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.

148 thoughts on “2020 Recommended SF/F List

  1. (Why, yes, I did do some book shopping recently …)

    The Trouble With Peace, by Joe Abercrombie

    Novel (2nd in a trilogy, 8th in the overall setting)

    Unrest worms into every layer of society. The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace lasts forever.

    Joe Abercrombie may be the best of the grimdark wave, in part because there’s real humanity beneath it all. Idealists don’t fare well in the First Law world, but cynics aren’t presented as being a more appealing option; the ones who take center stage are the ones trying to survive and thrive in the moral quagmire. As with all his books, this one is a character-driven story, and it’s impossible not to flip the page simply because you want to find out what happens to these people.

  2. Best Novella

    Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark

    I read somewhere that a history degree is the SF writer’s secret weapon, and Clark proves that here. This is a richly imagined stew combining the racist movie The Birth of a Nation, Gullah-Geechee culture (including the titular ring shouts, which are fascinating), Lovecraftian monsters called Ku Kluxes which reside in human suits in the 1922 Klan, feeding on their hate, and the young African-American woman with a magical sword who hunts them. I thought his novella The Black God’s Drums was good, but this is better. This will be on my ballot.

  3. Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

    Novel

    Terminally ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she’ll be damned if she loses her future. Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and find a cure. When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony, Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.

    I have a definite weakness for science fiction books that drop the readers in the middle of a complex world without explanation and trust them to figure it out. For this book, that’s both a strength and a weakness. It provides a continual sense of discovery as the ideas unfold, but it also results in important character relationships – including the love story central to the plot – feeling sketched in. I think the book would have benefitted if it had spent more time hanging out with the characters and getting to know them before it started tossing them around through the nonstop action. Nonetheless, I ultimately liked what the book had to say about misunderstanding, venality, and the tragedy of being an individual creature that will die.

  4. A few goodies from Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 164, May 2020:

    Short Story

    “What Happens in Solarium Square 21,” Ashleigh Shears

    This is a funny/tragic story about bots trying to hide their owner’s death by showing off the decomposing body (who died of natural causes, not machine murder) to keep from being evicted and shut down. Definitely macabre humor, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    “Albedo Season,” Ray Nayler

    An interesting hard SF story about a colony teetering on the edge of extinction, and how the protagonist tracks down the cause and comes up with a solution. Nice exploration of the scientific method.

    “The Translator, at Low Tide,” Vajra Chandrasekera

    A post-climate-change snippet of everyday life that gradually evolves into horror. This story is creepy as all get-out.

    Novelette

    “A Stick of Clay, In the Hands of God, is Infinite Potential,” JY Neon Yang

    This novelette is the star of this issue. It features interstellar kaiju–“holy mechs”–on a holy war, hunting down apostates, and the pilots who eventually come to question their beliefs and everything they’ve been taught. As a side note, this story tackles some of the issues of the infamous “Attack Helicopter” story, and does it a helluva lot better.

  5. Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

    Novel

    Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others.

    Weird. Wild. Interesting. The setting is what draws you in, but there are deeper currents to examine once you’re there.

  6. @Bonnie… thank you so much Bonnie! I really appreciated your kind words about THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM, and I’m glad you thought the new story was a worthy addition.

    toddmc

  7. Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air, by Jackson Ford

    Novel (2nd in a series)

    Teagan Frost is about to face her biggest threat yet. A young boy with the ability to cause earthquakes has come to Los Angeles. If Teagan can’t stop him, the entire city – and the rest of California – will be wiped off the map.

    An enjoyable page-turner with a creepy villain. The main character sometimes acted like an idiot, but to be fair, when that happened, it was in a reasonably believable way.

  8. The Memory of Babel, by Christelle Dabos

    Novel (YA, third in a series)

    Ophelia, the mirror-travelling heroine, finds herself in the magical city of Babel, which guards a secret that may provide a key both to the past and the future.

    I continue to be of two minds about this series. I find the world compelling and the overall story fascinating. Some of my issues with the characters are being resolved – Ophelia is showing some growth and maturation, and Thorn has been revealed as someone who behaves the way he does because of wounds that go very deep. On the other hand, there are still occasional sour notes (for example, descriptions related to gender are sometimes a bit offputting in this one.) Nonetheless, I’m coming down on the side of liking it, and I am intrigued to find out how it all comes together in the final book.

