Best Science Fiction of the Year
Every year, around Christmas and New Year a round-robin is sent to
many members of the SF² Concatenation team asking for their favourite
SF/F/H books and films of the previous year. If just two or three nominate
the same work then it gets added to a list of Best SF/F/H works of the previous
year. This list appears in the Spring (northern hemisphere academic year)
edition's news page. It is simply a bit of fun and not meant to be taken too
seriously but as a pointer for our regulars to perhaps check out
some recent works. Yet over the years, each year sees a few from these
lists go on to be short-listed, and even win, a number of SF awards.
Time, again and again, seems to have demonstrated that there is something
about these lists that chimes with the broader SF community. And so we
have compiled this archival page of these recommendations.
We will update this page every January, so any link URLs will remain the same.
Again, a reminder, this is simply a bit of fun and not meant to be taken too seriously.
(for 2020 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2020
The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell (urban fantasy)
The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey (post-apocalyptic SF)
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (fantasy horror)
Elevation by Stephen King (urban fantasy)
Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds (pirate-punk space opera)
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (environmental mundane SF)
The Last Emperox by John Scalzi (space operatic political intrigue)
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky (widescreen SF)
The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison (new wave speculative fiction)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? The Book of Koli and Bone Silence were short-listed for the Philip K. Dick Award with the The Book of Koli receiving a special citation. The Ministry for the Future, The Doors of Eden and The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again were all short-listed for the British SF Association (BSFA) Award. The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires won the 2021 Lord Ruthven Assembly Awards, presented for the best fiction on vampires presented this year’s virtual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in the 'Best Fiction' category. The Last Emperox is part of the 'Interdependency' series of novels and this series was short-listed for a 'Best Series' Hugo Award. The Ministry for the Future and The Last Emperox were both short-listed for the Locus Award for 'Best SF Novel' while The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires was short-listed for the Locus 'Best Horror Novel'. The Ministry for the Future was short-listed for a Kitschies Award as well as a Dragoncon Award.
Best SF films of 2020
Color Out of Space (Trailer here)
The Invisible Man (Trailer here)
The Platform (Trailer here)
Possessor (Trailer here)
Save Yourselves! (Trailer here)
Tenet (Trailer here)
The Vast of Night (Trailer here)
Wonder Woman 1984 (Trailer here)
Vivarium (Trailer here)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Color Out of Space and The Invisible Man were short-listed by the World Horror Association's Stoker Award in the screenplay category. The Invisible Man went on to win The Invisible Man was short-listed for the 2021 British Fantasy Award for 'Best Film / Television Production'. The Invisible Man and Tenet were short-listed for a Saturn Award in the horror and science fiction categories respectively. Also Tenet's script garnered Christopher Nolan a place on the short-list for 'Best Film Screenplay' and The Vast of Night for 'Best Film on a Streaming Platform's' short-list. Color Out of Space, The Invisible Man, Tenet, The Vast of Night and Wonder Woman 1984 were all on the large (20 films) short-list for the 19th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards 'Best Film category. Tenet was short-listed for a 'Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form' Hugo Award. Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 were short-listed for a Dragon Award. The Invisible Man won the Rondo Award for 'Best Film'. Tenet won the 2021 Premio Italia Prize in the 'Film Fantastico' [Fantastic Film] category.
(for 2019 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2019
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (dystopic political intrigue)
Timiat's Wrath by James S. A. Corey (space opera)
The Second Sleep by Robert Harris (post-apocalyptic mundane SF)
The Wall by John Lanchester (mundane climate fiction)
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (wide-screen space opera)
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (science fiction)
Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju by Kim Newman (fantastical horror)
Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky (wide-screen space opera)
The Poison Song by Jen Williams (sword and sorcery)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? A Memory Called Empire was short-listed for a Hugo Award, Nebula Award, as well as cited by the USA's Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) on its 2020 adult reading list as the 'science fiction' category book to read from 2019, and won the Baltimore Science Fiction Society's (BSFS's) 2020 Compton Crook Award for 2019 works. It went on to win the Hugo. The Future of Another Timeline was one of four other titles on RUSA's short-list for 'science fiction' category and it was also short-listed for Dragon Con's Dragon Awards' 'Best SF Novel' category. Children of Ruin was short-listed for the BSFA Award for 'Best Novel' which it then won. The Testaments was short-listed for the 2020 Prometheus Award, 'Best Novel' category as well as short-listed for Dragon Con's Dragon Awards' 'Best SF Novel' category, and it won Germany's 2020 Kurd Laßwitz Preis.
Best SF films of 2019
Avengers: Endgame (Trailer here)
Black Flowers (Trailer here)
I Am Mother (Trailer here)
Joker (Trailer here)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Trailer here)
Us (Trailer here)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Avengers: Endgame was short-listed for a Hugo as well as a Ray Bradbury to be presented with the Nebula Awards. Us was also short-listed for a Hugo as well as a Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was short-listed for a Hugo as well as the Dragon Award 'Best SF/F film' catengory; and Us was short-listed for a Hugo too. Joker won the 2020 Rondo Award (for the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation) in the 'Best Film' category and also short-listed for the Dragon Award 'Best SF/F film' catengory. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was short-listed for the Dragon Award 'Best SF/F film' catengory.
(for 2018 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2018
Semiosis by Sue Burke (character-driven, exo-planet first contact)
Vita Nostra by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko (fantasy, first British pub' 2018)
Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey (space opera / military SF)
Vita Nostra by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko (fantasy, first British pub' 2018)
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (futuristic, post climate-apocalyptic world building)
Before Mars by Emma Newman (off world, mundane, new wave SF)
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (third following the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning Home)
Gunpowder Moon by David Pedreira (mundane SF, space operatic, thriller)
The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt (first contact, space opera)
Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds (hard-ish SF, space opera)
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (new wave, science fantasy)
The Oracle Year by Charles Soule (present day set, science fantasy)
The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts (hard SF, deep space thriller)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Blackfish City made the Nebula Award short-list. Blackfish City and Elysium Fire made the Locus Award short-list for 'Best Novel' and The Freeze-Frame Revolution made the Locus Award short-list for 'Best Novella'. Regarding the Hugos, Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor was short-listed for 'Best Novella'. And then Semiosis by Sue Burke was shortlisted for the 2019 Arthur C. Clarke (book) Award and also made the Hugo Award long-list along with Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller and Before Mars by Emma Newman.
