and surviving, extreme climate change, albeit not of the AGW kind. I thought the choice of finale a bit odd though.

  21. Best Series: Winternight Trilogy, Katherine Arden, concluding this year with The Winter of the Witch

    A few comments above, Bonnie recommends the concluding part of the trilogy The Winter of the Witch for novel. I’m a little concerned about how well it stands alone as a novel, but as a complete series I think it’s well worth people’s time. Arden was clearly a good writer from The Bear and The Nightingale, but over the next two books you can see her become a fully accomplished one. It’s a mystical coming-of-age story rich in medieval Russian history and folklore, with a strongly-written MC. I might say that the final book took a turn towards its resolution that I wasn’t quite expecting, but that might be a good thing.

    (Also, I think this trilogy puts Arden head and shoulders above the rest of the Campbell finalists – and there are some novels from the finalists that I very much enjoyed)

  22. Holy Sister, by Mark Lawrence

    Novel (third in a trilogy)

    I honestly wasn’t sure that Mark Lawrence was going to be able to tie up all the dangling plot threads in this one, but he manages to do fairly well it in what turns out to be an engrossing, propulsive book. It wasn’t perfect — a couple of character choices seem odd (did Sister Apple really think Nona was going to bow out of that test?), and at the climax, gur obql fjvgpuvat fghss qbrfa’g jbex nal orggre guna vg qvq va gur svefg obbx; vg’f ernyyl abg n tbbq jnl gb fuvsg cbvag bs ivrj sebz bar fprar gb nabgure. But on the whole I’m pleased with how it went. It took some interesting turns with Nona and Zole, and I was happy to see that Aban naq Nenoryyn raq hc gbtrgure ng gur raq. Jung? V pna fuvc punenpgref vs V jnag gb!

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