  9. “More Than Simple Steel”, Amiee Ogden, 4919 words, Short Story. Escape Pod #751, Sept 24, 2020. (Both audio & text available at link.)

    Post-apocalypse of the “only children left alive” variety, when a pandemic kills adults, leaving only young children and pre-teens. Micah, approaching 16 and fearful “the flops” will strike him down as well as he grows further and further into full adulthood, has spent four years keeping a semblance of society and civilization going in a group of several dozen other surviving kids, sheltering in a former school building. But the ordinary day-to-day struggle becomes critical when a lone-wolf-style survivor with a gun breaks into the school to steal the group’s food and other supplies.

    I liked how both Micah and his opponent are presented as flawed, uncertain, each desperate in their own ways, and how it’s that mutual desperation that leads to an ending that eschews a cliched predictable ending.

  10. Best Short story

    Chramn the Unconquered by Adam McPhee, 1500 words, short story.
    Link: http://schlock.co.uk/pb/wp_b9ef15a0/wp_b9ef15a0.html
    Alternate link: https://www.amazon.com/Schlock-Webzine-Vol-16-Issue/dp/B08LNF3ZWY/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=schlock+webzine+volume+16+issue+10&qid=1604383054&sr=8-1

    It’s about a barbarian type who lives alone on a tundra and attacks the enemies he believes responsible for his solitude, but ultimately commits an act of mercy and decides on a new course. The author is in my writing group and said he took the name from a Merovingian king because he sees them as on the sort of dividing line between the Roman/Christian “civilization” and European migration period “barbarians,” though the story itself is set in a fantasy world with cool caribou-propelled “landsleighs.”

    Details
    title: Chramn the Unconquered
    category: short story (1500 words)
    genre: fantasy, sword and sorcery
    Published by: Schlock! Webzine Volume 16, Issue 10, November 2020

  11. Best Short Story

    50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu, in Uncanny Magazine Issue 37.

    The first half of this very short story is excellent. Perfect technological extrapolation, beautiful prose, and wit. The second half is an attempt at wistful and poetic that to me is not at the same level as the first half. It’s not bad, but the first half is so good.

  12. Best Novel

    Machine, Elizabeth Bear

    This is the second in Bear’s White Space series, but it’s a new story with only a couple of shared characters (including Cheeirilaq, everyone’s favorite giant praying mantis cop). The setting is fascinating: Core General, a moon-sized multispecies hospital. (I would read another book focusing on the day-to-day life of the hospital and its staff, if Bear ever wants to write it.) This is a thriller, and a mystery, but at its heart it’s about ethical dilemmas, and faith and belief.

    Novella

    In the Shadows of Men, Robert Jackson Bennett

    I wanted to push this because the print book is a limited Subterranean Press edition (it’s gorgeous, as all Subterranean Press books are, but most people probably won’t want to pay what I paid for it) and I’m not sure how much traction it’s gotten. This creepy, disturbing novella is a ghost and monster story, with the ghost being the Pugh brothers’ dead great-uncle, and the story exactly what happened at a motel in west Texas he ran back in the seventies. But the true monster of the story is (white) men’s entitlement and toxic masculinity and what it makes men do. The prose is simple and straightforward, as befits the blue-collar people Bennett is writing about, but the sense of dread steadily climbs throughout. The e-book is available at the Subterranean Press website and the usual digital suspects.

  13. The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk
    Best Novel (Hugo Awards)

    Beatrice Clayborn wants to become a full magician but her father is on the brink of ruin and if she can make a good marriage she can save her family. Unfortunately, practicing magic can endanger an unborn child so married women have to give up magic. Beatrice tries to navigate the marriage season while trying to find a way to use her magic to save the family fortune before it’s too late.

    I suck at synopses, so I’m not selling the story well. This is a fantasy set in a Regency era type world and examines, from a very feminist point of view, the choices that confront women in a society that undervalues their skills and ignores their rights. I started reading it and couldn’t stop – finished it in one sitting. If you liked Witchmark or Stormsong this is in much the same vein.

