novella


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Yesterday, the topic was Top 10 Favorite novellas/short stories.

This is another really hard one. I’ve read quite a few of shorter stories over the years. Also, older works which were considered books previously would now be novellas, going by length. But here are my current favorites:

1, All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This was a treat because I came into it expecting it to be good, because every review I’ve seen of had been favorable. Often enough this creates too high expectations for the work. But they were right; I thoroughly enjoyed the Murderbot’s adventures.

2, Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories
These stories are set in an alternate universe, where magic takes the place of science, even in criminal investigation. Lord Darcy is the Chief Forensic Investigator or Chief Criminal Investigator for the Duke of Normandy. His sidekick is Master Sean who does most of the magical forensics. Most of the cases take place among the rich and powerful so Lord Darcy must be diplomatic.

3, Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold
This little gem follows Miles Vorkosigan who tries to show his famous dad that he can do stuff, too. It ends up haunting Miles for the rest of his life.

4, A Mere Scutcheon by Nancy Jane Moore
A three musketeers story but the Queen’s musketeers are women! It’s part of her Conscientious inconsistencies collection.

5, Women of Futures Past: Classic Stories, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
This is a wonderful collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989. Rusch’s introduction “Invisible Women” is also well worth reading if you’re at all interested in SF history.

6, Penric fantasy novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ms. Bujold has been writing these shorter stories set in her five gods universe in the recent years. They’re fun and nice reads. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction between Penric and the demon riding inside him. The first one is Penric’s Demon.

7, That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn
This short story is available for free at tor.com.

8, The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon
This was a fun and yet thought-provoking fantasy novelette.

9, Fiction River: Timestreams
I’ve enjoyed all of the Fiction River collections I’ve read so far and this is among the best. I love time travel stories anyway.

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

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A fantasy novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods universe. While it’s the newest in publication order, according to internal chorology, it’s the third. I recommend starting with the first novella “Penric’s Demon” to get the most out of the novella series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 hours and 29 minutes
Narrators: Grover Gardner

This story takes place about eight months after the events in “Penric and the Shaman” where Penric met some of the characters appearing in this story.

Learned Penric of the Bastard’s order is fishing with his friend who is a shaman when Locator Oswyl, this world’s equivalent to a detective, comes to get them. Someone has murdered a temple sorceress and he needs help from Penric to locate the demon which was living inside the sorceress. Much to his dismay, Penric can’t locate the demon and they come to the conclusion that someone, most likely the murderer, has stolen the demon.

This is essentially a murder mystery with some intrigue and sorcery added to it. While the temple sorceress is very much dead, her demon (an elemental spirit) which was inside her has mostly likely jumped to another person or animal. Wild demons are very dangerous so Penric must find the missing spirit. The story touches on life and death of humans and the spiritual beings who can be part of the them.

It’s a nice little story. I enjoyed the story and characters, as usual for Bujold. I’m particularly fond of Penric’s demon Desdemona and her interaction with Penric has, so far, always been delight.

The sequel to “Penric’s Mission” and “Mira’s Last Dance”. A fantasy novella. I recommend starting with the first novella “Penric’s Demon” to get the most out of the novella series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 5 hours and 25 minutes
Narrators: Grover Gardner

Penric is a sorcerer in the Bastard’s Order and therefore carrying a chaos demon inside him. He’s also a scholar and a healer, using the demon’s abilities for the healing. He named his demon Desdemona. Des has had 12 previous hosts, both animal and human, but Penric is the first male host. Penric is supposed to return to the temple where he is stationed but has put it off because he has romantic interest towards Nikys Khatai. She’s the widow of a general and the sister of another general. Penric wants to stay near her but is running out of excuses.

Nikys receives a letter which tells her that her mother is kept a prisoner in a Daughter’s House in Limnos. Because of political repercussions, Nikys wants to rescue her quietly. Penric happily volunteers and they set out for another mutual adventure. However, the letter could be a trap.

