2018 Recommended SF/F List

By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2018-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.

305 thoughts on “2018 Recommended SF/F List

  1. @Kendall and Mike Glyer: Thanks so much for the fix! It looks like a weird extra “file770.com” got added in on my attempt, probably as testament to my deep, unconditional love of the site (or something…)

    @Greg good to know on the Taste of Wrath length and eligibility. Raising the hard cut-off to 48,000 words also brings the category more in line with what is actually being published as a novella at present (I believe, for example, that tor.com’s cut-off is 50,000 words), so I hope the amendment goes through without issue this year.

  2. Arifel’s adventures in ARCs, Pt. 2. Elevenfox Gam- er, Ninefox’s Eleve- no, wait: REVENANT GUN by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire book 3)

    The final volume in this trilogy stuck the landing for me, bringing the series to a close in a highly satisfying way.

    In terms of content, it’s more in the vein of Raven Stratagem than Ninefox Gambit – i.e. more political strategising and broader glimpses of life in the Hexarchate, fewer space-magic battle sequences – and while I did miss all the intentionally incomprehensible formations and sigils, there’s more than enough new worldbuilding elements to make up for it, including plenty of time with the servitor robots, who continue to be wonderful.

    Some great character work, including the interesting choice to bring in another iteration of General Shuos Jedao as a teenager with no memory of his future actions; it took me a while to warm up to this decision but it ends up working well with several of the book’s themes and plot points without feeling like too much of a retread of old material.

    All in all, if you enjoyed the first two books in this series then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with this – I strongly suspect it’s going to be a contender for next year’s Hugos and is definitely in play for my ballot, although its early days yet…

    Longer review with spoilers for first two books is here, this time with added URL-proofing…

  3. Space Opera by Cat Valente – A really fun book that my biggest complaint of is that joy beaming through each sentence is almost overwhelming trying to digest the paragraph before when then next is all up in your face. It’s like the book equivalent of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. Still a lot of fun, and lots of brilliant lines throughout.

  4. Matt Y, I’m a third of the way through Space Opera and enjoying the hell out of it; I gather from your post that it sticks the landing. If it does, it’s on my Hugo Longlist. (Granted, it’s early days yet…)

  5. Cassy – I felt it did, it pulls together many things referenced earlier in a super bombastic way, which is pretty much the only way anything happens in the book.

    Last year I read Blues Horror (White Tears), Rock Horror (Mad Black Wheel), and Metal Fantasy (Kings of the Wyld). Musically themed is almost a sub-genre on it’s own and I’m a-ok with that.

  6. “The Rabbit”, by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
    Short Story
    Creepy and evocative, a sharp little horror story told with just the right number of words.

    “The Six Boy-Coffins”, by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
    Short Story
    A retelling of “The Six Swans” with a hefty dose of sardonic humor and a nice feminist punch at the end.

    These stories both come from the collection The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg (it may be listed as being by Mallory Ortberg). The two above are, in my opinion, the standout stories of the collection, and they’re great.

    The collection overall is somewhat hit-or-miss, and I wouldn’t give a high recommendation to some of the stories. However, other stories in the collection that I did enjoy included:
    “The Daughter Cells”
    “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad”
    “The Frog’s Princess”, and
    “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”.

  7. N: There’s an annual rec list on Goodreads; the 2019 rendition is up.

    It looks as though that is all categories mixed together? I see novels, novellas, nonfiction, graphic novels, and semiprozines in that list.

  8. @JJ: Uh, yeah. I brought up the possibility of splitting the lists, but as of now the main Hugos are all lumped together, as is tradition. There is the benefit of looking at each choice on the list more closely.

  9. I’m listening to Space Opera, and while the lines the reader delivers are delightful, I can’t tell one of his character voices from another.
    FWIW, if someone did an audio play adaptation, this would ROCK! And I’m mostly amusical…
    Going get the book and temporarily shelve Barbary Station to read this and reread Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  10. (I posted this in a scroll but forgot to post it here too)

    The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Boddard (Novella, c20,000 words)

    This is set in her Xuya series of Space Opera stories, but I suspect it will stand alone reasonably well as the characters are all new.

