2018 Recommended Reading/Viewing List

Now that the deadline for this year's Hugos is almost upon us, it's time to start the page for next year.

Novel

Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee (5 stars; full review here). (This brings the Machineries of Empire trilogy to a most satisfying end. This book is half again as long as its predecessors, and the author uses the extra length to reveal a great deal about his characters and world.)

The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal (5 stars; full review here). (Anyone who liked the movie Hidden Figures will love this. This is an alternate history of the space race set in motion by an asteroid impact, concentrating on the fight of the protagonist and her friends to become Lady Astronauts. This book is stuffed full of technical jargon, but there is no infodumping and the story never flags. Despite the gravity of the situation, this book is full of can-do optimism,  and brims with the "sensawunda" of the best science fiction.)

The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal (5 stars; full review here). (In contrast to the previous Lady Astronaut book, this one focuses on the First Mars Expedition. As far as I am concerned, this book is just as good as the first. If I only have room on next year's Hugo ballot for one of these books, I'm going to have a helluva time making up my mind.)

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik (5 stars; full review here). (This is a lovely, if very loose, retelling/reinterpretation of Rumplestiltskin, with three young women fighting to change their fates. Multiple first-person POVs shows off the author's skill with characterization.)

The Robots of Gotham, Todd McAulty (5 stars; full review here). (This is a fantastic, smart science fiction thriller, with stellar plotting, characterization and worldbuilding. I loved it.)

Before Mars, Emma Newman (4 stars; full review here). (I haaaaaated the ending to the first book in this series, Planetfall. This is a much stronger book, a neat little puzzle box of a mystery set on the Mars Principia colony, with broader themes of privacy, human rights, motherhood and how society treats mothers.)

Afterwar, Lilith Saintcrow (4 stars; full review here). (This is basically the politics of today set 80 years in the future, exploding in the Second American Civil War. It's all too plausible and scary as hell.)

Magic Triumphs, Ilona Andrews (4 stars; full review here). (This final book in the Kate Daniels series wraps everything up well, although this book is a bit overstuffed and lacking in characterization. This rating is more for the series as a whole than this book in itself.)

Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett (5 stars; full review here). (This is a fantastic epic fantasy with undercurrents of physics and quantum mechanics. Great characterization and worldbuilding.)

Iron and Magic, Ilona Andrews (5 stars; full review here). (A spinoff from the Kate Daniels series, this is a better book in every way. Deeper characterizations, interesting worldbuilding, and the skill of the authors on display as they take a bad guy from Kate's series and build him into an exciting, sympathetic character in his own right.)

Novella

The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Peter Watts (4 stars; full review here). (Peter Watts is one of the hardest of hard SF writers; his books runneth over with crunchy, chewy ideas, are full of cutting-edge physics and truly alien aliens, and boast deep dives into, among other things, the nature of consciousness, deep time, and artificial intelligence. His writing also tends to be very dark, which is the only knock I have against this book, although goodness knows I should be used to it by now. This is the story of the inhabitants of the Eriophora, a deep-time starship constructing a network of wormholes across the galaxy over millions of years, and what the prospect of continuing this endless spiral,  released from suspended animation literally one day in a million, does to the people aboard.)

Rogue Protocol, Martha Wells (5 stars; full review here). (I didn't care as much for the second entry in the Murderbot Diaries, Artifical Condition, but this third installment is firing on all cylinders. This is a fast-paced story with pitch-perfect characterizations, and of course my favorite cranky, irascible, antisocial cyborg/SecUnit, long may it reign.)

The Black God's Drums, P. Djeli Clark (4 stars; full review here). (Another really good alternate history, with the city of New Orleans as much a character as the protagonist Creeper. I hope the author writes further works in this world, especially if he tells the story of [!] General Harriet Tubman.)

Exit Strategy, Martha Wells (5 stars; full review here). (This final entry in the Murderbot Diaries is every bit as good as the first. It has equal action and character development: Murderbot has All the Fights along with All the Feelz. This storyline is wrapped up, but we're left in a good place for the forthcoming novel.)

"The Persistence of Blood," Juliette Wade, Clarkesworld Magazine 3/18. (This is maybe a Dying Earth story, or maybe a post-apocalyptic story. It's also a feudalistic tale about infertility and women's oppression. The author reveals just enough about this world to make it fascinating.)

Series

Machineries of Empire, Yoon Ha Lee. (See review of Revenant Gun above.)

