2017 Hugo Recommendation List

Here I shall start my listing of outstanding stories, novels et cetera for next year. (This is as much to remind myself of what I've read and liked as to share with others.)

Novels

Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff (review here, with spoilers). (The first really good book I've read this year, and it's a stunner. Science fiction, horror, and an unflinching look at racism in the time of Jim Crow, and by extension, even today.)

Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel (review here, with spoilers). (Don't let the transcribed-interview format put you off. This is a nicely done science fiction thriller and a fast, gripping read, with plenty to think about after the last page is turned.)

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (review here, with spoilers). (This book is, in various places, a contemporary fantasy, an example of magical realism, and the modern-day absurdist equivalent of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. About two-thirds of the way through, its intricate plot and diametrically opposed protagonists come together, and it's a nail-biting ride to the end.)

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (review here, with spoilers). (I think this author is my discovery of the year: I was mightily impressed by the first work I read of his, a story listed below, and his first novel is even better. It's a crackling space opera with two well-drawn characters at its heart.)

Breath of Earth, Beth Cato (review here, with spoilers). (Another recent discovery, this is a steampunk alternate history with some fascinating twists on earth magic and "fantastics," the author's term for mythical creatures--she has unicorns pulling carts in San Francisco, for instance. This is also a strong, fast-paced story, but the worldbuilding is really well done.)

The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (review here, with spoilers). (This is the sequel to this year's Hugo winner for Best Novel, The Fifth Season. This is a quieter sort of story, and structurally maybe not as impressive, but it's made up for by the deep characterization. It's obviously setting up for the third and final book in the trilogy, but it's still an impressive story in its own right.)

Underground Airlines, Ben H. Winters (review here, with spoilers). (This is an alternate history of the Civil War--as in, it didn't happen, and slavery still exists in the United States today. The author is uncompromising in exploring every facet of his grim vision. It's tough to read, but I think it's fantastic.)

The Fireman, Joe Hill (review here, with spoilers). (This was...okay. It's basically Joe Hill's version of The Stand, and not quite as supernatural as his father's magnum opus. Hill is a fine writer, but this book felt bloated to me; I thought a couple hundred pages could have been chopped out of the middle without missing much.)

Feedback, Mira Grant (review here, with spoilers). (I love the Newsflesh series. Unfortunately, this book, the fourth, was disappointing, as I never really connected with the characters. The ending was also unsatisfying.)

Red Right Hand, Levi Black (review here, with spoilers). (This is the latest in a sort of trend--retellings of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. This one plays it straight, and is as slimy, bloody and gory as you'd expect. One element of the protagonist's characterization, however, nearly ruined the book for me. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary.)

Invasive, Chuck Wendig (review here, with spoilers). (This is pretty much a forgettable summer beach read, the child of Them! and Jurassic Park, with a generous helping of George R.R. Martin's Sandkings thrown in for good measure.)

Behind the Throne, K.B. Wagers (review here, with spoilers). (This was so-so. It follows a pretty standard formula: the heiress who fled home gets dragged back, the empire is in chaos, her family members are being murdered, and she has to decide whether to take up that life she turned her back on. As I understand it, however, the author is eligible for the John Campbell award for Best New Writer, and that's where I will list her name.)

Central Station, Lavie Tadhar (review here, with spoilers). (This is not exactly a novel, but rather a collection of previously published and apparently extensively reworked stories, united by a common setting (the titular Central Station) and featuring a rotating cast of characters. The writer is very good, but the stories, with the exception of the outstanding "Strigoi"--I wish the writer had fleshed that out into a book, instead of the one we got--lack an overarching plot and seem to be spinning their wheels.)

Arabella of Mars, David D. Levine (review here). (This is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned Jules Verne-esque adventure. I wish the proposed Young Adult Hugo existed this year--this would be the perfect book to nominate for it.)

Short Stories

"Razorback," Ursula Vernon, Apex Magazine January 2016 (Can you tell Ursula Vernon is one of my favorite short story writers? Her characters have wonderful voices, and she creates the most wonderful moods in her stories. In this story, the death of a razorback hog will make you cry.)

"There Will Always Be a Max," Michael R. Underwood, Tor.com, April 2016 (This seems to be a sort of meta takeoff of the Mad Max franchise.)

"Soursop," Chikodili Emelumadu, Apex Magazine, January 2016 (This story packs a tight, horrific punch into 1900 words.)

