Recently, I took a poll on my bookstagram account to see if folks were fans of novellas. But interestingly enough, there were many folks who said they haven’t read any at all!
I’m slowly becoming a huge fan of novellas, which are stories that are told in 17,500 and 40,000 words. It’s longer than a short story, but it isn’t a huge novel. The wild part of novellas is how much authors are able to encapsulate in the small amount of space. I’m always so blown away by the story telling that happens in a novella and always surprised by how much an author can write.
They’re also great when you want to read something, but you don’t want to dedicate too much time to it. And if you’re a dedicated SFF reader like myself, then you might pick up a novella between the heavier and more deeply concentrated science fiction and fantasy novels.
Of course, novellas are similar to novels and they can be hit or miss. If you’re one of the folks who haven’t read a novella, but would love to start, here’s a short list of some of my favorite SFF novellas. A little bit of space, a little bit of mythical worlds, and a whole lot of story packed into tiny little goodness, I hope that you find yourself your next great read.
This is the first novella in the Murderbot Diaries series written by Martha Wells. This is the book you need if you ever wanted to read something a bit more on the sci-fi side. It follows a security bot called Murderbot. Different than other security bots, Murderbot was able to hack into its own system and rewrite itself to have a personality and a taste for bad TV. Its missions change from book to book, but the main theme is finding out who you truly are when you’ve been programmed to protect the crew (and treated like every other robot out there). I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I have or felt deeply for a robot than I did in this series.
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
This first novella is the beginning of the Wayward Children series. If you’ve always wanted to find that doorway that leads you to Narnia, Oz, or Wonderland, then I highly recommend this series to you. Each book follows a young person that lives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children and their journey to another world. It’s a boarding school for children who have traveled to different worlds and are having a hard time adjusting. The first book follows a new recruit to the school as she adjusts to life after living in a magical place, meets children like her, and tries to remember what it was like to be just herself. It’s harder than it looks. The story also goes deeply into these children and what they were hoping for from these worlds.
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
I’m a huge fan of Becky Chambers and only because she has this way of writing and understanding the human soul. The stories dives deep into the waters of humanity and while most of her books take place on distant planets and throughout space, the elements are there and always give me something to hold on to when I’m not feeling myself. I highly recommend reading everything by her, but I doubly recommend this one because it made me cry.
Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.
Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.
Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky’s first audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.
If you want to try your hand on a fairy tale retelling without investing in too big of a novel, I would highly recommend A Spindle Splintered. Similar to the many other fairy tale retellings I’ve read, this one puts a spin on the Sleeping Beauty story following a young person’s journey to an alternate reality where she meets the very real Sleeping Beauty! It’s not only a fairy tale retelling, but a sci-fi adventure and I’m just a huge fan of that.
It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.
Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.
If you’re looking for a book that mixes mermaids and West African folklore then this is the novella for you. While it’s a short book, it packs a punch and you’ll be wanting to reread it after you’re done.
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.