Cozy SF

Here’s a post from Book Riot: 10 Cozy Sci-Fi Books To Give You Hope for the Future

I’m suspicious. This is Book Riot, and we all know how, uh, idiosyncratic their definitions of subgenres can be.

Plus the people who write Book Riot posts don’t tend to pick Cozy anything for their lists, no matter what they say. They pick something grim and practically hopeless, something with “overcoming almost unbearable tragedy” in the description, point to a thin thread of hope that runs through the narrative, and call it Cozy. 

As you all know, I think that Cozy is all about tone, plus plot. That is, it feels warm and kind right from the opening pages, and the plot may very well be slice-of-life rather than save-the-world. It’s not gritty, it’s relatively low-stress, and people are nice to each other. That’s what makes any novel Cozy.

Maybe this Book Riot post going out of its way to include “hope for the future” is a good sign. How bleak can you get and still be pointing the way toward a brighter future? –> Maybe Book Riot is going to answer that question. Let’s take a look:

Here’s their first suggestion:

Okay, that’s reassuring! I think we all agree that A Psalm for the Wildbuilt is indeed Cozy SF. I haven’t read it, actually, but I’ve sure heard about it and it’s on my list. Reviews are always using words like “warm” and “kind” and “optimistic” for this book, which is exactly the tone that Cozy Anything has to have in order to count as Cozy.

Oh, this one is amusing:

It’s practically impossible to have “tea” in the title and not have the story be Cozy. I know I’m exaggerating, but still, The Cybernetic Tea Shop immediately sounds like a reasonable candidate for Cozy SF. What’s this story about? It’s a shortish story, by the way, not a novel.

Clara Gutierrez is an AI repair technician and a wanderer. Her childhood with her migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering for too long, so she moves from place to place across retro-futuristic America.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot. Older than the law declaring her kind illegal due to ethical concerns, she is at best out of place in society and at worst vilified. She continues to run the tea shop previously owned by her long-dead master, lost in memories of the past, struggling to fulfill her master’s dream for the shop while slowly breaking down.

They meet by chance, but as they begin to spend time together, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

“Sweet without being saccharine,” says one review. “Like curling up in a warm blanket,” says another. “Lovely, wistful, and uplifting.” I think I’ll pick it up, even though it’s also described as an “asexual romance,” and I’m feeling like maaaybe we already have a word for that kind of relationship? Have we decided as a society that friendship doesn’t exist, that we should redefine friendship as “asexual romance?” Not a fan of that whole notion, seriously.

Well, that’s a different post. Meanwhile, by all means click through and see what else in in the Book Riot post. I haven’t read any of these, but if you have what did you think?

Here’s one that isn’t in the Book Riot post:

You remember this series, probably. This is Mindtouch, first of the five-book series about students — who are friends, not romantically involved — going through med school and becoming partners and doctors. It’s not that nothing sad ever happens; they’re in med school, so sometimes they have to deal with sick or dying people. Nevertheless: Cozy SF.

Here’s one I haven’t read, but I’m betting fits the bill:

The Road to Roswell is Connie Willis’ alien abduction romp. As I say, I haven’t read it, but I did just read her collection of Christmas stories, so I’m betting this is Cozy. “Silly but adorable,” suggest reviews. Not sure that’s the same as “warm and comforting,” but I bet if you do a Venn diagram, there’s a biggish area of overlap.

If you’ve got a Cozy SF novel or story in mind, drop it in the comments!

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11 thoughts on “Cozy SF”

  1. I think Stealing the Elf-King’s Roses by Diane Duane (which I happen to be rereading right now) qualifies. Even though it’s billed as “urban fantasy” the multiple Earths accessible by science rather than magic, and the near-future vibe, make it more SF, and the slice-of-life parts (with cute puppies!) make it cozy.

  2. I read the Cybernetic Tea Shop after seeing it on that list, and it is definitely a romance and on the deeply serious side rather than cozy. Good, and worth reading, but did not give me the warm fuzzies.

    Agree on the Hogarths. I could read all day about Jahir eating ice cream, lol.

  3. Silly but adorable is about right for a number of Willis stories–including this one. Some of her stories are sad. As an aside, this is the second Willis story where a Winnebago is central to the plot.