  14. Best Series

    The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher

    I’m pretty sure Butcher will get nominated for Best Series this year, and he should. I’ve only read the first of the two books released this year, Peace Talks, but it’s a solid, well-paced entry in the series, with some nice bits of characterization for Harry Dresden. Be warned: this book ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, so you might want to check out (or buy) the next book, Battle Ground, at the same time, so you can dive right in.

  15. Novella

    Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson
    This story follows Lopen and Rysn on a voyage to the mysterious island of Aimia. Shrouded in an eternal storm, the island is said to be home to wondrous treasures. But those treasures aren’t unguarded, and the real prize may not even be what the characters think it is.

    For something that is (by Sanderson standards) pretty short, he manages to pack a lot of character development in, and I enjoyed the focus on characters who don’t get a lot of “screen-time” in the full-length books. I appreciated that, while there is n onggyr fprar ng gur pyvznk, gur erny erfbyhgvba vf npuvrirq guebhtu artbgvngvba naq zhghny haqrefgnaqvat. Additionally, it was nice to see a disabled main character who qbrfa’g trg na rnfl zntvpny pher sbe ure pbaqvgvba, gubhtu ure fvghngvba qbrf vzcebir sebz jurer vg jnf ng gur fgneg bs gur obbx. And her flying crustacean pet Chiri-Chiri is adorable!

  16. Novel — The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow

    The power of women — in this case literally, embodied as the power of magic. This is set in an alternate 1893 America, an America in which real witchcraft really existed, and real witches were burned in Salem. Magic has been mostly wiped out as part of widespread oppression by men, so the fight to return magic to the world is part and parcel of the fight for women’s rights and empowerment.

    Thematically this was too on-the-nose for my tastes, but otherwise I thought it was great. Once again Harrow writes beautiful prose, and both the characters and plot are appealing. There’s plenty of action and emotion, and the climax just about killed me. There’s also a couple of romances going on, but nothing more explicit than a kiss or two. In comparison with The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I’d say less dreamy and more action.

    In audio, very good narration by Gabra Zackman.

  17. Short Story
    “Salt and Iron” by Gem Isherwood, in Podcastle

    Dagna “Ironhands” Muller is on a quest to free a town from a curse. But when she gets there, she has to decide if she actually wants to help them–and if so, what form that help should take. Isherwood does a great job of presenting complex characters in a relatively short word count. Dagna’s not a conventional hero, and Isherwood shows us how she became what she is today. The plot brings things nicely full-circle, and twines together the resolutions of the action and of Dagna’s character arc.

  18. I’ll add a series rec for Dresden.

    For those of you who haven’t read any — or only read one or two — IMHO Dresden is unparalleled in UF for its density — especially the density of its worldbuilding. I mean, this man drops hints and tidbits that come into play eight or ten books later, and his clues and mysteries have inspired countless theories and guessing games amongst fans. There are so many moving parts that it’s a waste of time to try to judge the series from one or two books in the middle; although each volume has a complete story arc (aside from Peace Talks/Battle Ground, which is one divided book), you will be missing so much setup in both plotting and character that no matter how much Butcher tries to clue you in, you’ll be missing out on important stuff.

    IOW, this is the sort of series that the Hugo series award was made for. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. I know it isn’t to everyone’s taste — and Butcher’s odd attitude towards women really puts some readers off. Fair enough. (For those who are wondering — he’s got plenty of important women characters, and he’s not afraid to let Dresden get his life saved or his ass kicked by them, but Dresden has a savior complex about saving women, and descriptions of female characters are uniformly oversexed.) And the first two books in the series really are subpar compared to the rest. But the skill in the writing, the intensity in both action and emotion, and the worldbuilding really do make the series something special.

    Give it a try.

    /soapbox

  19. I started on the Dresden series when Skin Game got nominated. I read the first four and more or less lost interest.

  20. Short Story (from Clarkesworld Magazine, July 2020)

    “Artificial People,” Michael Swanwick

    A nice character study of an artificial person and his relationship with his creator. This unfolds over decades because at first Raphael is considered “property” and is switched off for updates or just because his creator, Dr. Leonidas Erdmann, feels like it. Raphael is given no choice in the matter. But after Dr. Erdmann dies and his freedom is granted, Raphael takes steps to live his life the way he wants.

