NPR's 50 best SF and Fantasy books of the decade
August 18, 2021 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Let's find something new to read! NPR assembled a list of the best Science Fiction and Fantasy books of the last decade. See anything you like?
posted by PussKillian (107 comments total) 159 users marked this as a favorite
 
i have added a couple to my overdrive wait list!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:31 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I didn't know Joe Abercrombie wrote a new trilogy in the First Law world. That sounds interesting.
posted by allegedly at 9:33 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Please forgive the simplicity of what I am about to say for I am not practiced at complimenting things on the internet: This is a really good list.

It's managing to excel at the impossible task of 1.) Encapsulating the tone and vibe of the past decade in SF and Fantasy. 2.) Providing recommendations for readers wanting to get into the genres. 3.) Providing additional quality material for existing readers to seek out.

(Note: I have worked on many, many of these books and am responding to the list with that bias.)
posted by greenland at 9:37 AM on August 18 [34 favorites]


Good list! I definitely want to give a shout out for Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga which I have been looooving and can’t wait for #3. I love that this list really highlights the great work coming from a more diverse base of authors. A lot of these are already on my list or will be added!
posted by obfuscation at 9:41 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


There are a bunch of books on this list that I have not read, but all the ones I have are among my favorites.
posted by JDHarper at 9:41 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


The only ones I've read are the Broken Earth Trilogy, but I just put a few from the list on hold at the library...thanks for sharing!
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:49 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I've read more of these than I expected, but I definitely found Murderbot through MeFi recommendations. And, god, I love Murderbot. (No spoilers, I'm waiting on Book 4 from Libby.)
posted by gladly at 9:56 AM on August 18 [8 favorites]


I just purchased The City of Brass to read next week while on vacation thanks to this post, so thanks.
posted by TheKaijuCommuter at 9:57 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


That’s a great list! I hereby nominate my recent favourite Famous Men Who Never Lived, by K. Chess.
posted by dhruva at 10:01 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


Was just coming to post this, because it does seem to be a really good list - some of these I've read (and liked), and the others that I haven't I now want to track down.

Maybe there's something to be said for a list like this that is crowdsourced, instead of done by a few individuals.
posted by nubs at 10:04 AM on August 18


Looks like they took a blended approach, with extremely well-picked poll judges sifting through the crowdsourced picks.
posted by greenland at 10:07 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Oh wait, I also read the Martian, which was...better than Ready Player One, that’s the best I can do in terms of praise.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:12 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


This is How You Lose the Time War is on the list and of all of the ones I've read it's by far the most enjoyable to pick up and randomly read a chapter (later) from. Raises the bar for literary skill in science fiction.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:12 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


Nthing the positive comments regarding the quality of the list. It's definitely rare to find a list that makes want to read all of the books on it that I haven't already read.
posted by mollweide at 10:25 AM on August 18


Nicely diverse selection of authors. Nothing on it that I've read that I would want to remove. Endorsed, in the Canadian way: not a bad list.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:28 AM on August 18


Who are you and what have you done with MetaFilter
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 10:29 AM on August 18 [42 favorites]


The books on this list I have read:

Ancillary Justice et al - great series. One of SF's high points of the 21st century very likely.

City of Brass - very good although I just couldn't make it through the sequel. But a lovely fantasy novel grounded with great cultural research.

Wayfarers series / A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - the Ted Lasso of space opera series. It takes all the usually fairly lantern-jawed tropes of space opera and instead makes every just so darn nice.

The Space Between Worlds - this is less an alternate-worlds SF book, although it is that, but rather an exploration of trauma and choices and understanding why you are who you are.

The Echo Wife - I read this back-to-back with The Space Between Worlds and it was really weird because I chose them pretty much at random but again this is a book about trauma and abuse and how you deal with it. Some of it is taking revenge but some of it is recognizing what's holding you back inside yourself.

The Three Body Problem - I feel like everyone has read this at this point? Again, an amazing novel, I couldn't get through the remainder of the trilogy. But I think they'll revoke your library card if you haven't read this by now.

Station Eleven - I feel like i'm going to run out of superlatives here. First off as a one-time Torontonian there's literally nothing better than a book set in Toronto/Ontario. I don't know why. I guess I'm parochial. But this is a wonderfully written book about a post-pandemic apocalyptic life and that may hit a little too close to home after the last couple of years. The book turned out to be uncomfortably prescient.

This Is How You Lose the Time War - is this even a novel? It's like an enormous epic poem to me. This is less about a plot of characters, although it has those, than what the kids these days call "just vibing". And it's great.

Murderbot series - this is the Agatha Christie of the 2020's with a depressed killing machine as the protagonist and it's amazing. I desperately hope there will someday be dozens of Murderbot books.

