2020 Recommended SF/F List

By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2020-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 eligible for the Hugos or other awards (Nebula, Locus, Asimov’s, etc.) next year.

If you’re recommending for an award other than / in addition to the Hugo Awards which has different categories than the Hugos (such as Locus Awards’ First Novel), then be sure to specify the award and category.

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 or other Award Category: (Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, Graphic Novel, Lodestar, Astounding, etc)
  • link (if available to read/view online)
  • optional “Brief, spoiler-free description of story premise:”
  • “What I liked / didn’t like about it:”
  • (Please rot-13 any spoilers.)

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

56 thoughts on “2020 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Here’s a graphic novel I liked so much, I acquired it and published it.

    Innsmouth, Massachusetts is just a small town of fish people and doomsday cultists trying to end the world… and they’re REALLY bad at it. When a lowly door-to-door missionary is promoted from distributing Pocket Necronomicons to bringing about the end of days he realizes that he might not be so into this “apocalypse” thing after all…

  2. @Glenn Hauman

    In the “Look Inside the Book”, I see a 2019 copyright on vol. 1 which was originally published as Innsmouth #1-5 copyright 2016-2018. So this won’t be eligible. Are more forthcoming in 2020?

  3. Oh, good! I’m going to jump right in.

    Best Novel

    Light of Impossible Stars, Gareth L. Powell

    This final book in the Embers of War trilogy is a crackling good read that ties up all the storylines in a satisfying manner. It combines grand space opera with the intimate tale of a found family who choose to stand up for what’s right and earn a second chance. (This is probably best slotted in Best Series, but this is still a very good book in and of itself.)

    Lodestar

    Honor Lost, Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

    Another series ender, this is the final book in the Honors YA trilogy, combining thrilling space battles with compelling character development (and a bit of more-or-less polyamorous romance). Again, I’ll probably lean more toward considering the entire series, but I still loved this book.

    Best Series

    Embers of War, Gareth L. Powell

    The Honors, Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

    Best Short Story

    “The Best Horses Are Found In the Sea, and Other Horse Tales To Emerge Since the Rise,” Beth Cato, Daily Science Fiction 2/14/20. Beth Cato writes the loveliest, most lyrical flash stories, and this is another one.

    “Cruel Sisters,” Marie Brennan, Daily Science Fiction 3/10/20. A creepy, atmospheric fairy tale retelling.

    Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

    Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 6, “The Impossible Box.” I might add more episodes after the season is over, but this is the one that has most impressed me so far. Nice character moments for everyone, and well paced to a nail-biting ending.

  4. Thanks, @JJ, @Mike Glyer, and @Various who have already rec’d above and/or will rec in the future.

    (Godstalk!)

  5. I’ll jump in with:

    Best Dramatic Presentation – Short (Hugos)
    “Whenever You’re Ready,” The Good Place, NBC

    This was an excellent and moving final episode to the series.

  6. @Bonnie: If you enjoy Beth Cato’s short stories, you might be interested in checking out her collection Red Dust and Dancing Horses. It’s on Mount TBR, so I can’t directly vouch for it, but the stories are likely similar in style to others she’s written.

  7. Dunno if CoNZealand is still accepting submissions to their Business Meeting (or if said Business Meeting is still going to happen this year, ha ha) but just in case, I’m putting a call here if anyone wants to co-sign on a motion to extend the eligibility of the first season of the anime series Beastars, viewable on Netflix. Let me know and I can ask Mike if I can receive your email address so communications stay confidential (or, if we’ve talked already I can hit you up)

  8. Novella

    Finna, Nino Cipri.

    Newly parted lovers try to rescue a grandmother lost in an Ikea-type store.

    I’m writing this as one of the millions staying at home through COVID-19, and the rest of you should read it too. This was a hug I needed right now.

  9. Best Novel (for Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Dragon, Locus, or wherever else people are nominating)

    The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin

    I had high expectations for this after the Broken Earth trilogy, and the book definitely lived up to them. This is a very different story, a contemporary fantasy (with strong SF elements) set in our New York with five representatives of the city fighting a Lovecraftian Old One from another dimension. The characterizations are deft, the pacing excellent, and the suspense steadily escalating. This is the best book I have read so far this year.

  10. Novella

    Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire.

    Probably my favorite since the first one? Ties together the first and second well.

  11. The Midnight Lie, by Marie Rutkoski

    Novel (YA, 1st in a duology)

    Where Nirrim lives, a harsh tribunal rules. You either follow the rules, or pay a horrible tithe. But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who tempts Nirrim to uncover hidden secrets. But to do that, she must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

    An exquisitely written book. The prose is beautiful, and the characters compelling. I’m eager to find out what happens next.

  12. Finna, by Nino Cipri

    Novella

    When an elderly customer at a big box furniture store slips through a portal to another dimension, it’s up to two minimum-wage employees to track her across the multiverse and protect their company’s bottom line. Multi-dimensional swashbuckling would be hard enough, but our two unfortunate souls broke up a week ago.

    This one pretty much won me over when, in the second chapter, gurer jnf n purncyl cebqhprq pbecbengr ivqrb rkcynvavat jung gb qb jura n jbezubyr bcraf hc va lbhe sheavgher fgber.