This is quite a gentle and heart-warming fantasy novella, like a cozy mystery but without the murder (or other crime). The characters are great, as usual for Bujold. There were some tense moments, but I didn’t think the characters were never in any serious danger. Which was fine, for a change. There are a lot of various disguises, daring escapes, and sneaking around.

The story has two POV characters: Penric and Nikys. While Pen is quite a gentle and understanding man, he’s also very powerful because of his demon. But having the demon does have its drawbacks, too, and several of the previous hosts have their own personalities which come to the surface from time to time. Nikys is a very practical and loyal woman. She’s falling for Pen but the thought that he has another person, or rather several people, really, inside him all the time, gives her pause. However, she does seem to take Pen for granted: right at the start she doesn’t even bother to ask him if he’s going to help, just assumes it.

We’re also introduced to a group of new characters. The letter was sent by a woman Nikys’ brother courted before he was declared a traitor. She’s apparently still waiting for him. She and her household agree to help Nikys even with such a questionable and dangerous mission as a prison break. While the Daughter’s House is a temple and not a dreary dungeon, it does have a loyal and dedicated staff. I also really enjoyed several of the new characters, especially Ikos and Bosha, and I’d loved to see more of them.

Overall this was a great continuation and I’m looking forward to seeing Penric and Nikys adventuring as a couple.

A science fiction novella where the main characters is a Murderbot.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count: 144 in GoodReads

The story is set in a future time where humans have spread to several planets. The story follows 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. SecUnit’s are called Murderbots and that’s what this SecUnit calls itself.

It’s part of a contract to protect a group of seven humans who are surveying a new planet. Another survey group is set somewhat nearby (on a planetary scale). However, the Murderbot’s company buys all parts as cheap as possible so when things start to go wrong, at first Murderbot suspects equipment failure due to shoddy parts. The first anomaly is a huge lifeform trying to eat the scientists. Such a thing should not have been on the planet. Mapping is also faulty. Things escalate even though the Murderbot would rather sit in it’s cubicle and consume entertainment feeds.

The Murderbot is the first person POV character. It has hacked the governor module which is supposed to order it to keep peaceful and to obey the humans. However, the Murderbot just wants to be left alone and watch the entertainment feeds. Everything it knows about interacting with humans it has learned from the feeds. It’s pretty nervous around humans and doesn’t want any face-to-helmet faceplate interaction with them. Face-to-face talk is even more awkward for it. However, pretty soon it doesn’t have a choice.

This was highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Of course, the world’s background isn’t fully explained. The scientists are pretty reasonable people but want to consider the Murderbot’s feelings which it doesn’t want. Happily, there are more Murderbot stories on the way.

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,00 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

“Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth.”

“I was also planning to use the time to watch some Sanctuary Moon and recharge my ability to cope with humans at close quarters without losing my mind.”

This is a collection of two novellas and two short stories in the Ruby Callaway urban fantasy series. Each happens in a different time period: 1812, 1993, 1959, 2006.

Publication year: 2016-2017
Format: ebook, kindle
Publisher: Watchfire Press
Page count: none in Kindle

Bone Realm (1812): Rebecca Callaway is working in her late father’s business: Liberty Printworks which has also an unofficial apothecary for magical stuff. When a terribly wounded man and a talking dog enter the shop, Rebecca knows that she’s in trouble, especially when the dog reveals that the man’s half-demon. However, for a high price Rebecca (who will soon change her name to Ruby) agrees to try to help him. But the half-demon’s pursuers manage to get into the shop because they’re local policemen. During the fight, the shop is burnt down. Rebecca manages to save very little and must flee with the half-demon and the talking dog. Soon, she must find a way to defeat 1600-year old werewolf or die herself.

This novella sets up is Ruby’s life as a magical bounty-hunter and introduces the world to readers.

Silver Tempest (1993): An Elven King has hired Ruby to find his daughter who has run away… to live with vampires. Elves are very good creatures, and this is a terrible thing to happen to an elven princess. Getting her away isn’t going to be easy at all.