Scalzi's Interdepency series / The Collapsing Empire - classic space opera done to perfection.

Gosh, how have I read so few of these books! Ugh! I guess it's because clearly I have a thing for space opera but I really have some work to do here, this is a great list.
posted by GuyZero at 10:34 AM on August 18 [7 favorites]


A very strong list, at least in my opinion!

21 titles or series on that list that I've read and loved
10 that I've read and very much liked
8 that I haven't read and probably should
6 which are It's Complicated (there are other books I love by that author, but not that one, or I loved the first book in the series but not the sequels)
5 which didn't do it for me (all of them much beloved by many people I know)

That's an amazing number of hits for a list of this nature.

A few I might have added:

The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Breath of the Sun by Isaac Fellman
Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Strange Creatures by Phoebe North
posted by kyrademon at 10:37 AM on August 18 [19 favorites]


Lot of good ones on here for sure. Though GuyZero, I feel that habit of loving the first book then falling off on the sequels. I have done that many times. I think the pressure to put out a trilogy is the root cause of this - cracking first book but then whoops, the publisher suggested that our princess is actually in another castle.

I hadn't heard of the Green Bone trilogy, sounds great. And I guess I should restart Gideon the Ninth.. the tone of the writing put me off but it sounds like if I stick to it I'd like it a lot.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:53 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Great list! More stuff for my ever-expanding queue ...

I would add Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson, if possible.

And can someone please publish a collection of all the Murderbot novellas in one volume? It's killing me to have to buy them all separately. (and in hardcover!) But they're so good that I do it anyway.
posted by chbrooks at 11:01 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Thank you for this list, it comes at exactly the moment needed.
posted by dragstroke at 11:02 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Strange Creatures by Phoebe North

MetaFilter's Own!
posted by gauche at 11:04 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


And can someone please publish a collection of all the Murderbot novellas in one volume?

Yeah, what happened to omnibus collections? I really want Broken Earth, Ancillary, Murderbot, and so on in single volumes. One of my favorite physical books is my Riddlemaster of Hed omni.

(I buy all the Murderbots on Kindle as soon as they are available to pre-order because that is how important the series is to me at this point, but still, an omnibus or two would be great. I think Wells is contracted for another 2-3 books in the series right now)
posted by curious nu at 11:05 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I am taking murderbot on vacation with me next week, among a couple of others on this list. Can't wait to sit by a pool and read!

I also want to recommend the last book I couldn't put down, which was Scythe by Neal Schusterman. It's a trilogy and the third book was a bit slow for me, but man, did I devour the first two. So good.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:17 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Ministry for the Future is a curious miss.
No Kim Stanley Robinson at all?
posted by doctornemo at 11:29 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


Station Eleven - I feel like i'm going to run out of superlatives here. First off as a one-time Torontonian there's literally nothing better than a book set in Toronto/Ontario. I don't know why. I guess I'm parochial.

Maybe you are parochial - in which case, I am too! I love books set in Toronto or Ontario (like Tanya Huff's Keeper series, set in Kingston and Toronto.)

I think maybe everyone except people who grew up in NYC, London or LA get excited for books set in their hometown.
posted by jb at 11:31 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


For any fellow parochial Ontarians or anyone who likes light and snappy superhero novels, I highly recommend James Alan Gardner's "All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault" which is set in Waterloo.

I thought Ministry for the Future was a complete disappointment and not worth reading. I don't know why it's so highly recommended - sure, it does explain a bunch of climate change and geoengineering ideas that not everyone knows about, but it mixes that with a bunch of bizarrely naive ideas about widespread ecoterrorism working out wonderfully and only killing the bad people, and a massive progressive wishlist of policy changes being magically adopted by every country in the world for no apparent reason.
posted by allegedly at 11:47 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


I love books set in Toronto or Ontario

It's sort of fantasy, but another simply wonderful book set in Toronto is Fifteen Dogs. Any book that opens with two gods making a bet in the Wheat Sheaf at King & Bathurst is a definite must-read. Thankfully the rest of the book lives up to the opening. It's not as big or splashy as the books on this list, but it's a lovely meditation about what it means to have free will and what it means to try to understand the world and the other people in it.

I love it, but it also won the Giller, so you know, other people liked it too.
posted by GuyZero at 11:47 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


If you want another list of great books, you can also just go read all the Giller prize winners. One of the things I took too much for granted living in Canada was the existence of an annual literary prize that was front-page news. It's literary fiction and not genre fiction, but still, perfectly good books. ;)
posted by GuyZero at 11:50 AM on August 18


ooh this looks like a very well curated list. I have read several (to mostly very enthusiastic review) and have several more on my to-read list. bookmarked!
posted by supermedusa at 11:59 AM on August 18


For any fellow parochial Ontarians or anyone who likes light and snappy superhero novels, I highly recommend James Alan Gardner's "All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault" which is set in Waterloo.

