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.

160 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!

  23. “All Of Me,” by R.S. Benedict,
    published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science-Fiction, March/April 2019
    Hugo Category: Novella

    My real history is an open secret, whispered between insiders but never publicly acknowledged, like any other bit of Hollywood gossip. This one has an eating disorder; that one’s gay; this one hosts sleepovers with underage costars at his house; that one’s a mermaid. It’s not a big deal.

    Isabel del Mar is a mermaid who thought she’d found a prince, but instead found a new world of Hollywood glamor and abusive human sharks. Mermaids can create copies of themselves by cutting off bits of their own body — and that’s exactly what the original Isabel has done; built herself an empire of glamour using discarded bits of herself.

    A very weird story, and typically of Benedict, sharp and haunting as well.

  24. Oh hey, also a hearty +1 for these two, both short stories:

    “Do Not Look Back, My Lion,” by Alix E. Harrow, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
    A story of fighting against a broken society, or possibly for it.

    “Example,” by Adam-Troy Castro, Nightmare Magazine
    One of those bleak satires that’s just increasingly indistinguishable from actual reality.

  25. @Standback
    “Example” is an excellent story. I thought I had recommended it already, but apparently I forgot, so thanks for correcting that oversight.

  26. DP Watch: Keep an eye out for The Lighthouse, a dark fantasy starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson and directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch). It has excellent reviews and looks to be a grimy affair. No release date but it premiered at Cannes. Much interest.

  27. Have been planning this for a while; it’s done!

    https://www.imdb.com/list/ls044421498/

    A public IMDB list for Dramatic Presentations. Comments are open, so I’m taking suggestions on films and TV shows I missed/that come out later and you can comment works that don’t show up on IMDb.

    Short Form coming out very promptly.

  28. Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) – Aniara
    Based on the poem by the controversial Nobel Prize for Literature winner Harry Martinson, this is a somber but excellent film with a particularly interesting twist on an AI’s reaction to human emotions.

  29. The Binding, Bridget Collins

    Novel

    Beautifully written fantasy set in an alternate history Victorian England. I think this book is best experienced unspoiled, but for anyone who needs to know, the central conceit is that pregnva crbcyr unir gur novyvgl gb erzbir n crefba’f hajnagrq zrzbevrf naq ovaq gurz vagb n zntvpny obbx. The worldbuilding is very nicely done, both the fantastical premise and the more mundane explorations of inequality in Victorian England, and of the contrast between town and country living.

    Collins really doesn’t stick the landing imo, but the positives more than outweigh that for me: the intriguing worldbuilding, believable characters, and gorgeous writing style.

    (Trigger warnings for encr, vaprfg (oevrsyl zragvbarq), nohfvir eryngvbafuvcf va trareny, naq fhvpvqr.)

  30. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark

    Novella

    My response to the author’s previous work has ranged from “liked it with caveats” to “meh,” but this novella I loved. It’s set in the same alternate history Egypt as his short story (novelette?) “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” though it can be read as a standalone.

    The protagonist and his partner are agents at the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, and as the title indicates, their current assignment involves a haunted tram car. As one might expect, exorcising it proves a lot more difficult than they’d originally hoped. The investigation plot is deftly threaded through with a subplot involving the political struggles of Egyptian suffragettes. The characters are distinctive and engaging, the plot involving, and the writing style generally* smooth and pleasant. I laughed out loud several times while reading this novella and cried happy tears once. It’s a great story in its own right, though I’m also very much hoping to see more stories set in this world.

    * Nitpicky kvetching about the writing style goes here. Clark’s fondness for unique dialogue tags has, if anything, gotten worse. At one point he actually uses the word “drolled.” That’s in addition to uncountable other near-synonyms for “said.” There’s also a scene where the sole female character present is referred to as “the smaller woman,” and one in which a character “had the decency” to do something which required no decency whatsoever, and by now I’m seriously wondering if Clark’s formative writing experiences involved writing fanfic. Though if that’s the case, I wish he’d relied on better beta readers while developing his personal writing style.

  31. Just finished watching the Good Omens miniseries and I loved it. It will definitely be going on my ballot.

  32. Long Form on iMDB is running without a hitch; having some technical difficulties on Short Form, for some reason adding episodes onto a list is proving absurdly difficult. While I figure this out, have a Short Form “For Your Consideration” dark horse in The Final Exit of the Disciples of Ascensia, a short film by Jonni Phillips.

