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.

79 thoughts on “2020 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Novella: “Chisel and Chime” by Alex Irvine, in the Jan/Feb issue of F&SF
    Melandra has received the greatest honor possible for an artist: she’s been commissioned to carve a statue of the Imperator. But there’s a catch: the artist chosen for this honor is expected to die when the work is complete. Melandra has resigned herself to this fate, until a story told by her guard gives her the idea for a daring plan.

    I loved the setting, and the story does a great job of setting up the similarities between Melandra and her guard, despite their vastly different backgrounds. The part of the story taking place in the present day is fairly slow-paced, but the vivid descriptions and growing rapport between the main characters made it engaging to read nevertheless. All of this made me want to read more stories set in this world.

  2. City of Stone and Silence by Django Wexler

    Novel (YA, second in a series)

    While Isoka fights to save her shipmates in a mysterious, ancient city, Tori finds herself in the middle of a insurrection.

    This book is a welcome improvement over the first one in the series, thanks to the introduction of Tori as a point of view character. The story, unusually for this author, still dips into cliche a little too often (there is a thin line between “playing with well-used tropes” and “being a well-used trope” and sometimes this book ends up on the wrong side of it). However, I’m also finding the unfolding narrative interesting, and I’m happy to follow these characters to wherever they end up next.

  3. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Season 5

    TV show
    Long form (full season)
    Short form (Episode 5, “Save the Cat”)

    Are you watching this show? You should be watching this show.

    Seriously, watch this show.

  4. +1 to She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

    I liked the previous 4 seasons, but Season 5 really brought it on home. I think it’s because the storyline took a more adult turn. Also, Entrapta was just delightful.

  5. Novel: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
    This is the second book in the Founders trilogy. The stakes are substantially higher than in the first book, and there are a couple of shocking reveals near the end. The main characters were great as always, although I was a little disappointed that more wasn’t done with Polina. I got a little teary-eyed when Befb fnpevsvprq uvzfrys. This is going to be a really difficult one to top.

  6. Short Form: Motherland: Fort Salem – “Bellweather Season”

    Do not sleep on this show, or dismiss it as a piece of YA fluff, or army propaganda. It’s a female-driven alternate history spectacle with genuinely compelling, political worldbuilding and finely-tuned characters tossed with whip fast-paced storytelling; in a broader sense, it’s an in-depth look at the unique challenges a matriarchal society based around supernatural powers would face.

    This episode is a high point, especially in its examination of the relationship between Abigail and her mother. A great first season but this is the best single episode.

  7. Short Form: What We Do In the Shadows – “Colin’s Promotion”

    The more I watch and think about this episode the more it feels like an actual contender. Beyond its comedy – one of the funniest shows currently on TV, in my estimation – this episode is also a canny piece of worldbuilding and storytelling. The show has a novel bit of vampire mythos in the “energy vampire,” a vampire that gains essence by boring people. Resident energy vampire Colin Robinson, despite his predilection for intentionally getting on people’s nerves, gets revealed here to be a very lonely and bitter man who yearns for friendship despite himself, so of course when he gets a level of power he goes crazy with it. This is a series best so far and it’s one I’m heavily considering.

    The Midnight Gospel – “Mouse of Silver”

    Despite being animated, this is a less funny affair. Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward’s psychedelic science-fantasy adaptation of Duncan Trussell’s podcast struggled a bit to build narratives out of the interview clips it cobbled together but got better as it went along, culminating in this finale based around Trussel’s interview with his dying mother (Deneen Fendig). Some of the most stunning, genuinely haunting television thus far this year.

  8. +1 to @Kyra’s recommendation of The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. The most YA thing about it is two main characters; there is a huge amount of backstory, politics, and not a little cruelty and evil packed into one book, along with casual breaking of gender boundaries that would infuriate a slice of readers if they were willing to even start a story with two young women as leads. Sometimes bits stick out awkwardly, but to me the book as a whole hung together convincingly. People who think Hardinge is too harsh won’t like this; I would not give this to random young readers, but for some it will resonate.

  9. Novella: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

    This is the latest installment in the Wayward Children series. Jack returns to the school in urgent need of help, and several characters we’ve met in previous books return to the Moors with her. I really enjoyed the previous book featuring Jack (Down Among the Sticks and Bones), so it was great to see her again. Christopher and Cora from Beneath the Sugar Sky are here too, as well as two characters from the very first book. The story explores the Moors a little further, as the group has to seek out aid from a faction that was only briefly mentioned in Sticks and Bones. There’s also a pretty strong trans-positive message here, since Jack experiences dysphoria when Wvyy sbepvoyl obql-fjvgpurf jvgu ure, naq zbfg bs gur bgure punenpgref dhvpxyl haqrefgnaq jul fur’f fb qvfgerffrq. Wvyy’f obql znl or irel fvzvyne gb uref, ohg vg’f abg uref, naq vg’f gnxra nf n tvira gung gur fbyhgvba vf sbe ure gb trg ure cebcre obql onpx, abg whfg gb “nqwhfg gb gur obql lbh unir.”