Kate Daniels, Ilona Andrews. (The final book in the series, Magic Triumphs--see above--is a bit overstuffed, but everyone is dealt with, and most loose ends are tied up. With urban fantasy as a genre not being as popular as it used to be, it's doubtful we'll see a series like this again.)

Short Story 

"How To Make a Medusa," Ziggy Schultz, Daily Science Fiction 3/12/2018. (A dark little flash story that lives up to its title.)

"The Library Is Open," Beth Cato, Daily Science Fiction 1/15/2018. (A lovely tale about life and hope in the middle of an apocalypse.)

"A Witch's Guide To Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies," Alix E. Harrow, Apex Magazine February 2018. (This is a wonderful story of a librarian/witch who matches people with the book of their heart.)

"Safe Space," Rich Larson, Daily Science Fiction 3/17/2018. (This is a pretty thorough refutation of the hoary old cliche that one has to "suffer" to make art. The antagonist in this short but affecting tale has no idea what "suffering" is.)

"The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington," Phenderson Djeli Clark, Fireside Magazine February 2018. (This series of nine vignettes tells the backstory of the slaves that provided teeth for George Washington's dentures, in an alternative American history of mages and magic, where unfortunately slavery still existed.)

"A Priest of Vast and Distant Places," Cassandra Khaw, Apex Magazine March 2018. (A lovely story of plane gods, and the weight of family.)

"All the Time in the Sky," H.L. Fullerton, Daily Science Fiction 3/28/18. (The website lists this story as "slipstream," and while I've never seen an exact definition of that, this story seems to fit it. It's a brief, compelling little tale with a bittersweet ending.)

"Ghosts of Mars," Kevin J. Anderson, Daily Science Fiction 3/30/18. (This is a poignant little story of the first manned expedition to Mars, and the dreamers who came before.)

"Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse," S.B. Divya, Uncanny Magazine January/February 2018. (This is a fascinating story, set in a future America after what appears to be either a second Civil War and/or the Balkanization of the country. The protagonists perform illegal abortions, and after the death of one of the main characters, the surviving member of their little polyamorous family risks everything to get their children across the heavily guarded border between California and Arizona. I would love to know more about this world.)

"Since We've No Place To Go," Daily Science Fiction 4/13/18. (This story will hit you like a ton of brick. "Making Christmas Great Again," indeed.)

"The Sharp Edges of Anger," Jamie Lackey, Apex Magazine April 2018. (This is a powerful story, but it's pretty damn bleak--to the point where I think you must have a certain amount of spoons to deal with it. It has similar themes, although an entirely different setting, to The Handmaid's Tale, dealing with the oppression of women and women's emotions and the price that extracts.)

"Lava Cake for the Apocalypse," Wendy Nikel, Nature Magazine 2/28/18. (This is a clever, bittersweet flash story about a post-apocalyptic Earth, framed by a chocolate cake recipe.)

"The Velvet Castles of the Night," Claire Eliza Bartlett, Daily Science Fiction 5/29/18. (This is a neat deconstruction/subversion of the hero trope.)

"Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse," Cherie Priest, Apex Magazine May 2018. (This is definitely a political allegory type of story, and furthermore it's not hard to figure out who Mother Jones is talking to, so if you don't like that kind of story don't read this. But the emotions generated by the story build, and Priest's prose just sings.)

"The Thing in the Walls Wants Your Small Change," Virginia M. Mohlere, Luna Station Quarterly June 2018. (This is a lovely story of a woman breaking free of her abusive mother, who discovers she has a kitten-sized dragon inhabiting her small apartment. Want!!! On the more serious side, I've never heard of this magazine before, but it seems well worth checking out.)

"What Remains," Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Daily Science Fiction 6/15/18. (Beautifully written flash story of first contact.)

"Perchance to Dream," Forrest Brazeal, Daily Science Fiction 7/12/18. (A creepy little story about nightmares made flesh.)

"Suzie Q," Jacqueline Carey, Apex Magazine June 2018. (This is the second outstanding story I've read this year about women's oppression and women's anger. Is this a theme of sorts? Given the current political climate, I'm not surprised. In a way, this story is also the dark mirror of Hogwarts.)

“The Babe,” Daily Science Fiction 9/21/18, Laura Anne Gilman. (This is a beautifully written, atmospheric little story about a fairy changeling swapped for a human baby, and the father who wants both.)

