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.

168 thoughts on “2021 Recommended SF/F List

  1. Novella

    Elder Race, Adrian Tchaikovsky, tordotcom

    A royal daughter calls on the sorcerer who aided her ancestress; an anthropologist investigates a puzzling new threat. I really enjoyed this story of contrasting worldviews and a common foe.

  2. Malice, by Heather Walter

    Novel (1st in a duology)

    With less than a year until the curse will kill Princess Aurora, any future that Alyce might see with her is swiftly disintegrating. Because everyone already knows how this story ends. Aurora is the beautiful princess. And Alyce? Alyce is the villain.

    I’m very fond of queer fairytale retellings. This wasn’t perfect, and in particular I think it had a bit of “debut novel” roughness — particularly at the end, where there was rather a lot going on. But it was an enjoyable read, and I’ll be picking up the second book in the duology to see how it all turns out.

  3. Just got around to reading “Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow in Apex Magazine and I join the voices recommending it highly. It’s great – sad and hopeful mixed together.

    I’m trying to read more short stories for the Hugo nominating ballot as I have some open slots. If anyone has a story they love, please point me towards it and I’ll consider it. But, the pandemic is making it hard to appreciate dark or horror stories, so fair warning – I’ll probably skip those. Which, now I come to think of it, is probably how I ended up with some empty slots in the first place.

  4. @Loren Gray, damn. Thank you for linking to “Mr. Death.” I’m sitting here sobbing, but in a good way. It’s on my nomination ballot, now.


  5. Novel

    The Death of Jane Lawrence, Caitlin Starling, St. Martin’s Press

    Jane Shoringfield negotiates a marriage of convenience in a magical non-quite-Britain. Her new husband’s conditions for the marriage have very complicated antecedents.

    Your mileage will vary tremendously depending on your tastes and incoming expectations. The blurb and marketing I’ve seen have been vaguely “horror-tinged Gothic romance,” and I’d flip that to “romance-tinged Gothic horror.” One fairly vague spoiler: N ybg bs crbcyr ybbxvat sbe zber ebznapr jvyy ernyyl qvfyvxr gur erfbyhgvba, gubhtu V fhccbfr fbzr jvyy svaq vg fngvfsnpgbel.

  6. Novella

    Comfort Me With Apples, Catherynne M. Valente, tordotcom

    Definitely one you should go into without knowing what all the elements are, but a mash-up that fits together in disturbing ways.

  7. Novel

    Light From Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki, Tor Books

    Tonally this has a really strong “Becky Chambers/Wayfarers read-alike” feel. Some past actions of one of the characters are never really addressed, which was unsatisfying.

  8. @Lace, I’m not requesting spoilers for Comfort Me With Apples, but I’m not generally a horror reader, and the cover image looks horror to me. So I have one question: Will this novel interfere with my being able to go to sleep? (As a baseline metric, Kingfisher’s The Hollow Places gave me nightmares for weeks. I loved it, but it messed me up…)

  9. @Cassy – tough question. I don’t regard myself as a horror reader in general. I have almost no tolerance for visual horror, but most written horror either isn’t my jam (splatter, etc.) or doesn’t wreck my sleep (creeping psychological dread). I haven’t read The Hollow Places yet, but Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones didn’t shake me at all.

    Comfort Me with Apples is more creeping dread than splatter – I’d call it dark fantasy rather than horror. I’d probably put the dread just above some of the creepier bits of Kingfisher’s Clocktaur War, if you’ve read those. But the resolution of CMwA might be a bit disturbing if you’re apt to dwell on imagery.

    Hope this helps – my overall sense is that this wouldn’t wreck you, but might give you some unease.

  10. Lace, this Twitter post of mine gives some idea of what reading Comfort Me With Apples was like for me:

    Been working hard to avoid spoilers before reading @catvalente’s COMFORT ME WITH APPLES, so…

    Me: Gorgeous, lush language, “normal” hyped up to “weird and creepy”…oh wait, that’s even weirder…AND creepier…oh…oh shit…oh SHIT…OH SH-I-I-I–I-TTT…

  11. @Lace and @Bruce Arthurs, thank you both; that’s actually very helpful.

    I shall buy it and save it to read for a bright sunny day when I have a great many spoons to spare…

  12. Short story

    I Was a Teenage Space Jockey, Stephen Graham Jones, Lightspeed 138, November 2021

    I just put in my preliminary Hugo ballot yesterday, so this one comes after I’ve been weighing up some of my favorites from the year. The main ding against it is the question of whether or not it’s SFF. But a great story of a pair of sixth graders having an adventure in an arcade near Halloweeen.

  13. Lodestar

    Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao

    This really leans into the YA in many ways – Hunger Games with mecha wouldn’t be an unfair comparison. Compelling main character if you don’t mind them ruthless.

  14. Novella

    The Album of Dr. Moreau, Daryl Gregory

    SF murder mystery with the members of a genetically engineered human-animal hybrid boy-band as the main suspects. Some interesting choices by Gregory that pay off well – the time period is 2001, not “today,” and the nods to the genre classics go deeper than the title.

  15. Novel
    The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes (The Divide #1)

    I agree with 95% of @JJ’s comment about the book, plus JJ writes much better book commentary than me, so there’s the link! 🙂 My only minor disagreement is that while some of the characters are misfits, they didn’t put me in mind of “Firefly” (but yes, the Drudgers are totally Reavers, though alien).

    It had very interesting world-building & tech, and I liked the characters a lot. Things bulid slowly at first (not boring, just introducing characters and situtions), but it starts to snowball and eventually you can hardly catch your breath. 😉

    The excellent audiobook has two narrators: one of my favorites (Andrew Eiden) and someone new to me (Nicol Zanzarella, also quite good).

    Unusual for me, I didn’t just get the sequel; I started listening to it within a day or so. Usually I switch to another genre or listen to something shorter, and occasionally take quite a while to get to the next book. But I really, really wanted to know what happened in book 2, so I didn’t wait. 🙂

  16. Terciel & Elinor, by Garth Nix

    Novel (YA, prequel to a series)

    In Ancelstierre, nineteen year-old Elinor lives a secluded life. She does not know she is deeply connected to the Old Kingdom until a plot by an ancient enemy brings Terciel to her door. In a single day of fire and death and loss, Elinor finds herself set on a path which will embroil her in the struggle of the Abhorsens against the Dead.

    Did you ever wonder how Sabriel’s parents met? Neither did I, honestly, but it turns out to be a reasonably interesting story. While I was a bit more interested in Elinor’s side of things than Terciel’s, it’s still a good addition to a great series.

  17. Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr (Charles Scribner’s)
    “The novel centers around an Ancient Greek codex that links characters from fifteenth-century Constantinople, present-day Idaho, and a twenty-second-century starship.”
    Or so at least it appears.
    More (and perhaps too much) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Cuckoo_Land_(novel)
    Best just to jump into it.

  18. Novel
    Far from the Light of Heaven, Tade Thompson

    Just finished this one. It’s going on my Hugo list. Nominally a locked-room murder mystery in space, it is so much more than that. The world-building is astounding, and the people (and various peoples) who struggle within it are viscerally real.

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