Best SF films of 2018
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Trailer here)
Bumblebee (Trailer here)
Hereditary (Trailer here)
Incredibles 2 (Trailer here)
A Quiet Place (Trailer here)
Sorry to Bother You (Trailer here)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Trailer here)
Upgrade (Trailer here)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? A Quiet Place, Sorry to Bother You and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse made it into the Ray Bradbury Award for 'Dramatic Presentation short-list' (presented with the Nebula Awards) and the latter went on to win the Bradbury. Sorry to Bother You won the Rotten Tomatoes critics award for 'best SF/F film of 2018'.  Regarding the Hugo Award, A Quiet Place, Sorry to Bother You and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse were all short-listed for the 'Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form' category. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse went on to win a Hugo. Additionally, Incredibles 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp also made the Hugo Award long-list.
Then Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won a BAFTA in the visual special effects category as well as a Rotten Tomatoes Critics Award for Best 'Animation' Film, and was short-listed for the British Fantasy Award for 'Best Film / Television Production'. Sorry to Bother You garnered a Rotten Tomatoes 'Critics' Award, A Quiet Place secured the Rotten Tomatoes Critics Award for Best 'Horror' Film.
(for 2017 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2017
The Power by Naomi Alderman (science fantasy)
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (SF adventure)
The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard (fantasy/urban fantasy)
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin (fantasy)
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (near-future SF)
Artemis by Andy Weir (hard SF)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Two of the above were short-listed for the Hugo, one of which was shortlisted for and won a Nebula Award, one won the Locus Award (Best Fantasy) and one shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke (book) Award.
Best SF films of 2017
Blade Runner 2049 (Trailer here)
Ghost in the Shell (Trailer here)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Trailer here)
Wonder Woman (Trailer here)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above went on to win the Hugo and three of which were Hugo short-listed, three were also short-listed for a Ray Bradbury Award given alongside the Nebulas and which again one was the winner.
(for 2016 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2016
Heart of Granite by James Barclay. A helter-skelter ride in the sky. Top Gun meets Dragonlance, with a little grisly organic biotech thrown in. Max Halloran is a drake rider, bonded to his mount, Martha. He flies as part of Inferno-X, the elite fighter wing of the titular, Heart of Granite – a living aircraft carrier that lumbers along the ground. We join him mid-flight, mid-mission, in an action packed aerial dogfight against a continental enemy over Africa...
The Tourist by Robert Dickinson. It is the near future and we are getting time-travelling visitors from the 23rd century coming to see what life was like back in the 21st. Our protagonist is attached to 'Happiness' and is a rep for the Tri-Millennium tourism company – a cheap rate version of the more classier Heritage package holiday operation – that operates out of Resort 4, a huge domed complex somewhere presumably in the Home counties outside of London. We (the readers) soon learn that the locals (21st century natives) are very aware of their tourist visitors and that they are from the future (though a few still think that time travel is science fiction). We also soon learn (though the natives are unaware) that in the decades to come there will be a near extinction event (NEE)…
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Black Spring, a beautiful little place in the Hudson Valley. Stay, and you won’t want to leave, and you can’t anyway, not ever. Going away to college everyday and coming back at night is okay, but if you stay away longer you start to become suicidal. Why? Because you have seen Katherine van Wyler, the Black Rock Witch, the ghost of a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth have been sewn shut and body wrapped in chains. Who walks the town at will. She can appear anywhere. And the town Council have fixed things to keep matters wrapped. What we have is a combination of a haunted house story, widened to become a haunted town story – and there aren’t many of those, mashing up against something like a young adult dystopian novel where the adults have agreed that the existence of the Black Rock Witch must be kept a secret from the outside world…
The Fireman by Joe Hill. A fungal disease is spreading fast wiping out humanity. Hill himself has said that it is "less like Matheson, more like Crichton. Less like Hell House, more like The Andromeda Strain". The novel has caused quite a stir with many people liking it. Having said that a few do hate it, in part due to its length (over 750 pages) and in part due to some parallel's with his father's (Stephen King's) The Stand.
The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod. Set in the future, a bunch of dead dissidents led by Carlos the Terrorist are reawakened from stored memories into what they believe to be a virtual training simulation where they are prepped for battle against a group of consciousness-attaining robots who threaten the status quo. Everything in the new reality appears to be 'artificial intelligence' (AI) controlled, but the uppity robots refuse to do what they are supposed to, so Carlos and the rest of his disreputable group are sent into destroy them…
After Atlas by Emma Newman. Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos's entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas's departure, it's got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room - and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation...
The Gradual by Christopher Priest. Set in the Republic of Glaund, and analogue to many oppressive regimes of the 20th century. Alessandro Sussken is a composer of classical music. His career takes off after he writes a set of pieces about the islands he can see in the distance from his home. We follow his journey around the islands, and are introduced to the strange time zone differentials that affect Priest’s world… This is a time travel story with an original twist – fantasy rather than SF, with a strong first person voice and a compelling narrative.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above was short-listed for a Locus Award 'Best Novel' category and another won a Locus Award for 'Best Horror'.
Best SF films of 2016
Arrival. When spacecraft appear over many of the Earth's cities, a translator is sought to establish communication… This is a rather good first contact film. Trailer here.
Captain America: Civil War. After another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps, one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark's surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability. Trailer here.
Deadpool. Based upon Marvel Comics most unconventional anti-hero, Deadpool tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humour, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life. Trailer here.
Embers. This has not yet had a general release but has gained some traction at a number of film fests. In a dystopian future, an unidentified virus of some kind has caused a neurological disease of global proportions and has infected the majority of the Earth's population with memory loss. This is an art-house type offering. Trailer here.
The Girl with all the Gifts. SF horror based on the Mike Carey book. A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian, almost post-apocalyptic future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie. Though this borrows from the zombie trope (in the broadest sense), this is a sufficiently novel treatment to raise it markedly above many of its obvious rivals. Trailer here.
Star Trek Beyond. The third in the Star Trek re-boot sees the crew face a destructive new foe from deep space. Trailer here.
Suicide Squad concerns villains from the DC comics universe (The Joker, Harlequin, Panda Man, Deadshot etc) brought together by the US government to combat some great problem. And yes, if you are into DC it is rather fun. Trailer here.