"Midnight at the Fountains of Bellagio," Daily Science Fiction 10/23/18, Caroline M. Yoachim. (Daily Science Fiction is pretty hit and miss, but when it does hit, it's on all cylinders. This is a flash story that does pretty much everything--characterization, a hint of backstory, and a sad but triumphant ending. That's damned hard to do in such a short space, but this story pulls it off.)

"Jewel of the Vashwa," Jordan Kurella, Apex Magazine August 2018. (This is a powerful story about guilt and lies, and the shifting sands of truth.)

"And Yet," A.T. Greenblatt, Uncanny Magazine, March/April 2018. (This is a fascinating little story about haunted houses, the multiverse, and the love between siblings. It is written in second person present tense [for those who don’t like that POV], but I thought it was handled well, and didn’t come off as pretentious or precious.)

Best Novelette

(Edit: I moved The Only Harmless Great Thing here, as I've been told it has a better chance of making the ballot at this length. It's on the edge between novella and novelette, but there are too many good novellas this year.)

The Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bolander (5 stars; full review here) (This is a fantastic alternate history, combining the real-life storylines of Topsy the circus elephant and the Radium Girls into a unique, layered narrative vibrating with righteous rage. It's not a nice story, or a feel-good story, but it is, in the end, a triumphant one.)

"A Siren's Cry is a Song of Sorrow," Apex Magazine September 2018, Stina Leicht. (Another memorable, harrowing story [child abuse is involved] rippling with women's anger.  This story hits all the harder because everyone knows, or is, a girl to whom the events related here have happened. The ending is ambiguous--is there magic to save these sisters, or isn't there--but one hopes they have been. This is powerful.)

 Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

"The Book of Little Black Lies," Black Lightning, S1 ep 9, the CW. (This superhero series centering on an African-American family is finding its stride and beginning to gel. In this episode, the superheroics and family dynamics are given nearly equal time, to excellent effect.)

"Sins of the Father," Black Lightning, S1 ep 10, the CW. (Maybe it's just me, but all of a sudden this show seems to be hitting on all cylinders. The pieces are being set up for the final showdown, and we're getting some great character work. The Pierce family is the heart of this show, and the writers seem to be getting that.)

"Shadow of Death," Black Lightning S1 ep 13, the CW. (This show definitely grew stronger as it went along, and the first-season finale wraps up with the Pierce family reunited and one Big Bad dispatched. But the Big Badder, Tobias Whale, remains and will presumably loom large in the second season.)

"Black Jesus Blues" and "Translucent Freak," Black Lightning S2, eps 2 and 4, the CW. (This season of Black Lightning focuses on consequences: the fallout from the first season for all four main characters. I'm so pleased that the fabulous Christine Adams, as Lynn, is getting her own storyline. Also, Marvin 'Krondon' Jones, as Tobias Whale, remains a compelling villain.)

"AKA I Want Your Cray Cray," Jessica Jones S2 ep 7, Netflix. (Thus far, this season of Jessica Jones is neither as focused or as intense as season 1. This does not mean it's bad--see below--but that first season was a masterstroke that probably won't be repeated. But this episode, coming after the midseason turning point, reveals a great deal of Jessica's and Trish's past, and features two stellar performances by Krysten Ritter and Rachael Taylor.)

"AKA Three Lives and Counting," Jessica Jones S2 ep 11, Netflix. (As Season 2 of Jessica Jones marches towards its climax, this episode features the return of David Tennant as a ghost in Jessica's head, helping her come to an important epiphany about herself. Meanwhile, real cracks are developing in Jessica's friendship with Trish, as Trish's desire not only to do what Jessica does, but be like Jessica, is leading her down a dark and twisted path. I've seen people say this season is bad, and that simply isn't true. In particular, Janet McTeer, as Jessica's mother, is riveting.)

"AKA Playland," Jessica Jones S2 ep 13, Netflix. (Thoughts on the season as a whole: it isn't quite as good as the first season, but eps 6-13--and in particular Jessica and her mother Alisa--are gripping. Callum Keith Rennie, in a small role as the scientist/Alisa's husband/enabler, is also quite good. In this last episode, everything comes together, Jessica rids herself of the dysfunctional people around her--including, sadly, Trish--and takes a few shaky baby steps towards what might be a normal life.)

"IFF," The Expanse S3 ep 2, SyFy. (The third season of The Expanse is here, and so far it's very good indeed. This is the best of the episodes so far, I think, with a nail-biting action sequence bookended by nice character work, particularly between Amos and Prax.)