  10. Race the Sands, by Sarah Beth Durst

    Novel

    In kehok racing, if you forget you’re riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races — and in the process, discover an astonishing secret.

    I liked this book in spite of some flaws that might have kneecapped another novel — the mysteries are pretty easy to figure out, and both main characters are introduced with actions that are, all told, pretty dumb. The fact that the book is able to overcome these problems is a tribute to the skill of the author, who is able to get past those issues and weave a compelling story which mixes action with a nice dash of ethical debate.

  11. Alma Alexander’s “The Second Star” has just been released and had a rather explosive debut — online, of course, since bookstores are suddenly, and I fervently hope temporarily, difficult gathering place in the days of the virus.

    It’s been hailed as a ‘page-turning science fiction psychological thriller’. That’s true enough, but it’s much more than that. It asks the big questions about life, the universe and everything — including who or what God is, and what it means to be human. It’s also a roaring adventure story that takes several unexpected twists. I see at the author’s website that it’s been recommended by Matt Ruff, one of my favorite authors.

  12. @JJ: Thanks. Le Sigh.

    I’m woefully behind on reading; sorry I don’t have a rec to make here! ;-(

  13. Kendall, I’m quite happy to have the recommendation posted, I just like to have transparency.

    I bought and read Alexander’s 2015 time-travel mystery set at an SFF convention, Abducticon, and really enjoyed it. I will probably buy and read The Second Star, too.

  14. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

    Novel (YA)

    There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story. She thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

    In far too many books, the protagonist makes mistake after frustrating mistake, driving the reader to distraction over how idiotic they’re being. Much rarer is the book where the protagonist makes mistake after frustrating mistake and the reader thinks, “Yeah … that’s probably what I would have done, too.” This is one of the latter books, keeping you on the side of a flawed heroine even when you want to shout at her. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but this book does so admirably. Highly recommended.

  15. Some folks may enjoy Scarlett Odyssey by C.T. Rwizi; published by 47 North (Amazon). About the only flaw that I can see is that it is clearly the first book of a series. Otherwise, highly inventive world-building with a variety of perspectives. The story is set in an African-esque environment. The ubiquitous farm-boy/prince is ignorant of the fact that his sorcerer-mother has purposefully groomed him to be something more than a farm-boy/prince. He steps out in the world to figure out what that “something more” might be. Lots of magic. Lots of very grimdark elements.

    Very enjoyable.

    Regards,
    Dann
    They say marriages are made in Heaven. But so is thunder and lightning. – Clint Eastwood

  16. @Dann665: Thanks for mentioning that; it’s on my list to check out, so it’s good to see recs for it. 🙂

  17. @Kendall

    This was more of the enjoyable books that I have read this year. It is a wonderful example of bi-level writing. You could just read it for the tale and have a great time. You could also read and be thinking about some of the subtextual narrative and also have a great time.

    I just wish that the author had made the first book to be a complete story rather than something that is obviously part of a larger arc.

    This was a “free” book for Amazon Prime members over the last couple of months. Members can get a free book every month from a selection of about half a dozen books. There’s usually a genre title at least every other month. I just wish I had been able to get to it sooner so that more people could have gotten that Meredith Moment level of pricing.

    Regards,
    Dann
    A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. – Thomas Jefferson

  18. Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire
    https://www.serialbox.com/serials/jessica-jones

    Best Novel?

    Haven’t completed this yet, but the format this is being presented in is extremely fascinating to me. Like an online version of the roots of the novel as a serialized story. The first chapter (episode?) is available for free.

  19. I don’t know if you’ve listened to the audio on that one, but as an idea you might consider DP-long form. That’s the category I chose to nominate Orphan Black: The Next Chapter from Serial Box in this year. The story was really good, but I really loved the narration by Tatiana Maslany.

  20. Okay, now I’m starting on my 2020 TBR pile.

    Best Short Story

    (All of these are from the excellent anthology Made To Order: Robots and Revolution, edited by Jonathan Strahan. Almost all of these stories ranged from good to very good, and even the one I didn’t care for I could see a lot of people loving. If there was a Best Anthology Hugo, I’d nominate this in a hot minute.)

