Yesterday SciFiMonth’s daily prompt was one small step: Short form SF.

I read a lot of short story collections. Especially now that I don’t have so much time to read, I appreciate novellas, novellettes, and short stories even more. So it was hard to narrow the list down.

1, Martha Wells: All Systems Red

The first novella in the Murderbot Diaries. The main character is a Security Unit, SecUnit, who is an android with both mechanical parts and cloned biological parts. It’s designed for security on various sites. Despite the fact that it’s (it doesn’t have gender nor sexual parts) clearly a thinking and feeling being, legally it’s the property of the company and not a person. The Murderbot has hacked its control unit and just wants to be left alone and watch the shows it loves. (Don’t we all??)

The series is written in first person and a lot depends on if you like the voice. I love it and the series.

2, Lois McMaster Bujold: Mountains of Mourning

This is one of the few novellas in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. You don’t have to read the books to get the story.

A distressed young woman, Harra, comes to beg justice from her Count, Miles’ father. Her child was born with a hare-lip and a hole on the roof of her mouth. According to old customs, the baby would have been killed at birth by the mother but the new generation is struggling to put such customs behind them. However, Harra’s baby was killed and Harra is convinced that her husband has done it. The Count sends young Miles to the small village to find out the truth.

This is a wonderful story but quite downbeat.

3, Becky Chambers: To Be Taught if Fortunate

Four highly trained and competent people explore alien planets. They’re in cryosleep when they travel, so they know that if they ever return to Earth, everything will be different. They are cuff off from Earth and can only rely on each other.

4, Suzanne Palmer: Bots of the Lost Ark

Maintenance bots need to take over a ship where the crew is asleep. A hilarious short story published on Apex.

5, JY Yang: Bridge of Crows

A hauntingly beautiful tale told in a format of a story inside a story. The unnamed narrator tells the tale of a young woman who is walking through a barren land on a desperate quest. Published in Mythic Dreams anthology.

6, Adrian Tchaikovsky: Elder Race

This novella had two POV characters. Lyn (third person POV) is young and eager to be a hero, somebody her mother will acknowledge. Her worldview has magic and demons. Nyr (first person POV) is a scientist with a scientific worldview. He also struggles with guilt from his previous transgression and he’s very lonely and depressed.

7, Tobias S. Buckell: A Jar of Godwill

The gedda are an alien race whose economics are based on patent rights on the technology. Since they’ve previously developed tech that humans use, they own the patents. Alex is a professional friend. A genetically engineered human (a hermaphrodite) whose job is to, essentially, keep humans sane in the vastness of space with empathy and touch (not necessarily sex). However, Alex’s account is overdrawn and his only chance is to take a job in an approaching spaceship full of scientists. Alex’s job is to befriend a drone, another engineered human who is part of a hive mind but who is now far away from the hive. Published in the “Final Frontier” anthology.

8, John Scalzi: The Dispatcher

In this world, people can’t be murdered because anyone who is killed intentionally comes back. The main character is a dispatcher: his job is to humanely put down people who need it.

9, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Becalmed

A Diving universe novella but you don’t need to read any of the other stories.

Mae is one of three people who are still alive from her group of twenty-seven linguists. They went down to a planet to meet with and learn from people who are reputed to be extremely violent. Mae returned caked in blood and with no memory of what happened to her and the rest of her team.

It’s about a culture clash and it’s also a psychological story where Mae struggles with the past she doesn’t want to know.

10, Connie Wills: Fire Watch

Time traveling to the past is hard. But it’s even harder when you’ve been preparing to walk with Saint Paul himself – and are sent instead to St. Paul’s in the middle of air raids. The main character tries to prepare as well as possible, but it might not be enough.