    The official blurb is

    Once, the mindship known as The Shadow’s Child was a military transport. Once, she leapt effortlessly between stars and planets, carrying troops and crew for a war that tore the Empire apart. Until an ambush killed her crew and left her wounded and broken.Now the war is over, and The Shadow’s Child, surviving against all odds, has run away. Discharged and struggling to make a living, she has no plans to go back into space. Until the abrasive and arrogant scholar Long Chau comes to see her. Long Chau wants to retrieve a corpse for her scientific studies: a simple enough, well-paid assignment.But when the corpse they find turns out to have been murdered, the simple assignment becomes a vast and tangled investigation, inexorably leading back to the past–and, once again, to that unbearable void where The Shadow’s Child almost lost both sanity and life…

    The less respectful blurb might be “She’s a Mindship, traumatised by previous military service. She’s a consulting detective with a shadowy past. Together, they fight crime….”

    Although it’s quick and easy to call it Space Opera Sherlock Holmes I do think it quickly rises above just being a pastiche or homage – the characters aren’t just tributes to the classic stories, they have their own origins that fit into the Xuya universe and work within it. I think it’s most successful as a character piece – the mystery is decent but there’s only 20,000 words or so to work with – and that’s what makes me really like it, as the two characters very slowly open up just enough to let the other want to stick around with them.

    If you already like the Xuya stories then this is well worth your time. If you’ve not tried them then I think this is a good jumping on points, and it’s also the best novella of the year I’ve read so far.

  11. Just finished The Human Dress by Graydon Saunders. It was dense, and chewy, and skaldic. It felt like a fantastical Norse epic, with feathered dinosaurs and magic and a certain amount of chemistry (once you realize that “soot-stuff” is carbon and “breath-stuff” is oxygen and so forth….

    I enjoyed it, but it’s NOT a quick read. It’s currently on my Hugo longlist, but it’s early days yet…

  12. For those (like me) interested in seeing more webcomics in serious contention for the Graphic Story award, Ophiuchus just finished its run on Tumblr.

    Ophiuchus is a comic created by Natasha Tara Petrovic and Ali Leriger de la Plante. It follows the story of two robots and a skeleton as they set out on a pilgrimage to defeat the virus that’s infecting their world.

    I’ve seen high praise for it, so I’m definitely giving it a shot. Hey, it’s free. And the art style’s really beautiful.

    First page here.

  13. The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang – this is fantasy in an Asian setting with very heavy parallels to China and Japan around the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We follow Rin, a dark southern peasant girl in the giant Nikara Empire (*cough* China), as she aces the country-wide examinations and gets into the elite Sinegard military academy. Fighting discrimination from other students and faculty, she nevertheless continues to excel and discovers an aptitude for the unusual and largely forgotten Shamanistic arts. Unfortunately, war is once again looming with the nearby Mugen Federation (… Japan), and once it hits it will put an early end to all these fighting magic school tropes, instead throwing Rin and her classmates into a war with a relentless, technologically advanced enemy which views them as less than human.

    There’s inescapable, escalating brutality in this book – I gave it content warnings for abuse, rape, body horror, self-harm, drug use, graphic violence and depictions of death, and genocide and there’s probably other elements that I’ve missed – and while I found it to be a real page turner after the first couple of chapters (which are… weirdly bad compared to the rest of the book) it’s definitely not for everyone. That said, I am glad I read it, and I think it deals with its subject matter very well: I didn’t find the level of atrocities gratuitous as they do all feed in to the development of Rin as a character and to the story’s conclusion, and the historical parallels make it difficult to dismiss some of the worst scenes because they are based on real events. I’m still ruminating on how I feel about the level of parallel outside some of those scenes, particularly when it comes to the treatment of race and racism, but I can’t find fault with the worldbuilding beyond “well it could have been less transparently China and therefore more creative”, and I like reading about China so that wasn’t actually an issue…

    My longer review is here.

  14. @Kyra Oh, for sure. I’d read something similar from another reviewer so I was expecting the tone shift from part 1 to part 2; what I wasn’t expecting was for part 3 to be like “oh, you thought you had already seen the maximum level of gore and violence this book had to offer, how wrong you were!”

