I will say it again: this category is where the action is. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to the nominees for Best Novel, if anything it is less exciting as a category because of the consistent quality of the work but it is a year of consolidation for Best Novel rather exploring new boundaries (although Six Wakes was a delightful find).
Novella on the other hand is a banner held high for science fiction/fantasy this year. It’s a heady mix of upcoming and established writers, as well as a set of new worlds and potential long-running series to explore in the future. The least good of the six nominees are inventive and novel and push the field further. The very best have clever themes, great plots and characters you want to read more about.
Yes, the novella is emerging as form in part due to its suitability for ebook marketing and digital consumption. Great! Shorter fiction as a way of monetising longer fiction is healthy for a genre – think of the classic sci-fi novels that started off as serialised short fiction. Economics and publishing realities always shape fiction.
To te nominees. I think of them as three groups of two:
- Stand out stories: really great stories that definitely impacted on my socks.
- Solid sequels: (ok, one is a prequel) well crafted part twos from established writers.
- Inventions with the form: quirky, ambitious uses of the novella format to do something challenging.
Obviously the qualities in those groups overlap between the stories. My two top picks are obviously in that number one group: Murderbot and Murder-Sarah really are two of the best things I’ve read this year. The other ranks alternate between two and three.
- All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing). At first I assumed Wells’s Murderbot was unassailable but Sarah Pinsker’s army of clones was a challenger. Even so, I’ve got to give it to All Systems Red. At one level a classic SF thriller/mystery with explorers facing danger and betrayal on an alien planet. On another level a deep dive into a unique character. Brilliant.
- “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017). What starts as little more than a fun idea becomes a humane and moving murder mystery in which literally every guest is a suspect and potential next victim. Although Sarah Pinsker may find people hiding sharp, heavy objects from her…
- Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing). I enjoyed this more than I expected and it is has been growing on me since I finished it the other day. There are no surprises but it is a masterclass in how to write from an author with complete comand of words.
- River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing). This is the first of my rankings that I don’t think entirely work. The story sort of crashes to a halt and it works much better with its sequel to form a novel sized story. Even so, the inventiveness of the idea caught me even from when I first read about Gailey’s concept for it. Love it, with all its flaws.
- Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing). Ah the perils of a set of good nominees! I’ve put poor Binti fifth! I felt this was more of a transitional episode than a good story in itself. Well written but not the high point of the series.
- The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing). Sixth in this collection is no shame. A huge original world, a story covering decades, two fascinating characters struggling with power and fate and love and identity – all crammed into a novella. This is a TARDIS of a story, much, much bigger than its gorgeous cover and word count.
Anyway, time is pressing! I’m not sure how many other categories I’ll cover before the deadline! All I have to do is read all* of Best Series starting from scratch tomorrow and I’ll be fine 🙂
*[I’m exaggerating because I’ve read Divine Cities already so its only (a gazillion – 3) books rather than (a gazillion) books.]