A stand-alone SF novella.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Tor

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 201

Lynnesse Fourth Daughter is the youngest of the daughters of the Queen of Lannesite and the last one to believe in fairy tales of demons and wizards. When frightened people flee to Lannesite from the forest kingdoms with tales of a demon ravaging the forests and the people, the Queen and Lyn’s sisters dismiss the stories and are convinced that the smaller countries are fighting amongst themselves. Nothing for the Queen to be concerned about. But Lyn is convinced that a real demon is at work. She and her best friend Esha Free Mark make the long journey to the Tower of Nyrgoth Elder, the last of the great wizards of the Elder Race. Nyrgoth helped Lyn’s great-grandmother and promised to return if he was needed again. Lyn begs the strange-looking wizard for help.

Nyr Illim Tevitch is an anthropologist second class, lightyears away from home. He and his two friends were sent to observe this alien planet where Earth sent a colony thousands of years ago. But when messages from Earth didn’t arrive, his friends chose to return to find out what happened. Nyr chose to stay, waiting for contact. He has been in suspended animation and is now rudely awakened. He expects that a new message woke him but that’s not the case. He didn’t expect two native women in his home, begging him to leave with them.

Nyr’s instructions forbid all influence with the natives. But he has broken the orders before, with Lyn’s great-grandmother. And Lyn looks so much like her great-grandmother that against his better judgment Nyr agrees. But customs have changed and so has the language.

This novella had two POV characters. Lyn (third person POV) is young and eager to be a hero, somebody her mother will acknowledge. Her worldview has magic and demons. Nyr (first person POV) is a scientist with a scientific worldview. He also struggles with guilt from his previous transgression and he’s very lonely and depressed. He has a Dissociative Cognition System that will suppress his emotions so that he can think clearly and make logical decisions. However, the system can’t work all the time.

The two POV characters complement each other. The local culture is very customs bound and hierarchical. Nyr’s society clearly isn’t and he struggles to make himself understood. The themes of the story are culture clashes and depression. They worked surprisingly well.

The sixth novella in the Wayward Children series but can be read as a stand-alone.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 174

When Regan Lewis was a little girl, she already knew that girls can be vicious to each other in a way that adults either didn’t see or chose to forget. Regan had two best friends but that changed when she was seven. One of her friends brought a snake to school and the other, Laurel, reacted terribly, saying that the other wasn’t a real girl because she liked snakes. Regan supported Laurel. Laurel ostracised her former friend and so did Regan.

Ever since she was little, Regan loved horses and her parents are wealthy enough that she can ride. But when Regan is 11, she realizes that she’s not developing like other girls who make fun of her. Then, Regan’s parents reveal that Regan is intersex and it’s possible that she won’t develop periods or breasts. Even though her parents insist that there’s nothing wrong with her, she thinks differently. The next day in school, she confides in one person who immediately accuses her of being a boy. Miserable and frightened Regan runs away from school.

In a forest, she sees some trees that form a doorway that says ”Be Sure”. She steps through to another land. In the Hooflands, there are no humans, just beings with hoofs, such as unicorns, fauns, and centaurs.

This is almost a cozy fantasy, except for some later scenes and the bullying at the start. It’s also a coming-of-age story.

Regan’s parents are very supportive and insist that she’s perfect. Yet, her friends Laurel is very strict about what a girl can do, look like, and be. Regan seems to believe Laurel more than her parents. She’s always thought of herself as a girl so learning that she’s intersex is a shock.

In the Hooflands, that doesn’t matter because she’s the only human. It’s common knowledge that when the Hooflands are in trouble, a human savior appears. But Regan doesn’t think she can be a savior so she does her best to reject that destiny.

This was a lovely, slow-paced story of Regan growing up and learning to accept herself.

I’ve only read the first book in the series and this one doesn’t have any connections to it, so you can read it without reading the others

A stand-alone fantasy novella.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: TOR

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 103

Thanh is the third daughter of the ruler of Bình Hải, a small but proud country. It’s allied to Eptheria which is a large Northern conquerer nation. All her life, Thanth’s mother called Thanth the useless one. Her elder daughters are the more useful heirs.