    “Test 4 Echo,” Peter Watts. This has Watts’ trademark hard science, a sympathetic central character, and a bleak, depressing ending. The ending is a little more bleak and depressing than usual, even for him.

    “Bigger Fish,” Sarah Pinsker. This has a (slightly abrupt) twist ending that is a very literal, very robotic and more than a little frightening–once you think about it–interpretation of Asimov’s First Law.

    “Dancing With Death,” John Chu. This author is clearly a figure skating fan, which tickled me to no end, combining robots with ice dancing (as well as a minor Chinese god).

    “Chiaroscuro in Red,” Suzanne Palmer. One of the longer stories in the book (in fact, I think it might qualify as a novelette, although I don’t have an ebook to check the word count), this is a down to earth, Everyman sort of tale about a college kid whose parents buy him an aging factory robot, and he ends up rescuing said robot.

    “A Glossary of Radicalization,” Brooke Bolander. The final story in the book, this has Bolander’s trademark gritty setting and seething rage.

  21. Best Novel: The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty
    Best Series: The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

    The Empire of Gold is the final book in Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, in which apprentice apothecarist Nahri discovers that she’s the last heir of a family of djinn with healing magic. She gets caught up in the deadly politics of the djinn city of Daevabad. As Empire starts, an ancient conflict has been reignited, and Nahri finds herself caught between her family and her friends, and between two men she loves. It’s also a particularly timely story, with its strong theme that healing the wounds of the past is important and difficult work.

  22. No Man’s Land, by A. J. Fitzwater

    Novella

    Dorothea ‘Tea’ Gray joins the Land Service and is sent to work on a remote farm, one of many young women left to fill the empty shoes left by fathers and brothers serving in the Second World War. But Tea finds more than hard work and hot sun in the dusty North Otago nowhere—she finds a magic inside herself she never could have imagined.

    An evocative novella with poetic prose. I appreciated the intriguing characters, the magical story, and the look at a slice of New Zealand history.

  23. Lodestar

    A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)

    I was just so-so about Kingfisher’s nominee for the Lodestar this year, Minor Mage, but she’s at the top of her game with this one. This whimsical, funny and fairly dark story about Mona the Bread Wizard and her two familiars, Bob the carnivorous sourdough starter and the dancing gingerbread man, was a delight from beginning to end.

  24. The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

    Best Novel and Series (Hugo Awards)

    Socks completely knocked off. I didn’t want to put it down. I loved The Calculating Stars and this one is right up there with it. Maybe even higher. I think this has something for everyone – plenty of great character work, with a tense story.

  25. When We Were Magic, Sarah Gailey

    Lodestar

    Alexis has a problem: the guy she almost-randomly picked to have her first sex with is messily dead, in his bedroom. Fortunately, it’s an after-prom party and she’s part of a group of six very assorted magic-able high-school seniors, all on-site. Unfortunately, they’re figuring magic out as they go (although one of them is documenting as much as she can), and many of their uses of magic are teen-expectable (makeup experiments, making things grow) — they’ve never considered how to dispose of a body, let alone how to do so while keeping up obligations. (They’re close enough to graduation that classes are sometimes ditchable, but athletics, job, family, … are not.) And if that weren’t enough she’s trying to get up the nerve to explain being deeply-in-something with another of the group (and not the one who may change pronouns after leaving for college).
    I’ve been reading lots of grumbles here recently about teenish angst in Gideon the Ninth, but ISTM that Gailey avoids falling over that edge; the pack has a genuine problem (even if some of the outside issues are ~”white-people problems” despite the mix of colors in the group) that they work out how to cope with, not without costs. (V’z abg pregnva gur pbfgf onynapr gur qrngu, ohg V’z abg fher gurl qba’g — rirelbar raqf hc ybfvat fbzrguvat ol orpbzvat ~pbzcyvpvg; V xrcg rkcrpgvat gung gur gvgyr jbhyq cebqhpr n Jvgpurf bs Rnfgjvpx-fglyr raqvat, ohg gurl zbfgyl xrrc gurve cbjref naq rira fgergpu n ovg.) I wondered a bit about the apparent lack of intolerance for such a mixed group (including a currently-transvestite) in an unnamed state (far from New York), non-desert but warm enough to be unpleasant in ~May and on the edge of the hanging-moss zone, but I don’t know how varied ordinary life is (as opposed to newsworthy events) in that area.

    Colleen Mondor’s Locus review is a bit more coherent than the above, and covers different aspects.

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