    “One Time, a Reluctant Traveler,” A.T. Greenblatt

    My favorite story in this issue. This is a post-apocalyptic tale of sorts, perhaps a post-climate-catastrophe or post-pandemic, as there seem to be few humans left and bots to take the place of species that are apparently extinct. The worldbuilding is a bit vague, and that’s deliberate on the part of the author, as the theme of this is the power of stories. The stories passed down to the unnamed narrator are bleak and depressing, and the protagonist’s final epiphany is the realization that they don’t have to give in to that pessimism; they can choose what their story will become.

    “The House That Leapt Into Forever,” Beth Goder

    This starts out a little reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about a sentient house carefully maintaining its rooms and its one remaining inhabitant. Except we slowly come to realize the “house” isn’t a house, and the house is on this barren moon for a reason, and its remaining inhabitant, Doom-May-Come, is not as benevolent as they seem. This very short story drips with atmosphere and creates a wonderful sense of creeping dread, turning into horror, in just over three pages. Well done.

  21. Best Novel

    I’ve come to add my praise for Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches to Contrarius, above. I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but I think this book really showcases her maturation as a writer, and her assured command of characterization, plot and (especially) pacing. (This book is over 500 pages long, and it never lags.) Combine that with her trademark beautiful prose, and you have a story that just might be my favorite book of 2020–and I never thought I’d say that the same year N.K. Jemisin also has a book out.

  22. So, eh, since there’s a Video Game category on the ballot…

    For your consideration:

    13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PS4) – Japanese sci-fi steeped in Dickian tropes, non-linear storytelling, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” and mecha/kaiju real-time strategy fights. Come for the beautiful artstyle, stay for one of the more mindbending sci-fi plots to hit the mainstream in recent years, a testament to the uniqueness video game narratives bring to the genre.

    Hades (PC, Mac, Switch) – The hottest new roguelike in town. Accurate Greek mythology delivered with a canny postmodern twist and an interactive story powered by mechanics even the most inexperienced of players can handle. Zagreus may quickly become a protagonist you can’t help but love; his resilience will match your own.

    Half-Life: Alyx (PC w/VR) – What seemed like a pipe dream is finally here: the age of VR gaming. Half-Life: Alyx is the first masterpiece for headsets, returning to the world of Half-Life to tell the story of how Alyx Vance would up the way she did in Half-Life 2. The franchise’s signature storytelling is fully realized in an intuitive, virtual reality setting.

    Ori and the Will of the Wisps (PC, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox X/S) – The sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest, continuing directly where that game left off and expanding upon its mystifying fantasy world. More engaging puzzles and platforming, with a bit of extra combat.

    Spiritfarer (PC, Mac, Switch, PS4, Xbox One) – You like Animal Crossing, right? This is sorta like that…except more concerned with the nature of death, of the souls that linger and the necessity of moving on. Also boats. In its own way, Spiritfarer is as peaceful as AC, albeit from a more existential direction.

    At least that’s my ballot so far, since I don’t trust that Cyberpunk 2077 will come out in time to be eligible for 2021. Keep your eyes on that one.

    Also a suggestion for any Filers that aren’t into gaming or are hesitant to start throwing their money around on multiple titles: the thing about the evolution of gaming culture is that people just upload full playthroughs of games on YouTube now. For free! Type in any of these games followed by “no commentary” if you’re just looking for stories.

  23. Novelette
    “The Ones Who Look” by Katherine Duckett on Tor.com

    There are any number of sci-fi stories that posit a way to upload a human mind into a VR environment, allowing people to exist independently of their bodies. “The Ones Who Look” puts a twist on this concept: instead of the quality of your virtual world being based on the amount of money you’re willing to pay, it’s based on your behavior. If you’re a compassionate and generous person, you can rest secure in the knowledge that your mind will live forever in a paradisaical simulation. If you’re cruel and greedy, not so much. This development has vastly improved society, dramatically cutting the incidence of violent crime, reducing poverty as charitable giving skyrockets, and so on.

    Of course, this whole system has to be maintained by fallible humans. Nothing could ever go possibly wrong with that, could it?

    In addition to the way it puts a new spin on an old trope, I appreciated the characterization in this story. It’s also a piece that makes you think, which is always good.

