The novella is my favorite length of fiction. It’s long enough to get in a good story with multi-layered characters and a complicated world, but it’s short enough that you have to work hard to get all of that in. I love sitting down to a good doorstop of a novel just as much as anyone I know, but novellas that work thrill me to no end.
First up, we have After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress. I actually purchased this in trade paperback form just after it came out after reading a review somewhere. The review was reserved, as if the reader hadn’t figured out what bothered her, but the description intrigued me a lot. As implied by the moderately odd title, there are three time periods interweaved in this novella: the world just before, during, and after the apocalypse. We get to see what led up to the fall through the eyes of both its inhabitants and the eyes of people sent back in time to scrounge for goodies – and babies. We see the world of the future through those same people when they return to a prison made of plastic, humans who are too genetically damaged to breed (why they steal babies), and unseen aliens that keep them trapped in plastic but still let them go back in time to scavenge. We don’t see the apocalypse until near the end of the novella, where you finally see what happened, and how almost everyone was wrong about it.
I enjoyed this novella quite a bit, and I can see why it was nominated – the prose is strong, the structure innovative, and the payoff satisfying without being too pat.
Next in line is The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. I didn’t know what to expect out of this one. I vacillate between enjoying Sanderson’s work immensely and feeling emotionally cheated by it. He focuses most strongly on his world building and complex magic systems, as in his Mistworld series. I find that I like his one-shot novels the best, so I should have known I would like this. The story of a Forger, a woman who can rewrite the past of an object or person to make it into something new using stamps she impresses into the “soul” of that object or person is fascinating, even though most of it takes place in a prison cell. The prose is quiet and lined with unseen tension.
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard is by far my favorite novella nominated. It takes a decidedly non-Western society and sets it in space. The conflicts are not Western, but de Bodard manages to make them understandable and relatable by having excellent characters who are fully of that society and show the reader how to react. The resolutions to those conflicts show different priorities and how we humans of different cultures can be both so alike and so different at the same time. Add that to the author’s amazingly fluid and understated prose, and I couldn’t possibly vote for anything else.
The only issue I had at all was the cover, which, while completely accurate, gave off the impression of being incredibly poorly photoshopped. I got this in hardcover, and the rest of the book is well-managed and pleasing, so the cover is just odd. They did put a new cover out, possibly for just the ebook version, which is significantly better without being whitewashed, as some publishers might have done with a book getting this much publicity.
Next we have San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant. For some ungodly reason, I simply can’t get into Mira Grant’s work, no matter how much I try. I tried the Feed series and just never connected with the characters. I enjoyed this novella about the zombie uprising happening at the 2014 San Diego ComicCon, but it never really clicked with me. I can’t fault Grant’s prose, the characters are interesting and varied – the only thing I can potentially point to is being tired of zombies, but I also say ‘meh’ to Grant’s work as Seanan McGuire, where she writes urban fantasy. This is a solid entry, but just didn’t arouse my interest.
Finally, we have “The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake. I really wanted to like this one. It initially reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, and I love that book despite its length and physics impossibilities. It put me off at first by introducing an interesting character, putting him in grave danger, and then moving to an entirely different venue, a priest and his best friend the dying “pope” of the main religion. Everything does eventually come together, but by the time it did, I had already wandered off. Hell, I should have been bouncing all over at a story about a colony started by a star-faring civilization that had been bent into a religion by the mists of time. And they find a spaceship in space BECAUSE SCIENCE IS AWESOME. I can’t fault the ideas, or the characters, or the prose, really. It seems a bit focused on race, and the trope-flip of making the brown people privileged, but I could have passed that over. Maybe it was the structure. If I just hadn’t gotten annoyed by that first POV shift, this would have been a contender for me.
There, one category to go.