There's a genre of what I would call "post-modern superhero novels" and this is one of them. It was great! Some others:
Hench
Soon I Will Be Invincible
We Could Be Heroes
posted by GuyZero at 12:00 PM on August 18


A reminder that the past decade has been kind to literary SF. Which is one thing that I can't complain about.
posted by ovvl at 12:15 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I don't know what's missing from the list (I don't read quite as much SF and Fantasy as I think I do), but I went down the list and said "Obviously" and "Yeah, that's a keeper" a lot. There were a couple of books there that were not for me, and, as I said, I'm not sure what is missing that deserves to be there, but this looks like a really good list. It's not just a diverse set of writers, it's a diverse set of sub-genres within science fiction and fantasy and a diverse set of styles and voices. If you like science fiction and fantasy and you can't find half a dozen things on this list that you'll love then you might want to reconsider if you really like science fiction and fantasy.

But I take issue with this comment from the article:

The Locked Tomb series - This series is often described as "lesbian necromancers in space," but trust us, it's so much more than that.

Uh, it's sword-fighting lesbian necromancers in space. Who are probably insane. And do you really need it to be more than that? Isn't that enough?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:24 PM on August 18 [9 favorites]


I'll add another plug for 'Fifteen Dogs', with a caveat that it's a heartbreaker with some pretty intense scenes. If you can deal, it's one of the most philosophically interesting short novels ever.
posted by ovvl at 12:25 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I realize this thread is to celebrate books, rather than slag them, but I just had to comment in response to this:
Station Eleven - I feel like i'm going to run out of superlatives here. First off as a one-time Torontonian there's literally nothing better than a book set in Toronto/Ontario. I don't know why. I guess I'm parochial.
..because I had the opposite reaction to the same book. I'm familiar enough with Toronto to recognize that the Toronto setting for the first part of the book might appeal. But I grew up in western Michigan and chose the book because SF novels set there are rare. Unfortunately the parts of the book that take place in Michigan display a level of familiarity that I would expect could be achieved with 10 minutes and a road atlas, so my reaction to the book was also based in large part on reaction to its setting but wound up being very different.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:28 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


There is an omnibus of the first four Murderbot novellas! It is, unfortunately, a illustrated limited edition from Subterranean Press and currently listed as out of stock. But it does exist!
posted by Quasirandom at 12:44 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Are parts of NPR geolocked now? I can see the introduction, and it says "scroll on for the list", but there's no list.

Here it is on archive.org, if anyone else is having the same problem.
posted by Kattullus at 12:45 PM on August 18


I didn't know Joe Abercrombie wrote a new trilogy in the First Law world

Note that the third book won't be out until next month.
posted by Slothrup at 12:51 PM on August 18


Well, wouldja look at that - just as I was thinking, "hmmm, my current library pile is almost finished, time to plan a trip."

Thanks, PussKillian
posted by soundguy99 at 12:53 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else particularly enjoy the Babel series by Josiah Bancroft, that starts with "Senlin Ascends"? I will be seeking out the 4th one, "The Fall of Babel", which is due in early November.
posted by Johnny Quaternion at 1:02 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


So many good recommendations! I might add a book that I don't think totally succeeded, but was interesting and refreshing and well worth my time: Semiosis by Sue Burke. (Apparently there's a sequel! I had no idea.)
posted by that's candlepin at 1:09 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Looks like they took a blended approach, with extremely well-picked poll judges sifting through the crowdsourced picks.
A blend of judges and poll responses is a great way to go, but I'd quibble with "well-picked" here. It looks bad when the judges are all authors whose works make the final list even if most of the works would likely have made it anyway.

That said, this is a very strong list that does a good job of capturing the mainstream/awards winning slice of sci-fi and fantasy for the last decade. If you follow the genre closely, there's no real surprises here.
posted by 3j0hn at 1:14 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Of these books, some are on my all time loves list:

- Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie. I just absolutely loved them. Great SF.
- A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. Also fantastic, I hadn't really been into it until a few people had it on their best of the year list and I went between being delighted I read it to sad that I would need to wait for the followup.
- Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett. Really loved the worldbuilding about gods, and wars, and xenophobia. (I'm a sucker for settings.)
- Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Absolutely stellar, though in my secret heart I just love JS&MN more.
- Circe by Madeline Miller. Love retellings; sadly there are now a zillion "feminist" retellings of mythology that suck.
- Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I don't even like gothic horror (or either, individually), but again, so amazing. (Her new noir just came out. I'm enjoying it.)
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This is just the kind of space opera made for me.
- The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. Honestly didn't get press I expected it to last year, but it's amazing, hard to believe it's a debut. (Like many other books, its theme is Colonialism Is Evil.)
- The Broken Earth by NK Jemisin. I was mad that the last Leckie didn't win the Hugo and refused to read it (also, I hadn't liked her earlier books). Then the third was coming out and I thought I could time reading the first two just right, but I devoured them, agreed they deserved the prize, and had to wait anyhow.
- Murderbot by Martha Wells. I too just want to consume media and do nothing. Just so comforting.

There are other books on the list I liked, and ones I bounced off of, but this is a pretty good list.
posted by jeather at 1:15 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


It looks bad when the judges are all authors whose works make the final list

If the mass or popular vote has some clear winners, obviously all those works should be on the list and I think that’s a good choice of judges for the repechage. Don’t know if that’s how they did this, but I disagree that it’s a bad "look". I prefer it to a panel of insiders who don’t write books anyone else likes and yet have a lock somehow on the awards.

Both systems can be attacked by sad whatevers, but at least they take different attacks.
posted by clew at 1:23 PM on August 18


My additions to this list would be Exit West, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Visitor
(#17 in Cherryh's series and only it, not the rest of the recent ones), and Aurora (rather than Ministry for the Future).
posted by joeyh at 1:32 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


(City of Brass is just $1.99 in the Kindle store right now, BTW)
posted by SoberHighland at 1:33 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


(City of Brass is just $1.99 in the Kindle store right now, BTW)

Looks like several of the books are on sale today: at least "Children of Time", "Spinning Silver", "The Space Between Worlds", and later books in the Becky Chambers series (not book 1, though).

This link may or may not work:

Kindle Sale
posted by dforemsky at 1:41 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


I don't need to come in here to tell y'all about how awesome Murderbot is, but just in case...it is awesome. Also, the Daevabad Triology (or as I refer to it, what GRR Martin could have written if he didn't hate women, got therapy, and maybe had a bit of a soul) is a beautiful series that made me slow down and think as I read. Every moment in the first book where I thought I had the situation figured out, she twisted things up and showed me a different path. And honestly, the ending of the series is just so...right. There's nothing bad there.

I've read a ton on this list and I think I can safely say the only book/series on the list that missed for me was the Lady Astronaut books. I tried the first one and the egregious (to me) sex scenes constantly pulled me out of the story and made me feel relieved when the book was over.
posted by teleri025 at 1:55 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


This is a super strong list and I've read a lot of them but the best, the absolute best of the entire list is Pirenisi. If you decide to read it, don't read about the book in advance and dive it. It is fabulous.
posted by bluesky43 at 2:06 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


We need some Murderbot merch, like a T-shirt that says "Also, you may have noticed, I don't care"
posted by allegedly at 2:06 PM on August 18 [10 favorites]


Amazing list. It's only missing The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz: time travel alternate branching timelines shenanigans set against a very real and present history of feminism and its antagonists.
posted by signal at 2:36 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I'll admit that math is NOT my strong suit, but I've got the list pegged at nearly 3/5 by authors not identifying as male and and about 2/5 by BIPOC authors. That's a promising indicator that the field really is changing, though there's always more progress to be made.
posted by xenization at 2:40 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I'm disappointed that Gladstone's Craft Sequence didn't make the cut but at least Max was represented by another title.
posted by Ber at 2:41 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this is a great list. Two entries I would add, in case anyone needs even more recommendations:
  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. (Not on the NPR list because they chose a different Novik book.) A “magic school” story that is nothing like Harry Potter. This is the most excited I’ve been for a new series in quite a while.
  • The Peripheral and Agency by William Gibson. Mix of near-future and far-future sci-fi with a unique take on parallel/alternate timelines. This feels like a very new direction for Gibson, while still keeping a lot of what made his previous works interesting.
Both of these are unfinished trilogies, and I can’t wait to read the next installments.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:56 PM on August 18 [6 favorites]


What a wonderful-looking list! I managed to grab The Echo Wife via Libby, and put a hold on for This Is How You Lose the Time War. I was honestly amazed my local library had either, as their SF selections tend to be pretty sparse.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:17 PM on August 18


Oh, I thought Station Eleven was amazing. And if Emily St John Mandel doesn't write well about Michigan, I can confirm that she writes very well indeed about Denman Island (where she grew up) and northern Vancouver Island as well, and what it's like to live there.