"Death Flowers of Never Forgotten Love," Jason Sanford, Apex Magazine, March 2016. (Another very short story with a punch, this one grows on you with additional readings. It's about love and death and memories, and hanging on to what you knew even as everyone else is eager to wipe it away.)

"Dune Time," Jack Nicholls, April 2016, Tor.com. (An engaging mix of fantasy and horror, set in a creepily alien Sahara Desert. You'll never look at a sand dune the same way again.)

"The Laura Ingalls Experience," Andrew Neil Gray, Apex Magazine April 2016. (A haunting meditation on death, Laura Ingalls, and a sister's love.)

"Blessed Are Those Who Have Seen and Do Not Believe," D.K. Thompson, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #191, January 2016. (This is an unlikely combination of Darwinism--not the kind you'd think--spiritualism, vampires, and angels, topped off with an unlikable but compelling narrator.)

"1957," Stephen Cox, Apex Magazine, May 2016. (A twisty time-travel story, or maybe a twisty diverging-futures story? Either way, you should really read it twice to get the full import. It's subtle and creepy and memorable.)

"The Stories She Tells Herself," Kelly Sandoval, 4/1/16, Daily Science Fiction. (This online magazine is very hit and miss, I've found. This particular story hits the bulls-eye.)

"And the Blessing of the Angels Came Upon Them," Dean Wells, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #193, 2/18/16. (This story is almost uncategorizable, a mix of horror, fantasy and science fiction. It's about an abandoned colony on a world inimical to human life, the lengths people will go to to survive, and how those survivors will believe the most beautiful of lies.)

"A Salvaging of Ghosts," Aliette de Bodard, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #195, 3/17/16. (Lyrical and surreal, this is a story of a mother's love for her daughter, and how she comes to terms with her grief and learns to let go. The setting is wonderful.)

"The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One," Jy Yang, Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2016. (I would never have thought that a story of alien cannibalism could be as powerful as this, but it is. Go read it.)

"Lullaby for a Lost World," Aliette de Bodard, Tor.com, 6/8/16. (This is a story of death, and revenge, and a price that is too high to pay, and a unicorn unlike any you've ever seen. Tremendous.)

"Sic Semper, Sic Semper, Sic Simper," Douglas F. Warrick, Tor.com. (This is one of the most startling stories I've read this year, with a gonzo opening line. A heady mixture of Abraham Lincoln, time travel, the relationship between fathers and sons, and retreating inside oneself--quite literally--over and over again to avoid facing uncomfortable truths. This is the kind of story that shakes your world.)

"The Souls of Horses," Beth Cato. (This is from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5. A sampler of stories from this anthology, including this one, can be found here. I'd seen this anthology before, but hadn't ordered it; reading this story--lovely and hard-hitting in equal measure--made me remedy that lack very quickly.)

"The Wind At His Back," Jason Kimble. (Also from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5, this is a startling, mythological Western that you think surely must have existed, somewhere. I'd love to read a book set in this world.)

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," Brooke Bolander, Uncanny Magazine November/December 2016. (This is a flash story done right. Every word counts, and it adds up to an incredible punch. Also, remember Uncanny won the Best Semiprozine Hugo this year. Stories like this are a big reason why.)

"The Evaluators: To Trade With Aliens, You Must Adapt," N.K. Jemisin, Wired magazine 12/13/16. (N.K. Jemisin, the winner of the 2016 Hugo for Best Novel, writes beautiful, brutal stories. This story is like a nested Russian doll with a sting--the final entry, and the final line, will [metaphorically] kill you dead.)

"After We Walked Away," Erica L. Satifka, Apex Magazine, November 2016. (This is a powerful epilogue to Ursula K. LeGuin's classic story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.")

"The Love It Bears Fair Maidens," K.T. Bryski, Apex Magazine, December 2016. (This story takes the unicorn/fair maiden trope and turns it inside out. Well done.)

"And Then, One Day, the Air Was Full of Voices," Margaret Ronald, Clarkesworld Magazine No. 117, June 2016. (This is a bittersweet story, addressing Fermi's paradox and what happens when you stumble upon that alien civilization four hundred years too late.)

"Things With Beards," Sam J. Miller, Clarkesworld Magazine No. 117, June 2016. (This story, set in the aftermath of the classic movie "The Thing," has a recommendation from Peter Watts in the comments: "Seriously fucking brilliant." Indeed.)

"The Engines Imperial," Sean Bensinger, Clarkesworld Magazine No. 119, August 2016. (Poignant story of a sentient warship's last stand.)

