thoughts on best novellas

The list of eligible novellas for 2016 is necessarily short, and filtering through the various recommendations it’s hard to find consensus at any level.  The Nebulas picked 5 of their 6 nominees from tor.com, which means they were only available in book form, and the sixth was from F&SF.  Locus agreed with 4 of the 5 Tor offerings, and threw in one of their own, but picked a different F&SF story.  Gardner Dozois also picked that F&SF story, plus another one from the same magazine, which Rich Horton agreed with.  Meanwhile Locus only picked one Asimov’s story, but the Asimov’s reader’s poll picked their 5 favorites, which didn’t include that story, although Horton agreed with one of them.  Strahan’s Best Of doesn’t pick any novellas.  The Analog readers poll doesn’t have to worry about conflicting with any other list, since no one else picked any novellas from Analog.  So let’s run through the contenders:

F&SF

“The Liar”, by John P. Murphy

A Nebula nominee, but not on the Locus list or any Best of’s.  This is a very well told ghost story, I don’t read a lot of this sort of thing so maybe it’s derivative or something, but on its own terms I thought it was very well paced, kept you guessing, and had a satisfying conclusion.

“The Vanishing Kind”, by Lavie Tidhar

Nebula nominee, also chosen by Horton and Dozois.  This is barely fantasy, an alternate history that with some minor alterations could be made into a 50’s noir story, but it was very well received and does a good job with the story at hand, very adept at capturing the mood and the spooky overtones of post-WW2 German-occupied London.

“The Further Adventures of Mr. Costello”, by David Gerrold

In Dozois’ best of, Gerrold’s folksy conversational style makes for an easy read, I didn’t find this story particular memorable for it’s length though.

Asimov’s

“Einstein’s Shadow”, by Allen Steele

Asimov readers’ poll, but not Locus or any Best of’s.  Einstein in an alternate history where he is escorted to the U.S. in a blimp by the Nazis.  Out of the ordinary for Steele, a decent enough yarn but as with most alternate history I wonder what was the point.

“Lazy Dog Out” by Suzanne Palmer

Asimov readers’ poll and Horton’s best of, but not on the Locus list.   A decent hard sf story but not a standout for me.

“The Charge and the Storm”, by An Owomoyela

On the Locus list.  This one probably benefits from repeated reading, it’s difficult to gauge what the focus of the story should be, but the world the author creates is original.  This story didn’t make the reader’s poll, it’s definitely more challenging than those that did.

“What We Hold On To”, by Jay O’Connell

Asimov readers’ poll, but not Locus or any Best of’s.  This story maybe suffers from being less about the SF element and more about the protagonist who has to go through her dying mother’s possessions with the help of a “Nomad”.  Surprised this didn’t get more love from Locus.

“Choose Poison, Choose Life”, by Michael Blumlein

Asimov readers’ poll, but not Locus or any Best of’s.  I don’t recall one memorable thing about this story, but apparently some people liked it.

“Where There Is Nothing, There Is God” by David Erik Nelson

Asimov readers’ poll, but not Locus or any Best of’s.  This was kind of a fun time travel story with the protagonist repeatedly interfering in colonial New England to bring back valuable artifacts for his employers to sell.  The satisfying part is that his multiple trips start to create issues with causality.  Great title, too, again I would have thought Locus would go for this.

Stories I didn’t read, but somebody liked:

From the Locus list:

The Lost Child of Lychford, Paul Cornell
The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (also a Nebula nominee)
Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (also a Nebula nominee)
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (also a Nebula nominee)
This Census-taker, China Miéville
The Devil You Know, K.J. Parker
The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (also in Dozois’ Best of)
The Dispatcher, John Scalzi
Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (also a Nebula nominee)

also a Nebula nominee:

Runtime, by S.B. Divya (Tor.com Publishing)

So I’m going to go with the Tidhar, Murphy, Nelson and O’Connell stories

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