    (I just got a big haul of books for my birthday, by the way, so … more recommendations may be coming.)

  13. Paladin’s Grace, by T. Kingfisher

    Novel

    Stephen’s god died on the longest day of the year. Three years later, Stephen is a broken paladin, living only for the chance to be useful before he dies. But all that changes when he encounters Grace. The pair must navigate a web of treachery, while a cryptic killer stalks one step behind.

    Fans of Swordheart (of whom I count myself one) will probably also like this one. It has a similar — and always welcome — mix of humor, adventure, and romance. The author wondered if the book still counts as a light romance when it’s got so many severed heads in it, but I think it succeeds admirably.

  14. The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

    Novel (possibly first in a series)

    On the day of Csorwe’s foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power. But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

    This was a delight. It went in directions I didn’t expect, but all the parts worked together to make a seamless whole. Highly recommended.

  15. Adding some more episodes to the IMDb Short Form list. With quarantine and lockdowns ahoy I figure peeps have more time to spare, so I gotta step it up. I’ll state the additions I make here in the Filer list.

    Recently added:
    Westworld: The Mother of Exiles (HBO)
    Star Trek: Picard: Nepenthe (CBS All Access)

    Added prior to this post:
    The Good Place: “Whenever You’re Ready” (NBC)
    Arrow: “Fadeout” (The CW)
    Outlander: “The Ballad of Roger Mac” (Starz)
    The Magicians: “Oops!…I Did It Again” (Syfy)

    Please feel free to suggest stuff I can add here, as well as for the Long Form list. I take everything into consideration but please note that I account for other factors such as critical reviews and ratings.

    Also, question for the commentariat: how do you view shows? I’m curious what the ratio is on File between cable/network tv viewers and cord cutters.

  16. I would also recommend The Magicians: “Oops!…I Did It Again”. The episode of Picard on my potential nominees list is “The Impossible Box”.

    I have cable, but I probably watch as much if not more on streaming services.

  17. Novella

    +1 to Finna, by Nino Cipri, from Lace and Kyra above. Wry and funny, with good characterization. I can just imagine the US equivalent of the Swedish store–definitely Walmart, and others–pulling a stunt like that.

  18. Bonnie McDaniel: +1 to Finna, by Nino Cipri, from Lace and Kyra above. Wry and funny, with good characterization.

    I apparently have an atypical reaction to bickering compared to most people (which is not surprising, given what I grew up with). The first half (70 pages) of this story is just unremittent bickering between two people who broke up the week before, and I nearly tossed the book aside in disgust numerous times. The second half gets a lot better, but it wasn’t enough to get rid of the bad taste in my mouth from the first half.

  19. I’ve not read Finna and therefore have no opinion on it, but I have to say that only a few weeks before the pandemic lockdown I was in an Ikea, and I couldn’t find the exit. The store is designed to make you walk through every department, presumably to encourage impulse buys. (Do people impulse-buy furniture??)

    I honestly can see the inspiration for this story. (I also, honestly, expect that there will be a fire or other emergency in an Ikea one of these days and a lot of people will be injured or killed because they can’t find the exit. )

  20. Recently added to Short Form:

    DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: “Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac” (The CW)

    Added to Long Form prior to this post:
    Bacurau (extension pending)
    Beastars (Season One) (extension pending)
    Color Out of Space (extension pending)
    Crisis on Infinite Earths (Arrowverse)
    Devs
    Doctor Sleep (Director’s Cut)
    Dune (not out yet)
    The Green Knight (not out yet)
    The Invisible Man
    Nine Days (played at Sundance)
    Onward
    Palm Springs (played at Sundance)
    Tenet (not out yet)
    The Vast of Night (extension pending)

    No idea what COVID’s gonna do to release schedules/distributions here.

  21. Novel (for Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Dragon, other SF awards)

    The Last Emperox, John Scalzi

    This final volume of the Interdependency Saga wraps up the trilogy and takes the characters in a direction I didn’t expect. Scalzi’s trademark authorial snarkiness is still present, especially in the first few chapters, so be aware if that aspect of his writing bothers you. This book has his usual breezy, fast-paced style, but there was some surprising and poignant commentary on the value of community and the weight of leadership and sacrifice. I think it’s the best book of the three, and it definitely nails the landing.

  22. +1 to Bonnie’s comments on The Last Emperox – the landing is stuck nicely – although I rather think I will nominate the whole thing in Series (as “The Interdependency Series”). It scrapes in on word count, I have it as just over 244k words.

  23. Shorefall, by Robert Jackson Bennett

    Novel (2nd in a series)

    An immensely powerful and deadly entity has been resurrected in the shadows of Tevanne. Sancia and the rest of Foundryside must race to combat this new menace, which means understanding the origins of scriving itself — before Tevanne burns to the ground.

    Robert Jackson Bennett has created a new genre with this series — maybe call it magical Renaissance cyberpunk — and I am here for it. The second book in the series rockets along, with all the action taking place over the course of a few days, but it still finds time to add nuance to an already rich world and give the characters space to grow. Highly recommended.

