2021 Recommended SF/F List

By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2021-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.

26 thoughts on “2021 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Machinehood, S.B. Divya
    Novel
    Nifty ideas about erosion of human rights, the perils of capital-driven pharmaceutical development, and the evolving understandings of privacy.

  2. “Across the Green Fields” by Seanan McGuire
    Tordotcom
    Novella

    I enjoyed this a lot! It’s a very stand-alone entry in the “Wayward Children” novella series. I’m horrible at describing things, sorry, and some of what I liked would be spoilers anyway, but I liked the rest of the series a lot and if you did, you’ll probably like this, too. (Unless you don’t, I suppose.)

    Re. the audiobook: The sample sounded a bit like it was recorded in a tin can, but the full audio was fine and the narrator was good.

  3. Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher
    Novel

    Istvhan is a beserker Paladin whose God has died and Clara is a lay sister whose nunnery has been burned and her sister nuns kidnapped. Their paths cross on the northern trading road and they join forces for mutual aid and protection. Istvhan is tracking an uncanny murderer and Clara is keeping a dangerous secret.

    This is in the same world as Kingfisher’s Paladin’s Grace and like that book, mixes romance and fantasy. Kingfisher draws likeable, three dimensional characters and I like that she doesn’t succumb to the current fad for improbable twists. Actions develop from character and plot, which is a rare thing these days it seems. I also like that the male character cares as much about consent as the female character does.

  4. “Rotten Little Town: An Oral History (Abridged)” by Adam-Troy Castro in Nightmare Magazine
    Novelette

    A story told in the form of a series of interviews with the cast and crew of a fictional western TV show. However, not everything is as it seems with Rotten Little Town. And don’t even try to cancel the show or quit, if you’ve got a role in it.

    “Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow in Apex Magazine
    Short story

    A beautiful story told from the POV of a dead man who is tasked with collecting the souls of others who die. But then one day, he is tasked with collecting a soul he doesn’t want to collect.

  5. ticky for tracking purposes, although I have several promising candidates that I hope to get to now that I’ve finished with my “finish up 2020 reading for Hugo nomination purposes”

  6. Novella

    Across the Green Grass Fields, Seanan McGuire, tordotcom

    An enjoyable standalone entry that didn’t end up where I was expecting. Felt a bit like McGuire realized she was closing in on word count and needed to finish.

    Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard, tordotcom

    I seem to be in a minority in liking rather than loving this, though I love de Bodard in general. Love and possession, and another work that felt like it was the wrong length for its subjects – I felt like I’ve read this story before, without enough to distinguish this version.

  7. Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

    Wench, Maxine Kaplan, Amulet Books

    The titular wench goes on a quest to regain her lost inn. The plot can be all over the place, but the main character is fun to watch being very good at undervalued skills.

  8. “Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow in Apex Magazine
    Short story

    I second Cora’s recommendation. A wonderfully moving tale about the workflow of life and death with just the right amount of wry humor.

  9. A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

    Novel

    An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for an envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

    Following up as stunning a debut as “A Memory Called Empire” with a sequel is a difficult task, and choosing to go in a very different direction for the second book makes it even harder. But Martine pulls it off, presenting a first contact space opera that doubles as an extended discourse on identity – personal, cultural, philosophical, and how to maintain it (if it can be maintained) in the face of colonialism, political pressure, technological advance, and shifting paradigms.

  10. A second vote for:

    Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher

    Novel (2nd in a series)

    The plot has been recapped above already, so I’ll just say — this book is, if anything, even better than Paladin’s Grace. And yes, there is a gnole in it.

  11. (Oh, and A Desolation Called Peace is also the second book in a series. I should have mentioned that in my review.)

  12. Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

    Novel (YA, fourth in a series)

    When Bitterblue’s envoys to Winterkeep drown under suspicious circumstances, she and Giddon and her half sister, Hava, set off to discover the truth –- putting both Bitterblue’s life and Giddon’s heart to the test when Bitterbue is kidnapped. Giddon believes she has drowned, leaving him and Hava to solve the mystery of what’s wrong in Winterkeep.

    Every now and then, a young adult novel comes around which acknowledges the fact that if a teenager went through the things a teenager typically goes through in a young adult novel, it would seriously mess them up. Like, years of needing therapy kind of messing up. This is one of them, and I’m here for it. Unsurprisingly given that, Lovisa’s storyline was the most interesting to me in this one, and I also appreciated the contrast with Bitterblue, who went through terrible trauma when she was younger but has come out the other side of it. The other storylines had aspects I liked (the examination of grief in Giddon’s, and complicity in Ad’s), but Lovisa was, I think, the emotional heart of this book.

  13. The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck
    Novel

    Thistle doesn’t remember his original name. It was stolen from him when one of the immortal fey-like beings who rules the Gardens took him as a servant. When his mistress is exiled, he’s determined to chase her down and make her return his name. With the help of his friend Dora, he sets off on a journey that will span worlds.

    I absolutely loved Tidbeck’s short story collection Jagannath, and I was thrilled to see that this novel returns to the world and characters featured in a couple of those stories. The book has the atmosphere of a fairy tale, and the titular Memory Theater felt like something out of Gaiman’s Sandman.

  14. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

    Novel (4th in a series/shared universe, but a largely standalone story)

    At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from the planet, a small group of strangers are thrown together there.

    This may be the most Becky Chambers plot of all time. Due to a traffic delay, some people are forced to hang out with each other. Snacks are served. Eventually, something happens, yes, but the story is far more about the interactions, the emotions, the disagreements, and the moments of accord. It’s pretty beautiful.

  15. Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

    Novel (YA, 2nd in a duology, 7th in an overarching series)

    As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. Zoya Nazyalensky saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

    My reaction to Leigh Bardugo books is pretty much all over the map — she has books I love, books I like, and books that don’t really do it for me. This one is firmly in the “like” category, but it’s on the high end of that, mostly thanks to the main characters, who are endlessly interesting and worth rooting for. So even though a couple of the plot points seemed tied up a little too neatly and easily at the end (not all of them, but some), it was always an enjoyable read.

  16. (I really, really want to read Tidbeck’s The Memory Theater — I’m very fond of both Jagannath and Amatka — but I’m waiting until it’s available in the UK in something other than Extremely Expensive Hardcover form.)

  17. Bridge of Souls by Victoria Schwab

    Novel (Middle-Grade, 3rd in a series)

    Cass thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while travelling for her parents’ TV show. But nothing can prepare Cass for New Orleans, which wears all of its hauntings on its sleeve. And the city’s biggest surprise is a foe Cass never expected to face: a servant of Death itself.

    This one was a bit less of a mystery in approach than the first two were, and a little bit more of a thriller. I was happy to see Lara return to the series, and appreciated the narrative’s rejection of some of the typical conventions around fate and sacrifice. And as usual, this was a cool, fun book in a cool, fun series.

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