2024 Recommended SFF List

 



A new list for the new year--except that it's an election year, which is going to be crappy. We will need good books, good moves and good television more this year than ever. 

Novel

The Fractured Dark, Megan E. O'Keefe (5 of 5 stars, full review here). (This second book in the Devoured Worlds trilogy has thought-provoking technology, a refreshingly adult romance, and is a high-stakes space opera of the first order. The only thing this second volume suffers from is if the reader hasn't yet read the first book, as it won't make much sense otherwise. But hey! You now have no excuse not to dip into the first book!)

The Tainted Cup, Robert Jackson Bennett (5 of 5 stars, full review here). (This is the first book in a new trilogy by the author of the Founders trilogy, one of my favorite works of the past few years. This book layers a juicy murder mystery over an absolutely fascinating fantasy world.)

Ghost Station, S.A. Barnes (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This author seems to be making a career of sci-fi/horror novels; this is her second, and having read the first, I can see how she has improved as a writer. This book has tighter pacing, a more careful setup, and better worldbuilding and characterization. The "horror" part of this story is scientific rather than supernatural, and the steadily rising terror of the situation is very well done.)

Short Stories

"Lonely Ghosts," Megan Feldman, from Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 209 February 2024. (This fairly short story emphasizes the need for companionship and connection, even between machines. It has some lovely characters.)

"A Recipe for Hope and Honeycake," Jordan Taylor, Uncanny Magazine Jan/Feb 2024. (This is a gentle story about an outcast fairy who brings hope to the humans around them.)

"Do Houses Dream of Scraping the Sky?" Jana Bianchi, Uncanny Magazine Jan/Feb 2024. (This is a tale of an intelligent house, a granddaughter dealing with her grandmother's death, and how both of them work through their grief.) 

"A Contract of Ink and Skin," Angela Liu, Uncanny Magazine Jan/Feb 2024. (This is a beautifully written, eerie little horror story of death and tattoos and ghosts.)

The Sunday Morning Transport is publishing some free stories online this year. This one, "Agni" by Nibedita Sen, is the first of them, and it's tight, powerful and gorgeous. 

"Rude Litterbox Space," Mary Robinette Kowal. (Another of the Sunday Morning Transport's free stories, this is based on the author's real-life communication-board-using cat.)

"Why Don't We Just Kill the Kid in the Omelas Hole,"  Isabel J. Kim, Clarkesworld Magazine February 2024.

Isabel J. Kim is one of our best short story writers, and she outdoes herself here, in this answer to the Le Guin original that vibrates with fury. She takes apart the original premise and applies it to the world today, with devastating effect. Wow. 

From the January issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, an outstanding issue:

"Nothing of Value" by Aimee Ogden starts us out, a short, creepy and ultimately horrifying story about a future version of space travel, Skip2, that copies a person's DNA and memories and sends their information to other planets to be reprinted into a fresh new body.

"Down the Waterfall," by Cecile Cristofari, is a time travel story that doesn't fall into the usual time-travel tropes. The protagonist doesn't want to change the past--she just wants to briefly travel down "the road not taken" and visit a person who died all too soon. 

"Rail Meat," by Marie Vibbert, is a yacht race with a twist--the yachts are skimming the stratosphere. Our protagonist, Ernestine, a thief, grifter and con artist, signs on to the races as "living ballast." This is another short, action-packed story, where the other main character, Rico, who joins the yacht races to win the heart of a millionaire yacht owner, discovers attaining his heart's desire may not be such a good thing after all. 

"You Dream of the Hive," by C.M. Fields, another story that is not long but packs a helluva punch. This story uses the uncommon and tricky second-person narration in its depiction of a person trapped by an interdimensional hive mind, just rescued--and who wants to go back. For Star Trek fans, it's comparable to a drone wishing to return to the Borg.

“We Will Teach You How To Read/We Will Teach You How To Read,” Caroline M. Yoachim, Lightspeed Magazine May 2024

I prefer to have physical copies of my magazines, but in this case, the e-book formatting is essential to this story’s atmosphere and impact. This tale of a dying race of aliens trying to communicate their language and culture–their story–to humans is unforgettable.

Novelette

"Stars Don't Dream," by Chi Hui, translated by John Chu, was published in a Chinese SF magazine in 2022 and translated into English for the January issue of Clarkesworld. The Chinese authors I've read in the past are often pretty thin on characterization, but thankfully that isn't the case with this story. This tells of a future where space exploration has been abandoned, and everyone on Earth spends their time in a virtual reality "dream tower" while their physical bodies are being cared for and carted around in robots.