I was a bit surprised to not see Frances Hardinge on the list-- her latest is Deeplight.
posted by jokeefe at 3:27 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm doing okay with keeping up with sf/f even though I feel like I'm out of the loop; I have read like a third of these. There's a few others I've heard of but haven't felt like checking out for various reasons. I may have to look into the ones I haven't heard of.

Could not get myself to give two shits about Imperial Radch, though, despite it sounding like it would check a huge number of boxes on the list of "stuff I look for in a SF book".
posted by egypturnash at 4:15 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I loved the Hidden Palace (also part of the Kindle sale), the sequel to the Golem and the Jinni. Hope there's a third book in this series.
posted by ssmith at 4:39 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I was surprised at how few I had read -- I guess my reading in that genre fell off a lot more than I had guessed. But a lot of it looks good and I'm looking forward to reading more.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 PM on August 18


Wow this is a great list! Definitely saving for future reference.

Also making me realize I need to branch out a bit, I've only read 5 or 6 of the ones off this list (although finding more time to read would help too).
posted by photo guy at 5:37 PM on August 18


Great list - lots of books I loved and a few that were misses for me (Just City was universally panned by my whole book club, so I'm surprised to see it on the list! I'd already read the republic though?) and a whole bunch I'm excited to add to my list!

I am just finishing up the Leviathan Wakes audiobook (first in the expanse series) and earlier today I texted my husband "where the heck is Avasarala!?" so I'm gratified to see the same sentiment in their blurb!
posted by euphoria066 at 5:44 PM on August 18


You know that you are growing old and losing your edge when a best of list actually strikes you as pretty good. Ten years from now I'll probably find the "best of " to be too trendy, its politics lightweight and trite, not like the really great books of my heydey, etc.

But also I think it illustrates how the audience for SFF has changed and how this change is entwined with changes in publishing and distribution. There's substantially more translated SF even though there still isn't a lot - there was almost none 20 years ago. There's so much more high profile, widely available work by BIPOC/women/LGBTQ writers and there's cultural space for those writers to create the biggest, most innovative work and have it marketed as Big! Innovative! FancyCover! Happily, "sniggering sex comedy series with a teenage male protagonist and a lot of semi-rape" is no longer the biggest category in the fantasy section.

Science fiction is a lot more respectable than it used to be, which is mostly good because it enlarges and diversifies the audience but has also given us a whole lot of bland-voiced, love-me-I'm-a-liberal SF which can now be sold to respectable readers.

If I were going to add a few books, I'd concur with kyrademon that Isaac Fellman's The Breath of the Sun is really terrific. It's everything I like in a SFF novel - epic landscape, journeys on the ice, sadness, the sublime, powerful and important women characters, some stuff about how we understand science and medicine.Also a balloon. It was the last really new SFF book I read before I plunged into really bad pandemic depression and I several times thought that I was glad that I'd lived long enough to read it, it was that good.

Anyway, I'd also add The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, The Devourers by Indra Das, and The Stone Boatmen by Sarah Tolmie.

In addition, everything Small Beer Press publishes is good - their books tend to be smaller in feel - chamber books, so to speak - so I'm not sure how to compare them to, eg, the epic inventive blockbuster work of NK Jemisin, but they publish Sofia Samatar which should give you an idea.
posted by Frowner at 5:50 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


Also I feel like there's a lot of science fiction that is more "about science fiction" than perhaps in the recent past - there's so, so much that is rooted in "here is how we used to tell these stories of space travel and interplanetary relations, watch as I complexify or invert them, tell them from below stairs, demystify, etc".
posted by Frowner at 5:53 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Agreed on missing The Peripheral, which is both timely and a nice return to William Gibson's abilities.

(Not to mention including 3d printed cronuts)
posted by doctornemo at 8:24 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


It's a promising list! Pretty good hit rate on the ones I've read. I'd like to see the big nominations list to jog my memory for the decade, but one absence I note is Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth books.

And Gladstone' s Craft series, I get their rules, still really though.
posted by away for regrooving at 8:46 PM on August 18


Oh, and Marks' Air Logic was in the decade, so I'm going to adjudge that it can draft in the 2002 - 2007 books of the series it completed.

I'm glad Small Beer reprinted them, but the lag had to make it hard to build an audience, and the books deserve more buzz than they got. James Nicoll reviews.
posted by away for regrooving at 9:00 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I would like to add a series to the "Will Make You Feel Good" section: Sorcery and Cecelia. I usually find epistolary novels a slog, but I never had the "but when am I getting back to my favorite character?" feeling with this series.