Kentucky Clear (1959): Ruby was hired by an old vampire because someone has stolen a shipment of blood. She’s tracked the thief to a remote log house which has a distillery. But the situation soon becomes very complicated and dangerous.

Going Home (2006): Ruby has been hired to take down a rogue Fae who lives to create chaos. He starts by holding an entire upper-class restaurant to hostage. Things get complicated from there.

For the most part these were enjoyable reads. Ruby has a hot temper and, as she’s fond of thinking, she isn’t there to help widows and orphans. She wants easy gigs so that she can get the money, but things rarely go smoothly. However, she does sometimes help people almost reluctantly. She’s quick to act and talk, and thinks later. She also often takes instant dislike to people and isn’t afraid to say so, usually with a string of profanities. The only partner she wants is her enchanted shotgun.

However, the first novella was somewhat disjointed. Couple of times it seemed that quite a lot of time had gone by and rather mysterious things had happened. The other three are more straightforward and action oriented.

The world-building was very interesting. Earth seems to be just one realm out of nine and Ruby can go from one realm to another but only from specific locations. This last bit was revealed in the final story so during the previous stories I wondered a couple of times why she wouldn’t just jump out of danger but apparently she can’t do that. Her powers aren’t well defined: in addition to being able to walk from one realm to another she can see “wisps” around people or things and these tell her something. She calls it intuition which give her nudges to one direction or another.

The world seems to have demons, the underworld, various fae, and other supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves. They’re hiding from ordinary people.

The continuation novella to Penric’s Mission.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 3 and 25 minutes
Narrator: Grover Gardner

Penric, General Adelis Arisaydua and his widowed sister Nikys are on the run from Cedonia’s forces. Penric is a sorcerer in the Bastard’s order and he’s grievously wounded. His demon, Desdemona, is healing him but it takes time and energy. But they have to get away from Cedonia and a safe place. However, they are quite a distinct party so they have to find a way to disguise themselves. Unexpectedly, one of Desdemona’s previous hosts comes to the rescue, and so Penric disguises himself as Mira, a high-class courtesan. However, this tactic brings them some unexpected attention, too.

Another short Penric novella which ends rather abruptly and leaves personal matters unsolved. Unfortunately, this novella feels very much like part of a story instead a complete story. I also strongly suggest reading the previous novellas first.

Penric and his small party are fleeing to Cedonia’s border and to a possible safe place. However, they’re trying not to attract attention and have resorted to various disguises. Adelis’ disfigurement makes him easy to spot so he has to disguise himself pretty much all the time which frustrates him. Like in the previous novella, Nikys is a caretaker but this time more for Penric than her brother.

Mira is a delightful character; too bad that according to the title she’ll never been seen again. Penric’s discomfort with Mira’s antics was very humorous to listen to but he’s also willing to trust her completely. Nikys’ discomfort with the same was less great. Nikys’ musings about what it would be like to live with Penric are very grounded but puts obstacles in their way. Of course, it’s far better to have actual obstacles in a romance rather than those that can be solved by having a truthful conversation for 10 minutes…

Overall, this was a light and fun read with some adventure and romance.

A novella in the Diving universe sci-fi series. Set before the series started.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 2 and 21 minutes
Narrator: Flora Plumb

Tory Sabin is the captain of the anacapa space ship Geneva. She’s extremely capable and she knows the dangers of the anacapa drive personally: when she was young, her father disappeared into the fold space with his ship.

When Sabin hears the distress call from captain Jonathan “Coop” Cooper from the Ivoire, she knows that he’s in real trouble. Coop is very reluctant to ask for help. She whips the other captains into helping Coop but they arrive just in time to see strange smaller ships firing on the Ivoire which then slips into the fold space. And doesn’t return.

Sabin is a driven character. For many years, she was focused on finding her father and became a fold space specialist because of it. Now, she’s a captain and extremely good with that.

This was a great novella, set among the Fleet. We get to know more about the Fleet itself and about Coop’s background. It’s very short and focused on Sabin’s story.

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