"The Savannah Liars Tour," Will McIntosh, Lightspeed Magazine January 2016. (A lovely, bittersweet tale of life after death, and love, and the choices survivors make.)

Novelettes

"Touring With the Alien," Carolyn Ives Gilman, Clarkesworld Magazine No. 115, April 2016 (This reminds me of Peter Watts' work. A really alien alien, and a meditation on consciousness and awareness, without being quite as bleak and depressing as Watts usually is.)

"The Tomato Thief," Ursula Vernon, Apex Magazine January 2016. (This story continues the story of Grandma Harken, the protagonist of Vernon's Nebula-winning short story "Jackalope Wives.")

"Away From Home," Luo Longxiang, translated by Nick Stember, Clarkesworld Magazine No. 116, May 2016. (I find a lot of Chinese science fiction to be heavy on the ideas and light to nonexistent on the characterization. This story is a refreshing exception.)

"Checkerboard Planet," Eleanor Arnason, Clarkesworld Magazine No. 123, December 2016. (Eleanor Arnason, as far as I am concerned, is one of SFF's most underrated writers. She doesn't have flashy, explodey bestsellers, but she does write intricate, thoughtful, fascinating stories. This is one such.)

"Foxfire, Foxfire," Yoon Ha Lee, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #194, 3/3/2016. (I've never read one of Lee's stories before, but day-um. This was a heady mixture of Korean mythology, fox spirits, and science fiction, in this tale of a gumiho looking for one last kill to become human. He becomes involved with a deserting "cataphract" pilot--this is apparently a thirty-foot-tall warrior robot. There are surprising twists and turns, and lovely prose. Outstanding.)

"You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay," Alyssa Wong, Uncanny Magazine May/June 2016. (Alyssa Wong is one of the best short fiction writers working today, and this poignant Weird West story doesn't disappoint.)

Novellas

"The Coward's Option," Adam-Troy Castro, March 2016 Analog. (I found this in my Facebook feed. Adam-Troy has posted it on Dropbox for awards consideration. This has one of the most jaw-dropping midstory kicks I've read this year.)

"Cold-Forged Flame," Marie Brennan (full review here, with spoilers). (This is one of Tor's new line of novellas. I bought the paperback, but it's also available as an ebook. I really liked this; the writing was as smooth as silk, and the author told an absorbing story of a nameless woman, summoned into being and made to do a task against her will, and what she finds along the way. It's a story about memory, and identity, and what piece of herself a person is willing to give up.)

"Runtime," S.B. Divya. (full review here, with spoilers).(Another Tor novella, this is a near-future cyberpunk story of a girl trying to win an endurance race to get a better life for herself and her family. This is the author's first book, and it shows. It was okay, but honestly I liked the world better than the story itself.)

"Penric and the Shaman," Lois McMaster Bujold. (This is the sequel to last year's "Penric's Demon," set in the World of the Five Gods. The worldbuilding shines in this story, set four years after the initial tale. The only quibble I have about this one is that there are multiple viewpoints; I would have preferred to find out more about Penric and the twelve entities that comprise his demon. Still, it's a very satisfying story.)

"Every Heart a Doorway," Seanan McGuire (review here, with spoilers). (Another Tor novella, this story is ideally suited to that format. There are some pretty poignant themes to this little tale; what happens when you feel you don't fit in anywhere, and when you finally find the place you're destined to be, you get yanked back to this world? What will you do, what will you give up, to get back to that place?)

"The Arrival of Missives," Aliya Whiteley (review here, with spoilers). (This was, in a word, fantastic. Right now, it's at the top of my Hugo list.)

"A Taste of Honey," Kai Ashante Wilson (review here, with spoilers). (I know I'm of the minority opinion with this one, but I did not like this. I didn't care for the main character, the writing was way too precious, and the ending was a cheat. Bah.)

"Hammers on Bone," Cassandra Khaw (review here, with spoilers). (This was a pretty interesting tale, another reimagining of Lovecraft, although the author showed a bit more restraint than is usual in this genre when it came to bodily fluids. I liked this, but I think the author's nomination in the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer will be a better fit.)

"The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe," Kij Johnson (review here, with spoilers). (A lovely retelling of an H.P. Lovecraft story, with a middle-aged female protagonist, not relegated to invisibility, in charge of her own story. Sign me up.)

Best Fan Writer

Abigail Nussbaum is still firing on all cylinders. Here she takes on Batman vs. Superman.