  24. Dramatic Presentation Short Form:
    World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime, written and directed by Don Hertzfeldt, available for rent/purchase on Vimeo

    Firstly I’ve gotta recommend Hertzfeldt’s animated Oscar-nominated 2014 short “World of Tomorrow,” though I don’t believe that’s a requirement for viewing this one. Hertzfeldt has taken that original short and expanded on it in the last half-decade, crafting a universe centered on cloning and the nature of consciousness, told in his signature mix of avant-garde humor and devastating profundity. It’s been a treat to watch.

    This installment reaches new, ambitious heights, this time centering around a clone of Emily Clone 1’s deceased boyfriend David, as he comes across a later generation of Emily who has access to his memories. Hertzfeldt has only evolved his methods of storytelling, animation and handle on the science fiction genre as time has gone on. This installment probably has the most focus on narrative, which may appeal to those looking for more concrete sci-fi concepts. Consider them to be a Trojan Horse for Hertzfeldt to break your heart with. Hands down the best short of the year; may be one of the best films of 2020. Highly recommended.

  25. Highlights from Clarkesworld Magazine August 2020:

    Short Story

    “Drawing Lines Between the Stars,” Frank Smith

    Bex, engineer of the transport hauler Bakunawa, helps answer a distress call from the solar glider Aldebaran and brings it on board for repairs. Unfortunately, his unintentional negligence leads to the death of the pilot, Adena, and very nearly his own, and he’s fired….err, “prematurely retired” from his job. This is a neat little story of change, responsibility, and making the best of what life hands you.

    “The Plague,” Yan Leisheng, translated by Andy Dudak

    (According to the endnotes, this was originally written and published [in China] in 2002, so long before our current Plague Year. Still, it’s damn eerie.)

    This plague virus is silicon-based, rather than carbon, and turns people to living statues. The narrator, a “Crow,” a person who gathers up the infected and incinerates them, comes to realize they’re not dead at all–they’re just another form of life. At the end, the story takes a time jump of six thousand years, and ends on a bit of a horrific note.

    Novelette

    “An Important Failure,” Rebecca Campbell

    This story tackles climate change through the lens of a violin maker, hunting for the wood to make his final instrument. Wood that won’t be available any longer, now that the world has reached five hundred ppm. It’s about finding meaning and beauty in a dying, changing world, and though the general tone is sad and bittersweet, it does end on a hopeful note.

    Possible Best Related Work candidate, if you nominate magazine articles:

    “Boxtops, Secret Rings, and Space Helmets: Those Brave Spacemen of the Videowaves,” Mark Cole

    A fascinating study of the very first television space opera serials, done live at the dawning of the TV age, 1949-1955.

  26. Novelette: “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker, Tor.com

    On a visit to her hometown, the main character helps an old friend clean out the house of his recently-deceased brother. The brother was a hoarder, and among the junk in his house, they find videotapes of an old TV show produced by a local station. There’s just one problem: the show is a figment of the main character’s imagination. So how do videos of it exist? And what does it mean that most of the kids in town were in the show’s studio audience at one time or another? A great story that takes childhood nostalgia in a really eerie direction.

  27. The Camelot Betrayal, by Kiersten White

    Novel (YA, 2nd in series)

    Guinevere might have accepted her role as queen, but she still cannot find a place for herself in all of it. The closer she gets to Brangien, pining for her lost love Isolde, Lancelot, fighting to prove her worth as Queen’s knight, and Arthur, everything to everyone and thus never quite enough for Guinevere – the more she realizes how empty she is. The more she tries to claim herself as queen, the more she wonders if Mordred was right: she doesn’t belong. She never will.

    The plot of this one is somewhat meandering compared to the first book; the forward motion seems more thematic than narrative, which sometimes makes it feel like the midpoint of a story rather than a coherent whole. But that’s not necessarily a problem for the second book of a trilogy, and there is definitely the sense that things are being set in place for a dramatic resolution to the most interesting question in the series — who is “Guinevere”, really?

  28. The Thief on the Winged Horse, by Kate Mascarenhas

    Novel

    The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls since the early 1800s. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop. Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.

    One of the things I love most about fantasy is that it has the ability to give physical forms to emotional themes; to make metaphors real. This book does exactly that, both thoughtfully and inventively. If I have any complaint, it’s that I thought the book could be longer, and some of the characters’ pasts explored more fully. But even that is, if anything, praising the novel with faint damns.