It is like . . . (an entirely chaste) regency romance but actually mostly a magical whodunnit, and overall extremely comfy. Now that I am describing it I am tempted to read it again. Especially lately "extremely comfy" books are my jam.
posted by that girl at 10:47 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Some good stuff but definitely missing my SF favourites.

Here's some faves

A Calculated Life
15 Lives of Harry August
The Flight of the Silvers
The Outside
Freeze Frame Revolution
Walkaway
The Last Policeman
The Girl with all the Gifts
posted by Dag Maggot at 12:24 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


And my absolute favourite: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.
posted by Dag Maggot at 12:31 AM on August 19


(checks list)

Yes, good, carry on
posted by jscalzi at 2:32 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


No Ada Palmer, Too Like Lightning.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:59 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I've read every one of the Wayfarers books by Becky Chambers. Everyone is just so real and kind and I love them all.

I bought "Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir the day it came out, which is not common for me at all, but I loved "The Martian" so much that I had to.

The book "Children of Time" is absolutely amazing. I couldn't get into the second one in the duology, alas, but the first one was [chefkiss].

I didn't actually need more books to read, but here I am, adding to my list...
posted by XtinaS at 4:13 AM on August 19


Also I feel like there's a lot of science fiction that is more "about science fiction" than perhaps in the recent past - there's so, so much that is rooted in "here is how we used to tell these stories of space travel and interplanetary relations, watch as I complexify or invert them, tell them from below stairs, demystify, etc".

Part of that might be the fact that we have a generation of authors who grew up on the tropes and so are wanting to deconstruct & interrogate them; but I feel that (though I have nothing to prove it) part of it is the fact that there are more diverse voices in the field, who are showing us SF through a different lens.
posted by nubs at 7:53 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.

I've heard great things about this, Dag Maggot. Hope to get to it soon.
posted by doctornemo at 8:24 AM on August 19


I scanned the list hoping to find a setting that is deep underground but came up a blank.

Do any of the mefi scifi readership have any recommendations?

For reference, I'm looking for inspiration for an RPG set in Patrick Stuart's 'Veins of the Earth'.
posted by lovelyzoo at 9:08 AM on August 19


A couple of years ago, there was a MeFi post about some "top 25 SFF by female authors". I downloaded everything from that list to my Kindle and promptly forgot about the list. For the next year or two, whenever I wanted to read something, I opened one of the books already on my Kindle. I kept getting surprised by the freshness and diversity of the works, until I finally realized that all those books were written by women. I've been an avid reader of SFF for more than 35 years, and love the genre, but damn, I love reading authors who are NOT old white males. Here's to seeing ever more new voices in SFF.
posted by gakiko at 9:32 AM on August 19 [5 favorites]


Am I the only person who wasn't impressed by "Station Eleven"? "The Traitor Baru Cormorant" was brutal, too much so.

The sequel to "A Memory Called Empire" is even better than the first, IMO. "This Is How You Lose the Time War" is super cute. "Goblin Emperor" is a pretty cozy read given its subject.

Among authors I already adore: loved "Spinning Silver" to pieces; "Exhalation" was more hit-or-miss.
posted by of strange foe at 9:39 AM on August 19


> "I scanned the list hoping to find a setting that is deep underground but came up a blank. Do any of the mefi scifi readership have any recommendations?"

The already-mentioned Frances Hardinge has "A Face Like Glass", which is fantastic.
posted by kyrademon at 10:19 AM on August 19


Hello! I am, occasionally anyhow, MeFi's Own, and this is my project every year (with huge thanks to the copy editors, technical folks and judging panel who help make it happen). I am happy to answer any questions people have about how the list was hammered out. I would've popped in yesterday but man this thing eats my brain.

It looks bad when the judges are all authors whose works make the final list

That was all me -- usually each year I leave it up to the judges; if their work got enough votes to make it to the semifinal list, they can decide whether or not it should be on the final list. But this year every judge made the semifinals, and I made the editorial decision that all their work as so good that the list would be lesser had we left them off.

And yeah, Ada Palmer was a tough one. We argued about her a lot. Sorry!
posted by speedlime at 12:28 PM on August 19 [31 favorites]


If you have done this every year for a while, have you noticed any changes in the types of books? The process? The general climate? Basically, what is different now compared to when you started?

Among other things, I appreciate that this list is not a slideshow!
posted by Frowner at 12:38 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Hm! That's actually hard to answer, because we choose a different genre every year -- this is the first time we've re-run a poll, and it was because it was the 10th anniversary of the original 2011 list, and there's been such seismic change in the kinds of books that are published, promoted and awarded in SF/F. So yes, practically everything has changed about the books, but it's kinda specific to this genre. I see that growth in diversity elsewhere in publishing, but to a somewhat lesser extent.

