Hello, Novella Appreciation!
Until recently, I rarely read novellas -- with the exception of ones by authors that were already must-buys for me. The format always seemed too short to me, especially for SFF. Back when I had a super-long commute, I’d choose the thickest book I could fit in my bag, hoping it would carry me through more than one day of travels. I wouldn't look twice at anything under 300 pages.
But when I started devoting more structured time to writing, my chunks of available reading time got scarcer. I found myself not finishing a book the same week I started it, which really annoyed me. I generally prefer to finish a book within 3-4 days of starting it, particularly with twisty or suspenseful plots that I have to keep in my head alongside whatever I’m working on in my own fiction.
Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels
Enter my newfound love for novellas. I’ve discovered that I can read most novellas in one day if I read in both directions on the train, or two if I read them across two cafe mornings + a lunch hour. I can get the rush of starting and finishing a story without ever having to flip back to figure out what I’ve forgotten in the time since I last turned the page. Plus, the stories are often so remarkably lush and compelling that it feels like a full-length SFF novel packed into a smaller punch :)
I’ve now got a huge list of novellas on my TBR (and a more realistic hope of finishing them all than my equally lengthy novel list!) For those weeks when I don't have time to dig into a whole novel, a novella is the perfect selection to make sure my reader-brain doesn't get neglected.
If your reading time is limited but you’re after more than a short story, give a novella a try! Such a great way to get a taste of a lot of different worlds and writing styles. I’ve already discovered so many incredible new voices in these slender volumes.
Here are two of my recent loves. ❤
THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS
by P. Djèlí Clark
I picked this up when I was looking at lists of Hugo-eligible works, and I’d seen the title come up on a few. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this one! I can’t even express how wonderful the worldbuilding and narrative voice in this book was.
The Black God’s Drums takes place in an alternate, steampunk-esque New Orleans, which is a neutral bastion of freedom after the Civil War divided America in two. The story follows street-smart orphan Creeper, who dreams of leaving the city and exploring the world on an airship. But when Creeper overhears a conversation between a smuggler and some Confederate soldiers, she learns of the Confederacy’s plot to acquire a mysterious superweapon that could destroy the city.
The fiercely independent Creeper knows she can’t take care of this on her own. To save the city, she will have to enlist the help of badass airship pilot Ann-Marie, and seek the counsel of an odd pair of all-knowing nuns. But Creeper will also have to embrace the passionate will of Oya, the tempestuous storm goddess who has always sent visions into Creeper’s mind.
This was such an amazing combination of detailed historical research with speculative and otherworldly elements, beautifully incorporating African spirituality and cosmology as well as the blended diaspora traditions in the Americas. The writing is evocative, the setting is vivid and incredible, the characters are fantastic. There were several scenes that literally gave me goosebumps as I was reading.
I’ve already got the author’s newly-released novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, waiting on my e-reader — this one featuring an alternative 1912 Cairo — and I can’t wait to delve in.
GODS, MONSTERS & THE LUCKY PEACH
by Kelly Robson
I’ve seen this title floating around in rec lists for a while, but somehow missed the fact that it’s a time travel book. Of course, it took me about 9 seconds to click the ‘buy’ button when I read the teaser!
In 2267, Earth’s ecological balance has been destroyed, and the planet’s natural habitats are nothing but a historical memory. Humanity lives underground or in domes on the surface, and efforts to restore the Earth’s ecosystem have been abandoned now that time travel has been discovered, with wealthy folks simply travelling into the past to experience the Earth as it once was.
When researcher Minh is offered a chance to take a team back to 2000 BCE to survey the Mesopotamian river systems, she jumps at the chance to gather data to help restore the rivers in her own time — but she learns more truths than she bargained for in the process.
This book has some of the most compelling worldbuilding I’ve read in a long time. There’s a complex post-apocalyptic society, advanced ingrained med-tech, extreme body mods & incredible prosthetics, & a kind of mind-to-mind communication called ‘whispering’. I loved the strong, diverse cast of characters, and it was great to see an older woman as the point-of-view protagonist in sci-fi. Also, the main storyline starts in future Canada, which always makes me smile.
The story has a bit of an abrupt ending that’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but I kind of loved that about it. The ending felt absolutely fitting for the themes, & the fact that you don’t know for sure what happened remains an intriguing mystery. The door is wide open for a sequel, but I think it works great as a standalone, too.
And some of the most anticipated titles on my novella TBR:
Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield (March 2019)
Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (March 2019)
The Undefeated by Una McCormack (May 2019)
The Survival of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson (July 2019)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (September 2019)