2019 Recommended SF/F List

By JJ: This thread is for posts about 2019-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:”
  • 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.

384 thoughts on “2019 Recommended SF/F List

  1. The Wicked King, by Holly Black

    Novel (YA, 2nd in a series)

    Holly Black knocks it out of the park with this deftly told tale of plots and counterplots, assassinations and assignations, passion and ambition. Early on, the main character is told that someone she trusts has already betrayed her. That might well be the theme for this entire book. The question isn’t whether it will happen; the only questions are who, when, how, and perhaps most importantly, why. Well done, and I can’t wait for the next one.

  2. The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

    Novel (3rd in a trilogy)

    The final book of the Winternight Trilogy turns out to be the best one of all. The storylines and ideas set up in the earlier books come together in an emotional, satisfying, yet still sometimes surprising conclusion. The first two books were good; this one was great.

  3. Good morning, JJ and Kyra! Haven’t started 2019 yet myself…just checking the box for now.

  4. Novella

    The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (tor.com publishing)

    Another triumph of worldbuilding from PDC. This is a vibrant, magical Cairo, but one that is evolving and growing – there’s a subplot around the culmination of a suffrage campaign – and the investigations of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is the perfect vehicle to explore it. (Set in the same world as A Dead Djinn in Cairo but only tangentially connected.)
    As a procedural investigation it benefits from a stronger structure than last years The Black God’s Drums, but perhaps loses a little of the surprise. I’d happily read more of these.

  5. Lodestar

    Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (Rick Riordan Presents)

    A fun and interesting meld of magic and science opera – spaceships powered by arcane energy, shapeshifting characters, the titular Dragon Pearl with the power to reshape planets. Min is a shapeshifting fox – a rare and mistrusted race in The Thousand Worlds – who runs away to space to find out what happened to her brother, who may have been on the trail of the missing Dragon Pearl. There’s some good stuff in here about family and friendships, a quick-moving plot, and an engaging lead character.

  6. Novel

    The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

    Characters, conspiracies, gods, and a bit of light stabbing.

    I pretty much loved this. I’m not sure it’s fair to immediately draw comparisons to her SF work, as there are as many differences as similarities, but you can’t help but see how her technique of weaving personal stories with Big Events works so well here as in the Ancillary books, not to mention the appearance of enigmatic deus-ex-machinas with translation problems.
    Having avoided most spoilers I was delighted at the twists and turns in here, albeit if you pay close attention you’ll be rewarded by working most of it out for yourself. The tight circle of characters with multiple motivations all pushing in different directions are controlled really well, and The Big Mystery (or mysteries really) are slowly revealed along with the worldbuilding.

    (Note – this is a standalone. There seem to be two different ways to read the ending, one of which is to assume it’s setting up an immediate sequel, and the other is to put together the implications that have been set up)

  7. I don’t have anything to recommend as yet but I want to follow the recommendations as they come. I’ll also take the opprtunity to remind other non-subscribers that the Gardner Dozois tribute issue of Asimov’s magazine (March/April 2019) is out there. I picked up a copy at a local Chapters last night; haven’t read much but it looks good.

  8. Graphic Story

    Vattu volume 3: The Tower and The Shadow
    By Evan Dahm
    https://vattucomic.tumblr.com (can be read free online)

    “Vattu is an anthropological fantasy epic; a story following a member of a nomadic culture caught in the midst of a clash of cultures.” It’s an interesting world with (only) various non-human races – and not the types you get in typical fantasy. Except perhaps for the canine humanoids (which admittedly could be taken as human stand-ins), the other races seem unique or at least extremely unusual to me, e.g., the Fluters. There’s politics, drama, and even some action. I enjoy this series so much, I’ve supported all three print volumes via Kickstarter, despite reading it online for free.

    ETA: This will be on my nominating ballot next year. 🙂

    [Bookmarking thread ‘cuz WordPress still almost never e-mails me, Le Sigh.]