  33. @Nina re: “Good Omens”

    I don’t know if I’d nominate the whole thing; it seemed a bit uneven to me, the side characters just weren’t as interesting as Crowley and Aziraphale, and the “voice of God” narration became tedious, intrusive and annoying real quick. That said, episode 3, “Hard Times,” and episode 6, “The Very Last Day of the Rest of Their Lives,” were the standouts to me. (Also, I loved the opening credits. I could watch them over and over again.)

  34. Robbergirl, by S. T. Gibson

    Novel (or Novella?)

    Another retelling of the Snow Queen where Gerda and the Robber Girl end up together, but hey, it’s not like that’s not a bizarre way to interpret the original. Unlike The Raven and the Reindeer, this one tells the story from the Robber Girl’s point of view, and gets a lot of mileage out of the confused and conflicting emotions of that character, and the question of whether Gerda is telling the truth about the Snow Queen or is just crazy.

    It was good. I enjoyed it.

  35. “Flash Crash” by Louis Evans. Short story original on Escape Pod podcast, June 6, 2019. About 4780 words.

    Listened to this last night. Like a weird love-child between Lafferty’s “Slow Tuesday Night”, Dickson’s “Computers Don’t Argue”, and Doctor Strangelove. By turns hilarious, terrifying and moving. Great work from Louis Evans (on Twitter as @QuipThe); surprised to see it’s his first published story. Extra kudos to narrator @IbbaArmancas .

  36. Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

    “Useful,” The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Ep 3

    I’ve started the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale. A revolution is brewing in Gilead, and June is leading it. I know a lot of people were disconcerted, to put it mildly, by the ending of Season 2, but this season seems to be establishing exactly why June did what she did. This is a series that does not rush, that lets the episodes breathe, and demands the viewer pay attention not only to what’s said, but the silences in between. Usually I don’t care for voiceovers–the Voice of God in Good Omens, for example, didn’t work for me at all–but in this case, June’s voiceover works. Her final monologue is, as she says, meant to cause nightmares in her enemies, and the last close-up shot of her face inspires exactly that.

  37. Best Short Story

    “Echo,” Veronica Roth, and “Polly Wanna Cracker?”, Greg Van Eekhout, from the anthology Wastelands: The New Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams. (To my mind the standouts from this anthology, “Echo” is the tale of Synthetic Intelligent Life Forms versus humans, and a young woman whose life was saved by those same “sylphs” deciding where her true loyalties lie. “Polly Wanna Cracker?” is a sly subversion of the apocalyptic-survivor-mutant cliche, told from the point of view of a flock of parrots [probably African grays, I would imagine] generations after the nuclear war. It’s also a reminder that large flightless birds are not to be trifled with.)

  38. Novella

    The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

    Although part of his Rivers of London series, this is a new character and location. Featuring Tobias Winter, of Germany’s equivalent of The Folly, and set in and around the German city of Trier. Other than that it rather feels like Peter Grant and The Folly redux. The plot features Rivers, deaths whose supernatural causes have to be tweezed out from human motivations, and quite a lot of wine. While Tobias is differentiated from Peter, and the locale is well-drawn*, I’d have liked to see something a bit more different here. Still, an entertaining installment and perhaps a good jumping on point if you’ve never tried the series before.

    *well-drawn in the sense of sounding interesting, no idea if Aaronovitch has got the details right or not!

    Roughly 44,200 words so within the wriggle room for novella. For those keeping count for series eligibility, Lies Sleeping was 99,331 words and The Furthest Station was 29,862. The release of False Value later this year is likely to take it over 240,000 new words.

  39. Mark: Roughly 44,200 words so within the wriggle room for novella. For those keeping count for series eligibility, Lies Sleeping was 99,331 words and The Furthest Station was 29,862. The release of False Value later this year is likely to take it over 240,000 new words.

    The Furthest Station (2017) was what made the series eligible for the 2018 Hugo Best Series, so cannot be counted toward the new 240,000 word count.

  40. The Hanging Tree came out in 2016 in the UK, and that’s what qualified it to be a finalist for the 2017 Hugos. It wasn’t released in the US until 2017, but that doesn’t matter. The Furthest Station came out in Sept 2017 so it is the first work which counts toward its re-eligibility.

  41. @Mark I enjoyed The October Man too, but it does seem a little too parallel to Peter Grant. I imagine it’s a prelude to more international magical cooperation in the future in the series. I’m also sure that Aaronovitch worked hard to get the details right about Germany based on the questions he asked on Twitter and the responses he got. Great premise for the story too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.