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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Armchair BEA - Novellas and Short Stories

I am not a lover of the short story.  I prefer a good full length novel and I can't really say that I have ever truly discovered an author through one of their short stories or novellas.  It's just not enough room to really get me on board. However, I am coming to enjoy them when it is by an author I already like, set in a world I already know with characters that I'm already familiar with that expounds on part of the story that I was wondering about, or just a side happening that they've been able to make into something more.

Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid) is really good at this, with his growing number of novellas adding to the main story, a side quest, or an explanation about why a character is a certain way or how they came to know what they know.  I have enjoyed all of the short stories and novellas in the Iron Druid series and am definitely up for more!

In general for me, if I have that back story and character knowledge already in my head, then I'm happy to read a short.  If not, I may read it, and it may be fine, but it probably won't stick with me, unless the idea is just really compelling.  I'd like to highlight Cascade Point by Timothy Zahn (a Hugo winner from 1984) as an example of that.  Unfortunately I'm not seeing a readily available version of it as an e-book, mostly just used paper copies on Amazon, so you might be able to find it that way if it sounds interesting to you.  I'm wishing I still had my copy so my husband could read it.  I was surprised he hadn't already because he's more the Sci-Fi Guy and I'm more the Fantasy Girl, but in this case I was ahead of him! ;)

Cascade Point is a story about an interstellar voyage gone awry. Mankind has figured out how to access wormhole entrances called "cascade points," which drastically reduces the amount of time needed to travel between stars. The process of navigating through these wormholes requires the presence in precise quantities of a substance called "ming metal." It also requires an excellent navigator as orientation and velocity upon entrance and exit of the wormholes determines not only where, but when you will arrive. Travelling in this way is very hard on navigators. Once the wormhole is entered a person's visual field is changed; you see mirror images of yourself stretching away to infinity in all directions. Most people cross from one cascade point to another unconscious because it is too unnerving to experience while awake.

Cascade Point struck me as such an interesting idea, and what really made me think was when the navigator in the story would see his reflections stretching away, in different uniforms, one as an admiral and he wonders what that parallel self did to become that, then he watches it move away from him down the line of reflections over the years.  It just really struck me as a fantastic visual for what many people go through in their lives, wondering what they might have done differently and how that would have played out. Would it hold up if I read it again?  Hard to say, but at the time it was something new and different to me and really grabbed my attention, sticking with me ever since.

Maybe I just need to read more from the Hugo's list!  I would love to hear more suggestions on short stories or novellas that have really stuck with you, especially those that are stand-a-lones, not part of a series. 

Thanks again for dropping by!


  1. I have a hard time with shirt story collections as well. You make a good point about reading shorter stories in worlds with which you are already familiar. I haven't done much of that, but good idea. I might start.

  2. I also prefer a full length novel. It it's a good story then I want it to keep going! :) There are a few short story writers I do make an exception for. Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. But that's the big guys...can't go wrong! :)

  3. Anonymous7:51 AM

    My list of to reads continues to grow! I have never read a novella but I will be now, have read a couple of posts that have me convinced I need to be reading them ( the novella). And REALLY like the sound of the Iron Druid Chronicles so needless to say...the TBR is grown again, lol.

  4. I feel like sticking to the Hugo list is a pretty good way to pick books!

  5. In general I prefer full lenght novels to short stories, but I've read some great short stories as well. I prefer short stories that accompany a series and give more insight in a certain character, event etc. Although there are also some anthologies and even some stand alone short stories i enjoyed. I used to hate short stories, because they are often too rushed, but i found there are some really great ones out there as well!

  6. Reading one of Hearne's novellas prompted me to buy the first book in that series. I still need to read it, but the short story made me want more.

  7. Thanks for sharing--Im glad that you're able to find a comfortable entry into short story reading through your favorite authors! Indeed, a short story/novella based in an established world can be kind of a blend of short story vibe (concept-centric) and full-novel vibe (exposition-centric, continuity-driven).

  8. I don't think I'd ever be likely to read a novella by a new author, but I think I should probably try to make time for the novellas by author's I already love. They're not really something I've tried at all yet.

  9. Your explanation of which short fiction you enjoy is perfectly descriptive of my attitude. I take the "longer is better" attitude -- whether it's in a single novel or in a series. If I'm going to invest my time and energy in reading about a character, I don't want the relationship to end after only 35 pages!


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