  24. Short Story

    “Little Free Library,” Naomi Kritzer, Tor.com 4/8/20

    Meigan constructs her library, stocks it with books…and gets some unexpected gifts in return from an unseen reader. On first pass, the ending may seem kind of odd, but I read the story again and it became just right. This was a delight.

  25. Recently added to Short Form:

    The Midnight Gospel: “Mouse of Silver” (Netflix)
    Tales from the Loop: “Home” (Amazon Prime)
    Doctor Who: “Fugitive of the Judoon” (BBC) (if you can’t beat ’em, join em)

  26. A Stitch in Crime, by Justin Robinson

    Novel (4th in a series)

    Assembled from the corpses of six women, Jane Stitch is haunted by impulses she can’t control and memories that aren’t hers. When she returns to her hometown to solve the mystery of her creation, she finds herself drawn unwillingly into a war between rival gangs of monsters for control over the patch of desert she once called home.

    The narrative shift from Nick Moss to Jane Stitch represents not only a change for the City of Devils series, but a step up to another level for Justin Robinson as a writer. This is, at least in my opinion, the finest book he’s written yet. While retaining his trademark humor and inventiveness, he adds layers of depth to this one that really makes it shine.

  27. +1 to A Stitch in Crime

    It was my last pre-Hugo-shortlist read, and I feel like the world really deepened with the shift in narrative perspective.

  28. +1 to Robert Jackson Bennett’s Shorefall. Greater depth of characterization and worldbuilding, a terrifying villain, elevated stakes and game-changing plot twists–what’s not to like? Seriously, even though this is the middle book in a trilogy, the new direction the storyline takes and the deft and unintrusive way the previous book is recapped makes this book really stand on its own. And for me at least, positively salivate for the finale.

  29. Novelette: “If You Take My Meaning” by Charlie Jane Anders.

    This appears to be linked to Anders’s novel The City in the Middle of the Night, but I was able to understand the story without having read the book. Alyssa intends to undergo a procedure that will make her a human-Gelet hybrid, able to share thoughts, emotions, and memories with others. While waiting for the procedure to be performed, she meets someone else planning to undergo the same surgery for different reasons.

    This works really well as an introduction to the setting. I’ve had The City in the Middle of the Night on my TBR list for a while, and this story made me eager to get to it. Alyssa is an interesting character, a former smuggler who helped a friend rise to power only to discover that the friend isn’t the person Alyssa thought she was. I liked the bond she developed with her Gelet caretaker and the way she and Jeremy, despite being initially at odds, come to understand each other.

  30. Something to consider; nominating all 4 final episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a single unit under Long Form? They do all tie together as a four-part finale. Only 2 episodes are allowed on Short Form and the show knocked it out of the park on a high and consistent level; perhaps Long Form would be the better way to honor it.

    I’ve put it on the IMDb LF list as “Old Friends Not Forgotten/The Phantom Apprentice/Shattered/Victory and Death.” I’d be stoked if anyone here can suggest a less unwieldy name.

  31. Novel

    Network Effect, Martha Wells

    It becomes extremely Murderbot along the way.

  32. +1 to Network Effect by Martha Wells

    Novel (fifth in a series)

    When Murderbot’s human associates are captured, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. Drastic action it is, then.

    If you like the Murderbot stories, you will like this book. I like the Murderbot stories. I like this book. I have little else to say, except that I was a fan of Martha Wells before she was super-popular, and therefore I am cool.

  33. The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

    Novel (YA)

    A desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial daughter find a connection on the high seas in a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.

    This is an odd duck of a book. It has the twisty plot of a thriller, but as seen through the lens of a fairy tale. I liked it.

  34. Creeping Jenny, by Jeff Noon

    Novel (third in a series)

    In a village where every day is a different type of nightmare, John Nyquist must find the answer to the mystery he could never solve — the disappearance of his father.

    Jeff Noon’s take on the strange-doings-in-the-quaint-English-village mystery genre is as bizarre and hallucinogenic as everything else he’s ever written. It seems to be a bit of a departure for the author, as it does not take place in an immense phantasmagorical city and drugs play only a minor role, but it’s as wild a ride as ever.

  35. Short story: “Heart of Stone” by Chris Cornetto, in Metaphorosis.

    A golem, formerly used as a weapon of war, wakes up after centuries imprisoned in the rubble of a city. Bereft of his original purpose and any grounding in the current world, he gradually works to make meaning for himself. I found the setting an interesting one, and the story itself is heartwarming.

  36. Goldilocks, by Laura Lam

    Novel

    Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone. It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this. But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi starts to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret.

    Parts of this near-future science fiction story hit so close to home that they were difficult to read. It’s a page-turner, though, and while I didn’t 100% buy everything that happened (one character’s motivations in particular seemed off once or twice to me), it definitely left me always wanting to find out what was going to happen next.

  37. Does anyone know the word count to Network Effect? I’m trying to get a jump on what series are eligible.

  38. @Lorien
    Running the texts through Word gives me 31 000 + 32 500 + 35 000 + 36 000 + 111 000 = 245 500.
    + 1000 for the Wired Short Story.

    Seconding Murderbot for Best Series.

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