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.

258 thoughts on “2019 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Just FYI: Any two members of the current Worldcon (attending or supporting) can submit proposals to the Business Meeting. You don’t have to be present to make the motion, although you can’t debate it if you’re not there in person. The “lead proponent,” if present, gets first crack at debate in person.

  2. Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

    Novel (middle-grade, second in a series)

    Another winning entry in the Cassidy Blake series. This one gets as much mileage out of its Parisian setting as the previous one did by taking place in Edinburgh, and it doesn’t hurt that we learn a bit more about the characters, and meet some interesting new ones. Some nice tension and a dash of middle-grade horror keep things moving briskly along.

  3. @Kevin Standlee: I do not find what I meant covered in 3.8, so I’ll provide a some artificial examples.
    1.
    a. Works {A,B,C,D,E,F,G} get {100,95,90,85,80,75,70} nominations for short story
    b. Works {H,I,J,K,L,F,M} get {100,95,90,85,80,74,70} nominations for novelette.
    (Everyone else gets fewer nominations, and F is a length that could be assigned to either category.) Using 3.8.8, we see that F could get on the ballot in either category but has more nominations for short story, so it’s a finalist for short story and M is a finalist for novelette while G loses out.
    2.
    a. Works {A,B,C,D,E,F,G} get {100,95,90,85,80,75,50} nominations for short story
    b. Works {H,I,J,K,L,M,G} get {100,95,90,85,80,75,49} nominations for novelette.
    (Everybody else gets fewer than 50 total nominations.)
    I thought I’d read something to the effect that G would receive a place on the ballot on the strength of having a total number of nominations higher than some of the other nominees — but I don’t find this in the rules, and I wonder whether EPH makes floating nominations between lengths effectively impossible.
    And, as you note, none of this would apply to Lodestar nominations.

  4. Chip Hitchcock: I do not find what I meant covered in 3.8, so I’ll provide a some artificial examples.

    While F will definitely be in the Top 6 for nominations in one of the categories in Example 1, there’s no cut-and-dried answer to Example 2, because the result is dependent on how many of the nominations for G can be transferred to the other category.

    Assignment of category will take place before EPH is applied, because nominations can only be moved from one category to the other if the individual nominators have at least one blank slot in that category.

    The Hugo Administrator will have to decide in which category they are going to place F and G. If the vast majority of nominations are in one category, the Admin will likely choose that one, so that they will only need to try to move as few as possible nominations.

    If the nominations are evenly split, as in your examples, then the Admin will probably look at the relative strength of the two categories, and assign F / G to the one which has the weaker field, as determined by the number of nominations for each of the Top 6 in each category. Historically, the choice has often been to move from the longer to the shorter category, because the shorter the story length, the more diffuse the nominations tend to be (and thus a lower total number of nominations needed to make the Top 6).

    Or, in Example 2, if G would only make the Top 6 in one category, because not enough nominations could be transferred to empty slots in the other category, they might choose to assign G to the category where it would make the Top 6.

    EPH would then be applied, and conceivably either F or G, which are in 6th place, could still be knocked off the ballot by a work with fewer nominations but more points. (A Hugo Admin, if they were a glutton for punishment, might do the process twice, with F / G moved as much as possible to one category then EPH run to determine the results, then to the other category, and EPH run to determine those results — then make their decision based on what comes out of that.)

    In no case would either F or G be guaranteed a place on the ballot, because EPH does occasionally result in a non-Top 6 work for nominations becoming a Top 6 work based on points.

  5. @JJ: can you point to a part of the rules that actually allows transfers of nominations from one category to another (at least within the text-fiction lengths)?

  6. @Chip,

    It’s in this pdf, Section 3.2.8:

    3.2.8: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

  7. Chip Hitchcock: can you point to a part of the rules that actually allows transfers of nominations from one category to another (at least within the text-fiction lengths)?

    3.2.8: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

    3.8.2: The Worldcon Committee shall determine the eligibility of nominees and assignment to the proper category of works nominated in more than one category.

