2018 Hugo Recommendation List

Yeah, it's never too early to begin thinking about next year's Hugos! I plan to read enough, especially shorter material, that I need to begin a new page to keep track.

Best Short Story

"The Martian Obelisk," Linda Nagata, 7/19/17, Tor.com. (This is a lovely, sad, hard SF story, set in a future where the Earth is dying and a woman, Susannah, is trying to build an obelisk on Mars by remote control, to serve as humanity's funeral marker, sort of like the pyramids of Egypt. It's a story of recovering the hope one thought was dead, and it absolutely nails the ending.)

"Waiting On a Bright Moon," JY Yang, 7/12/17, Tor.com. (This is a unique mixture of SF and magic and Chinese culture, beautifully written.)

Best Novelette

"Extracurricular Activities," Yoon Ha Lee, Tor.com, 2/15/17. (This is set in the world of Lee's novel Ninefox Gambit, and features General Shuos Jedao. Jedao is a compelling character, and this story shows some unexpected flashes of humor. )

Best Novella

"Down Among the Sticks and Bones," Seanan McGuire (4 stars; full review here) The second book in the Wayward Children series, this is a prequel to "Every Heart a Doorway," focusing on the twins Jack and Jill. I liked this better than the first book; it's tightly written, creepy and claustrophobic, with no unnecessary murder mystery.

"River of Teeth," Sarah Gailey (4 stars; full review here) Hippopotami in Louisiana! This weird alternate history Western has at its heart an actual proposal considered by the US Congress in 1910. The author takes this and runs with it, and the results are wonderful.

"All Systems Red," Martha Wells (4 stars; full review here) The character and voice of Murderbot, the self-aware Security Unit (android), carries the day. At times this cranky, snarky misanthrope who doesn't want to interact with humans and wishes for nothing more than to be left alone to watch its entertainment feeds reminded me of...me.

"The Refrigerator Monologues," Catherynne M. Valente (4 stars; full review here) A memorable collection of six stories in Valente's comic-book universe, tearing apart the repulsive "women in refrigerators" trope.

Best Novel

The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley (5 stars; full review here) This book is quintessential Kameron Hurley: messy, gory and brutal, with unreliable narrators who make hard choices, and full of feminist rage. If you're up for it, it's richly rewarding. I loved it.

Lotus Blue, Cat Sparks (5 stars; full review here) I'd never heard of this author before, and damn what a first impression. This far-future, post-apocalyptic and post-climate-change tale has everything: worldbuilding, characterization and a rip-roaring story.

Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (3 stars; full review here) A lot of people are gung-ho about this. I'm not, unfortunately. Maybe because I'm not especially fond of closed-door murder mysteries, which is what this essentially is, dressed up in cloning and generation ship trappings. Some of the tech presented here stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi (4 stars; full review here) John Scalzi has steadily upped his game, and this book is his best yet (aside from an unnecessary, infodumping misfire in the prologue). His trademark snappy patter is on full display, but the characters are better developed and the story flows nicely.

The Queen of Swords, R.S. Belcher (3 stars, full review here) This is half of a good book. The superior storyline, set in the 1720s, features real-life female pirate Anne Bonney, drawn into the author's alternate timeline of gods, kinda-sorta Lovecraftian monsters, magic, and secret societies. She's a flawed, realistic, thoroughly badass woman, and I would love to read more about her. Her 1870s descendant, Maude Stapleton, not so much.

Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee (5 stars; full review here) This is the fantastic sequel to last years multiple-award-nominated Ninefox Gambit, and one of the few sequels that, in my opinion, are as good or better than their predecessors. If Ninefox confused the hell out of you (as it did for many people; that book has a pretty steep learning curve), start here. The world is more accessible, and Lee's writing is far more assured.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele

This is more towards the horror end of the spectrum, although the central conceit is sufficiently SF for me to include it. To put it bluntly, this is a movie only an African-American filmmaker could have made, with a pointed commentary on race in America.

Life, written by Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick, directed by Daniel Espinosa

I was just ho-hum about this. Aside from a gorgeous opening tracking shot, this is basically a remake/ripoff of Alien aboard the International Space Station, albeit with a little higher stakes, since the station is, after all, orbiting right above Earth. Which ties into the impossibly bleak ending, where the planet is basically screwed. Well, at least that cuts off any possibility of a sequel (hopefully).

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, written/directed by James Gunn

The Marvel juggernaut rolls on, with this fun popcorn flick, although it has a lot to say about families, lost and found. Baby Groot is adorable, every member of the cast got a nice character arc, and the emotional center of the film was an unexpected sacrifice.

Kong: Skull Island, written by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

This is basically a retelling of Apocalypse Now with the Big Ape and Samuel L. Jackson chewing scenery. (It's set in 1973, right at the end of the Vietnam War. Subtle, this director ain't.) Tom Hiddleston is always nice to look at, and this film is serving as the intro to the larger kaiju Monsterverse, with a post-credits scene talking about Godzilla, among others.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, written by Jonathan Goldstein/John Francis Daley, directed by Jon Watts

Spidey's been folded into the Marvel universe, introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and this is his movie. Tony Stark makes an appearance here, and the plot takes off from the events in The Avengers, eight years ago (but isn't that five years in real time? I thought The Avengers was in 2012). This film dispenses with the traditional Spider-Man origin to focus on Peter Parker's coming-of-age story, and his ultimate decision to not become one of the Avengers, but remain "your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, close to the ground." There's a lot of humor and snarky quips, and Tom Holland really captures the character.

Wonder Woman, written by Allen Heinberg/Zack Snyder/Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins

This is the film of my heart so far this year. There's so many wonderful things about it: Robin Wright as General Antiope; the look on little Diana's face when she is told by her mother that she will never wield the Godkiller Sword ("you wanna bet?"); Etta Candy; and the entire No Man's Land sequence, which is the heart of the film. The final act of the film is a bit overwhelmed by CGI, but Wonder Woman's love and compassion shines through. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot understand this character, and it shows.

War for the Planet of the Apes, written by Mark Womback/Matt Reeves, directed by Matt Reeves

This film has a depth and gravitas that surprised me, and that is mostly due to the fantastic performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Woody Harrelson is also nice as the antagonist, the ruthless Colonel, and is more restrained than usual, which is very effective. I know the Academy has shied away from recognizing motion-capture performances, but I would love for Serkis to get an Oscar nomination for this.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Handmaid's Tale, ep. 1, "Offred" and ep. 4, "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum"

I've been taking this in a little at a time, because damn it's hard to watch. This is Margaret Atwood's classic theocratic dystopia come to horrifying life. Elisabeth Moss is really good here, and was just rewarded with a well-deserved Best Dramatic Actress Emmy nomination.

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