I don't know how the very earliest polls were done -- I started working on them in 2012 -- so I don't know what role the judging panel played back then. I was part of the decision to move away from ranked lists and towards category groupings; ranked lists are kinda fun but ultimately less useful to the reader.

(Also yuck, slideshows!)
posted by speedlime at 1:13 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


A lot of great stuff in here. I'm surprised to see that I've only read 10 out of 50, and of those, most of them I've only read the first book in the series. (Is the rest of the Ancillary series good?)

Susanna Clarke's Piranesi is absolutely wonderful, and I'm glad to see it was included. Same with This Is How You Lose the Time War. And who doesn't love Wayfarers and Murderbot?

I am, however, shocked that this doesn't include The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, which is the single best book in any genre that I've read in the last ten years.

My other faves from the last 10 years:
Crossings by Alex Landragin
The Gameshouse - Claire North
Occupy Me - Tricia Sullivan
The City We Became - N.K. Jemisin
Foundryside - Robert Jackson Bennett (although I didn't love the sequel)
The Book of M - Peng Shepherd (holy crap this book is good)
The Hike - Drew Magary
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins
Arcadia - Iain Pears
The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell
The Drowning Girl - Caitlin R. Kiernan
The Supernatural Enhancements - Edgar Cantero

OK I guess that's kind of a lot.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:22 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


That was all me -- usually each year I leave it up to the judges; if their work got enough votes to make it to the semifinal list, they can decide whether or not it should be on the final list. But this year every judge made the semifinals, and I made the editorial decision that all their work as so good that the list would be lesser had we left them off.

That seems like a reasonable decision. After all, the people who write good books and uniquely qualified to judge good books. Thanks for answering questions!
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:25 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


You're very welcome!
posted by speedlime at 2:02 PM on August 19


"who doesn't love Murderbot"

That would be me. I'm confused by the love and hype, which may have skewed my reading. I read the first book and found not much going on. What do you all like so much about it?
posted by doctornemo at 2:48 PM on August 19


lovelyzoo asks:

I scanned the list hoping to find a setting that is deep underground but came up a blank.

Do any of the mefi scifi readership have any recommendations?


Have you looked into The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling?
posted by doctornemo at 2:50 PM on August 19


"who doesn't love Murderbot"

That would be me. I'm confused by the love and hype, which may have skewed my reading. I read the first book and found not much going on. What do you all like so much about it?


The fact that Murderbot may be the most humane character in the setting; or at least the one most engaged in questioning its motives, intentions, and how its actions impact other beings.
posted by nubs at 3:05 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Well, it was kind of a hyperbolic rhetorical question, I'm guessing there are SOME people out there who don't love Murderbot. (Certainly, in the books there are plenty.)

If you're looking for books with deep underground settings, the Broken Earth trilogy has some sequences set in underground comms, though it's not entirely underground. Seconding Frances Hardinge, A Face Like Glass is MARVELOUS. And I thought I'd just remembered something great for you but I double-checked and it's underwater, not underground. Sigh. (A Darkling Sea, by James Cambias.)
posted by speedlime at 3:27 PM on August 19


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

A great book. Very solid twist on time-travel.
posted by GuyZero at 3:39 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Stuff I like about Murderbot:

1) Murderbot's voice! Funny and cynical but also emotionally vulnerable despite its best efforts. Eminently likeable.
2) Breezy, efficient prose. Nothing flashy but makes it really easy to immerse yourself in the story.
3) Fast-paced narrative with lots of action, which is just fun.
4) On a potentially more significant note, Murderbot's flailing while trying to figure out personal identity and relationships is easy for a lot of people to relate to for various reasons.

I don't think the books are meant to be emotionally weighty or super philosophically sophisticated or whatever. But they're delightful, beautifully executed light reading with just enough substance to be satisfying.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 3:53 PM on August 19 [7 favorites]


The charm of Murderbot is the blend of old & new: conventional space exploration plots, but a neuroatypical protagonist with a unique point of view, who feels very detached from generic human interactions, but deals with some vague emotional tensions within their consciousness/programming. Psychologically, it's interesting. That said, the whole "Murderbot" title is kinda cheezy, but hey. Also, the series gets better as it goes along, and the latest one is the best so far.
posted by ovvl at 5:07 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


If you don't get the appeal of Murderbot, perhaps you've never struggled with trying to be human during daily interactions with other people.
posted by mollweide at 6:08 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


While I definitely liked five of these, it felt a lot like they rounded up the most literary of books/series of the genre and didn't lean in to the genre much. There are eight books here that I tried and just got bored trying to read. I don't know which Gail Carriger I would have put on, but I'd like someone who leans into the fun of genre fiction the way she does.