    3.8.7: The Committee shall move a nomination from another category to the work’s default category only if the member has made fewer than five (5) nominations in the default category.

    3.8.8: If a work is eligible in more than one category, and if the work receives sufficient nominations to appear in more than one category, the Worldcon Committee shall determine in which category the work shall appear, based on the category in which it receives the most nominations.

    If you bookmark or Google for the WSFS Rules page, you can look this stuff up for yourself, instead of asking other people to do it for you.

  8. Novella

    Waterlines by Suzanne Palmer

    +1 to JJ’s rec, fascinating setting and a great story.

  9. Those rules seem to me incredibly cryptic. 3.2.8 refers to transfer of stories, not of nominations, and gives extremely vague criteria for when this should take place (‘more appropriate’ ‘if it feels that this is necessary’). 3.8.7 says that transfer of nominations is allowed only in certain circumstances, which by standard rules of interpretation implies that if those circumstances obtain it is allowed, but says nothing about what would actually be a reason for the transfer.

    It is possible to work out a coherent story which would make sense of these provisions, and turn them into an actionable set of principles, and it seems that the administrators have in fact done so, but I think it would be fair to say that story is not actually written in the rules.

  10. Andrew M: Those rules seem to me incredibly cryptic. 3.2.8 refers to transfer of stories, not of nominations

    Correct. 3.2.8 is talking about determining to which category a work will be assigned by the Hugo Administrator, based on its length and how the majority of Hugo nominators thought it should be categorized.

     
    Andrew M: 3.8.7 says that transfer of nominations is allowed only in certain circumstances, which by standard rules of interpretation implies that if those circumstances obtain it is allowed, but says nothing about what would actually be a reason for the transfer.

    Correct. 3.8.7 deals purely with counting all nominations for a work as fairly as possible, while preventing an individual nominator from being able to make more than 5 nominations in a given category. Say I want to nominate 6 novelettes, so I put 5 of them on my Novelette ballot and the 6th one on my Short Story ballot with the expectation that the Hugo Administrator will count that nomination in the correct category. 3.8.7 prevents my 6th nomination from being moved to that work in the Novelette category, but it allows someone who nominated less than 5 Novelettes to have an incorrectly-categorized nomination moved to the correct category.

    3.2.8, 3.8.2, and 3.8.8 give the possible reasons for a transfer.

    Maybe it’s because I’m really familiar with the rules, but to me they make sense as a whole, and aren’t cryptic at all.

  11. @Andrew M.,
    Just as there is a SF reading protocol, there is also a WSFS Constitution reading protocol. I remember when I first started getting interested in the rules :it took me a little while to get into the correct approach/mindset in understanding what the rules meant.

    I got a lot better at it during the period when rule changes were discussed to minimise the effect of slate voting. And eventually was happy to be a co-sponsor of EPH.

    That said, it is always interesting to find out how someone with fresh eyes views the wording of the WSFS rules. (This can sometimes lead to new amendments being proposed to clarify rules. It’s one of the things I like about the WSFS constitution; that it is a living document.)

  12. Well, sure. I don’t think there is any doubt about what is actually meant to happen. But if you need a protocol to read the rules, it follows that the rules are not self-interpreting.

    The central problem is this. 3.8.7 is the only rule that mentions transfer of nominations. If we had 3.2.8 all by itself, I think the natural reading would be that the committee might look at the finalists for Novelette, say ‘Ha! Call that a novelette? It sure looks like a novella to us!’, and, without further ado and without any more counting of nominations, move it into Novella.

    Now, we all know that that’s not what actually happens. What happens is that if a lot of people nominate something for Novelette when it’s really a novella, the administrators take individual notional bits of paper from the notional pile marked ‘Novelette’, move them to the notional pile marked ‘Novella’, and see if, when so moved, they outnumber what would otherwise be the lowest finalist for Novella. We know this is what is meant to happen, because 3.8.7 sets limits to how it can happen, and there’s no point setting limits to something that can’t happen at all. But the rules nowhere actually specify that this should happen.

