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.)

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.)


Series

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


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.)


Dramatic Presentation

"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.)

"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.)

"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.)

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