    I still believe it works for the story, but the more I think about it, the more I think I’d be rather upset if I’d picked it up on the basis of the blurb alone and then been shunted without warning from a moderately grimdark YA-ish teenage soldier story into the height of Sino-Japanese War atrocities. It’s a tricky one to market, to say the least…

  15. Adding to Matt Y and Cassy B’s recommendations of Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente. As a Eurovision Song Contest fan, this was never not going to be a good read for me, and its only gone up in my estimation since I finished it yesterday evening. Valente creates a world and a tone which is reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but replaces the pervasive sense of disappointment (embodied best in the grumbling of Marvin the Paranoid Android) with bombastic showmanship and relentless glitter – and beneath that, the quiet sense that community is possible even among the deeply flawed and incompatible races of her galaxy. The narrative bounces between the story of the two washed-up rockstars chosen to sing for humanity’s survival in a highly politicised intergalactic music contest, and giving us insights into the history and highlights of that contest, the wars which brought it about, and the wider state of the galaxy and the races that inhabit it.

    The style is indeed pretty full-on, but Valente has the skills to pull it off. Definitely on my longlist for now.

    (I’m not going to be able to keep up my current longform review pace for much longer, but I did turn one in for this too!)

  16. Read The Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff Vandemeer

    It’s a novella (or novellette?) set in the world of Borne, and is kind of interesting in that it’s a whole story set around a background detail from Borne that’s given it’s own story that is brutal in both the physical and psychological suffering a character deals with however also sweet and strange at the same time. Really enjoyed it.

    Arifel – ‘bombastic showmanship and relentless glitter’ is now probably the best way I’ve heard the book described.

  17. Laura – Darn it. I was going by the release date of the paperback on Amazon. Still a great story that slipped under my radar from 2017.

    Read The Listener by Robert McCammon and it takes its time to introduce the characters and story but once the pace picks up it doesn’t slow down. It’s published by Cemetery Dance but it’s not a horror novel.

    Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire which was fun but I didn’t get into it as much as the prior entry Down Among The Sticks And Bones.

  18. Highlight for a potential out-there Dramatic Presentation Short Form pick that may otherwise elude people’s radars. For her album Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe has released a short film of the same title, dubbed “an emotion picture.” It’s a mashup of music video-styled musical and a tear-jerking story of oppression and the loss of memory. Worth a watch.

  19. From Bonnie McDaniel on the old version of this thread:

    Short story: “The Sharp Edges of Anger,” Jamie Lackey, Apex Magazine April 2018.

    This is a powerful story, but it’s pretty damn bleak–to the point where I think you must have a certain amount of spoons to deal with it. It has similar themes, although an entirely different setting, to The Handmaid’s Tale, dealing with the oppression of women and women’s emotions and the price that extracts.

  20. Read Head On, which was enjoyable. It was sort of weird to go from The Strange Bid and Space Opera to Head On as most of the book feels more like a script as it’s extremely dialogue heavy. As a sci-fi book it reads more like a Robert B Parker mystery novel that just happens to have people remote piloting robots in it, which kind of shows well the Haden’s concept is introduced as it becomes just a natural background detail. Felt like a lot of information just dropped luckily into the agents laps or that Chris’s roommates were doing a bunch of the actual detective work for them, which if the series continues I’d hope they become more fleshed out as characters.

    I also think a Hilketa would translate very well into a video game.

  21. Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells


    Everyone’s favorite rogue android investigates its past.

    A solid follow-up to the great first volume. If the human characters in this one aren’t as interesting as the ones in the previous installment, Murderbot’s interactions with other constructs and AI’s start getting very interesting indeed in this one. And the unfolding story remains compelling.

  22. I loved it! You can read my full review of “Artificial Condition,” but I really liked that fact that in addition to having a rip-roaring adventure, Murderbot is also on a journey of personal discovery. However, I think it’s essential to read “All Systems Red” before reading this story.

    Normally when I recommend against reading a sequel without reading the original story first it’s because of background information about the setting and the plot that make the sequel confusing when read stand-alone. That’s not the case with “Artificial Condition.” In terms of plot and setting, it stands alone just fine, but the first novella did such an excellent job of establishing Murderbot’s character that I think this story really depends on us already loving Murderbot and being intensely interested in anything it does–especially in the first few chapters. The long dialogs between Murderbot and ART are great, but only if you’re already sold on Murderbot as a character.

  23. Novella

    Umbernight,” Carolyn Ives Gilman, Clarkesworld 137. Just over 18K words, so on the border with novelette.

    An old-school story of survival on a hostile planet, with wonderful worldbuilding to think about. I’d love to sit and listen to Gilman geek about the planning she did.

  24. Adding a +1 to Artificial Condition, a totally worthy continuation of Murderbot’s adventures (and the audiobook, narrated by Kevin R. Free, comes recommended by me too.)