  13. Testing the waters here: what do Filers think of me adding Joker to the IMDb list? Superhero films such as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with otherwise no SF/F elements have made the finalist list before. I have no interest in nominating Joker but it does have a solid critical reception (at least among audiences), so it may be dishonest to leave it out of the conversation…if people feel it’s eligible.

  14. @Andrew M

    You’re actually fairly correct in the first place about 3.2.8. It is talking only about the work itself. For example, Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor is technically a short novel, but it is within 20% of being a novella. It was also marketed as a novella and preceded by two actual novellas in the series. There were probably significantly more nominations for it in novella. So it was moved from its actual category to become a novella finalist.

    When it comes to moving nominations, they have to look at each ballot. If someone nominated it as a novel, their vote would only be moved to match its new category if they had four or fewer novella nominations. If they already had five novellas, their vote for Binti would stay in novel.

  15. My editing window closed on me…Wanted to add:

    I think in cases where they actually move a work to a different category than the one it is technically in, it’s very obvious what the general consensus of voters is before needing to get down to the nitty gritty of what individual nominations can indeed be moved.

  16. Thought of another precedent. Enough voters thought the original audio-only publication of “Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal was a novelette, that it would have been a finalist in 2013. However, the admins put it in dramatic presentation short form where it didn’t have enough to make the ballot that year. So Hugo Admin can indeed say, ‘Ha! Call that a novelette? It sure looks like a [dp-sf] to us!’ regardless of individual nominations.

  17. Thirding Suzanne Palmer’s “Waterlines.” Fascinating setting and story. I’ve only read a few novellas so far this year, but this one’s definitely at the top of the list.

  18. Laura: So Hugo Admin can indeed say, ‘Ha! Call that a novelette? It sure looks like a [dp-sf] to us!’ regardless of individual nominations.

    Yes, they can — but the controversy over that particular decision, and the landslide win for the text version the following year, are still so well-remembered and notorious that I suspect subsequent Hugo Admins have used it as a guide on how not to decide something is ineligible.

  19. Before this gets lost upthread:

    N on October 17, 2019 at 9:12 am said:
    Testing the waters here: what do Filers think of me adding Joker to the IMDb list? Superhero films such as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with otherwise no SF/F elements have made the finalist list before. I have no interest in nominating Joker but it does have a solid critical reception (at least among audiences), so it may be dishonest to leave it out of the conversation…if people feel it’s eligible.

    I haven’t seen it, but just from what I generally know about it… I would say it at least falls under the “related subjects” part of the definition: “dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects.” I think I would accept being based on a superhero comic character as genre related enough for eligibility.

  20. “Testing the waters here: what do Filers think of me adding Joker to the IMDb list.”

    I think I’m the odd one out here, but in my mind, superheroes is a separate genre from Fantasy or Science Fiction (even if containing elements), so I never nominate anything from there. But I do vote for them if others have nominated them.

  21. @Hampus Eckerman: I also think of superheroes as a different genre, and one that doesn’t happen to interest me, etc. But probably this discussion should be on a different post.

  22. Novella

    Gremlin by Carrie Vaughn
    Asimov’s Science Fiction, May-June 2019

    This story is sort of a reversal on the famous Shatner Twilight Zone episode, a multi-generational story of a family line of women pilots, stretching from WWII to Iraq to the far future.

    Each of the focal characters gets enough screentime for us to get a feel for their personalities, and the author has done her research on real-life pilots, planes, and wars.

    Themes include respect and kindness for all living things, remorse at the costs and waste of war, and the recognition that other sentient beings are not pets, but full-fledged beings with their own agency and needs.

    There are some war battles and off-screen deaths, but this is a great feel-good story, and if you’re looking for something that’s interesting, engrossing, and enjoyable, I highly recommend it.

  23. The Border Keeper, by Kerstin Hall

    Novella

    Vasethe, a man with a troubled past, comes to seek a favor from the Border Keeper, and enters the nine hundred and ninety-nine realms of Mkalis, the world of spirits, where gods and demons endlessly vie for power.

