2021 Recommended SFF List

Because it's never too early to pick out the good stuff, right?

Best Novel

A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine (5 of 5 stars; full review here). (This is a dense, deliberately paced narrative of alien invaders with superior technology bumping up against the existing horror of a colonizing, culture-destroying Empire, and the Ambassador caught in the middle. A worthy follow-up to last year's Hugo-winning Best Novel.)

Best Short Story

"Your Own Undoing," P H Lee, Apex Magazine January 2021. (This is a fantasy of a master sorcerer overcome, twisted and enslaved by her own student. But it's also a story about stories, the power a good story has over us, and how to both use the story and escape from its trap--by writing your own ending.)

"Mr. Death," Alix E. Harrow, Apex Magazine January 2021. (Alix E. Harrow is one of my favorite authors, and she knocks it out of the park here, with this beautiful story of a soul reaper who meets the one soul he can't bear to ferry across the river.) 

"The Harmonia," Angela Teagardner, Daily Science Fiction 3/12/21. (A tight, self-contained flash story that is a surprising combination of SF and noir, in this tale of a luxury airship sailing the upper levels of Venus and what happened before it fell.)

"Pop and the Pirates," Floris M. Kleijne, Daily Science Fiction 3/17/21. (It takes a lot of skill to pack an action sequence into a flash story without sacrificing the characters. This story succeeds.)

"Pilgrim Problems," Rich Larson, Daily Science Fiction 3/22/21. (Rich Larson is one of the best short story writers working today, and this is a razor-sharp slice-of-life tale that has the perfect kicker at the end.)

"The Mirrors of Her Eyes," Lise Fracalossi, Daily Science Fiction 3/26/21. (A different take on The Picture of Dorian Grey, with added fae.)

“Tyrannosaurus Hex,” Sam J. Miller, Uncanny Magazine Jan/Feb 2021. (One sentence in this story reads, “Weaponized intrusion software given reptilian form,” and that’s exactly what this story is. Short but disturbing as heck.)

"The Book of the Kraken," Carrie Vaughn, Uncanny Magazine March/April 2021. (The crew of the HMS Selene has an encounter with a young girl and her oceanic steed.)

"For Lack of a Bed," John Wiswell, Diabolical Plots 4/16/21. (This author's "Open House on Haunted Hill" is a Hugo and Nebula finalist, and this delightful story of a succubus sofa that relieves the protagonist's chronic pain carries on in a similar tradition.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

(I'm irritated as heck that Amazon split the fifth season of The Expanse over 2020 and 2021. This is the best season yet, and if it had dropped all at once I would have nominated the whole thing. As it is, of the five episodes shown in January, "Oyedeng" , "Hard Vacuum" and and "Winnepesaukee" are outstanding. "Nemesis Games," the finale, set everything in motion for the final season, bringing the protomolecule back in a big way [and dammit, that ass Marco Inaros isn't dead yet]. Dominique Tipper, Cara Gee and Wes Chatham are turning in stellar performances. If there was any justice, at least one of them would be nominated for an Emmy.)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Season 1, Disney Plus, Episode 4, "The Whole World is Watching," and episode 5, "Truth." (Unfortunately, the season as a whole varied too widely in quality, coherence and characterization--with Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers suffering most of all, written as righteous freedom fighters with a point one minute and murderous terrorists the next--to recommend it as a whole. It also had an absolute stinker of an episode, no. 3, "Power Broker," which dragged the whole thing down. Still, these two episodes stood above the rest. At the moment, I'm leaning towards the quiet reflection and emotional truths of, well, "Truth.")

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

WandaVision Season 1, Disney Plus (Technically, this is the proper description, but as far as I know this is a one-off, with no plans for further seasons.)

(I had put one of the episodes in the Short Form category above, but after thinking about it I decided to delete that and recommend the entire thing here. The reason being this is a four and a half hour movie, broken into 30- to 40-minute digestible chunks and dropped weekly to raise anticipation, internet chatter and [presumably] subscribers. Some of the episodes were better than others--personally, I was a bit disappointed by the finale--but you really can't separate episode 4 from episode 8 from any other episode. This is the age of serialized TV, but this is even more so: the first three episodes set the stage for what follows, and you can't make any sense of the final three episodes, where most of the reveals are, without the hints and context of everything that came before. Having said that, 2021 is shaping up to be a year of stiff competition, with almost everything delayed from last year dropping over the upcoming months. Still, this show should end up in the upper echelons.)

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