  29. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab

    France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever — and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

    I found the main character of this book compelling, and the descriptions of art and artists equally so. I was not, however, quite so taken with her love interest, although I did appreciate the vivid and sharply recognizable depiction of anxiety and depression. Because of this, I sometimes found myself rooting for the villain of the piece … although, to be fair, there were admittedly some indications in the book that maybe, just maybe, I was supposed to …

    (My Jólabókaflóð books have arrived — this was the first — so hopefully I will be posting a few more of these here in the near future, assuming I like them as much as I am hoping.)

  30. The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune

    Novel

    Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages. When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside. But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps.

    Ninety percent of this book was utterly charming. Ten percent was maybe a little too on-the-nose with its messaging for my taste. But that’s still an awfully high percentage of charm.

  31. The Hollow Places, by T. Kingfisher

    Novel

    Kara discovers a strange portal in her uncle’s museum. The places it leads to are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts … and the more you fear them, the stronger they become.

    Readers of T. Kingfisher will likely already be familiar with her brand of sensible, sane, and decidedly no-nonsense heroines. Pairing that with horror ends up being a refreshing twist on the genre; the reader is left with the impression of someone reacting to insane, otherworldly events in the same way that the reader themselves might react — not just with terror, but with a sense of both the gravity and the absurdity of the situation. It works well.

  32. The Art of Saving the World, by Corinne Duyvis

    Novel (YA)

    When Hazel Stanczak was born, an interdimensional rift tore open near her family’s home, which prompted immediate government attention. On her sixteenth birthday, the rift spins completely out of control, and Hazel comes face-to-face with a surprise: a second Hazel. Then another. And another.

    There are many Chosen One stories, but surprisingly few that examine the question of exactly who is doing the Choosing, and why. The fact that this one does would make it a great addition to the genre all by itself, but once you add in a teenage heroine with realistic issues and a charmingly snarky dragon, this book becomes a real winner all around.

  33. Related Work

    A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of J.B.S. Haldane by Samanth Subramanian (W.W. Norton, 2020)

    I saw this one in one of those lists of “notable books of 2020” on File 770, and thought it might be worth a look – and it is; Haldane has a couple of genre titles to his credit, but he was much more notable as a scientist and an inspiration to other SF writers (e.g. Arthur C. Clarke). Subramanian’s biography explores the life, work and character of an extraordinary man. I’ve done a review here – the short version is, this is well worth reading.

  34. The Burning God, by R. F. Kuang

    Novel (third in a trilogy)

    After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by her allies and left for dead. She will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic and the colonizing Hesperians. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?

    This was a suitably epic and brutal conclusion to an epic and brutal series. Rin’s story is as captivating and as fascinating as ever, as battling with monsters continues to make her become a monster. If I had any issues, it’s that some of the ongoing storylines seemed to be wrapped up a little too neatly. But overall, this book and this series were brilliant depictions of the human-caused horrors of the world.

  35. Novel

    Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots

    “Supers with spreadsheets” is one of those concepts I would have realized I’m the target audience for if I’d ever imagined such a concept. Come for the spreadsheets, stay for the ideas about consequences and who tells the stories.

    The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson

    A great early reveal sets up this story of traveling between parallel universes, and underlies a lot of the character interaction through the rest of the book.

  36. Novella

    The Empress of Salt and Fortune
    and
    When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Nghi Vo

    Empress is great, Tiger is even better. One could read Tiger without reading Empress, though you shouldn’t. Another work about who tells the stories and how they change, in an effective form.

    Finna, Nino Cipri

    A great story about navigating the hardest stage of a relationship, and of course a great setting. Looking forward to the sequel.

  37. Novelette

    I’m really thin for novelettes at present, here are a couple I enjoyed:

    Debtless, Chen Qiufan, translated by Blake Stone-Banks, Clarkesworld 163

    An asteroid miner navigates workplace conflict.

    Ask the Fireflies, R.P. Sand, Clarkesworld 168

    A young girl’s AI guardian navigates loss.