  9. The Kingdom of Copper, by S.A. Chakraborty
    Novel (sequel to The City of Brass)

    In the first book of Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, Nahri found herself transported to a magical city inhabited by djinn. The last scion of the former ruling family, she quickly found herself thrust into the middle of the city’s simmering political tensions. In The Kingdom of Copper, those tensions reach the boiling point. Not only does Nahri have to navigate the increasingly perilous schemes of various factions, she also stands on the brink of learning crucial–and maybe devastating–information about her own past and heritage.

    Kingdom of Copper goes beyond avoiding the “middle book slump” that some trilogies suffer from. If anything, it’s even more exciting and engaging than the first book, because we get payoff for some of the mysteries and plot threads that were set up there. A couple of characters who were lightly sketched in the first novel get more depth, and interesting new characters are introduced.

    (I’ve been reading File770 for a while now, but this is my first post. Hi everyone!)

  10. Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape by Gregory Benford

    Hugo category: Novel
    Saga Press, January 15, 2019.

    This is a thematic sequel to Benford’s Nebula winning novel Timescape, in that it explores ramifications and possibilities of time travel, but is otherwise unrelated. A professor in 2002 in the midst of a divorce is killed in a car accident and wakes up in an alternate 1968. Trying to adjust and make a new life for himself he naturally trades on what he knows of the future he knew in his own timeline–and this along with other elements gives rise to the professor trying to avoid the assassinations of JFK and MLK. It’s a wild thriller that blends Hollywood, politics, travelers from other timelines out to make sure our time traveler doesn’t succeed in changing his new timeline, speculations on life and death, and circumstances that lead him to meet with Heinlein, PKD, and others. It’s an involving read and a lot of fun.

    Links to some reviews:


    And a link to an excerpt from Gary K. Wolfe’s review from the January 2019 issue of Locus:


  11. Longtime lurker, first time poster: city in the middle of the night by Charlie Jane Anders – amazing. Going on my Hugo ballot next year for sure

  12. Hi, 2019! It’s late, so I’m going to pay the tick-toll with just one rec for now:

    The True Queen by Zen Cho (A Sorcerer to the Crown Novel)

    Sorcerer to the Crown was a book very close to my heart in 2015, and I had a similarly wonderful time with the sequel. The True Queen returns to the regency-with-magic setting but takes us further afield to the independent Malaccan island of Janda Baik: home of witches and of twin girls, Muna and Sakti, who wash ashore with no memory of anything except their own relationship to each other. Through a series of circumstances, the girls are sent off to England – though only Muna makes it – to intersect with some returning favourites from the previous books and to resolve the mysteries surrounding their existence, as well as all the extra intrigue which Muna is dragged into once she arrives in England.

    Once again, Zen Cho excels at using the wry regency-era tone and melodramatic plotting against the forces of colonisalism, white supremacy and misogyny which are dominant both in the novel’s reality and our own, and the result is scathingly smart and funny, with plenty to think about at every turn. Scenes with returning dragon characters Rollo Threlfall and his Aunt Georgiana are particular showstoppers. Because of the focus on different characters and plots, this could be read as a standalone without missing much, although Sorcerer to the Crown is so great that, if this appeals, you really should just read them both. (Here’s my full review)

  13. I just wanted to second Mark’s recommendation of The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (novel) and to agree that going into it as spoiler-free as possible is very rewarding.

  14. Fresh out the gate…


    Starting off with some Long Form:

    Russian Doll (season 1) won’t be called sci-fi or fantasy by Netflix, but it totally fits the bill: the protagonist, Natya, finds herself in a Groundhog Day-esque loop and must find her way out, the twists being that the loop only resets when she dies and that there’s another person along for the ride. Natya is a game designer and the show feels written with the slight intention of invoking a video game, in the sense that there are characters who must engage in repetition in order to achieve an objective. There are also ruminations on the cyclical, restricting nature of time, both literal and figurative.

    But I’ve already said too much. This series is hilarious and heartbreaking and you need to watch it right now.