When Thanth was eight, she was sent to Ephteria, supposedly to learn and study but really she was a hostage. While she was there, the palace caught on fire. Everyone fled… except Thant, a foreign brown little girl who was forgotten. However, she and a servant girl, who was also from Bình Hải, fled the burning building together. The fire still haunts her and sometimes embers start glowing around her and set things on fire. Soon after the fire, Thanth had her first romance with the princess of Ephteria, who is also the headstrong heir to the empire.

Now, Thanth has returned to her birth country, but her mother is still displeased with her. She’s too soft and pliable.

A trade delegation is coming from Eptheria and Mother has put Thanth in charge of the negotiations with them. Mother hopes that Thanth’s years as the hostage make her a good diplomat. Thanth is nervous but determined to show her worth to Mother. But the head of the delegation is Thanth’s former lover who wants her back.

This novella is written completely from Thanth’s point of view. She feels invisible in the palace and Mother clearly doesn’t trust her and thinks that she’s useless. Mother oversees every detail of the negotiation. Thanth is a quiet, reflective girl. When she was with her lover, Eldris, for the first time she felt that someone actually saw her.

When Eldris shows up, she threatens (subtly) to take over the country if they don’t agree to the terms. Meanwhile, Thanth longs to be with Eldris again, but that would compromise Thanth’s position. Eldris is a confident woman who has grown up knowing that she can have whatever she wants. In that respect, she could have been a male character.

Thanth’s mother is another powerful woman. But she knows that her country is no match for the military might of Ephteria, so she has to negotiate and do it well. She demands much from her daughters.

This story clearly has roots in colonial history and the negotiations are a big part of the story. It’s also about love and abuse and growing to learn your own worth and place.

A dystopian SF novella.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Tor

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 160

Tetley Abednego is the most hated girl in the Garbagetown. By law, anyone can do anything to her except kill her. Everyone thinks she deserves such treatment. But she endures because she did the right thing, saving everyone and her beautiful Garbagetown which is the best place in the world.

She and all other people in the world live on a massive, floating pile of garbage left behind by the Fuckwits who just consumed everything until the world couldn’t take it anymore. The mass is literally made of mounds of garbage and the town’s parts are named after what garbage the part has the most: for example Pill Hill (pharmaceutical waste), Scrapmetal Abbey (metal waste), and Toyside (old, broken toys). Each section has its own customs and status. The Electric City is full of old batteries and is the only place which has reliable electricity. Its residents feel that they have higher status than anyone else. Tetley is from Candle Hole but she meets a boy from Electric City.

The story is told through Tetley’s eyes, in the first person. It’s not linear, and she’s not a reliable narrator, so the story can be a bit hard to follow. We would consider Tetley’s life pretty bleak, but she’s a pretty happy person, always looking for the brighter side. Of course, otherwise the story would be very bleak. The other people are pretty pissed off with earlier generations, whom they call Fuckwits. And with good reason. It’s quite possible humanity is heading toward a future like this. We already have floating garbage patches. Nobody is just living on them, yet.

The Hugo packet also included the short story “the Future is Blue” which is the first Tetley story originally published in Drowned Worlds, a short story collection about climate change. This was an interesting read and Tetley’s voice is very strong and unique.

A fantasy retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. A novella.


Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Tor

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 128

Zinnia Gray was born with a disease that kills the inflicted shortly after their 21st birthday. Her parents have, of course, tried to find a cure and she’s treated often, but nobody has cured it. All her life, she knows that she’s a dying girl. On her sixth birthday, she reads a fairy tale book with gorgeous Arthur Rackham illustrations and immediately loves Sleeping Beauty. She becomes obsessed with the story.

Today is Zinnia’s 21st birthday. Her best, and only, friend Charm invites Zinnia to their favorite place so that Zinnia can have one last princess birthday. But things go weird.