  38. Short story

    We’re Here, We’re Here, K.M. Szpara

    Szpara’s writing usually misses my sweet spot, and I’m pretty indifferent to boy bands. This logical extrapolation to the future of the latter was spot-on, for me. (This story appears to be about as close to the top of the short story word count as it could get, if the rules still have the +/- allowance.)

    AirBody, Sameem Siddiqui, Clarkesworld 163

    An interesting day in the life of a professional consciousness host.

    Callme and Mink, Brenda Cooper, Clarkesworld 169

    A story of Good Dogs and a hug I needed at that moment of 2020.

    Metal Like Blood in the Dark, T. Kingfisher, Uncanny 36

    Fun SF fairy tale retelling – you should catch it pretty quick, but I’ll let you encounter it for yourself.

  39. Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

    Dangit, I’m irritated that Amazon is dropping Expanse episodes weekly, splitting them between 2020 and 2021, instead of all at once. This season is shaping up to be the best ever.

    For the five episodes aired in 2020:

    “Mother,” episode 3, is directed by Thomas Jane. Dominique Tipper, as Naomi, is giving an incredible performance this season (especially in the latest episode, “Oyedeng,” which I can’t include here as it’s a 2021 air date).

    “Gaugamela,” episode 4, is damn near a perfect 10 on IMDB. Riveting from start to finish.

    “Down and Out,” episode 5, deals with the aftermath of “Gaugamela,” but it’s also an Amos-centric episode. We’re learning a lot more about Amos this season (at least those of us who haven’t read the entire series), and Wes Chatham, along with Dominique Tipper, are giving the best performances of the season.

  40. Machine by Elizabeth Bear
    Novel
    Set in a multi species nation in the far future. It’s in the same universe as Ancestral Night but not a sequel.
    An ambulance ship receives a distress signal from a 600 year old generation ship. They find several puzzles as they try to help. And the trouble continues after the return with their patients to the central hospital.
    Along the way, the author asks a question, what’s a potential whistleblower to do when the employers NDA is enforced by programming?

  41. Best series – Cassandra Russell series
    with the new work being the novel Crosspoint.

    Cas is not exactly a superhero, but she mostly fights on the side of right. And she’s trying to be a better person.
    The adventures are fun, but the character interactions and development is what really drew me to this series.

  42. Best Novel

    The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit, 2020

    Near future science fiction about the climate crisis.

    Mary Murphy is an Irish woman heading the UN agency responsible for representing the interests of future generations, wildlife, and the biosphere. It was established in 2025 because everyone could see that the Paris Accord targets were not being met. Things were going to get bad. Something had to be done. Not that a UN agency had much chance of doing anything, but at least it is a gesture in the right direction.

    Frank May, an American aid worker, is caught in a heatwave in India that kills millions. He cannot get over what happened. Everyone around him died. He knows he died too, yet somehow he is still here. He is a wreck, a failure at everything he does, but he must do something. Otherwise there will be more heatwaves, more deaths. The system cannot go on.

    There is a wide cast of other characters: terrorists, refugees, bankers, farmers, glaciologists, musicians, wild animals, the element carbon, the sun itself.

    Bad things happen. We are much closer to disaster than most people realize. We are not on a good trajectory. It’s going to be bad. But there also are more ways we can save ourselves than most people realize. This is about how we save ourselves.

    As one would expect from Stan’s recent work, it is very political, geeky, and technical, with interesting, flawed main characters, non-heroic heroes. And infodumps. What is special about MftF is the sense of urgency and immediacy. The infodumps read like blog posts and video clips from the future. Everything matters. And it is a story that makes you deeply care about its characters. Hopefully you also care about the planet where they live.

    One of Stan’s best.

  43. Lodestar

    Legendborn, Tracy Deonn

    This is a dark retelling of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that turns the legend inside out. The worldbuilding is detailed and thoughtful, and the characters, despite being teenagers, are neither whiny nor stupid, just inexperienced. (There is a slight knock due to the insta-love going on with the protagonist, and also an unfortunate hint of the dreaded cliched love triangle, so it depends on how much you can overlook that.) But the themes of love and loss and coping with grief, and discovering who you are and your place in the world, carried the day for me….and the final plot twist, given [rot-13] Nzrevpn’f uvfgbel bs enpvfz naq punggry fynirel, is something that only could have happened here. Timely and thought-provoking.

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