    Weird and wild. I liked if. If your fond of fantasy books that throw you in the deep end without explanation so you can enjoy the swim, this one is for you. I’m kind of surprised this one hasn’t attracted more attention, actually.

  24. Novelette

    Emergency Skin by NK Jemisin

    Word gives me a count of 8,533 words for this, so novelette. Amazon have done a collection of shorter stories which are available to buy, or for free if you have Prime (and presumably also kindle unlimited). Of the 6, I think Jemisin’s is unsurprisingly the best.

    It’s narrated by the unnamed main character’s onboard AI, which is ordering him around on a secret mission. It’s a classic version of the story where the truth leaks through slowly, and you can probably catch on relatively soon.

    Mainly I liked it because Jemisisn’s reaction to be asked to write something for Amazon was to give them a story about how the world would be so much better if (spoilers) nyy gur ovyyvbanverf jrag bss vagb fcnpr naq fgnlrq gurer…

  25. Novel

    Edges by Linda Nagata

    (I thought I’d recced this already, but maybe not…)

    This starts a new series in the setting of her Nanotech Succession. I haven’t read those but had no difficulty picking up this series – although I got the feeling I would have seen interesting connections.
    This is a hard SF tale of far-future humanity. I wouldn’t quite call it space opera – this is more reflective, more interested in the people and civilisations.
    This is set on the edge of known space – humans rushed out into the deep in search of knowledge, and then found something so scary and powerful that they ended up hiding in sanctuaries to avoid a relentless enemy.
    To one of these sanctuaries comes a ship, promising the ability to venture out again and perhaps find out what happened back in the centre of humanity – were they wiped out, did they change, are they still there – and so a crew head back inwards, to the inverted frontier of the series title.
    There’s some great SF concepts going on here, but one was rather disturbing – the ability to copy yourself into multiple new bodies or software as backups is portrayed as creating almost a callousness towards your own life in an individual basis. This is possibly true and certainly good SFnal speculation, but I found reading about characters prepared to kill themselves for pragmatic reasons quite disturbing. That said, it’s undoubtedly thought-provoking and it’s stuck with me for a couple of weeks afterwards.

  26. Watchmen premieres today, so here’s a list of genre television shows of note (to my knowledge, lemme know if I missed some) playing out through the final months of 2019:

    The Good Place
    NBC; final season currently airing, week-by-week; two-time Hugo winner, nominated for two more

    Watchmen
    HBO; premieres October 20 (today), week-by-week

    For All Mankind
    Apple TV+; premieres November 1 (first three episodes); week-by-week

    His Dark Materials
    BBC/HBO; premieres November 3 (UK), Nov. 4 (US); week-by-week

    The Mandalorian
    Disney+; premieres November 12; week-by-week

    The Expanse
    Amazon; fourth season premieres December 13; binge format; one-time Hugo winner, nominated for one more

  27. Also, one last reminder to go see The Lighthouse when it opens at a theater near you sometime this week.

  28. Short story: “The Moss Kings” by David Gullan, in the May/June issue of F&SF.

    The story is set in a fantasy version of Renaissance* England in which the country has been conquered by fey-like beings called the Moss Kings. When one of their emissaries delivers a message to a young man named Alunan, the inexperienced acolyte finds himself carrying a weightier responsibility than he expected.

    What made this story stand out to me is that the solution to the problem depends on observation, record-keeping, and testing hypotheses by experiment rather than on strength of arms. Essentially, the characters are applying the scientific method to magic.

    *I’m calling it Renaissance rather than medieval because they have pendulum clocks, precision measuring tools, and there’s mention of the Queen establishing an academy to devise and build more such tools. But my knowledge of the boundaries of historical periods is pretty fuzzy, so apologies if I’m making people with more historical knowledge twitch.

  29. Novelette: “A Strange Uncertain Light” by G.V. Anderson, in the July/August issue of F&SF

    Two young women who can see ghosts must work together to defeat an evil man who wants to exploit their gifts.