    I also want to highly, highly recommend Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, a book I loved so much that I am now somewhat anxious about finding the right words to justify it. On a superficial level, this is an adventure story about an irrepressible girl and her Quigutl (fantasy-alien lizard person) friend escaping the constraints of society and setting out on an episodic adventure to find a mythical world-snake. More importantly, it’s also a story about dealing with and overcoming trauma, and finding ways to move forward even when it feels like there are no good options. The way Hartman portrays emotional pain – particularly shame – resonated deeply in a way no other book has matched for me, and the supporting narrative and characters do extraordinary justice to Tess’ central story, presenting her with support and opportunities while not taking anything away from the fact that we are watching her journey, or giving her convenient options for getting over her past. Of course, it’s also got great worldbuilding, a diverse cast of characters with a high proportion of sympathetic older women, and mathematically-inclined dragons. (My full review)

    Content warnings for suicide ideation, sexual assault and infant death.

    Also, this is the same world (indeed, the same family) as Hartman’s previous books Seraphina and Shadow ScaleTess of the Road stands independently of that duology and I don’t think you need to have read the previous volumes to get the full effect, but there are some spoilers here for the ending of Shadow Scale.

  25. @Arifel: The last book I remember you recommending so highly, In Other Lands, was perhaps (it had tough competition) my favorite book of the year! So, a rec this strong from you means a lot. Thank you for posting this and linking to your review. 🙂

  26. @Kendall Aww, thank you 🙂 it’s been said before by others, but my favourite aspect of File770 book chat is getting a sense of what others enjoy and being able to pick up and make better recommendations because of it.

    In fact, one of the reasons I pushed past my worries in reviewing this book (aside from the fact it just demands to be read) is that I know several people on here, yourself included, really liked In Other Lands, and while this is a quite different (and less YA) read there are enough similarities that if you liked that, you’ll probably enjoy Tess too…!

  27. The Gloaming, by Kirsty Logan


    Mara knows she’ll eventually end her days atop the cliff, turned to stone and gazing out at the horizon. But a chance meeting with the magnetic Pearl draws her into a story that she never would have dreamed for herself before.

    This book is a moody and atmospheric piece of magical realism looking at family, loss, love, leaving home, and returning to it. It’s not a book that spells everything out, and I suspect it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I liked it.

  28. I cannot possibly recommend any higher or mostest the YA (technically) “Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword”, nor the aforementioned “Dirty Computer”, both of which are going on my ballot.

    Along with “Artificial Condition” — Murderbot II, Electric Boogaloo. And the fabulous (in so many ways) “Space Opera”. And “Tea Master and Detective” is also quite good and makes a neato pair with “Artificial Condition” if you need a quick paper on Compare and Contrast in SF Novellas.

    (Someday I hope to vote for a Dramatic Presentation version of “Space Opera”)

    No big content warnings AFAIK so feel free to read/watch on low-spoon days. Esp. “Peasprout Chen”.

  29. Novel

    Semiosis, Sue Burke

    Human colonists on a not-bad/not-great planet meet and learn to work with its other intelligent life. The early parts are written in generational segments. I would’ve loved to have even more of how the second intelligence communicates.

  30. I just finished Artificial Condition (Murderbot #2) by Martha Wells in audiobook. It was very great, and Kevin R. Free did another great job narrating! I’m super looking forward to the next installment. 😀 It was great to find out more about Murderbot’s history and see it interact with humans again, and with non-humans (this was especially good). Murderbot is growing as a person, slowly, in their own way. 😉

    The end of the recording was funky. I guess Recorded Books has narrators record some generic stuff for if/when they split up recordings, so this one (at the end of what’s only a 3.5 hour recording) ended with something that shouldn’t have been there in a single-file download: “This ends disc 1. (pause) Artificial Condition, disc 2. (pause) This ends disc 2. (pause) Artificial . . . ” etc. It went up to disc 5, LOL.

    Anyway, if you liked the first one, you’ll like this one. If you hated the first one, then – as with most series – you won’t care for this one, I suppose.

  31. Read Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel (book three and ending the trilogy of the Themis Files series) and it built from aliens and giant robots into using those things to discuss eugenics, balances of power, and more while still a deeply personal story of family. Enjoyed it though something at the end I felt was a bit of a cop out.

  32. +1 for Semiosis by Sue Burke.

