2022 Recommended SFF List

 

 

(I'm going to attempt to keep up with my magazine subscriptions this year, as otherwise they pile up in their folder until December comes and I'm panicking trying to read all of them. That's no way to appreciate a good story.)

Novel

Locklands, Robert Jackson Bennett (5 of 5 stars, full review here). (This is an epic thrill ride that wraps up one of the best series I've read in recent years. There are universe-level stakes and incredible battles, but the characters are not neglected; the fate of the two protagonists made the room get very dusty at the book's climax.)

Nettle & Bone, T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) (5 of 5 stars, full review here). (I am a great fan of this author, and this is one of her best. She takes the fairy tale and some of the tropes found therein and turns them inside out, with flawed, realistic, relatable characters who fight and stumble and muddle through and get things done. This book also boasts a bone dog and a demon-possessed chicken.)

Braking Day, Adam Oyebanji (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This is a fine debut novel that takes the trope of the generation ship and puts a unique spin on it. It’s fast-paced but has a lot of interesting layers, from the culture of the ships to the clash between the different ships’ societies, that makes for a fascinating stew.)

Mickey 7, Edward Ashton (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (I called this Andy Weir-lite, but I also think it could be known as "Andy Weir done better." This book has a hard science edge but avoids Weir's downfall of stalling the story in the scientific minutiae. It's a lean, fast-paced machine that nevertheless deals with issues of survival and identity.)

The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This book is classic Scalzi: fast, breezy, snarky and fun. What sets this one apart for me is the interesting world and ecology of the kaiju.)

Last Exit, Max Gladstone (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This book's ending didn't quite stick the landing for me, but the journey getting there was so good I'm tempted to overlook it. It's a science fantasy/horror mashup about the multiverse, alternate worlds, and Lovecraftian-style horrors, with six deep character studies and a stark examination of loss, pain, guilt and determination to right a long-ago wrong, whatever the cost.)

Sweep of Stars, Maurice Broaddus (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This is a solar-system-spanning space opera centered on African culture, mythology and experience that challenges the boundaries of the genre.)

Short Story 

"Lily, the Immortal," Kylie Lee Baker, Uncanny Magazine January/February 2022. (This is the quiet, thoughtful story of the forgotten girlfriend of a YouTube makeup vlogging queen whose channel and image is bought up by a corporation that resurrects her. This is a meditation on death and immortality, and the protagonist's powerful reason to reject the latter.)

"The Cure for Loneliness," M. Shaw, Apex Magazine January-February 2022. (This story is equal parts humor and horror, very much set in our time of pandemic and isolation. The author weaves the very real-world idea of a fungus that takes over ant brains, plants that are taking over the protagonist's apartment, an evolving philodendron that got its start after being stuck in a jar of pickle juice instead of water, and at the very end, the "bright people," angels or aliens that use the protagonist's mutated plants to break into our world. The story swings towards horror at the end, similar to the fungus-zombie movie The Girl With All the Gifts.

"No One at the Wild Dock," Gu Shi, translated by S. Qiouyi Li, Clarkesworld Magazine January 2022. (This is an entertaining treatise on AI learning with a stinger of horror at the end. No, not like Skynet deciding to kill humanity off--humanity does that all on their own, the collateral damage of building a self-aware AI. The final line is chilling.)

"The Book of the Blacksmiths," Martin Cahill, Fireside Magazine February 2022. (This is the story of a short-lived clone army working in a Dyson sphere to reignite a star, and the protagonist, One Thousand and Sixteen, attempting to put together the story of his people and why they're doing this. For some reason there's no link to the story on the website.) (Edit: Link up now.)

"The Last Passenger," Melissa Mead, Daily Science Fiction 2/25/22. (This is a lovely story of Charon's sentient skiff, made all the more poignant by the author's recent passing.)

"You Can Have the Ground, My Love," Carlie St. George, and "The Invisible Man: The Fire This Time," Maurice Broaddus, both from the anthology Classic Monsters Unleashed, edited by James Aquilone. (This Kickstarted anthology is a gorgeous book, but unfortunately most of the stories are average. These two, the former a feminist take on the Bride of Frankenstein and the latter giving the Invisible Man trope a racial twist, are the best.)