"Assured Destruction," The Expanse S3 ep 3, SyFy. (Yes, I know I said the previous episode, "IFF," was the best episode so far, but this one is nipping at its heels. It's a quieter, character-based episode--probably a necessity after the CGI expense of the previous one. There are several great scenes of character interaction, and Shohreh Aghdashloo owns every one of them.)

"Immolation," The Expanse S3 ep 6, SyFy. (The Expanse was canceled by SyFy, but now it's been picked up by Amazon, hooray. This episode is outstanding--indeed the entire season thus far seems to have reached another level.)

"It Reaches Out," The Expanse S3 ep 8, SyFy. (Tired of me raving about The Expanse yet? As long as we keep getting episodes like these, I'll keep doing it. I've read the book this is based on--book 3 of the series, Abaddon's Gate--and even knowing what would happen, this had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.)

Now that season 3 of The Expanse has ended, we're not going to mess around with individual episodes. Or at least I'm not. I'm going to recommend the entire season be nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.

"Smart Power," The Handmaid's Tale S2 ep 9, and "Woman's Work," S2 ep 8, Hulu. (The Handmaid's Tale is even bleaker than ever, if that's possible. In ep 9, the Waterfords make a brief diplomatic sojourn to Canada, where the letters showing the true state of women in Gilead are released to the world. In "Woman's Work," June and Serena form an brief, uneasy alliance. In both episodes, Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd and Yvonne Strahowski are outstanding.)

"The Last Ceremony," The Handmaid's Tale S2 ep 10, Hulu. (This was very hard to watch. Trigger warnings for rape and separation of child/parent. But it is so good. Elisabeth Moss should be nominated for another Emmy.)

"Wig Out," Luke Cage S2 ep 3, Netflix. (Being "the Hero of Harlem" is changing Luke, and not for the better. However, I'm also liking the attention being given the supporting characters, especially Misty. She teams up with Iron Fist's Colleen Wing for a fight scene in this episode that is one of the best scenes I've watched on any Marvel series.)

"The Wolf Inside," Star Trek: Discovery, S1 ep 11, CBS All Access. (Yeah, I broke down and subscribed to All Access so I could watch this. The season is getting stronger as it goes along; this episode is definitely better than "Magic To Make the Sanest Man Go Mad," the episode nominated for the Hugos this year. The storylines are converging, the writing and characterizations are [mostly] making sense, and [spoiler] Michelle Yeoh returns!! I am down for that any way, any how.)

"Vaulting Ambition" and "What's Past is Prologue," Star Trek: Discovery, S1 eps 12 and 13, CBS All Access. (Discovery had a very uneven first season, but it seemed to come together more in the second half. To me, the most interesting character after Saru and Burnham was Gabriel Lorca, and I was rather disappointed that they made him a right bastard in the Mirror Universe and killed him off. Also, the season's end was...not all that great. Hopefully they've learned from their mistakes and will have a stronger Season 2.)

"The New Colossus," The Man in the High Castle, S3 ep 5, Amazon Prime. (This new season of The Man in the High Castle is more twisty than ever, juggling several storylines, but they came together in this high-stakes episode of several Oh Crap! moments, which showed off the ruthlessness of John Smith and the badassery of Juliana Crane.)

"Kasumi (Through the Mists," "Baku," and "Jahr Null," The Man in the High Castle S3 eps 8-10, Amazon Prime. (In this third season, The Man in the High Castle has upped their game in every way, from the performances to the plot to the horror of the setting. Rufus Sewell [John Smith], Chelah Horsdal [Helen Smith], Alexa Davalos [Juliana Crane] and DJ Quall [Ed McCarthy] are standouts. The horrifying realities of the Third Reich are brought to the fore in the final three episodes, where American's icons [such as the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty] are destroyed to make way for the Reich's "New Tomorrow." [And there is an absolutely chilling scene of a mob of Hitler Youth marching down the streets of New York, chanting "Blood and soil"--an eerie mirror of what happened a year ago in Charlottesville, North Carolina.] In the final episode, an explanation for the ability to "travel" is given, which opens up fascinating possibilities for future seasons. It's unflinching, brutal stuff, but it's good.)

"Touch," The Haunting of Hill House, S1 ep 3, Netflix. (This slowly unfolding ghost story, very loosely based on Shirley Jackson's classic horror novel, is creepy and absorbing. In this third episode, we explore the backstory of one of the Crain family's five siblings, Theodora, and her ability to read objects and people through touch. There is a great deal of flipping back and forth between the past and the present [and on a side note, the casting of the Crain children is excellent--they all look like they're actually related to their adult selves], and how the entire family cannot escape one terrible night long ago, when their mother died.)