This is a wonderful, twisty retelling of the story. Zinnia struggles with the suffocating love of her parents who want to protect her while she wants to live as much as she can. Despite her gloomy circumstances, she and Charm have sarcastic humor. She also knows a lot about pop culture and makes a lot of references.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I loved the twists Harrow put to the fairy tale, but I won’t spoil them here. I’m looking forward to the next novella, A Mirror Mended. Happily, the Finnish library system has a few of her books. I need to check them out.

This is one of the Wyrd & Wonder prompts.

Time to celebrate shorter reads – what are your favorite fantasy zines, anthologies, individual short stories, novelettes, or novellas?

I like short stories and novellas. It was difficult to choose just five but here goes.

1, Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Demon

The first story in the Penric & Desdemona fantasy series. Penric is the younger son of a minor lord. He wants to study but the family can’t afford it. He’s studious, curious, generous, and kind. When the family finds him a marriage match with the daughter of a cheese merchant, he agrees to it and while he doesn’t love his bride, he can easily imagine that he will in time. However, on the way to the betrothal party, he meets a group of people: a couple of servants and an old woman clearly in distress. He offers to help the woman and receives more than he ever imagines: a demon.

In this world, demons are intelligent creatures but they don’t have bodies. Instead, they have to take over another body, animal or human. They’re also not evil but have, of course, very different experiences from any human which means that humans don’t necessarily understand them or their reactions. Also, if the host has a weak will, the demon can take over completely. Penric has no knowledge of demons or how to control them, so he has to learn it all from scratch. But he’s curious and willing to learn. This particular demon is about 200 years old but her most recent hosts have been Temple sorceresses, so she knows not to try to wrestle for control.

Penric and his demon are a delightful pair. I’ve enjoyed the series a lot.

2, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The Scottish Play

Porchia is one of three sisters and three witches. Their family tree of witches can be traced back to several centuries, only their methods have changed. Her job is to get rid of curses and other magic in theaters. Because acting, and writing, can produce magic, they can also produce curses so she and her two sisters are in high demand. However, something goes terribly wrong in the Lancaster theater where their mother is working on a curse and is killed.

3, Phyllis Irene Radford and Laura Anne Gilman, ed: The Shadow Conspiracy

In this short story collection, the short stories affect each other and the setting. In the first story the main character, Mary Shelley, (yes, she who wrote the Frankenstein) finds out about new science that she thinks is abdominal: it can transfer a human soul to another body. We get to see the consequences of this science in the other stories. Another scientific achievement is done by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace; they create machines in the shapes of men. The metal men become more and more common, and are programmed for more and more varied tasks.

Apparently, it’s now only available as an audiobook.

4, Nancy Jane Moore: A Mere Scutcheon

It’s set in a world similar to the Three Musketeers, except that a woman’s honor is the same as a man’s, and not between her legs. The Queen has her guardswomen and the King his guardsmen, and they are often dueling each other. The Queen gives Anna D’Gart a mission: to get back the Queen’s necklace before the ball where the Queen is expected to wear the necklace. Anna and her loyal friend Asamir set out to retrieve it. Asamir is aiming to become a nun but not before she has lots of intimate meetings with a married count.

5, JY Yang: Bridge of Crows

A hauntingly beautiful tale told in a format of a story inside a story. The unnamed narrator tells the tale of a young woman who is walking through a barren land on a desperate quest. From “The Mythic Dream” short story collection.

A Penric and Desdemona fantasy novella.


Publication year: 2020

Publisher: Spectrum Literary Agency

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 126

Penric is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife, newborn daughter, and mother-in-law. Penric’s demon Desdemona and his wife have managed to settle into an amicable relationship. Des is a 200-year-old chaos demon inhabiting Pen, so not every woman could have done it.

Then Pen’s wife’s brother, General Arisaydia asks for Pen’s help. A mysterious disease has attacked his men, a bruising fever. Pen agrees to look things over but is promptly lured into trying to cure it and find out where it came from. Because he doesn’t know how it spreads, he can’t return home or he could accidentally infect his family. Des can’t just cure the sick; she can only assist their own healing and that takes days or weeks. Pen desperately wants to cure everyone but one sorcerer isn’t nearly enough, especially when there are sick people not just in the military fort but in surrounding towns.