My favorite books that got missed:
Carry on by Rainbow Rowell (and sequels)
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (I love this book and couldn't finish Spinning Silver)
The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona K. Staples
The Lady Trent books by Marie Brennan (I found the first one good, but difficult to read emotionally; the remaining ones zoomed by)
posted by blueberry monster at 8:45 PM on August 19


speedlime is right that I was speaking rhetorically, and of course not everyone is going to like Murderbot. I agree that not much happens in the first book, but I really enjoyed the exploration of "what is human anyway" and the whole idea of how impostor syndrome could work in a SF setting.

As with anything, YMMV. I disliked Jo Walton's "The Just City," which is on the list, and it's not uncommon for me to dislike stuff that everyone else seems to like.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:16 AM on August 20


Thank you, ovvl , Hypocrite_Lecteur, nubs. Your comments help.

As opposed to this:
"If you don't get the appeal of Murderbot, perhaps you've never struggled with trying to be human during daily interactions with other people."
Perhaps I have. Interesting way to respond to a question with a personal dig, mollweide .
posted by doctornemo at 8:35 AM on August 20


Sorry, doctornemo. I should have phrased that more positively, as to why Muderbot appeals to me, and I expect, a lot of other people.
posted by mollweide at 9:07 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Thank you, mollweide. Your new comment makes a great deal of sense.
posted by doctornemo at 9:11 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Great list! I really loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet I haven't read the sequels yet but this one really is like the description below!

Becky Chambers writes aliens like no one else — in fact, humans are the backward newcomers in her generous, peaceful galactic vision. The Wayfarers books are only loosely linked: They all take place in the same universe, but apart from that you'll meet a new set of characters, a new culture and a new world (or an old world transformed). Cranky space pacifists, questing AIs, fugitives, gravediggers and fluffy, multi-limbed aliens who love pudding — the only flaw in this series is you'll wish you could spend more time with all of them.
posted by nostradamnit at 11:55 AM on August 20


No Ada Palmer, Too Like Lightning.

I know one of the people who worked on this list and gave them very light shit for not including Palmer's Terra Ignota series. Apparently it made the semi-finals, but people wanted to see how it wrapped up. I have to agree: more than some other contemporary series it really is one massive fucking book being published serially.

Other than that, it really is a solid list. I was quite impressed.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:31 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Also I forgot said person is also on Mefi and scrolled right past her comment. Hi Speedlime!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:33 PM on August 20


Hello Speedlime! Now every time I hear you on PCHH, I can say, "MeFi's own!"

As to the list, I liked it a lot. Broad in authorship and content and writing style. And I have met several of the authors listed in the flesh, which is great. There's a lot of it I haven't read, and it's good for finding new writers to read, as well.
posted by suelac at 3:05 PM on August 20


Anyway, I noticed that NPR also did a thing this week I appreciate: These are the books they missed when they picked favorite SFF books ten years ago.

I think it's brilliant to go back and second-guess yourselves. Well done, NPR Books people.
posted by suelac at 3:08 PM on August 20 [4 favorites]


It seems to be a fine a list. I would have included Argentinian author Mariana Enríquez's short-story collection "The Dangers of Smoking in Bed" and her magnificent novel "Nuestra Parte de Noche". Alas, "Our Share of the Night" has not yet been translated into English.
posted by abakua at 7:48 PM on August 20


Thanks so much for posting, and for everyone's thoughts on the list! This has gotten me to read three books I'd never heard of:

All Systems Red (Murderbot) - liked!
Three Body Problem - liked!
City of Brass (Daevabad trilogy) - Loved!!

Three hits in a row for me is great for me, I usually have problems getting into stuff. Any suggestions on what I should check out next? I'd previously read The Broken Earth (loved book 1, gave up after book 2), Station 11 (liked!), and The Goblin Emperor (loved!).
posted by skewed at 6:28 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]


Based on your likes I would suggest A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, and The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. (Each is the first book of a trilogy.)
posted by mbrubeck at 9:55 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]


You may also like The Witness for the Dead, the indirect sequel to The Goblin Emperor. It follows Thara Celehar, who appears in the first novel.

As for me I've read a few from the list and really enjoyed them; I'm currently struggling a bit with Spinning Silver and trying to figure out why; it should be right up my alley but isn't working for me right now. It might be more my current headspace/mood than the book.
posted by nubs at 11:59 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


skewed: "Any suggestions on what I should check out next?"

Definitely Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet , the beginning of the Wayfarers series.

Also, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, the beggining of the Imperial Radch series.
posted by signal at 1:00 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


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