"Kardashev's Palimpsest," by David Goodman, from Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 209 February 2024. (This is a love story that spans billions of years, and is proof that you need characters, not just high-concept ideas.)

Novella

The Tusks of Extinction, Ray Nayler (4 of 5 stars, full review here). (This novella, with its fascinating ideas of cloned mammoths and the uploaded human tasked to lead them, should have been a full length book. But it's still worth reading, even if it is a bit overstuffed.)















The Apple TV series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is unexpectedly excellent. The series finale, "Beyond Logic," ties together everything that happened this season and sets the stage for the second season I fervently hope this show receives. [Edit: It's been renewed! Yessssss!] Its success is due to the fact it firmly centers the story on its human characters instead of the monsters. The Kurt/Wyatt Russell dual character portrayal (same person, different ages) doesn't sound like it would work, but it absolutely does. 

Also on Apple TV (which is fast becoming my go-to streaming service for good SF series) the series finale of the fourth season of For All Mankind, "Perestroika," while rather long (an hour and 20 minutes, more of a mini-movie) was very suspenseful regarding what was coming to a head both on Mars and on Earth. The only nitpick about this is, if there is a fifth season, I think they will be forced to get rid of Joel Kinneman's Ed Baldwin, as that season would be set in (an alternate history) 2012 and he would be in his late 80's by then. [Edit: Yes, it is getting a fifth season. So we shall see what they do with Ed.]

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, AMC, season 1 episode 4, "What We." (I've never been a particular fan of zombie stories; they get boring after a while. Fortunately, this series--as well as another Walking Dead spinoff, Daryl Dixon, that I recently watched and enjoyed as well--concentrates on the characters and their reaction to the monsters, not the monsters themselves. It also highlights the love story of Rick and Michonne, and never more than in this pivotal episode [written by star Danai Gurira, who is apparently also a playwright]. There is some excellent character work here, and an almost unbearably tense scene where Rick and Michonne are trapped in a stairway trying to fend off the zombies while Rick works to free Michonne from a fallen chandelier.)

3 Body Problem, Netflix, season 1 episode 5, "Judgment Day." (I read Cixin Liu's entire Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy years ago, the first book of which is covered by this Netflix adaptation. I grew increasingly less enamored if it with each volume, as it became bogged down with bloated science, excruciatingly slow pacing, and "characters" that, to put it mildly, had all the depth and color of a blank sheet of paper. But this adaptation seems to have pruned away a lot of the bloat, and this pivotal episode is jaw-dropping--not only for the repurposed oil tanker [and its passengers] that gets carved up by nanofibers, but for the way the writers manage to explain Liu's concept of "sophons" in less than 20 pages [which certainly didn't happen in the novel]. Judgment Day, indeed. The season finale, "Wallfacer," introduced one of the most important concepts of the books, and also cemented why I found myself liking this series more than I expected to: this adaptation has actual characters, instead of the book's cardboard cutouts.)

Fallout, Amazon Prime, Season 1 episode 8, "The Beginning." (This adaptation of the video game is equal parts affecting, absurd, and over-the-top gory. The first few episodes careened wildly between those three elements, but the finale successfully brings everything together and whets one's appetite for a season two, which I hope we will get. [Edit: Yes, we are going to. Apparently it's Amazon's most streamed show ever.])

Star Trek: Discovery, Paramount Plus, season 5 episode 3, "Jinaal." (This is Discovery's final season, and they are going on a quest--a quest that ties in rather neatly with a Next Generation episode involving the Progenitors, the aliens who seeded the galaxy with life billions of years ago. The search for clues leads Burnham and her crew to Trill. There is a great deal of good character work in this episode, especially for Tilly, and a darling scene where President T'Rina of Ni'Var reduces her fiancee Saru and his misguided urge to "protect" her to a quivering bowl of jelly in one sentence.) 

Interview With the Vampire, Season 2 Ep 5, "Don't Be Afraid, Just Start the Tape." (This series of angsty violent vampire love really tears apart its core characters here, as secrets from fifty years ago are revealed. The three principals--Eric Bogosian, Jacob Anderson and Assad Zaman, as well as Luke Brandon Field as a younger version of a main character--give excellent performances.)

Dune Part 2, written/directed by Dennis Villeneuve. I saw this on an Imax screen, and after I got used to people's faces towering several stories high, I thought it was really good. This second movie drills down into Paul's messiah complex, the Fremen culture, savior worship, the schemes and plans of the Bene Gesserit, and how they all meet on Dune in an unholy (pardon the pun) mess. I know this will sound old hat to those who have read the books, but I haven't. Nevertheless, I was able to follow the plot well enough. Also, the sandworms were awesome. 






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