Viral. SF horror. Following the outbreak of a rage type virus that wipes out the majority of the human population, a young woman documents her family's new life in quarantine and tries to protect her infected sister. This has had a release in the US but not over here in Europe. Trailer here.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above went on to win the Hugo award 'Best Dramatic Presentation' and also Ray Bradbury Award (given with the Nebula Awards). Additionally, another of the above was shortlisted for a Hugo Award 'Best Dramatic Presentation'.
(for 2015 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2015
The Fold by Peter Clines (Crown Publishing)
A team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to 'fold' dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveller can travel hundreds of feet with a single step. The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, travelling through the Door is completely safe. Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harbouring a dangerous secret.
Luna by Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
This is the first in a corporate thriller duology set on the Moon. If complex character interactions set against a rich cultural backdrop is your thing then this is a must read.
Planetfall by Emma Newman (Roc)
A scientist who believes she received visions of a distant planet, inspires her followers and so manages to fund a deep space expedition to locate it. It turns out the planet does exist, but what awaited them on the surface was far more alien than anyone imagined. 20 years later, life in the colony has developed into something approaching routine – for everyone, that is, but Ren, one of only two people who knows what tragedy really occurred the day they made planetfall.
The End of All Things by John Scalzi (Tor)
The latest in the Hugo-winning Old Man's War sequence. It came out in N. America last year and we'll get it over here in Blighty this summer. Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time—a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defence Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there’s another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other—and against their own kind —for their own unknown reasons
Way Down Dark by J. P. Smythe (Hodder)
This is a tense, action-packed, character-rich, science fiction story set maybe a few hundred years in the future on what the inhabitants believe to be a colony ship, the Australia, among the stars. Seventeen year old Chan (female) killing her mother, who is dying of a terminal disease. She lives amongst the ‘Free People’ who keep the ship functional, tending the hydroponics area (the arboretum) and fixing the air filtration systems. Gangs and violence seem ever present, but the main threat comes from the ‘Lows’, a group who have already expanded to cover half the ship’s area who have designs on the rest. The Lows are feral, violent and conscienceless. They’ve let their part of the ship fall into disrepair, so when they start their attacks on the Free People they’re threatening the very survival of the ship itself… And then the plot twists start….
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Borough Press)
A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space. Five thousand years later, humanity's progeny -- seven distinct races now three billion strong -- embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown ... to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
We repeatedly (well, a few times over the latter half of the year) heard good things from those with whom we interact about Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, but alas promotion and publicity on these two never came our way. Aurora is essentially a modern take on the generation ship story. The Water Knife is a climate change, near-apocalyptic story in a future US where a swathe of the country is permanently drought-stricken.
On the firmly fantasy front there is:-
Golden Son by Pierce Brown (Hodder).
Golden Son continues the saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies With shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and Game of Thrones debut author Pierce Brown’s continues his genre-defying epic.
Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson (Hodder).
Mixed feelings on this one. Dea has been able to travel through other people's dreams since she was six. Her mother taught her three rules of walking: never Interfere. Never be seen. Never walk in the same person's dream more than once. Dea never questions her mother and her continual moving of them from town to town to stay ahead of the monsters. Years later Dea meets a mysterious new boy, Connor, and gradually opens up to him. But when Dea breaks the rules the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate and discerning what is real or not real becomes harder… This is a bold debut novel that could well appeal both to an adult as well as a juvenile readership. Having said that, our Arthur wasn't entirely convinced.
The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow
Doll inspired fantasy horror anthology.
The Mechanical by Ian Tregilis
A steampunk fantasy set in an alternate 1926 where the Dutch Empire rules most of the world, the French are corralled near the St Lawrence river and the Pope is in exile in Quebec. There is no United States, no Great Britain and no serious threat to Dutch superiority. The reason is that Holland, centuries before, mixed alchemy with clockwork and produced sentient mechanical men, bound to obedience by pain-backed compulsions, or ‘geas’, weaved into their consciousnesses.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? A second bad year for us, not one of the above was short-listed for a Hugo 'Best Novel'! Also not even a Nebula 'Best Novel' (which we did manage last year). Clearly, we were off form this year. Still, we did better with the 2015 films below...
Best SF films of 2015 with a couple of television mini-series thrown in for good measure.
The Age of Adaline. A young woman, born at the turn of the 20th century, is rendered ageless after an accident. After many solitary years, she meets a man who complicates the eternal life she has settled into. This is our SFnal romance offering of the year. (Trailer here.)
Advantageous. In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter Jules do all they can to hold on to their joy together, despite the instability surfacing in their world. (Trailer here.)
Childhood's End. After peaceful aliens invade earth, humanity finds itself living in a utopia under the indirect rule of the aliens, but does this utopia come at a price? This is based on the Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name. This is actually a mini-series but as it is a single story based on a single novel, we're going to classify this as a long-form dramatic presentation film. (Trailer here.)
Ex Machina . This came out at the beginning of the year and heralded a remarkable 12 months of record-breaking box office success for SFnal film. A young programmer is selected to participate in a groundbreaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. (Trailer here.)
51 Degrees North. When Damon Miller (Moritz von Zeddelmann), a talented, young London filmmaker becomes involved in the disturbing research surrounding Near-Earth Objects he stumbles onto the discovery that the Earth stands on the brink of an extraterrestrial disaster. Believing he's finally discovered the ideal subject for his next documentary, Damon gets caught up in a conspiracy. (Trailer here.)
Hardcore. Henry, a newly resurrected cyborg who must save his wife/creator from the clutches of a psychotic tyrant with telekinetic powers, AKAN, and his army of mercenaries. Fighting alongside Henry. This is our violent action choice of the year but which may not be everyone's cup of tea. (Trailer here.)
It Follows. This is our fantasy horror choice of the year, but do note that we go for fantastical horror and not slash and gore: this only has a 15 certificate. Following a liaison, a young woman finds that someone, or something is slowly walking towards her and if it gets her it will kill. The only option she has is to pass on the curse to someone else... Now, our most dedicated site followers will realise that we recommended this as one of our best 'worthies that slipped through the net' of our 2014/5 box office chart back at Easter (2015), so apologies if this is old news. However we include it now because though the film first came out in 2014 and got a huge reception in the international fantastic film fest circuit (including Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Neuchâte, L'Étrange, Toronto, Deauville, Athens, Lund Fantastisk, London Film, Sitges, Chicago, Night Visions, Torino and Sundance), it only came out on general release in February 2015 in the British Isles and then in the US in March. (Trailer here.)