"The Apples," Mari Ness, Daily Science Fiction 4/4/22. (This flash story of what happens after the queen in Sleeping Beauty dies carries a creepy, stark reminder that sometimes evil doesn't die with the people who started it.)

"Gentle Dragon Fires," T.K. Rex and Lezlie Kinyon, Strange Horizons January 2022. (This has surprising layers to it, themes of identity, environmentalism and cultural erasure, wrapped into an absorbing story.)

"To Live and Die in Dixieland," Russell Nichols, Apex Magazine March-April 2022. (This is a raw, primal scream of a story, about a VR simulation where slavery is reversed and black people are the masters, built to let white people "experience the unspeakable horrors of America's racist history." It's powerful, unsettling and deeply uncomfortable, as it was intended to be.)

"The First Promise We Break," Risa Wolf, Apex Magazine March-April 2022. (This is a fresh take on the story of Beauty and the Beast, mixed with Greek gods.)

"Intimacies," Filip Hadjar Drnovsek Zorko, Strange Horizons February 2022. (This is a quiet, thoughtful story about a seahorse/merman and their take on childbearing, sex and gender, contrasted with the human one.)

"The Dragon Project," Naomi Kritzer, Clarkesworld Magazine March 2022. (This whimsical story of a bioengineer who designs 3D-printed dragons and the consequences thereof is utterly delightful.)

"Rain of Days," Ray Nayler, Clarkesworld Magazine March 2022. (This author hasn't been publishing very long, but his command of his craft is like a seasoned pro. This is a quiet, deep, layered story about death and loss and memories.)

"An Urge To Create Honey," Martin Cahill, Clarkesworld Magazine April 2022. (This is the second story by this author on my list, and I think it's the stronger of the two. [If he ever publishes a book, I'm going to be all over it.] It's the tale of a hivemind of space bees and the human they rescued and transformed.)

"A Monster in the Shape of a Boy," Hannah Yang, Apex Magazine May-June 2022. (This story is very short--not quite 1700 words--but it packs a helluva punch. One of the beauties of it is its ambiguous ending. I think it asks the question, "Just who is the monster here?" but another reader could take away an equally valid question. Go read it and see what question you come up with.)

"The Fruit of the Princess Tree," Sage Tyrtle, Apex Magazine May-June 2022. (This is a fairy tale gone very wrong, with princesses growing in cages on the princess tree, and the princes who come pick them--or not, and they die at the end of the season. Until one princess decides to change all that.)

Novelette

"The Dominion of Leviathan," Manish Melwani, Tor.com 4/13/22. (Building off the Greek legend of Prometheus, this far-future tale tells of a humble Ceres librarian's fight against a god-tyrant.)

Novella

Where the Drowned Girls Go, Seanan McGuire (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This is volume #7 of the Wayward Children series, but it can be read and understood even if you haven't read any of the previous volumes. These stories of children who don't fit in and find Doors leading to alternate worlds are a combination of updated fairy tales with teeth and commentary on the unrealistic expectations society and/or parents place on many children, especially girls.)

Servant Mage, Kate Elliott (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This novella packs a large amount of worldbuilding in only 164 pages, and has an interesting exploration of power, privilege and revolution.) 

"Bishop's Opening," R.S.A. Garcia, Clarkesworld Magazine January 2022. (This is an adventure story of a polyamorous family of deep-space haulers pitted against a society rather like the Mob or Yakuza in space, save that they name themselves after chess pieces and play the so-called Great Game.)

"Kora Is Life," David D. Levine, Clarkesworld Magazine May 2022. (This is the story of an alien motorized hang-gliding race, and the first human to participate in it. It has nail-biting action scenes and a fascinating exploration of the alien culture.)

A Mirror Mended, Alix E. Harrow (5 of 5 stars, full review here). (This second volume of the Fractured Fables series takes a swerve from Sleeping Beauty into the rather darker fairy tale of Snow White, and Zinnia has to face her life and the effects of her universe-hopping. This is as beautifully written as the first, but is more melancholy and bittersweet.)

Dramatic Presentation Short

The Expanse, Amazon Prime, Season 6 Ep 5, "Why We Fight." (This show is ending, dammit, but this penultimate episode slowed down and concentrated on the characters and their motivations--not only for this final season, but the show as a whole. Cara Gee, as Camina Drummer, and Shohreh Agdashloo, as Chrisjen Avasarala, are outstanding.)