    There’s a big twist in this story, and Anderson managed the delicate balance of making it neither obvious nor seeming like it came out of left field. There’s also a great balance of action, description that grounds the story in its particular time and place, and character development. A couple of scenes were genuinely poignant.

    My one criticism is that the main antagonist is something of a cardboard villain. He seems to be working solely for his own personal aggrandizement and/or money, and while that makes his ultimate defeat very satisfying, it might have been more interesting if he had had some kind of “ends justify the means” rationale or genuinely believed the MCs’ powers to be dangerous.

  30. @Cassy B. – I finished “The Twisted Ones” last night. I haven’t had much time to read lately (that was my 14th book read of the entire year according to GoodReads). This was a breath of fresh air and has stoked the fires of my literary appetite. Or something like that. It’s exactly what I’d expect in a horror novel from Kingfisher. It’s much more aligned with the old Weird fiction writers (like, ahem, Machen), where the horror is just one element (dominant though it may be), than it is with modern horror. I think this is a horror novel for people who don’t like horror novels. I was worried the horror wouldn’t ever really hit me properly, but it’s a slow burn. By 2/3 of the way through the book I was creeped out walking through a dark house, which is what I want from my horror. I’m now re-reading Machen’s “The White People” for the first time in almost 20 years.

  31. A Little Hatred, by Joe Abercrombie

    Novel (first in a series, but reading his other books set in the same world adds nuance)

    As a new age of industrialization dawns, the Union faces invasion from without and rebellion from within. Either Abercrombie was never quite as grimdark as I remember, or he’s mellowed a bit, because there are moments in this book where compassion is rewarded, goals are achieved, and people get to hear their mothers say they’re proud of them. But fear not, Abercrombie fans, this is still the world of the First Law, where war is a machine that chews up the soldiers and spits out power, industrialization is a machine that chews up the poor and spits out profit, and revolution is a machine that chews up everything and spits out nothing. This book is largely carried — and carried well — by its new cast of characters, as compelling as the previous ones, as well as by Abercrombie’s sharp sense of humor and keen eye for the dark underbelly of politics.

  32. @JJ:

    If you bookmark or Google for the WSFS Rules page, you can look this stuff up for yourself, instead of asking other people to do it for you.

    “I’m not totally dim, you know.” I was looking directly at the Rules; I saved a download of the 2018 version after the Nth time I had to go back to the WSFS page to look something up in a discussion several months ago. (I see that the 2019 version still hasn’t been released.) Based on comments here, you might consider that (as I’ve heard TNH put it to Mike Ford) you don’t know what’s obvious to other people. I was specifically looking for a clear statement that ballots may be transferred; all I see (in the rules and in your cites) is the implication that they may be, by the existence of a rule limiting what transfers can be done.

  33. Chip Hitchcock: I was specifically looking for a clear statement that ballots may be transferred

    The phrase “ballots may be transferred” makes no sense. Section 3.8.7 makes a clear statement that nominations may be transferred from one category to another.

    Which part of 3.8.7 is not a clear statement to you?

  34. And there are two different parts to it: the work and the nominations. They see that Binti 3 is getting enough nominations in novella to make finalist (or close). The work is moved from novel to novella. Then they see what nominations for it in novel can be moved to novella within those particular ballots.

    On the other hand, I’d be willing to bet that “The Only Harmless Great Thing” got some nominations in novella (it was only about 700 words shy), but not enough to be a finalist there. So the work stayed in novelette. But they would still have to see what nominations could be moved from novella to novelette within those particular ballots.

  35. And now a recommendation!

    Short story:
    Adrianna in Pomegranate, Samantha Mills, Beneath Ceaseless Skies 271 (February 14, 2019)

    The story is framed as a series of lessons on the protagonist’s profession of calligramancy. The “Marginalia” show us how he is meticulously selecting tools and materials for a new spell. Fascinating magic, nice characterization, very touching.