"The Bent-Neck Lady," The Haunting of Hill House, S1 ep 5, Netflix. (This is the absolutely mesmerizing payoff to Nell's [Eleanor Vance's] story. Supposedly the series has little in common with the original novel--which I haven't read myself--but that doesn't matter. This is one of the finest pieces of horror I've seen in a long time.)

 "Two Storms," The Haunting of Hill House, S1 ep 6, Netflix. (This one's even better, dammit. The cinematography is incredible--the first 15 minutes of the episode is one extended take, and the storylines flip between the past and the present, with extended takes for each. The entire Crain family is together for a funeral, and all their past and present wounds are ripped open. There isn't any gore or jump-scares in this, but the horror steadily builds. Just so well done.)

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

"Annihilation," written and directed by Alex Garland. (My first good movie of 2018. If you liked Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival--slower-paced, more thoughtful SF movies--you will probably like this. I haven't read the Jeff Vandermeer book it's based on, and it's reportedly a very loose adaptation anyway, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The only quibble I have is that Lena, played by Natalie Portman, is the only character really explored, and in particular Tessa Thompson is wasted. But it's a gorgeous film, with moments of beauty and horror, and an ambiguous ending that apparently gave the studio fits.)

"Black Panther," written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler. (This, of course, is the curb-stomping gorilla of this year's film season, unless the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War surpasses it. [It's of note that the latest trailer for the latter emphasizes the point that the climax takes place in Wakanda. Marvel obviously knows which side of the whole-wheat bread--a joke snagged from Steven Barnes on Facebook--its butter is on.] This movie, despite its big-budget CGI superhero formula, has a lot to say about racism, colonialism, and how we create our own demons. Chadwick Boseman may play the titular character, but Michael B. Jordan, as Killmonger, and Letitia Wright, as Shuri, come damn close to stealing the show.)

"A Quiet Place," written by John Krasinski/Scott Beck/Bryan Woods, directed by John Krasinski. (This is one of the best horror movies I've seen in years. It's on the SF/alien invasion side of horror rather than the supernatural, with a tight script and direction--there's not a wasted moment. Bonus points for casting a Deaf actress to play a Deaf character, and her Deafness and cochlear implant play important roles in the film's tense, riveting climax.)

"Sorry To Bother You," written/directed by Boots Riley. (This is a very surreal, finely tuned acid trip, equal parts humorous and horrifying. It has pointed things to say about capitalism, the exploitation of labor, and the over-the-top, reality-show culture we live in. I’m sure some people might view it as a train wreck, but it’s definitely one you can’t look away from.)

YA (Young Adult) Lodestar 

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi (4 stars; full review here). (A flawed but fascinating debut novel, mainly lacking in consistent characterization, steeped in Nigerian culture, gods and mythology.)

Dread Nation, Justina Ireland (5 stars; full review here). (From the jacket copy: "This is not your mother's Civil War-era zombie story." Indeed.  The real horror here is not the zombies, but the racist and white supremacist culture in which the protagonist and her friends are struggling to survive.)

Inferno, Julie Kagawa (4 stars; full review here). (This is the fifth and final book in the Talon Saga, a young-adult fantasy version of Romeo and Juliet where a dragon slayer falls in love with the dragon he's sent to kill. Fortunately, the teenage angst is reduced after the first book, and we get an interesting examination of two opposing factions who have hated and killed each other for centuries, and the rebel leaders of both who are trying to stop the madness.)

Unearthed, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (5 stars; full review here).  (This is described on Goodreads as “Lara Croft meets Indiana Jones on an alien planet,” which is overhyped but not entirely wrong. There is archaeology, puzzles, supposedly extinct alien races, and an Earth in the throes of climate change searching for resources to save their declining world. This book does end on a massive cliffhanger, and the ending also hints at a great underlying mystery.)

Best Graphic Novel 

The Electric State, written/illustrated by Simon Stalenhag (5 stars; full review here). (This is a wonderful graphic novel, with an absorbing story and fantastic, surreal illustrations. It's an alternate history, sort of cyberpunk, sort of a virtual reality zombie apocalypse, and I don't think I've read another graphic novel like it. It's nothing like Marvel/DC/Image, that's for damn sure.)


John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Tomi Adeyemi, for her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone, above. (At least as far as my Google-fu can find.)

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