The Expanse, Amazon Prime, Season 6 Ep 6, "Babylon's Ashes." (And now it's over, but it went out with a bang, with a hair-raising action, a magnificent comeuppance for the villain, and a lovely final scene with Holden and Naomi that summed up the entire series.)

The Book of Boba Fett, Disney Plus, Season 1 Episode 5, "Return of the Mandalorian." (Unfortunately, this stealth episode of The Mandalorian overshadowed Boba in his own show. If I was Temuera Morrison I would complain. Bryce Dallas Howard also did a bang-up job directing.)

Star Trek: Prodigy, Paramount Plus, Season 1 Episodes 9 & 10, "A Moral Star" Parts 1 and 2. (This animated show is fun for the kids and also has solid character development and action scenes for the adults.)

Moon Knight, Disney Plus, Season 1, episodes 1 and 2, "The Goldfish Problem" and "Summon the Suit." (Now that the series is finished, it would be worth a Dramatic Presentation Long nomination in its entirety, were it not for its unfortunate succumbing to the usual Marvel CGI pow-pow syndrome in its finale. Although one of the best scenes in the entire series, Marc Spector refusing the peace and quiet of the Egyptian afterlife and going back for Steven, also occurred in the finale. Also, May Calamawy kicked all sorts of ass, and pulled off a golden-winged Egyptian superhero better than Wonder Woman herself [certainly better than Wonder Woman 1984]. So for individual episodes, episode 4, "The Tomb," and episode 5, "Asylum," are outstanding. Especially the latter, where Oscar Isaac turns in a tour de force performance.)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Paramount Plus, Season 1 Ep 1, "Strange New Worlds."; Ep 2, "Children of the Comet"; Ep 4, "Memento Mori"; and Ep 5, "Spock Amok."  (Four of the five episodes so far have been excellent, and Ep 3 good, just a cut below. That said, if I had to pick one, I would go with "Memento Mori," a nail-biter of an encounter with the Gorn.)

Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 4, "Dear Billy." (I'm working my way through the fourth season of Stranger Things; it's taking a bit longer as the episodes are more than an hour each. That said, the reported $30 million per episode was well spent on this one. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and the rest of the season is going to have to be hella good to top it.) (Well, the finale, "The Piggyback," was good--Eddie playing Metallica's "Master of Puppets" in the Upside Down to lure out the demobats is one of the most genuinely batshit crazy and affecting scenes I've seen in a long time--but I still think "Dear Billy" has the edge.)

Dramatic Presentation Long

Everything Everywhere All At Once, directed by Dan Kwan/Daniel Scheinert. (This is the story of a Chinese woman, Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, who journeys across the multiverse after she discovers she is the one who is destined to stop a "black hole bagel" constructed by an alternate villainous version of her daughter Joy. The premise is gonzo, but the execution is brilliant, because the story is firmly grounded in Evelyn's relationships with her father, husband and daughter. This movie explores themes of reflection and regret, and the roads not taken. Michelle Yeoh is great, and the fanny pack fight scene had my fanny-pack-wearing heart stand up and cheer.)

Fan Writer

Doris V. Sutherland has been writing insightful analyses of SFF and comics for some time, and I'd love to see her work recognized more this year. 

I'm going to keep banging Stitch's drum, and the work she does spotlighting racism in fandom, until more people notice her, dammit. 

Related Work

Blood, Sweat and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, Kyle Buchanan (5 of 5 stars, full review here) (This is the incredible oral history of a modern action-movie masterpiece. It's a wonder the film was made at all, never mind turning out to be as good as it is.)

Series

Nnedi Okorafor, The Nsibidi Scripts: 3rd book, Akata Woman. (4 of 5 stars, full review here) (I don't know if this will count as the best YA book I read this year; it was very good, but it wasn't quite knock-my-socks-off amazing. However, I do think the series as a whole is more than the sum of its parts.)

Robert Jackson Bennett, the Founders Trilogy; 3rd book, Locklands (see review above). (I raved about the author's Divine Cities trilogy a few years back. This series is just as good if not better.)

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