Jurassic World. A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park's newest attraction, a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine – non-spoiler alert – escapes containment and goes on a killing spree. If you liked the original films then you'll love this one. (Trailer here.)
Mad Max: Fury Road. A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in post apocalyptic Australia in search for her homeland with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshiper, and a drifter named Max. A good reboot of the old franchise that did very well at the box office. (Trailer here.)
The Man in the High Castle. Based on Philip K. Dick's award-winning novel and adapted by Frank Spotniz, The Man in the High Castle explores what it would be like if the Allied Powers had lost WWII, and Japan and Germany ruled the United States using the device of a fiction within the fiction that is our reality… If you can follow that drift. This is actually a mini-series but as it is a single story based on a single novel, we're going to classify this as a long-form dramatic presentation film. (Trailer here.)
The Martian. During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Based on the stunningly brilliant novel, this is our best mundane SF choice of the year. Not really watchable on the small screen as so much of the spectacle is lost; this is best seen IMAX 3D but a normal cinema viewing suffices. (Trailer here.)
Predestination. This is based on a Robert Heinlein story 'All You Zombies' and the life of a time-travelling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. This simplistic description betrays a good time travel film. This came out in 2014 but only on the film fest circuit: its cinematic general release was 2015. (Trailer here.)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A welcome re-boot that almost takes the taste away of the second (the prequel) muddled George Lucas trilogy. This J. J. Abrams film takes us back to the original trilogy's roots and features the original cast (Hamil, Ford and Fisher) and a return to more model based special effects rather than over-reliance on CGI computer graphics. All rather good with perhaps the exception of a new ridiculously ball-shaped droid and a nemesis wielding a light sabre with very unpragmatic (positively dangerous to the user) side-lasered light sabre; flaws that are easily overlooked by Abrams' vision. The film has broken opening weekend box office records in cash (not real) terms. (Trailer here.)
Terminator Genisys. When John Connor, leader of the human resistance, sends Sgt. Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor and safeguard the future, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline. Despite the ageing Arnie (which has a logical rationale provided) this is an improvement of the last two Terminator offerings. (Trailer here.)
Tripped is a four-part miniseries of 40-minute episodes that was first broadcast in Britain (on E4) in November/December (2015). It is a single story and concerns Rick and Morty, two young adults (in their 20s) who suddenly find themselves being chased by a killer when – having bumped into doubles of themselves – someone who could have been one of their twins is killed in front of them. It appears that reality is a multiverse of alternate realities and that someone (and all that someone's alternates) is after them and all their own alternates across the multiverse. They find themselves chased across parallel realities finding clues left by a couple of their alternates. In one reality one of them is a famous rock star, in another the world is on the brink of nuclear war, in another the world has slipped into a glacial… Played as a comedy, action SF thriller, it is very good (otherwise we would not include it here). Do try to track it down. (Trailer here which does not do the series full justice.) A second season is indicated.
What We Do In The Shadows is a New Zealand comedy horror that did a fairly extensive run around the international festival of fantastic films circuit. It follows the lives of Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) - three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life's obstacles-like being immortal vampires who must feast on human blood. Hundreds of years old, the vampires are finding that (beyond sunlight catastrophes, hitting the main artery, and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection) modern society has them struggling with the mundane, like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts. Beyond limited film fest screenings, it had a Brit general release in 2014 (that we missed) but also had a general US release in 2015 and so should be eligible for things like Hugo and Ray Bradbury Award nomination if the SF community picks up on it (unlikely as this is an independent film and the major SF awards seem always to go to big Hollywood studio productions). (Trailer here.)
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Four of the above went on to be short-listed for a Hugo Award, one of which won. Similarly, one of the above won the Ray Bradbury Award that is voted on and presented alongside the Nebula Awards and three others made its short-list.
(for 2014 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2014
Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (Tor (US))
In a world where God is a drug, one woman has to get sober. Lyda Rose was one of the neuroscientists who helped create Numinous, which produces the illusion of a personal deity, but since unwittingly overdosing, she has been haunted by her own visions of an angel she calls Dr. Gloria. After a stay in an asylum, she thinks she has put it behind her. Then others start overdosing. Who is still producing the drug, and why..? A stimulating read, plastered with ideas, despite needing a polish in places.
Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell (Tor Teen)
This is really a juvenile SF read for teens but is sufficiently a cut above the block that we thought we would include it especially as surprisingly it has had little profile over here. What happens when you turn eighteen and there are no more tomorrows? It is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction...Tania Deeley has always been told that she's a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society….
Tomorrow and Tomorrow
(2014) Thomas Sweterlitsch (Headline)
Noire-ish, future detective and cyberpunk story set after Pittsburgh had been blown away by a terrorist bomb. Our protagonist discovers a body in cyberspace among the ruins of Pittsburgh. The story is reminiscent of a modern William Gibson crossed with Paul McAuley in near-mundane SF mode and not to mention the ubiquitous influence of Philip K. Dick. This is classic old-fashioned, new-wave cyberpunk.
Annihilation (The 'Southern Reach' Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer (Fourth Estate)
For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border – an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences. Annihilation is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist.
My Real Children by Jo Walton (Corsair [Britain], Tor [US])
Patricia Cowan is very old. 'Confused today', reads the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know – what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964…
The Martian by Andy Weir (Del Rey)
This is a gripping mundane SF novel. NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer, is left stranded on Mars when the crew of the Ares 3 mission is forced to evacuate their landing site in Acidalia Planitia due to a dust storm with high winds. Thought by his crewmates and NASA to be dead, he is actually alive but now comes the struggle to survive and to make the thousands of miles trek to where the next mission is due to land… This is a remarkable book not just for its content but because though it only came out from a commercial publisher in 2014, it first came out as a free, chapter-by-chapter book in 2012 on the author's own website. It then migrated to Amazon where its success prompted Crown Publishing to release it in the US and Del Rey in Britain.
On the firmly fantasy front there is:-
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (Harper Collins)
In decaying, crumbling Detroit, a body has been found, but not just any body, it is THE body, or rather, an attempted joining of two bodies, one part human, an African American boy, the other part animal, a deer. Who would do such a warped, crazy, twisted thing? Well, the killer has the perfect excuse or defence because voices told him to do it. The voice of a dream. 'Even killers have dreams' says the front of the book, but perhaps 'even dreams need their killers', and while our killer has got it wrong, wrong, wrong, he has got the bug, he is going to kill and create again and make life from parts of bodies, until he gets it right, and the dream can walk the Earth.