Foz Meadows writes an emotional analysis of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. She continues to be sharp and on point: witness this recent essay.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Zootopia (Like most of the best animated films, it has plenty to say about the world we humans are actually living in. Visually stunning, with plenty of quirky characters and a delightfully fleshed-out setting in Zootopia the big city and Bunnyburrow the small town.)

Captain America: Civil War (A fast-paced tale with some very good character moments; the large cast each gets at least one or two good scenes. Needs more Scarlet Witch, though.)

10 Cloverfield Lane (A tense, creepy, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller with a surprisingly good performance from John Goodman, as a paranoid survivalist type who may have kidnapped a girl and murdered her...but turns out not to be wrong about the alien invasion. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also outstanding as the woman who Goodman brings to an underground bunker, for his version of "saving" her.)

Arrival (Hands down, the best SF movie I've seen this year. This alien-invasion movie is not about explosions and stupidity like the execrable Independence Day: Resurgence; this is a quiet, thoughtful, intelligent film about communication and the scientific method, interlaced with a time-twisty mindbend that for my money rivals 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Ghostbusters (Cute and fun, but not terribly deep. Needs far more Holtzmann. Also, Chris Hemsworth's dance sequence during the end credits is better than his actual role.)

Star Trek: Beyond (This was more fun than it had any right to be. I think this was mainly due to the script, co-written by Simon Pegg [Scotty]. The new ensemble is really gelling, particularly Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto, who had the best scenes in the movie. The new character Jaylah was also delightful. I would love it if JJ Abrams would make Sofia Boutella a permanent cast member after Anton Yelchin's untimely death. On the downside, the villain Krall's motives made no sense, and the character was a sad waste of Idris Elba.)

Doctor Strange (Definitely one of the better Marvel movies, although sometimes Stephen Strange struck me as Tony Stark lite, even down to the goatee [however, the Cloak of Levitation is more useful than the Iron Man suits--at least it doesn't fly apart at inopportune moments]. Benedict Cumberbatch, while not as snarky as Robert Downey Jr, owned the role, and Tilda Swinton was also excellent.)

The 100, Season 3. (This started out as "Lord of the [Nuclear] Flies," with a bunch of pretty teenage people returning to Earth 100 years after a nuclear war. It quickly became something quite different: a grim, bleak survival story and culture clash, with meditations on the cost of leadership. And awesome female characters. This season is the best yet, and since it's a season-long arc, it can be nominated in its entirety. It's available on Netflix.)

Moana (This is my second-favorite animated film of the year. Dwayne Johnson, as the demigod Maui, steals the show, and I like that there is no romance--Moana is presented as a complete person searching for her place in life, rather than a princess looking for a husband. The songs, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, are very good. But while adults can appreciate this movie, it seems to me to be tilted more toward the children's end of the spectrum, which is why I'm placing it below Zootopia.)

The Man in the High Castle, Season 2. (This is Amazon's adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel. I've never read the book, and I understand considerable liberties have been taken with it. No matter; you should watch this gripping story, about an alternate universe where the Third Reich won World War II. Episode #6 is a bit of a clunker, but the seeds planted in the first few episodes manifest in a terrific payoff in the final three. The outstanding actor in the ensemble is Rufus Sewell, who will win an Emmy if there's any justice.)

Rogue One (This is a direct prequel to the first Star Wars film, and it's a dark, gritty take on the universe, with the emphasis on the "wars" part. As such, sometimes the characterization is a bit thin [except for the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2S0, who had the best, and the snarkiest, lines]. I do wish there had been more female characters besides Jyn Erso--there was no reason, and certainly no story requirement, for her team to be all men, for all that they were men of color. And the last shot of the movie, after the death of Carrie Fisher, was tough. Still, this movie and The Force Awakens gives me hope that Disney knows what it's doing with the franchise.)

Hidden Figures (The unsung true story of African-American female mathematicians at NASA. This is a feel-good, uplifting tale. Yes, it can be nominated for the Hugos, even though it's not strictly science fiction, because of a clause in the rules that says and related subjects.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Expanse, Salvage. (This first season of The Expanse was split in eligibility between last year and this year. This episode has a scary Alien-like vibe to it.)

The Expanse, Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes. (These two episodes were shown back-to-back, so I'm not sure how you'd separate them for nomination purposes. At any rate, everything comes together, we see precisely what's going on, and the season ends with a bang.)

Preacher, Sundowner. (I just love this show to pieces. It's gonzo and complicated and over-the-top, and you can't keep your eyes off it. Ruth Negga is outstanding as Tulip.)

