Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 Year in Review: The Best Works I Read This Year


The state of SciFi/Fantasy writing these days has never been better.  Oh there are still plenty of issues, especially with regards to publishing, as well as authors turning out to be not as good people as one might hope (to say the least).  But if you're looking for something good to read - whether that be something joyous and optimistic, something romantic and sexy, something impactful and powerful, or something else (or a combination of all of the above) - it's out there in the genre right now.  

So when I say I read 220 books this year along with 31 novellas, it does not mean that I had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to do so - there are a ton of books I did NOT get to in 2020 that I wanted to, just talking about books published in the last year alone (to say nothing of my TBR backlist of books from years past).  The median grade for books this year based upon my ten point grading system was an 8, which is the grade I give books that are pretty good and definitely recommended, even if they're not books I feel obligated to recommend to others without prompting.  My average score was a 7.845, a little bit above my average score from prior years (which was around a 7.7), showing to me that I'd managed to get at least a similar level of quality in the books I read this year despite reading substantially more in quantity and in terms of diversity.  

So in this post, I'm going to go into my favorite books, the books I scored a 9 or above, and try to explain why they were what they were.  If you're looking for book recommendations, this is a good post to start with.  

The top half of my grading system works something like this, with each ranking being out of a possible 10:
10 - Perfect Books, or books so perfect that I don't care about their flaws, that I will recommend to anyone as must-reads.
9.5 - Near-Perfect, with one minor flaw or collection of flaws that I can't overlook, but still an auto-recommend.
9 - Tremendous books that may have some issues, but that I would recommend to others without prompting.
8.5 - Great books that I might recommend to others without prompting, but might not, so not quite a 9 even if I really enjoyed them.
8 - Really good books that I enjoyed a good bit, which I would recommend if someone came looking for a general type of book I think matched.
7.5 - Pretty good books that I might recommend if someone was looking for a book that pretty much typified this book
7 - Good enjoyable books that I'd probably not recommend above the many other books I've read. 
6.5 - Books that are interesting in what they're attempting to do but don't quite manage to pull it off, with their failures not being offensive, but just leaving me feeling kind of blah at the end for all the wasted potential.*

*6.5s are often books that inspire me to check out their sequels, for hope that the promise will be paid off in later volumes, and often reward me for doing so.  

 This year I read:
10 star books: 5
9.5 star books: 13
9 star books: 38
8.5 star books: 36
8 star books: 37

That's over 100 books that I'd recommend to people, with nearly 60 that I'd recommend without needing to be prompted.  So yeah, it was a good year, and that's without counting the novellas, which I'm going to skip here just because this post will go too long.  

So quick breakdown of these books (Books marked with an asterisk "*" are 2020 releases and thus Hugo Eligible):

10 Star Books I read in 2020:
The Space Between Worlds* by Micaiah Johnson (Review Here)
Legendborn* by Tracy Deonn (Review Here)
Swordheart by T Kingfisher (Review Here)
The House of Sundering Flames by Aliette de Bodard (Review Here)
Elysium: or The World After by Jennifer Marie Brissett (Review forthcoming)

These are my five favorite books of 2020, works that I will recommend to everyone - although with one being the final book in a trilogy, that requires recommending more than one book.  It's a wide variety of different types of books too: you have a fun fantasy romance (Swordheart), A Stand-Alone multiversal sci-fi tale of class/race/love/identity (The Space Between Worlds), A YA novel based upon both Arthurian Legend and the history/ancestry of Blacks in this country, particularly the South (Legendborn), A novel in alternate 19th century Paris with Fallen Angels and Vietnamese Immortals featuring issues of colonization and power (The House of Sundering Flames), and a tale of love and memory as challenged by colonization and destruction throughout different worlds and times (Elysium).  

9.5 Star Books I read in 2020:
The Iron Will of Genie Lo* by F.C. Yee (Review Here)
The Bird King by G Willow Wilson (Review Here)
Prime Deceptions* by Valerie Valdes (Review Here)
Network Effect* by Martha Wells (Review Here)
Trouble the Saints* by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Review Here)
The Old Lie by Claire G Coleman (Review Here)
The Worst of All Possible Worlds* by Alex White (Review Here)
Star Daughter* by Shveta Thakrar (Review Here)
Master of Poisons* by Andrea Hairston (Review Here)
Savage Legion* by Matt Wallace (Review Here)
Will Do Magic For Small Change* by Andrea Hairston (Review Here)
Elatsoe* by Darcie Little Badger (Review Here)
Each of Us a Desert* by Mark Oshiro (Review Here)

Too many near perfect books for me to break them all down here, but again, there's just a tremendous variety here.  You have fun books with tons of references and humor like Prime Deceptions and The Worst of All Possible Worlds; Really Tremendous YA novels like The Iron Will of Genie Lo, Elatsoe, Each of Us a Desert, and Star Daughter; Epic Fantasy like Savage Legion and Master of Poisons; and powerful and often depressing stories like Trouble the Saints and The Old Lie - and I'm not even mentioning a number of the above books.  If anything can demonstrate the greatness of the genre right now it's these books, which show something for practically everyone, from perspectives that aren't just the classic white guy viewpoints (Matt Wallace is in fact the only cis white guy on this list and his book features a bunch of women as its protagonists, fwiw).  

If you were looking only for the standard old scifi/fantasy works, you would've missed nearly all of these, and that's just depressing, because these are just distressingly good.  

9 Star Books I read in 2020:

Yeah I'm not listing all of these, so I'm just posting the above images to my spreadsheet.  The list above actually includes three books that are coming out next year but I read them in advance this year (the rust colored books) with the 2020 books in green, and well again it's a hell of a variety of great books that I would recommend to anyone.  

I'd go into my favorite characters of 2020 if I could, but again, I've read so many I no longer can really do that without feeling like I'm excluding some, unlike back in 2017 when I first started these recaps.  It truly was a great year for me in reading, and one in general for the genre.

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