The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell (Tor)
Having handled occult artefacts, a handful of detectives from Scotland Yard have developed cognitive psychic powers. This is handy with investigations, as they can read auras, and pick up on apparitions. But evil spirits of past and future saturate the city and God-like malevolent entities make villains with knives and guns the least of their worries. This is not The X-Files. When a leading politician is hacked to death on the back seat in his locked door, chauffer driven Rolls Royce, though his chauffer is in the front seat driving, and no one else is in the car, it seems rather a familiar MO – famously, even infamously so…
The Relic Guild by Edward Cox (Gollancz)
Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us.
It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls 100 feet high…
Kill Baxter by Charlie Human (Century)
The world has been massively unappreciative of sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko. His bloodline may be a combination of ancient Boer mystic and giant shape-shifting crow, and he may have won an inter-dimensional battle and saved the world, but does anyone care? No. Instead he is packed off to Hexpoort, a magical training school that’s part reformatory, part military school, and just like Hogwarts (except with sex, drugs, and better internet access). The problem is that Baxter sucks at magic. He’s also desperately attempting to control his new ability to dreamwalk, all the while being singled out by the school's resident bully, who just so happens to be the Chosen One… This book really does deserve greater recognition.
Seal of the Worm by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)
The last in the epic fantasy had its more devoted fans reading the final pages almost tearful in that it was all going to end… With her chief rival cast into the abyss, Empress Seda now faces the truth of what she has cost the world in order to win the war. The Seal has been shattered, and the Worm stirs towards the light for the first time in a thousand years. Already it is striking at the surface, voraciously consuming everything its questing tendrils touch…
And finally…Dreaming Spheres by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle. This is a poetry book. One of our team is really into poetry and so this year we thought we would pass on his tip for fantastical verse to you.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above went on to be short-listed for a Nebula Award 'Best Novel' and also a Locus Award for 'Best Novel'.
Best SF films of 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species… This second in the second re-boot of the 'Planet of the Apes' franchise may well appeal to Hugo Award nominators and if it is not on this year's short-list then you can be your bottom dollar that it will be on the long list. Trailer here.
A Canadian SF horror offering. Six young computer hackers sent to work on a derelict space freighter, are forced to match wits with a vengeful artificial intelligence that would kill to be human… This is a worthy film that aspires to be more than its low budget and it almost makes it, which in turn means that you may want to check it out. Trailer here.
In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the 'real' world. The cast includes Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep and is based on Lois Lowry's 1993, juvenile SF novel, so it should appeal to a The Hunger Games and Maze Runner liking teen audience. Trailer here.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be a firm favourite with fantasy fans and indeed did very well at the box office. Trailer here.
I Origins. A molecular biologist and his laboratory partner uncover evidence that may fundamentally change society as we know it. Trailer here.
A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal is mentally altered, turning the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic… Cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Min-sik Choi. This is our action pic of the year. Trailer here.
The Perfect 46.
A geneticist creates a website that pairs an individual with their ideal genetic partner for children. This is firmly rooted in genuine science and so was arguably the best mundane SF fiction film of last year! Trailer here.
The life of a time-travelling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. This technically came out last year (2014) and was shown at a number of film fests. However lucky for us it has a general release early this year both here (Great Britain) and N. America. Trailer here.
The Quiet Hour.
An offering from the British Isles. Humans are few and far between since Earth was invaded by unseen extraterrestrial machines that harvest the planet's natural resources and relentlessly kill its inhabitants. In a remote part of the countryside, where starved humans have become as dangerous as the alien machines hovering in the sky, a feisty 19 year old girl, Sarah Connolly, sets out on a desperate attempt to fight back a group of bandits and defend her parents' farm, their remaining livestock, and the solar panels that keep them safe from extraterrestrials. If she doesn't succeed, she will lose her only source of food and shelter; but if she resists, she and her helpless blind sibling will be killed. And if the mysterious intruder dressed like a soldier who claims he can help them turns out to be a liar, then the enemy may already be in the house. Trailer here.
These Final Hours.
It is the end of the world in one hemisphere and the catastrophe is spreading to the rest of the planet. A self-obsessed young man makes his way to the party-to-end-all-parties on the last day on Earth but ends up saving the life of a little girl searching for her father… This did well on the Fantastic Films Festivals circuit in the latter half of 2013 and early in 2014. It has had a general theatre release in Australia in 2014, but has not had much profile elsewhere. Trailer here.
Three friends discover their neighbour's mysterious machine that takes pictures 24hrs into the future and conspire to use it for personal gain, until disturbing and dangerous images begin to develop… This is an indie film and a directorial debut for Bradley King. As here he is unencumbered by big Hollywood studio producers' constraints, we get a genuine reflection of this director's abilities: He is one to watch. This was possibly the best time travel film of the year. Trailer here.
Under the Skin.
A female drives a van through the roads and streets of Scotland seducing lonely men but is she what she seems to be..? This teaser does not do this 'contact' film justice. It was extremely well received on the Fantastic Film Fest circuit in 2013 but only got a general release last year (2014). It is a British-US-Swiss SF art-house offering with a basic premise (only) based on Michel Faber's novel. Trailer here.
Post-apocalyptic film set a century or so in the future. Climate change has shifted the vegetation belts and so some formerly lush areas have become arid facing chronic water shortages making life tough for the locals… Trailer here.
See also Congress in our video clip tips of the year section. It was inspired by a Stanislaw Lem story.
And finally, though it had a belated general release in 2014, we did not include Snowpiercer in the above as we previously included it in our other worthies of the 2013/4 year as the DVD had already been out back then. But it is a notable film.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Not one of the above was short-listed for a Hugo: which either says something about us or about the Worldcon nominators for the Hugo.
(for 2013 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2013
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. An artificial plague has all but wiped out our humanity, but a small group survives along with the green-eyed Crakers: a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. A literary offering from an established sci-fi writer and past winner of the Clarke Award.
Abaddon's Gate by James S. Corey. Wide-screen space opera part of 'the Expanse' sequence. Click on the title link for a stand-alone review.
Parasite by Mira Grant. A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease. We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It has been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them. But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives... and will do anything to get them…
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest. Science-fantasy in an alternate timeline, past and future, in which photographers, magicians and soldiers deal in mirrors, reflections, camouflage and deceit.
The Demi-Monde Fall by Rod Rees. The final in the hugely imaginative quadrilogy concerning a super-computer whose simulated inhabitants are trying to take over the 'real' world… Steampunk, meets hard SF, meets literary fiction.
On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds. Hard SF sequel to Blue Remembered Earth but can be read as a stand-alone. A caravan of asteroid-sized, near-generation starships has to work out how to slow down. Meanwhile on Earth a clone of one of the crew realises that there may be a super-AI on the loose that will kill to protect itself and that this may have something to do with the starships' destination...
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar, sees an alternate Earth's version of the 20th century complete with superheroes… A literary offering from a new writer (but an old hand on Europe's fantasy fan circuit).
On the firmly fantasy front there is:-
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Time travel and serial killer mayhem. Click on the title link for a stand-alone review.
London Falling by Paul Cornell. Set in London, the novel is a mash-up of crime fiction and the supernatural, with a dollop of football thrown in and, surprisingly, it seems to work.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. A tale of memory, magic and survival from the master story-teller.
The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland. It concerns circus freaks, such as a man called Abel who can peel his own skin off and show it growing back and a girl with lion-characteristics. A strangely beautiful work.
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill. Horror. Victoria escapes Charlie Manx who takes children away to a place called Christmasland where they never grow up and lose their humanity.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above was short-listed for a Hugo 'Best Novel' Award. Three of the above were short-listed for the Locus Award 'Best Novel', two for a Locus 'Best Fantasy' of which one won.
Best SF films of 2013
The Colony. A Canadian near future SF horror. Humanity has stopped global warming but triggered a glacial. Forced underground by the ice age, a struggling outpost of survivors must fight to preserve humanity against a threat even more savage than nature when messages from another refuge cease. See the trailer here.
Dragon Day. This is a topical film given World events of the past few years… The global depression worsens and so an unemployed family opts for a rural self-sufficiency mode of life in the hills. However global events are not so easily escaped. Unable to payback its huge debt to China, that country launches a cyber-attack against the US with a view to a takeover. Every microchip 'Made in China' has been infected with a virus that rapidly shuts down all modern technology. The aftermath happens fast, and as the rule of law, water, and food run out, the family must use all their wits and the unlikely help of an illegal immigrant to survive this frighteningly realistic scenario.
See the trailer here.
11 A.M.. In the not-so distant future, researchers at a have finally succeeded in inventing a time machine. Two take a test flight to the next day. They arrive at the planned time only to find out their isolated research base on the verge of collapse. All the researchers are gone and someone is out to kill them. They begin the tedious process of piecing together what happened. Korea has been producing some fine SF-horror and this is no exception. See the trailer here.
Elysium. Set in the year 2159, where the very wealthy live in a man-made space station (orbital) while the rest of population reside on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds. You can see the trailer here.
Europa Report. An almost Kubrick-like hard-SF offering following a space mission to Jupiter's Europa. Presented in a flat, dead pan way may alienate some viewers but in its way it adds to the tension. The director is Ecuadorian Sebastián Cordero and this is his first full English language film and first fully US production. See the trailer here.
Frankenstein's Army. SF horror, war film from the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Toward the end of World War II, Russian soldiers pushing into eastern Germany stumble across a secret Nazi lab, one that has unearthed and begun experimenting with the journal of one Dr Frankenstein. At the time of compiling this page there was no proper trailer for this. The best there is is this sideways-look of a trailer.
Gravity. Present day (or recent past because the space shuttle is involved) hard SF/technothriller offering. A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space. The hard SF combined with stunning visual effects of the adventure in low-Earth orbit surely must make this a contender for the Hugo short-list? (The zero-g effects are also very good and there is only one obvious deviation we could see from Newton's Laws of Motion which – for understandable suspense purposes – the director breaks all three laws at once.) One word of advice: Don't DVD this one; go and see it in the cinema and preferably 3-D IMAX. See the trailer here.
John Dies at the End. Science fantasy, comedy horror. A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion? Now this one had a number of Fest screenings in 2012 that were very favourable, but it only had a limited 2013 general release in the UK and US. See the trailer here.
Snowpiercer. SF that is somewhat Ballardian in this French and South Korean offering but with some western stars in the cast. It is set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Well worth checking out. See the trailer here.
The World's End. British SF comedy from the Shaun of the Dead team. Five friends reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier but unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival… Huge fun.
See the trailer here.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above went on to win the Hugo Award 'Best Dramatic Presentation. It also won the Ray Bradbury Award that is voted for and presented along with the Nebula Awards.
(for 2012 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2012
Hydrogen Sonata by Iain Banks
Empty Space by M. J. Harrison (Controversial inclusion for some of us. You'll either love or hate it.)
Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
Transmission by John Meaney
Railsea by China Miéville
Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Demi-Monde Spring by Rod Rees
Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above went on to end up being short-listed for both the Hugo Award 'Best Novel' and Nebula Award 'Best Novel. It went on to win the Nebula Award. Also, two of the above were short-listed for the Locus Award 'Best Novel'.
Best SF films of 2012
The Avengers. This is the film that all too predictably will almost certainly be nominated by Hugo Award for SF achievement voters. See the trailer here.
Chronicle. A group of American youngsters gain superpowers with humorous and then tragic results. Misfits this aint but it comes close in a middle class way. See the trailer here.
Cloud Atlas. Feelings divide on this one, perhaps due to being coloured by it being based on David Mitchell's novel. The film's protagonist are reincarnated across time with the past informing the future. See the trailer here.
The Dark Knight Rises. The third and final part of Christopher Nolan's successful run of 'Batman' films. We include this purely as a nod to the trilogy and not to this specific film. See the trailer here.
The Divide.This German, Canadian and US co-production sees a group survive a nuclear attack in a basement fallout shelter… It had a limited screenings at film fests in 2011 and then a limited general release in 2012. See the trailer here.