    That’s what I’ve seen. Also on my radar are the documentary Apollo 11, the animesque Alita: Battle Angel, The Death of Dick Long (what makes it sci-fi is apparently a spoiler), Claire Denis’ High Life, and the satirical-yet-earnest in its own weird way podcast Gay Future.

  15. Dramatic Presentation – Long Form
    “Captain Marvel”
    Starring Brie Larson & a cat

    This is a great movie, full of action, snark (mostly from Larson, who’s wonderful), and Marvel back story.

    They either gave a nice nod to a character from the comics, or they’re also setting them up to be a “surprise” addition to “Avengers: Endgame.” Either way, I appreciated seeing [rot13] Zbavpn Enzornh (Pncgnva Zneiry) nf n puvyq [/rot13] show up. 😀 Hopefully to be seen in “Avengers: Endgame”!

  16. Seconding Cora’s rec for Matthew Baker’s “Life Sentence” in Lightspeed. In a future where prison sentences have been replaced by memory-wipes, does a convicted criminal try to rebuild their former life as much as possible (sans the choice to commit a crime), or do they try to become a different person altogether? I was impressed by how the structure of the story paralleled the protagonist’s cautious discovery and exploration of the family and life he no longer remembers, and the moral dilemma of whether or not to seek out the actual nature of the unremembered crime he committed.

  17. My daughter just finished “The People’s Future of the United States”. 3 stories are going on her 2020 long list:

    “Chapter 5: Disruption and Continuity [excerpted]” by Malka Older. Documentation fics are always a favorite.

    “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death”, by N. K. Jemison. Because DRAGONS.

    “Harmony” by Seanan McGuire. Because living together with all the queer friends is The Dream.

  18. The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn, Unbound Books
    Best Related Work
    Available (currently in ebook form) at: https://unbound.com/books/robert-heinlein/

    This book is a historical and literary criticism of Heinlein’s work, trying to put all of his various works, fiction and nonfiction, juvenile and adult, in the context of one another, his evolving political views, and the time in which he wrote. I very much enjoyed the book and its perspectives.

    I stopped reading Heinlein’s later works years ago after Time Enough for Love. I had gotten the impression from various reviews that his subsequent work had gotten more and more self-referential and derivative. Mendlesohn’s descriptions of those books and how they expand on themes he had explored earlier has renewed my interest in seeking them out, along with several of the juveniles that I haven’t read before.

    One historical perspective that she mentions is how the juvenile career books reflect the growing professionalism of American society in the 30s and 40s. The age at which young protagonists are seeking career training and taking on adult responsibilities grows from early teens in the first books to late teens in the later ones (including Starship Troopers, which she argues belongs among the career books), reflecting the changes in American society as we moved from the Depression to the postwar years.

    Highly recommended.

  19. Short Story

    “That Our Flag Was Still There,” Sarah Pinsker, from the anthology If This Goes On, edited by Cat Rambo, Parvus Press

    This might be a little under the radar, as it comes from a Kickstarted anthology (and one I supported). It’s an overtly political anthology and does not hide this fact, so it won’t be for everyone. But this story was definitely the highlight, for me, with its themes of the price of patriotism and the choice to speak out.

  20. Best Series

    Lady Astronaut by Mary Robinette Kowal. The qualifying work is the short story “Articulated Restraint,” Feb 2019, Tor.com.

    Lady Astronaut didn’t qualify for Best Series in 2019 because the word count at 238,581 was just shy of the required 240,000. The new short story has a word count of 5,674, so it’s qualified now.

    I absolutely loved The Calculating Stars this past year and the follow up novel was great too. I hope Kowal will be writing more in this series.

  21. Alliance Rising by CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher

    category: novel and/or series

    Grandmaster Cherryh returns to her multiple-award-winning Alliance/Union series after a hiatus of several years, with a story set many years before the other books in the series. This one tells of the very beginnings of the Merchanter’s Alliance, in the time just before the Company Wars, when Earth will try to re-assert control over her young colonies.