    I believe this is Samantha Mills’ second year of eligibilty for the Astounding Award. She had a short story in the April 2, 2018 issue of Strange Horizons called “Strange Waters” which I also really enjoyed. (I won’t link it since it’s a 2018 story.)

  36. Novel

    The Outside, Ada Hoffman.

    I think I’ve said before that good worldbuilding is one of my must-haves, and this book delivers that in spades. It’s a far-future space opera with quantum supercomputers that have ascended to Gods and conquered humanity along the way, paired with Hoffman’s spin on an extradimensional Lovecraftian mythos that intrudes into this universe and threatens the AIs’ supremacy.

    The book’s pacing is slow and deliberate, as befits the main character, a physicist who is on the autism spectrum (as is the author, I believe). I appreciated the slow burn, as it gives the reader time to absorb what’s being presented. The worldbuilding is rich, layered and creepy, and gives you a lot to think about. On my longlist for sure, and possibly short (though that’s getting more cluttered all the time! I blame all the good rec’s I’ve been getting here).

  37. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

    Novel (YA, second in a series)

    You’ve saved the world and lost your powers. So what comes after? Well … falling into a depressive funk, most likely. And for that, there is only one cure.

    ROAD TRIP!

    A fun book that widened and deepened the world, but also not a stand-alone even within the series; the emotional arcs felt half-completed and the plot arcs seemed somewhat truncated. However, the ending certainly indicates that another book is coming, so I expect this was intentional.

  38. Not gonna let another classic go under the radar among the Hugo crowd until it’s too late like Mister Miracle did. Stjepan Sejic’s Harleen (DC Comics), a retelling of Harley Quinn’s origin story (under the DC Black Label) is stunning, giving a fleshed-out, fresh take on not only its title character but the crooks, heroes and civilians that make up the ecosystem of Gotham City (if you weren’t a fan of Joker, I promise you this is a different take, one that has less cut-and-dry, arguably more uneasy things to say about criminality). You’d think nothing new could be done with the larger Batman mythos and then this comic drops out of the blue. And I haven’t even mentioned the art, gosh, it’s just gorgeous. Final issue comes out November; I asked Kevin and it looks like TPBs aren’t different enough from single issues, so while I have to fix up my ballot I’m definitely putting Harleen on it. Meanwhile you can get it from your local comic shop or Comixology.

    (Side note: I think some of the issues surrounding the Graphic Story category come down to confusion about the delineation of eligibility for certain series/books in regards to issues vs. TPBs.)

  39. @N

    Yeah, trade paperbacks are often just a collection of the single issues — a reprint of already available material. So eligibility hinges on the publication date of the last issue included, not the pub date of the trade paperback itself.

    And wow, love that art. Worth considering for best pro artist too.

  40. @Laura

    At the very least, I think that when it comes to continuing series/miniseries, more attention needs to be placed on individual issues when it comes to cases like this. I’ve just realized that The New World (not to my taste but a name that’s been tossed around in the category) isn’t eligible for the same reason Mister Miracle is (final issue published in 2018).

  41. @N

    Yes, definitely time to look at what is wrapping up this year, but won’t have the trade edition out until early next year. So you can consider nominating the issues that will be collected as a work for the year it’s actually eligible. I.e. Harleen #1-3 for 2020, instead of the trade edition which collects 1-3 for 2021 when it will be too late.

  42. Novel: The Forbidden Stars by Tim Pratt
    Series: The Axiom Trilogy by Tim Pratt

    The Forbidden Stars is the third and final book in Tim Pratt’s Axiom trilogy. It wraps up the mysteries established in the first two books and completes some character arcs. It’s also a fun space opera yarn in its own right. There are a lot of imaginative ideas for far-future advanced tech here, but Pratt never loses sight of the characters. A couple of the characters are prone to good snarky humor, too.

  43. Best related work

    The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells

    Many SF fans may be more familiar with the content than the average reader, but there’s a lot there to think about. In addition to the backdrop for near-term SF, Wallace-Wells also dips into SF’s ideas of global warming as well as the dreams of the Silicon Valley crowd and other futurists.

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