Extraterrestrial. A Spanish offering by Director Nacho (Timecrimes) Vigalondo – need we say more? OK, for those of you who don't get beyond Hollywood, Vigalondo's a cinematic SF genius. With Extraterrestrial two strangers wake up after a party in bed with each other. Outside a giant alien space craft arrives to hover over the city… Now, this may not sound like much but seek it out. It was screened at a number of Fests in 2011 but had its US and British general release in 2012. See the trailer here. (We cited Time Crimes as one of the best films of 2008.)
John Carter (of Mars). This is one that Hugo voters should shortlist as it is based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs cult classic (sci fi in the strictest sense) 1912 novel but memories dim. Remember that the source material was the best part of a century before Star Wars and you will begin to appreciate its value. The film has bags of spectacle. See the trailer here.
Looper. Another Hollywood production but not a comic character adaptation and possibly their best original SF offering of the year. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis together star as the same (younger and older person). His younger self in the present executes those organised crime sends back from the future. Until one day he is sent his older self to kill… See the trailer here.
Safety Not Guaranteed. News reporters, struggling to find an interesting story, decide to investigate a man who has advertised for a companion to accompany him on a time travel trip but with the caution 'Safety Not Guaranteed'. Arguably this is more than just a comedy SF offering. See the trailer here.
Sound of My Voice. More of an intellectual offering that for much of the film is only quietly SF. A documentary team visit a recluse in a basement who has a following who claim she is a visitor from the future. Amnesic (convenient) and dying due to time travel, she begins to warn of a coming war that will ravage the Earth's population… This film is as much an exploration of the phenomenon of cults and belief. Should the documentary makers strive to debunk if she really is who she claims? See the trailer here.
Womb. A possibly unsettling film that explores bioethics. When a biologist's lover dies there is only one thing that is obvious to do: get cloning. This – like many independents – has done the Fest circuit for a couple of years before getting a limited release in the US and Britain in 2012 along with its DVD. It is also a German, Hungarian and French co-production. See the trailer here.
There was also The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that came out just before Christmas but which was, some of us felt, overly long and a mash between The Hobbit and Silmarilion. Finally, there was Iron Skywhich was good but not great.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Three of the above went on to be short-listed for the Hugo Award 'Best Dramatic Presentation' and one of which won.
(for 2011 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2011
Final Days by Gary Gibson.
Pax Brittania: Anno Frankenstein by Jonathan Green.
Embassytown by China Miéville
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The Islanders by Christopher Priest
Quantum Gravity Book 5: Down to the Bone by Justina Robson
(and sadly not eligible, as it came out the previous year (2010), but rated by team members (until we checked the publication date) was Johannes Cabal The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard – which we mention in case you missed it the previous year.
On the fantasy and horror front in 2011 released in the British Isles (and possibly elsewhere) there was:-
Rivers of London
a.k.a. Midnight Riots (N. American title) by Ben Aaronvitch
Vampire Empire: Book Two: The Rift Walker by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley
Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik
Black Halo by Sam Sykes
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Of the above one went on to be short-listed for the Hugo Award 'Best Novel', it was also short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke (book) Award as well as being short-listed and winning the Locus Award 'Best Novel'.
Best SF films of 2011
Atlantis Down. An Italian-US co-production. A retired space shuttle is brought back into service and then in mid-mission the ship's crew is transported somewhere... See the trailer here.
Beyond the Black Rainbow . This Italian/Canadian choice of ours may or may not be to your taste: most people either love it or hate it. The film is more a visual experience (think of Kubrick and Tarkovsky). A young woman is imprisoned in an experimental zone... See the trailer here.
Contagion. A super-flu epidemic breaks out. As this is a Hollywood blockbuster it is likely to be a candidate for the Hugo short-list without further preamble.
The Dark Fields a.k.a Limitless. Though Hollywood this one may have escaped your attention. A writer is given a drug that enables his brain to reach its full potential... But is this something you would really want? See the trailer here.
The Gerber Syndrome. An Italian production following the outbreak of an epidemic that ultimately makes people mad. See the trailer here.
Perfect Sense. A BBC production. A love story with an SFnal backdrop: across the world people are losing their senses (taste, balance, hearing, hunger, touch, sight...) one by one. See the trailer here.
Rise of the Apes. Hollywood again. A worthy re-boot of the franchise.
Source Code. An SF thriller and a Hollywood offering but from the director that brought us the independent and previous Hugo winner Moon.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Of the above, one went on to be short-listed for the Hugo Award 'Best Dramatic Presentation'.
(for 2010 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2010
The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. A quest novel as our protagonists traverse a post-apocalyptic US, encountering survivors and trying to avoid zombies. 2010 saw a glut of zombie novels. This is our choice of those that came our way. Elsewhere we have a stand-alone review of The Reapers are the Angels.
For The Win by Cory Doctorow. A modern, urban cyberpunk novel for the eary 21st century.
Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, for fans of traditional solid SF, is remarkable post-apocalyptic yarn that resonates with 1950s and '60s Anglophone SF. Some of the imagery may seem facile (such as pterodactyl monsters in a devastated 21st century Moscow) until you realise that the protagonist grew up without a conventional education in the subway and the tale is recounted through his uninformed eyes. And yes, the book is translated from the Russian a small allowance is needed for the translation Elsewhere we have a stand-alone review of Metro 2033.
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. It concerns the families of the House of Dervish in Istanbul in 2025. McDonald has previous form with Brasyl and River of Gods. Here is a stand-alone review of The Dervish House.
Absorption by John Meaney. A space and time-spanning tale. The first of a trilogy that shows considerable promise.
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. An ultra hard-SF, Eganesque, debut novel. Elsewhere we have a stand-alone review of The Quantum Thief.
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds. Hard SF with steampunk elements in a strange world (that could be closer to home than you think so keep an eye out for the clues). Elsewhere we have a stand-alone reviews of here and here.
On the fantasy and horror front there was:-
Ash by James Herbert. This is the long-awaited return of one of Herbert's best-loved characters, paranormal detective David Ash.
Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt. A rollicking tale of murder, mystery, mercenaries and mayhem….on a fantastical world.
Hyddenworld: Spring by William Horwood. The first in a quartet, the Hydden are small people who live on the edge of our world. One is sent to live with us humans and is on a quest to find an ancient Anglo-Saxon artefact.
Kraken by China Miéville. Dark, urban fantasy. Elsewhere we have a stand-alone review of Kraken.
Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill. It's a big book, with a big take on the ghost story and the tropes and themes therein.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Of the above, one went on to be short-listed for the Hugo Award 'Best Novel'. Another title went on short-listed for and won the Locus Award 'Best Fantasy Novel'.