  4. The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a romance between two people whose sexual orientation is asexual, so it is a romance rather than a friendship story– Mindtouch, by contrast, has sometimes been marketed by Hogarth as an “asexual romance” also, but it’s more ambiguous because no one is asexual in the sense of sexual orientation (one of the two main characters, Vasiht’h, is from a species with a genetically hormone deficiency that makes most of them disinterested in sex, but that’s not the same thing as asexuality as an orientation– most asexual humans, yours truly included, tend to be within the standard ranges for hormones :).

    On the topic of coziness, Cybernetic Tea Shop does have a subplot about prejudice against robots, but I found it cozier than the Mindtouch books- I think I’ve mentioned the on-page death of an ill child, but the following books include a drug overdose epidemic and self-harm by overwork and a hurricane natural disaster. They’re not grimdark by any means, but I would say they strike me as more serious with slice-of-life elements than cozy.

    (If you read and like Mindtouch as a platonic life partner story with slice of life elements, though, I might recommend stopping at the fourth book, Dreamstorm, and leaving them as a quartet– the next book, Family, is really a prologue to tie them to the next series in the setting which goes in a very different direction in tone (decidedly _not_ cozy war with quite a lot of torture, rape, and _eventually_ consensual explicit sex through the Prince’s Game series then more along the lines of Regency fantasy of manners in peacetime among the Eldritch after that). I’ve kept reading but as someone who entered the setting with Mindtouch I’ve been somewhat disappointed that Jahir’s relationship with Vasih’th and their therapy career has fallen by the wayside in favor of Jahir’s romance with his Eldritch wife and his assuming his high place in Eldritch politics.)

    Also on the topic of Hogarth’s slice of life work, her short volume of vignettes about an alien calligrapher, The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, is really lovely. The rest of that series is also one I have mixed feelings about though and I might recommend it as a standalone (the second volume, The Admonishments of Kherishdar, has a different narrator and is about crime and punishment in the setting and there are a couple of vignettes where I felt the characters became mouthpieces for the author’s politically conservative views, especially her very fervent anti-abortion views, in a way I found obtrusive and unpleasant, but the remaining duology of novels in the series rests heavily on it such that you can’t skip it if you want to read them).

  5. I liked that Alyssa Cole AI romance they included – it was a while ago, but I think it was cozy?

    But, one of the other books in their list has “when his entire family is murdered” in the synopsis – color me skeptical re: its coziness.

  6. Seconding Stealing the Elf King’s Roses. I am very fond of that one.

    I would count Janet Kagan’s Mirabile as cozy SF. It’s a series of linked stories about human settlers on an alien planet a few generations into the colony. The geneticists on earth before the generation ships left tweaked the genes of the samples they took with some intermittently odd results. Opening sentence: “This year the Ribeiro’s daffodils seeded early and they seeded cockroaches.” Each story has a biological puzzle to solve but also you see positive social relationships. Plus an older female MC.

    I like Kagan’s Hellspark even more but I wouldn’t call it cozy.

  7. Well, now I’m interested in the Cybernetic Tea Shop just to see how that relationship is handled, whether it’s cozy or not.

    And I guess I need to add Stealing the Elf King’s roses to my TBR pile as well!

    Sandstone, you or someone mentioned before that it might be best to treat the Mindtouch series as a quadrilogy, which I did. I don’t intend to go one with that series, and actually it sounds like a good example or a series where the author did not know where to stop. Other, non-compatible stories should have been shifted into a different, unconnected series, probably.

  8. OtterB, totally second Kagan’s Mirabile as Cozy SF. Also yes, I greatly enjoyed Hellspark, not as a mystery — it isn’t all that good that way — but in every other way, a great story.

    SarahZ, aaaagh, no! Why does anyone think “when his whole family is murdered” can possibly work as Cozy? ???

  9. Thanks for this post and all the helpful comments. I’m in the mood for something cozy, and I like SF, so I’m going jump on these right away! I haven’t read any of these yet, and these are all new to me authors! I love getting recommendations from this site. I find the books recommended here have a much greater chance of being good quality, and also have a higher chance of me actually liking them, than any other source of recommendations I’ve found. So thank you all. I’ll start by checking if any of the books recommended are in my library :)

  10. Yay! Stealing the Elf Kings Roses is in the online library and available now! I’ve read and liked other Dianne Duane books, especially Omnitopia. Although it has its flaws, it’s also warm and entertaining. Could be considered cozy? I’m still disappointed that book never got it’s sequel.

  11. Oops, just realized the contradiction. All the recommended books are by new to me authors *except* the one by Diane Duane.
    My apologies for the multiple posts.

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