Pen is a scholar delighting in reading, translation, and writing. While he can use his demon to speed healing, he isn’t a healer or a physician, not anymore. This story reminds us why. Because only the most difficult cases are brought to him and he will break himself trying to help them. So, this story had definitely a darker side. Fortunately, it also has others, especially after the halfway point. I very much enjoyed the character introduced later in the story but won’t spoil them.

Des doesn’t get a chance to snark much, this time. Two of her previous hosts were healers so she knows all too well how spirit-breaking the work can be. Also, some people are too scared of Pen to let him try to help while others expect him to wave a hand and cure everyone. When he can’t do that, these people blame him. So, the tone isn’t as cozy and cheerful as in some of the others.

Still, a good read, but probably not the best place to start the Pen&Des series.

A Penric and Desdemona fantasy novella.


Publication year: 2019

Publisher: Spectrum Literary Agency

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 127

The novella is set about a year after the events of “The Prisoner of Limnos”. Learned Penric and his demon Desdemona have been together for thirteen years, so they know each other very well. Now, they’re on a ship headed back home. But pirates attack the ship and take it. Penric strongly suspects that they are Quadrene, people who worship only four gods and consider the fifth one, the Bastard, a more powerful demon. Penric is a divine, a priest, of the Bastard. Also, if the Quadrenes know that Penric has a demon inside him, they would kill him. So, he pretends to be a humble scholar.

The pirates throw him into a filthy hold with two small children they’ve captured from a previous ship. The sisters are terrified. Penric realizes that he is the answer to their prayers and it’s his duty to protect them.

This was a fun, quick read, as the Pen and Des novellas tend to be. There’s no character development, though, so it’s lighter than the others. Also, it has darker undertones because the pirates in this story aren’t romanticized. They’re murderers, rapists, and slavers. The sisters’ fate would be awful without Pen. Otherwise, this was a fun adventure, even though the ending was quite convenient.

Penric is his kind, thoughtful self, and a delightful POV character. Desdemona is just as delightful, but their interaction is far more practiced here than in the first stories (of course). No surprises. This is a good, light read for fans of the series. But I recommend starting with the first, Penric’s Demon.

The first book in the Steampunk Red Riding Hood series.


Publication year: 2018

Publisher: Carter & Bradley Publishing

Format: ebook

Page count from Amazon: 124

In Victorian England, supernatural creatures live in secret. But the Queen has a secret society, the Red Capes, who defend her land and people from the threats of werewolves, vampires, and other creatures. The Red Capes report to a mysterious organization called the Rude Mechanicals. Clemeny Louvel, whose nickname is Little Red, is one of those agents. She loves her job, even though it’s dangerous and leaves her little time to sleep. She can always rely on her partner Quinn Briarwood to watch her back. She’s an orphan, raised by an old woman whom she calls grand-merè.

But now the unthinkable has happened. Two of London’s most powerful werewolf packs have joined forces and started kidnapping alchemists and professors. The packs are usually fighting each other so Clem and Quinn must quickly find out what is going on.

This was an exciting and fast-paced beginning to the series. Even though it’s set in Victorian London, it has many prominent female characters, including a professor and the chief of the Red Capes. So women aren’t as constricted in this fantasy world as they were in history. The werewolves are also a bit different than what I’ve come to expect.

The world-building was intriguing, but the shortness of the tale left the characters a little shallow. Quinn is happily married so there’s not going to be a romance between him and Clem. She is single and another romantic interest is dangled before her, someone she doesn’t trust, of course.

Clem is confident and a very capable agent. However, I don’t know why she’s an agent, just that she loves her dangerous job and is good at it.

Part of the Action Heroine bundle I bought from Storybundle 2018.

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