    At first I thought it was going to be too grim and depressing. The colonists are trying to survive under very difficult conditions coming from both outside their group and within it. Trigger warnings for rape, murder and war. But I ended up caring very deeply about the outcomes and was glad it ended up being more uplifting than it seemed at first. In the end, I couldn’t put it down and read straight through the night.

  33. I’ll add another voice here in for:

    The Poppy War, by R. F. Kuang

    Novel (first in a trilogy)

    An excellent and powerful fantasy novel about the human cost of war, the price of vengeance, and the horror of mass death. Although in the beginning it uses some of the tropes of a YA novel, do not mistake it for one. By the end it is brutal, horrific, and very, very good.

  34. Short stories:

    Daily Science Fiction, “The Velvet Castles of the Night,” by Claire Eliza Bartlett. This is a neat deconstruction/subversion of the hero trope.

    Apex Magazine, “Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse,” by Cherie Priest. This is definitely a political allegory type of story, and furthermore it’s not hard to figure out who Mother Jones is talking to, so if you don’t like that kind of story don’t read this. But the emotions generated by the story build, and Priest’s prose just sings.

  35. Noir by Christopher Moore was really fun. I don’t know that I’d put it among his best work, but his writing is as always witty and clever and the insights he provided in his afterword about some San Fran history were detailed and interesting. Takes a bit before the story actually gains traction but his wordplay makes the time until then amusing and while it’s certainly a noir/pulp type book it also becomes a Sci Fi story.

  36. A potentially out-there pick for Best Related Work: Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War by Paul Scharre, all about the increasing use of robotics and artificial intelligence in the military. Granted, it’s not technically “about sci-fi,” but given that there’s precedence in the category for works along the same lines being nominated/winning (such as Cosmos) and that the category tends to be pretty insular, it might be worth shining a spotlight on a book that deals with the same concerns that a huge subset of sci-fi tackles, but in the realm of increasing nonfiction. Recommended especially for military sci-fi fans.


  37. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch is a kind of crazy time travel mystery book. Normally I’m not a fan of time travel fiction as it usually boils down to the same theme of fate vs free will. While the Goodreads description says it’s like Inception meets True Detective, it gave me Hyperion vibes with it’s time loops and occasionally bizarre imagery. Short list material for me for sure.

  38. Matt Y: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

    I loved that book right up until the very end, and then I hated it. What he did to his main character was horrible, and absolutely unforgivable. 😐

    (Content Warning for women readers who appreciate strong and smart female protagonists)

  39. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin, with David Naimon

    Nonfiction/Related Work

    Transcriptions of a series of interviews with Le Guin about writing and literature. Unsurprisingly, Le Guin is insightful, interesting, and always, always well worth listening to. This series of interviews is no exception to that.

  40. Novella:

    The Freeze-Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts

    A hard science fiction story about an AI ship powered by a singularity which travels the galaxy building a superhighway of wormhole gates, and the crew, who come to realize and resent that they are not getting to live a real life. This is a really interesting story about how the humans try to put together a rebellion against their AI, despite being awake only a few days every several thousand years, and being under its constant audio and video surveillance.

    It explores themes of isolation and human connection, what constitutes really “living”, and whether consent is true consent if the person giving it is unable to understand what they’re consenting to.

    For those who adore puzzles, the book has a built-in encrypted puzzle Easter egg which leads to a bonus story set in this universe.

    (more extensive writeup here)

  41. Novella:

    Umbernight, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld, Feb 2018)

    Multiple Hugo and Nebula finalist Gilman is one of those authors like Ted Chiang: not terribly prolific, but every story by her is a gem. A few people have already recommended this story, but I’m going to add my voice to theirs.

    This is a story about a scientist/cartographer in a human settlement on a distant planet. The newly-arrived colony was nearly killed off by unexpected hostile conditions, but managed to survive. A few generations have passed, but the third-and-last supply ship (dispatched via solar sail by their ancestors before departing to colonize the planet) is scheduled to arrive soon. But the dangerous season, which lasts for years, is almost upon them — and they have to decide whether to risk an expedition before retreating to the safety of their caves, or to wait for years to retrieve what may be essential supplies for them.

    The author creates a plausible, tangible vision of a world, with vividly alien lifeforms, and heartbreakingly human characters.

  42. The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard


    A living ship turned pharmacist and an arrogant but brilliant consulting detective team up to solve a mystery. An engaging tale that drops the reader into a far-future universe, but at the same time provides grounding with the comfortingly familiar tropes of a Sherlock Holmes story.

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