Best SF films of 2010
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, family film based on the J. K. C. S Lewis children's books. This was one of the high-earner Hollywood releases of the year.
Earthling. After an atmospheric event, a group of people wake up to realise that their lives have been a lie... One worthy of Hugo consideration.
First Men in the Moon. This was the BBC's 2010 straight-to-broadcast film version of the H. G. Wells 1901 novella written and starring Mark Gatiss. Its running time is officially 90 minutes which makes it borderline between the Hugo short and long-form Best Dramatic Presentation categories but the full DVD release may be a little longer. The first broadcast was on BBC4 (a non-terrestrial channel) and watched by 830,000 people in Great Britain, the third largest multichannel audience of the night. See the
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I , based on the J. K. Rowling children's books. This was one of the high-earner Hollywood releases of the year, whatever you think of the quality of the fantasy.
Inception Directed by Christopher Nolan, this is a solid SF offering about technology used to enter people's dreams to acquire industrial information. Hugely recommended and if there was any justice (often there is not) this would be short-listed for a Hugo.
Let Me In This is the 2010 Hollywood version of the Swedish film based on the Swedish fantasy vampire horror. Now the Hugo voters largely ignored the Swedish film which had a 2009 UK/US release so it failed to make the 2010 Hugo shortlist (though won literally scores of other genre film awards). We have covered the debate about these films over in our seasnal news pages. Meanwhile you can find the trailer here.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Of the above, two films went on to be short-listed for the Hugo Award 'Best Dramatic Presentation' one of which also ended up wining the award. It also won the Ray Bradbury Award that is voted for, and presented with, the Nebula Awards.
(for 2009 works)
Originally posted here
Best SF books of 2009
Nova War by Gary Gibson is a romp of a space opera that has the vague feel of Niven's 'Known Space'.
Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley, is a solid space opera set within our solar system not too far in the future following a climate overturn on Earth. More complex and less gung-ho than Gibson's space opera (above), so different. Great characterization and space combat set against the backdrop of our system's gas giants.
The City and the City by China Mieville, excellent literary speculative fiction.
Retromancer by Robert Rankin, is a comic science fantasy from a cult master writer with a particularly eccentric sense of humour.
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, actually this technically comes out this year (2010) but advance copies were around in 2009. It is post-Eganesque ultra-hard SF. Brilliant!
Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson is a kind of science fantasy that is part SF and part historical novel.
On the fantasy and horror front there was:-
Avilion by Robert Holdstock, the sequel to the classic Mythago Wood.
The Last Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, which is part of his acclaimed 'Watch' series of good werewolves, vampires and mages balancing bad ones. OK, so this came out earlier in Russia but that is no reason not to rate it for us Western Europeans.
The Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett, need any more be said.
Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, a good first novel aimed at a teenage readership but adults will like it too, and it has a reasonably fresh take on zombies.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? One of the above novels went on to be short-listed for the Hugo Award 'Best Novel' and which went on to co-win it along with another title we did not cite.
Best SF films of 2009
Avatar, a space opera from James Cameron that may have a two-dimensional plot but it has genuinely fantastical visuals.
Cyborg She, an accomplished Japanese time travel rom-com. OK, this came out in 2008 in Japan but only in 2009 in Europe and the rest of the west.
District 9, is an alien contact thriller concerning the integration of aliens from a huge ship in S. Africa. It has won three awards for best screenplay.
Eraser Children, an Australian offering that sort of mixes Brazil and Max Headroom.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was a huge box office success and so we include it.
The Hunt for Gollum is a fan film – yes fan film made for diddly-squat – that just raised the fan-film bar. OK, so the thin plot does not flow as it might, but not only is the acting competent, the photography is absolutely stunning and make-up brilliant! What is more it is based on a chain of events outlined in The Lord of the Rings appendices. It received a commendation at Britain's Festival of Fantastic Films. An absolute must for Lord of the Rings fans.
Lat Den Ratte Komma In [Let The Right One In] is a simply brilliant Swedish vampire film. It concerns a young boy, Oskar, who is bullied but gets a new friend in the girl Eli who has moved in next door. But young Eli is in fact over 200 years old. The boy finds out what she is and has to decide between her friendship and accepting what she really stands for. Though this film came out in Scandinavia in 2008 with a sprinkling of screenings at fests in other countries, it only had its general and DVD releases in most countries (including Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia) in 2009 and so counts outside of Scandinavia as a best film of 2009. (Its US DVD release was March 2009.) It has won many (56 awards to date) as fantastic film fests in many countries, as well as some more mainstream awards, and has been nominated for 16 more!
Moon is near-future hard SF in which a lone lunar dust sifter (for helium-3) looks forward to his duty tour's end, but does his habitat's artificial intelligence know something he does not? This one has won prizes (note the plural) at this year's Utopiales as well as awards (note plural) from Stiges, as well as picking up the (non-SF/mainstream) 'Best Film' British Independent Award. (Steve Green, Brit fan and regular Fantastic Film Delta Award judge, urges this year's Worldcon participants consider Moon for a Hugo.)
Star Trek, we mention this as it is bound to be popular (hence get nominated for a Hugo) but actually we had mixed feelings about this franchise re-boot as some of us feel it is time to move on from ST, as fun as it was decades ago.
Thirst [Bakjwi], is a South Korean vampire film concerning a priest who volunteers for a medical experiment that goes wrong. This has won three awards including at Cannes.
Watchmen. This is based on the seminal 1987 graphic novel by Alan (V for Vendetta) Moore and Dave (2000AD) Gibbons. It is set in an alternate Earth in which costumed super heroes really do exist. As such they are used by the Government until the people get worried and so nearly all the heroes are forced to retire. Then one former hero is murdered and another, Rorshach who never really retired, sets out to find his killer... Now the original graphic novel had all the depth and character of a text-only novel and the story the richness and allegory of much of Moore's other work. This is a faithful adaptation though some of the acting is wooden and part of the plot is missing. Otherwise this film made a fair go of it.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, how did we do? Of the above, three films went on to be short-listed for the Hugo award 'Best Dramatic Presentation' and one of these further went on to win it. One of these also won the Ray Bradbury Award that is voted for and presented along with the Nebula Awards.
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[Originally posted 19.1.15 | Last updated: 21.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]