Luke Cage, Manifest and You Know My Steez. (This is the spinoff of last year's marvelous Jessica Jones, which I nominated in its entirety for Best Dramatic Presentation [Long]. Unfortunately, Luke Cage isn't as focused and well written as Jessica Jones; the characters are wonderful, but the plot sags in the middle and there are too many villains. However, these two episodes are outstanding.)

The Man in the High Castle, Season 2: The Road Less Traveled, Duck and Cover and Fallout. (These, to me, are the outstanding episodes of the season. But since the story is a season-long arc, it is best understood, and savored, in its entirety. [As a story, it certainly has more focus than Luke Cage.] As I'm not sure I'll end up putting it on my Long Form ballot, these are the three episodes I'll be considering for Short Form.)

Best Graphic Novel

Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening, Marjorie M. Liu/Sana Takeda (review here, with spoilers). (This is, so far, the best graphic novel I have read this year. The mythology is deep and complicated, with a shivery Lovecraftian feel, there are plenty of complex [as opposed to "strong"] female characters, and there are talking cats with multiple tails! The art, a muted palette of neutral colors, is perfect for the story.)

Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days (review here, with spoilers), and Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous (review here, with spoilers), G. Willow Wilson/Takeshi Miyazawa/Adrian Alphona/Nico Leon. (After a disappointing volume 3, this series regains its footing. Vol. 4 is better but not quite the best quality, due to only collecting three issues and taking up the latter half of the book with a pointless Amazing Spider-Man crossover. Vol. 5, though, fires on all cylinders, with its themes of home and family, and a funny and poignant Iron Man/Captain Marvel cameo.)

Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out of Time, Noelle Stevenson/Shannon Waters/Grace Ellis/Brooke Allen (review here). (This benefits from a tighter, more adult storyline, and reveals some welcome backstory. The best volume I have read to date.)

Best Related Work

The Geek Feminist Revolution, Kameron Hurley (review here, with spoilers). (There are many thoughtful, engaging essays in this book, ranging from a treatise on the "people economy" of Mad Max to the horrors of facing a chronic disease without insurance to the business of writing. Hurley's style is blunt and in your face. Your mileage will vary on that, of course, but I like it.)

The View From the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman (review here, with spoilers). (This is a grab bag of essays, divided into ten sections, dealing with beliefs, people, introductions, film, comics, music, fairy tales, art, and "real things." Neil's wry British voice and habit of meandering into all sorts of odd nooks and out-of-the-way crannies is front and center, and is delightful.)

Best Fanzine

Black Gate (I nominated this fanzine for the last two years, years in which the Hugo ballot was unfortunately overrun with whining dogs, and their slate nominees knocked John O'Neill's fanzine out of contention. He did win one of George RR Martin's Alfie Awards to somewhat make up for it, but I think we should get him a genuine rocket.)

Lady Business (This feminist fanzine came in second in last year's Hugo voting to the eventual winner, File 770. I'm not going to nominate the latter this year; I love Mike Glyer and what he does, but I think he's won his fair share of awards for a while. Check this site out, and see if you think, as I do, that the love should be shared here.)

Speculative Chic (This is a new fanzine that I really like. On the current front page, topics run the gamut from The Expanse to Resident Evil to thoughts on the creative process to urging bookstore customers to stop pulling ridiculous stunts like defacing political books. It's a nice smorgasboard with something for everyone.)

Nerds of a Feather (Right now they're providing Hugo recommendation lists, and their tastes seem similar to mine, which is always a plus [it's nice when people agree with me]. Their book reviews are always thoughtful and entertaining.)

The Mary Sue (This is the sort of grandmother of online fanzines, and wasn't on the Hugo fanzine longlist last year. Since the [USian] election, they've been stepping up their game with the things they cover. As we seem to be existing in an alternate reality at the moment, they're more relevant than ever.)

Rocket Stack Rank (This is an invaluable resource, especially for finding and reviewing short fiction, which is its stated purpose.)

SF Bluestocking (This site has been around for a while, but I haven't paid the attention to it I should have. This will be remedied going forward.)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Cassandra Khaw, for the novella "Hammers on Bone," mentioned above.

K.B. Wagers, for the novel Behind the Throne, mentioned above.


1 comment:

Tak Hallus said...

What an excellent set of recommendations! Thank you so much for these. :) I have much to look forward to... in 55 years.

Gideon
(http://galacticjourney.org)