    Despite a slow, exposition-filled start, this one quickly turns into an cracking adventure, with lots of intrigue and political machinations, and a number of interesting characters–some of whom, series readers will know, are destined to become legends. It’s not the best book in the series, but it’s a pretty good one. And it certainly serves to qualify one of SF’s best long-running series for a best series award!

    (I had actually thought this was a 2018 book, but online sources say it was published Jan 8.)

  22. Novella

    Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (tor.com publishing) (c38,000 words)

    A solid, interesting, and exciting tale of ecological disaster and time travel.

    In the not-so-distant future, the earth has suffered an ecological collapse. Humanity is on borrowed time, unable to feed itself. Someone has developed very limited, very unreliable time-travel – only a small change is needed to give them a chance at survival, but can they achieve it?

    This is clever and well-written stuff, with a twisty structure that suits a time-travel tale. Being a novella there’s a lot not explored – the tech and time travel is rather sketched out, and more importantly I wanted to get more of the protagonist’s backstory – but that’s the nature of the novella length.

  23. Dramatic Presentation Short Form:

    Love, Death + Robots: “Three Robots” (Netflix)

    Animated short based on a story by John Scalzi. Three snarky robot tourists visit the post-apocalyptic landscape where humans once lived, and uncover some surprising secrets.

  24. @Mark re: Permafrost

    When I went to look at that on Amazon, it said “#1 in Antarctica Travel Guides.” 🙂

    You and I seem to have similar tastes, so I’ll give it a shot.

  25. Best Novel

    The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley

    This is my first really good read this year, and it sets a high bar. This is military SF combined with time travel, and it’s a dense, chewy, twisty read. This being Kameron Hurley, she does not pull her punches when it comes to the brutality of war, but she also digs deep into the world she has set up to find horrors there as well. In a lot of ways, this is a response to, and a rebuke of, Starship Troopers, but it’s a book only Kameron Hurley could write.

  26. Best Novel

    Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

    This is a magical realism take on a reimagined fairytale type of story. If you’ve read Oyeyemi’s work before, this is in the same vein. I agree with the reviewer who called it wildly imagined and head-spinning. I’m still processing it. Although it reads quickly, it’s the kind of book which asks for close attention and thoughtfulness from the reader. But it’s definitely worth reading.

  27. Novel

    Kill the Farm Boy
    By Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson

    This was a fun novel, although at times the puns and especially the scatalogical humor seemed a little forced to me. (Almost to the point of “look what I did here, reader! Isn’t this funny? Huh? Huh?”) But there was a competent and at times unexpected roasting of fantasy tropes in amongst the adolescent bodily-function humor, and I think it’s a worthwhile read. Probably won’t make my ballot, but I don’t mind spotlighting it here for others.

  28. Not sure if this is a DRAMATIC PRESENTATION WATCH, but it might be extra useful for stray Nebula Award voters for Best Game Writing. Check out Hypnospace Outlaw, a game set in an alternate history early Internet. (Steam link).

  29. Kill the Farm Boy is from 2018. It has a sequel (or at least set in the same world) coming out on April 16 called No Country for Old Gnomes.

  30. “A Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse”
    by Lynette Mejia
    published in If This Goes On, anthology edited by Cat Rambo
    Short Story

    After the apocalypse, the narrator journals about her gardening efforts. Though narrowly focused, I got a strong sense of the world that the characters had survived.

    I was reading this anthology at lunch and this story made me tear up. Getting to know the characters through the gardening journal was a good framing device, and also showed the problems of the larger world.

    Definitely on my long list for next year.

  31. Ooops; thanks, Laura. For some reason I thought KtFB was from this year. Sorry, folks!

  32. +1 for the “Three Robots” episode in the Love, Death + Robots series. Fun, interesting characters and great animation!

  33. Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear. Despite being in almost the same universe as Carnival and the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, this story is satisfying in one volume. Rollicking adventure in space, and I think Bear’s best novel so far. Contains space pirates, cats who act like cats, a giant preying mantis cop, friendly AIs, epic discussion of True Space Communism versus Libertarianism, a computronium Dyson sphere and a mysterious buried treasure.

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