By Alana Joli Abbott
It's that wonderful time of the year where we look back at everything we read and played and think, "How the heck am I supposed to pick a favorite from these?" If you're like me, you've read a bunch of amazing fiction and comics, played some awesome games, and now have to struggle to come up with your recommendation for the best of the year. Luckily for me, the Outland Team came to the rescue with some of their top choices for 2021!
Jason Fischer, Author of Papa Lucy & The Boneman and the forthcoming Bullets & Bleedthroughs RPG
My favorite discovery from 2021 was Scott Sigler's Aliens: Phalanx. This tie-in novel set in the Aliens universe takes a very interesting turn and plants our favourite xenos in a pre-industrial world. Here, underground enclaves of survivors hide Terminator style from the Aliens who have overrun the surface world, with only the runners brave enough to risk the perilous journey between these settlements. When these human bunkers start to get wiped out from within, it's time to break out the spears and shields and fight back. It is the most interesting mash-up in this universe yet, and this standalone blends in nicely with all the previous stories. My favourite part? Warriors who kill a beast can claim its "tooth-tongue" as a trophy! An absolute page-turner of the highest order, I give this a 5/5.
C. S. E. Cooney, anthology contributor and game designer for Negocios Infernales
My favorite read of 2021 was The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C. M. Waggoner. Or maybe it was The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. Hard to say. Good thing another Murderbot novella didn’t come out in 2021… oh, wait. Oh. Yes, that. That one too. As for television, we watched Over the Garden Wall on a friend’s recommendation, and I was utterly charmed. It’s boding to become an annual autumn re-watch every year.
Scott Colby, Senior Editor, Pileaus series editor, and author of the "Deviant Magic" series
For me, 2021 was more about revisiting old favorites rather than checking out the latest and greatest—and the new things I did check out didn't really resonate with me, with this one exception. Technically I started the Trails of Cold Steel video game series back in 2019, but these games are so huge (and 2020 was such a mess) that I didn't get to the third game until this year. But by the time I did, I'd gotten tightly attached to the broad cast of characters, deep lore, and complicated battle system. Intricate, backstabbing geopolitics might not sound like a particularly compelling theme for a turn-based RPG, but the Cold Steel series makes it work by grounding those machinations with relatable, personal moments that really highlight how the ambitions of those in charge can affect us all. Plus, the super moves are wicked cool.
Tara Cloud Clark, Outland Marketing Director and occasional editor
Werewolves. They keep popping up. Not literally, unfortunately, but take into consideration: Editor in Chief Alana Joli Abbott and I reviewed Kristen O’Neal’s Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses on Instagram, the Outland team at Planet Comicon created a great concept about Rockabilly Werewolf that Dragonring artist Shannon Potratz brought to life, author and co-creator of upcoming RPG Negocios Infernales C.S.E. Cooney wrote a freaking phenomenal poem comparing me to a werewolf (which inspired this beautiful girl to the side), and recently I proofread The Wolf’s Name, an incredible “Anne of Green Gables meets werewolves” novel by Raelyn Teague coming out with Outland next Spring. Plus, at book club I met someone who loves werewolves like most people love vampires, and my husband is researching werewolves for his book. So yeah, for me, it’s the year of the werewolf.
Michael Rookard, Author and artist of Galefire (forthcoming)
My 2021 hits include:
Game: Doom Eternal Ancient Gods Part 2, the epic conclusion to the best shooter in years; demons are slain by the thousands! (Runner up: Mechwarrior 5, for its giant stompy mechs with tons of guns!)
Book: BattleTech Legends: Warrior: En Garde: The Warrior Trilogy, Book One by Michael Stackpole. This is a book originally from 1988 and is one of the first novels in the BattleTech universe. Its astonishing how well it holds up. Plenty of political intrigue and giant mech battles.
Comic: The Legend of Zelda : Twilight Princess manga, eps 8 and 9 from 2021. This is an awesome retelling of the classic game with amazing art and a lot of dialogue for otherwise is a silent protagonist!
Ryan Collins, creator of Siege Command and the Kinterlands
Leviathan Falls by James S. A. Corey is undoubtedly my favorite read of 2021. After having read the previous 8 books in The Expanse series multiple times, just the first few chapters of this finale set the stage for the best possible conclusion. I'm not even half way finished with the book and it's already impossible to put down!
C. Edward Sellner, Licensing Manager
My favorite deep dive for 2021 has been getting back into Jim Starlin's Dreadstar, a very enjoyable process given the collection of the entire series into three great omnibuses and a brand new adventure all released by Ominous Press. This was one of my favorite epic sci-fi series back in the day and Starlin has only improved with age with this newest adventure. If you're a fan of Star Wars and Dune you'll love Dreadstar.
Alana Joli Abbott, Editor in Chief (and author of this article)
That's a lot of fantastic recommendations from the team, which means I'm out of time to come up with my 2021 faves! I've covered some incredible books this year over at Den of Geek (so I won't repeat those here). I will mention, however, that this year I slowly listened to Desdemona and the Deep on audio (read by author C.S.E. Cooney!) and loving every moment of hearing that tale. I recommended Squad to Tara, because this original graphic novel by Maggie Tokuda-Hall is all about high school werewolves smashing the patriarchy. I definitely recommend it to our readers as well! In games, I finally finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, in all its gorgeous graphic splendor. My family has launched into our homebrew version of the Oracle of War campaign from the D&D Adventurer's League (the first adventure of which is by Shawn Merwin, whose name on a game is effectively a seal of Alana-approval). I've really enjoyed looking at it from a design perspective, given how much the writers for the campaign play with the four-hour-adventure structure, trying new and different ways to enrich that format for long-time gamers.
What are your top picks for 2021? What book or game made your year a little better?
If you share the taste of some of our contributors, you might enjoy some of the stuff they've created, like:
Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose multiple choice novels, including Choice of the Pirate and Blackstone Academy for Magical Beginners, are published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels, several short stories and role playing game supplements, and edits fantasy anthologies for Outland Entertainment, including Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology and Where the Veil Is Thin.
You can find her online at: