2018 Novellapalooza

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Accelerants by Lena Wilson, Book Smugglers Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: When Lucy is six years old, she finds out two things that will change her life forever: she is an Omni who can control fire, and her power is deadly. Under the sharp watch of her secretive father, Lucy is confronted with the consequences of the worst mistake of her life every day, but on the eve of her 18th birthday, things finally seem like they are getting better. But in an instant, everything changes. Incarcerated and stripped of her rights, Lucy’s new world is behind locked gates and antiseptic interrogation rooms with other Omnis – possibly forever. But Lucy and her fellow Omnis aren’t going quietly into submission.

Filer comments:
Arifel: a brilliant, angry, timely story with a somewhat YA angle.


The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia Ward [Lucy Harker #2], Aqueduct Press (Conversation Pieces #62) (PDF excerpt)
Synopsis: Intelligence agent Lucy Harker receives the most dangerous job in the world – keeping Winston Churchill safe in the Great War. Despite her unique abilities as Dracula’s daughter, she loses Churchill to Kaiser Wilhelm’s inhuman allies. If she’s to recover Britain’s greatest leader, Agent Harker must gain the aid of her Austrian lover, Countess Karnstein – better known as Carmilla. But the notorious vampire is keeping secrets that might doom the British Empire.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: This is a sequel to last year’s The Adventure of the Incognita Countess which made the Locus recommended list. That book was good pulp fun with Lucy Harker (British intelligence agent with a small vampirism problem) dispatched on the Titanic by Mycroft Holmes to safeguard some plans stemming from captured Martian war machines… you get the idea. Anyway, that story had her running into Countess Karnstein (sometimes known as Carmilla, but now going by Clarimal…) and so this new volume opens several years later during WW1. Lucy has been parted from Clarimal by the call of duty, the latest of which is bodyguarding Winston Churchill as he takes up a post on the Western Front amid reports of German werewolves, hollow earth expeditions, and the like. So, again, good pulpish fun to be had but this time mixed with a bit more meditation on the conflict, Lucy and Clarimal’s relationship, and so on. There’s a bit of tension between the swift-moving adventure, the portrayal of Lucy as being somewhat “of her time” in her support for her country, and the desire to show the consequences of war on Europe’s civilians. This shows up most in the rather pulpish German super-scientist whose handling brings to mind the misuse of Ludendorff in Wonder Woman. Overall, good pulpish fun whose flaws are brought on by trying to stretch the conventions a bit – and that’s no bad thing.


Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: It’s 1788, and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse. It’s 1889 ,and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history – to save history – but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal. It’s 2016, and… well, the less said about 2016 the better! But in 2020, the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war… or someone new.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: An enjoyable little novella (c28,000 words), but very much half of an unfinished story – the sequel is coming next year – that means I’m not really sure whether or not the story really stands up to the interesting premise.


And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, with illustrations by Rovina Cai, HarperTeen (excerpt)
Synopsis: With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself… As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.


The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: When Isabella died, her parents were determined to ensure her education wouldn’t suffer. But Isabella’s parents had not informed her new governess of Isabella’s… condition, and when Ms Valdez arrives at the estate, having forced herself through a surreal nightmare maze of twisted human-like statues, she discovers that there is no girl to tutor. Or is there…?


Barren by Peter V. Brett [Demon Cycle], HarperCollins/Voyager (excerpt)
Synopsis: Each night, the world is overrun by bloodthirsty demons. For centuries, humanity survived only by hiding behind defensive wards – magical symbols with the power to repel the demons. Now, the rediscovery of long-forgotten combat wards has given them the magic they need to fight back. If her town is to survive, Selia must uncover memories she has buried deep – the woman she once was, the woman she once loved – and retell their story.


The Barrow Will Send What It May by Margaret Killjoy [Danielle Cain #2], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: Now a nascent demon-hunting crew on the lam, Danielle and her friends arrive in a small town that contains a secret occult library run by anarchists and residents who claim to have come back from the dead. When Danielle and her crew investigate, they are put directly in the crosshairs of a necromancer’s wrath – whose actions threaten to trigger the apocalypse itself.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: an enjoyable sequel if you’ve read the first one. Roadtripping mystical anarchists deal with some Weird Stuff in a small town.


Between the Firmaments by JY Yang, Book Smugglers Publishing (full story)
Synopsis:In an occupied city controlled by oppressive off-worlders, Bariegh of the Jungle is a god living in hiding – toiling away day after monotonous day, hoping his godliness will go unnoticed by those who would harness it. But then a beautiful, daring, godling man walks into his life without a care in the world, his divinity uncloaked, and Bariegh is utterly undone.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: It’s an interesting setting and a fun, quick story driven by the characters. Mind you, the ending is a little sudden, and very much deus ex machina – but maybe that works for a story of gods and their fates. I should add that there’s something a bit haunting about the characters and their relationships.


Bury Me in the Rainbow by Bill Johnson, Asimov’s, March-April (full text PDF)
Synopsis: When an alien assassin dies in an attempt on the life of the aliens’ ambassador to a community in the Dakotas, their recently-chosen human leader must juggle pressures from political and ideological factions to decide whether, and how, to respond to the aliens’ invitation to join them – and how the results of that decision might affect their traditional way of life.


The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang [Tensorate #3], Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: You are reading this because I am dead. Something terrible happened at the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods. When the Tensorate’s investigators arrived, they found a sea of blood and bones as far as the eye could see. One of the institute’s experiments got loose, and its rage left no survivors. Investigator Chuwan faces a puzzle. What really happened at the institute? What drew the Machinists there? What are her superiors trying to cover up? And why does she feel as if her strange dreams are forcing her down a narrowing path she cannot escape?

Filer comments:
Arifel: The only definite nominee I have at the moment is [this one], although YMMV on the extent to which it holds up independently of the first two. It’s definitely more comprehensible than Binti #3 without a reread, but I suspect it would be difficult to get the full effect without reading the whole series.


Dislocations and Parasites by Eric Brown & Keith Brooke [Kon-Tiki Quartet #1 and #2], PS Publishing
Synopsis: Project Kon-tiki, the world’s first extra-solar colony expedition, is just weeks away from departure, and tension is mounting at Lakenheath Base. Psychologist Kat Manning is one of the eighteen specialists whose clone will be sent to the stars, and her job is to work with the original specialists, the ‘left behind’, to monitor and support them through their dislocation… But when Kat is kidnapped by the Allianz, a faction opposed to the colonisation program, more than just her safety is at stake: the entire mission is in jeopardy. These are the stories of humankind’s last-gasp efforts to reach the stars, set against the backdrop of an Earth torn apart by looming environmental disaster, and of humankind’s taming of an alien world – and of confrontation with the demons that lurk within the very psyche of humanity itself.


Elevation by Stephen King, Scribner/Hodder & Stoughton (excerpt)
Synopsis: Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight – and, oddly, he weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. In the small town of Castle Rock, he is engaged in a low grade – but escalating – battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face – including his own – he tries to help.


Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones, Fireside Fiction (excerpt – click “Preview Now”)
Synopsis: The Pacific Ocean is a big thing to steal, and Quietly’s roommate Imani never does anything small. But then Imani goes and dies, and Quietly is left to travel to the Under-Ath (the underworld beneath Athens, Georgia), with angry gods at her heels, to clean up the mess Imani left behind and try to rescue her friend.


Farewell, Doraemon by A Que, Clarkesworld, May (full story)
Synopsis: After the collapse of his career, a young man returns to his home village in the hope of rekindling his relationship with the first girl he ever loved, solving a childhood mystery which has haunted him in the intervening years, and salvaging a new life from the wreckage of his old one.


Finding Baba Yaga: A Short Novel in Verse by Jane Yolen Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: A young woman discovers the power to speak up and take control of her fate – a theme that has never been more timely than it is now… You think you know this story. You do not. A harsh, controlling father. A quiescent mother. A house that feels like anything but a home. Natasha gathers the strength to leave, and comes upon a little house in the wood: A house that walks about on chicken feet and is inhabited by a fairy-tale witch. In finding Baba Yaga, Natasha finds her voice, her power, herself…


The Flight of Morpho Girl by Bradley Denton and Caroline Spector [Wild Cards], Tor.com Publishing (full story)
Synopsis: Adesina, known as “Morpho Girl,” is used to handling the weird that is her everyday, but life has dealt her a tricky new hand. First, her mom, the crimefighter Amazing Bubbles, has been off since her last mission. Second, Adesina recently aged from ten to sixteen, making everyone think she’s even weirder than she already is. On top of everything else, her best friend goes missing. What’s a newly-teenaged joker need to do to catch a break?


Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling by L.X. Beckett, Fantasy & Science Fiction, July-August
Synopsis: A young composer and music critic faces withering criticism on social media when his exposé on an well-liked music virtuosi drives her to commit suicide. With no Likes to his name, no credit in his crypto-coffers and his press pass on the line, Woodrow Whiting brokers a desperate agreement to break a dangerous story about pop-in chemotherapy clinics, gambling his life in an attempt to win back his reputation.


Girl with a Curl by R. Garcia y Robertson [Amanda James #3], Asimov’s, November-December
Synopsis: In the third installment of her adventures (following previous stories The Girl Who Stole Herself and Grand Theft Spacecraft), Amanda James, after surviving a battle with slavers and heading a mutiny, finds herself in command of the largest remaining battleship in the Jovian system. In the meantime, her cousin has hijacked the last remaining battle cruiser, so together they control the two most powerful ships in the system. But the Space Navy, and the supercomputer running the Jovian system, are going to do whatever they can to take back control.


A Glimmer of Silver by Juliet Kemp, Book Smugglers Publishing (excerpt – click “Preview Now”)
Synopsis: Jennery is floating on xyr back when Ocean speaks for the first time. Just three days away from freedom, all Jennery has ever wanted to do was become a musician – because if you reach sixteen and Ocean hasn’t spoken to you once, then you can pursue a different life instead of becoming a Communicator. But Ocean speaks to Jennery – only to Jennery. And Ocean is angry. And when Ocean is angry, bad things happen to the humans who have colonized Ocean’s world. Jennery must choose whether to listen or to swim away.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: [This] is set on an ocean world where Ocean is actually some sort of sentient being. Some erstwhile human colonists are scratching out a living on the very surface, afraid to anger Ocean by contact. A small number of people can talk to Ocean to some extent, which ought to be a great honour for young protag Jennery except that xe really really wants to be a musician instead. It’s all nicely done as the nature of Ocean and how humans can live with it gets explored, but although it sets up the possibility of big changes it doesn’t actually take us to see them, which is a bit frustrating.
Arifel: [This] captured my imagination and has an interesting, nuanced quest.
Mark Hepworth: I liked but didn’t love, mainly because I felt like it ended prematurely – I wanted to see them return and try to finish solving the problem.


The Greatest Story Ever Told by Una McCormack, NewCon Press
Synopsis: Iss, a humble kitchen slave who likes to tell stories, finds herself caught up in perhaps the greatest story of them all. Little does she imagine when she stumbles on the small rebellion of Seffish, Crith, and the other dance-fighters she admires so much, how far that rebellion will spread. An ordinary soul caught up in extraordinary events, Iss soon finds herself at the heart of an uprising that threatens to overthrow the social order and reshape a world.


Harry and the Lewises by Edward M. Lerner, Analog, September-October (excerpt)
Synopsis: A disenchanted tabloid reporter decides to accept a job researching the Lewis and Clarke expedition to find out the truth about Meriwether Lewis’s mysterious death… was it suicide or murder? Using Lewis’s diary to retrace his path from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, he discovers what really happened back in 1809.


In the Lost City of Leng by Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo, Asimov’s, January-February (full text PDF)
Synopsis: In a humorous take on Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” a journalist quits his job to go on an Antarctic expedition to kill the Great Shoggoth and win its priceless treasures.


Jewel of the Heart by Matthew Hughes [Archonate], Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February
Synopsis: In another of a continuing series of stories, a mage’s assistant is transported by a mysterious sentient artifact into a fantasy world where he must complete a mission – without being told exactly what that mission is.


Justice Calling by Lyra Alice Schneider, independently published (excerpt)
Synopsis: In this western/sci-fi genre hybrid featuring a transgender protagonist, Penny Lux, currently experiencing a forced de-transition due to the failure of an irreplaceable piece of technology, seeks assistance in stopping a plot that could lead to disaster for her entire planet. First, from the woman she used to love, who caused her transition tech to fail; second, from the religious order she’s spent most of her life hating. Only with the cooperation of both can Penny hope to save her world.


The Lake Boy by Adam Roberts, NewCon Press
Synopsis: Cynthia lives in a lakeside parish in Cumbria under the watchful eye of her brother, George, the local minister. None there suspect her blemished past, nor the sinful sexuality she struggles to suppress and the carnal longings it inspires. Yet what of the ghostly scar-faced boy who starts to appear to her, and what of the strange lights that manifest over Blaswater? What of Mr Sales – one of a group of astronomers come to study the lights – who disappears, presumed drowned, only to be found wandering naked days later with a fanciful tale of being ‘hopped’ into the sky and held within a peculiar brass-walled room? What of Eliza – respectable, married with children – who sets Cynthia’s heart so aflutter? What can any of these things mean for Cynthia, for her perception of herself and her place in the world?


The Land of Somewhere Safe by Hal Duncan, NewCon Press
Synopsis: The Scruffians are irreverent foul-mouthed street urchins, older than their years, waifs who have been Fixed by the Stamp, frozen so that they are immortal, providing perpetual slave labour. But now the waifs have nicked the Stamp and burned down the Institute that housed it, preventing any more of their number being Fixed and exploited. Two school kids who’ve been orphaned by Nazi bombs find themselves evacuated from London during the Blitz to the Isle of Skye, where they are taken in by the Lady Clan Chief of the castle. Enter a fake reverend who is really an occultish Nazi spy determined to get his hands on the priceless Stamp, even if he has to raise himself a demon to do so…

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: This novella-length story sits within a loose series of shorts about the Scruffians, who are a foul-mouthed set of immortal street urchins fixed in their permanent urchin forms by a magical Stamp that writes your soul on your skin so you can never change from it. It’s an idea that could go in all sorts of directions, but Duncan seems to be mainly using it to satirise various classic British children’s books – there are shades of the Borrowers, Peter Pan, and Narnia in this one. This was my first encounter with the series and I didn’t feel disadvantaged by not having read any others, although I’d imagine that there are connections I missed out on… The story starts out a bit weird, with a Nazi spy disguised as a reverend summoning invisible monsters to get his hands on the Stamp, and then goes totally off the walls with a visit to the Land of Somewhere Safe of the title, which is a land of dreams and makebelieve that provides the malleable clay for a series of increasingly bizarre ideas that the rival sides throw at each other. The whole thing is narrated in a mix of heavy dialect and urchin slang a bit like this: See, as even yer icklest scamp or scrag will tell yer, as even yer daftest scallywag or scofflaw knows, ain’t nowheres in this world truly safe for any waif, least of all us Scruffians what any groanhuff as knows of would scrub in a jiffy. I found that pretty heavy going for a while then got into the rhythm of it, but fair warning that it’s all like that – plus lots of swearing. I think this is a marmite sort of story. I took a while to warm to the whole thing – the language, the breakneck pace of change in the story – but once I was in the flow I really enjoyed it. I suspect other’s mileage will vary though.


The Last Biker Gang by Wil McCarthy, Analog, May-June (full text PDF)
Synopsis: In a near future when people are healthier and live longer but jobs are scarce, a man has a late-life crisis when his wife leave him, so he starts a biker gang with other seniors who are also at loose ends, and they head off to find adventure.

Filer comments:
recommended by Jason


Likho by Andy Stewart, Fantasy & Science Fiction, March-April
Synopsis: In her search for answers to what happened to the abandoned children there, Sonya sneaks into the ruins of Chernobyl – the Forbidden Zone – seeking a magical mural which, the rumors say, changes as it tells its story… and which perhaps also contains the answer to the mystery of an invisible friend she remembers from her childhood.

Filer comments:
recommended by Jason


The Martian Simulacra by Eric Brown, NewCon Press
Synopsis: The year is 1907, the setting is Baker Street, London. When the Martian Ambassador arrives at Holmes’ door seeking the Great Detective’s help in solving a grisly murder, how can he refuse? Ever since the second wave of Martians arrived on Earth, inoculated against the germs that had halted their tripods the first time around, and humanity accepted the aliens as their overlords, Holmes has been curious… Soon he and Watson are boarding one of the great Martian spaceships, where they discover their old friend Professor Challenger has been invited along for the ride. What awaits them at their destination is a plot more dastardly than any of them could have imagined.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: really not very good, and I like Holmesian pastiches.


New Ball Games for the Future by Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund (novella duo), PS Publishing
Synopsis: The Good of the Game
Come the late 21st century and Mel Crumley stands nearly alone among a hardy dying breed. Mel’s a baseball writer, a veteran scribe, his team the Boston Red Sox, still playing their games in fabled Fenway Park in front of ever-dwindling crowds. But overnight everything changes: a phenom appears as if from nowhere and starts hitting baseballs for the Sox as they haven’t been hit in ages. He revives interest in the game, threatening to eclipse baseball’s most cherished record – Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game consecutive hitting streak. But is Mulroney truly a Natural? Or is there something rotten in Fenway Park? Mel and his blogging partner Maggie Weiss seek the answers, hoping that what they discover won’t in the end also kill the grand old game of baseball forever.
Synopsis: Red Planet Reds
How can humans play baseball on Mars? And why? Inside a pressure dome, yes. But in lesser gravity, balls travel 2.4 times farther. So the field has to be huge and pitching is weird, too. The local team, the Mars Reds, needs to get attention, fans. So they challenge the best Earth team to a Solar System Championship series. How can they use Martian tricks against the rich, bulky, seasoned, ground-hugging Earthers? Physics, that’s how. Plus working-class savvy.


Nussia by Michele Tracy Berger, Book Smugglers Publishing (full story)
Synopsis: All Lindsay Fields has ever wanted was to have a best friend – someone to share all her likes and dislikes, who would truly understand her. When she enters a competition to host Nussia, a teenage alien from a different planet – and wins – thirteen-year-old Lindsay is ecstatic. Now, the Fields are not only the first ever humans to host a Fike alien, they are also the first African-American family to do so. But Nussia is not quite what Lindsay expected. And Lindsay’s family, home, and entire life changes because of Nussia’s arrival… but not in the way she imagined.


Pegging the President by Michael Moorcock [Jerry Cornelius], PS Publishing
Synopsis: In the 1960s Jerry Cornelius was the coolest assassin on the Ladbroke Grove block. Now Jerry Cornelius is back; the ambiguous, amoral, androgynous English Assassin, cooler, sharper, his fingers still firmly on the pulse of the twenty-first century, counting names and taking heads, showing once again that colonialism and despotism, the roots of empire gone sour, do not change. The apocalypse has never seemed more terrifying, never been more fun, and modern life will never feel the same to you again.


Phosphorus by Liz Williams [Winterstrike], NewCon Press
Synopsis: The Mars colony Winterstrike is at war, and the target of deadly bombardment. Even so, the last thing Canteley expects is for her mother to send her away, and in the company of her formidable aunt at that. Aunt Sulie is a member of the ruling Matriarchy, who wrap secrets around them as thick as winter snowfall. When Sulie takes her to the abandoned city of Tharsis, Cateley little imagines that the trip will unearth secrets long hidden and reveal the truth behind her own past.

Filer comments:
Arifel: This is the first thing I’ve read by the author, so I can’t speak to how much the plot follows directly from her previous novels in this world (Banner of Souls and Winterstrike), but so far it stands alone well – the two main characters are introduced in media res but we get adequate backstory as to who they are and what they’re doing, and I’m particularly intrigued by the alien life on this alternate version of Mars.


Rock Manning Goes For Broke by Charlie Jane Anders, Subterranean Press (excerpt)
Synopsis: Rock Manning lives and breathes slapstick comedy, and his whole life is an elaborate tribute to the masters, like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Jackie Chan. With his best friend, Sally Hamster, he creates joyfully chaotic short movies that are full of mayhem and silliness. But they are becoming famous at a time of unrest, when America’s economy has collapsed and people are taking refuge in highly addictive drugs. America’s youth are being drafted to take part in endless wars overseas, while at home, a fascist militia is rising to power. Rock and Sally find themselves unable to avoid getting sucked into the slow implosion of their country. The militia want Rock Manning to star in propaganda films promoting their movement, and soon Rock and Sally are at the center of the struggle for the soul of America.


Rough Justice by Kelley Armstrong, Subterranean Press (excerpt (PDF))
Synopsis: Olivia has become Matilda of the Hunt, the lone woman who rides with the Wild Hunt, tasked with finding killers who’ve escaped justice and letting the hounds reap their souls. Having accepted her role as Matilda, she must now lead her first Hunt. But when she questions their target’s guilt, the Hunt is halted, her mission failed. Still, it’s just a matter of investigating the man’s past to reassure herself that he’s guilty. He must be. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be a target. But the deeper she digs, the more problems she finds, until she must question everything she knows about the Hunt and the choice she’s made.


The Secret City by Rick Wilber, Asimov’s, September-October (excerpt)
Synopsis: In this alternate history set in 1940, the Axis powers have invaded the United States, and have wiped out the British government with a new superbomb. An American spy and a mysterious woman work to buy time so that the U.S. can complete the Manhattan Project before their country collapses to the invaders.


Spellswept by Stephanie Burgis [The Harwood Spellbook #2], Five Fathoms Press (excerpt)
Synopsis: In the world of the Harwood Spellbook, 19th-century Angland is ruled by a powerful group of women known as the Boudiccate – but in order to become a member of that elite group, any ambitious young politician must satisfy tradition by taking a gentleman mage for her husband. Amy Standish is a born politician… but Jonathan Harwood is her greatest temptation. On the night of the Harwoods’ Spring Solstice Ball, in an underwater ballroom full of sparkling fey lights and danger, Amy will have to fight the greatest political battle of her life to win a family and a future that she could never have imagined. It will take an entirely unexpected kind of magic to keep everything from crashing down around her.


Timshala by Leah Cypess, Book Smugglers Publishing (full story)
Synopsis: Siara has always known that every step of her life is predestined – with the exception of a few true choices, a few points in time where she can exercise free will. But when she is condemned to be buried alive in her mother’s tomb, she figures choice is no longer an issue. She is wrong. Siara doesn’t know why her own mother wanted her dead, or why others at the royal court are determined to save her. In her attempts to untangle the secrets swirling around her, she will discover that some choices were taken from her before she was ever born. Now, only she can take them back – if she is brave enough to confront a future she never believed possible.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: An interesting novella (17,956 words) that rattles through a story that could maybe have taken a bit more space to develop, especially the ending. The opening is very arresting – young Siara is sat in her mother’s tomb waiting to accompany her to the afterlife – and what develops from there is a portrait of a society that believes in predestination, apart from a few life occasions when you get a Choice. Escaping the tomb and defying that society appears to have been a Choice, and as Siara finds out more about the decisions that led her to this point she starts questioning them. The stakes are heightened by the fact that Siara’s late mother was the Empress, and there’s plenty she doesn’t know about her mother’s and father’s Choices that led her to that tomb, not to mention that there are others out there with different ideas about what her destiny should be. In some ways it’s a typical coming of age story about Siara finding her own way, but the philosophy of predestination and Choices adds a nice tinge of interest to it without overwhelming the story.


The Wandering Warriors by Rick Wilber and Alan Smale, Asimov’s, May-June
Synopsis: A baseball team’s bus gets lost in the dark, and they are transported in time from the 1950s U.S. Midwest to ancient Rome, where they must play a high-stakes game for the empress.


War Cry by Brian McClellan, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: Teado is a Changer, a shape-shifting military asset trained to win wars. His platoon has been stationed in the Bavares high plains for years, stranded. As they ration supplies and scan the airwaves for news, any news, their numbers dwindle. He’s not sure how much time they have left. Desperate and starving, armed with aging, faulting equipment, the team jumps at the chance for a risky resupply mission, even if it means not all of them might come. What they discover could change the course of the war.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: I’ve got his Powder Mage series on the tbr but thought a novella would be a good intro to him as a writer. I don’t think it’s really moved his novels up or down the tbr – I’d got the impression he wrote competent action fantasy, and I’ve still got that impression. This setting is somewhere in the region of military science fantasy, which I felt could get quite interesting with looking at how magic and tech go together in a war, but events stick tightly to a battleground in the middle of nowhere so you don’t really get much detail. It’s the endgame of an unending, exhausting war, there’s a ragtag unit sheltering in the badlands from a superior enemy with illusions and magic while their remaining plane goes back for supplies and orders. Desperate, they decide to raid the enemy both to fulfil their duty and steal vital supplies, and then Shenanigans occur. The action is competent but with an ultra-deadly protagonist who you don’t really feel is under threat, which rather takes the tension out.


The Warrior Within by Angus McIntyre, Tor.com Publishing (excerpt)
Synopsis: Karsman has a dozen different people living in his head, each the master of a different set of skills and hoping to gain mastery of Karsman’s body. He survives on a backwater planet dominated by a mostly ambivalent religious autocracy, where devotion and prayer can be traded in for subsistence wages and enough food to survive. When a group of off-worlder commandos arrive, to find and kill a woman, at first they merely threaten, but unable to find what they’re looking for, they begin to ratchet up the violence. Karsman must balance between maintaining his personality and harnessing the personas whose skills he desperately needs in order to protect the woman and his quiet town.

Filer comments:
Mark Hepworth: I can see something good coming out of this setting, but the MC seemed far too generic tough-guy for me.


Widow’s Point by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar, Cemetary Dance Publications
Synopsis: Longtime residents of Harper’s Cove believe that something is wrong with the Widow’s Point Lighthouse. Some say it’s cursed. Others claim it’s haunted. Thomas Livingston is the acclaimed author of thirteen books about the supernatural, and this evening he will enter the lighthouse, searching for material for his next bestseller. He will be locked inside for the weekend with no way of contacting the outside world. And although no human has stepped foot inside the structure in nearly three decades, Livingston will not be alone.


Published by Tor.com Publishing, but NOT novellas

  • The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole [The Sacred Throne #1]
  • The Queen of Crows, by Myke Cole [The Sacred Throne #2]
  • Bedfellow, by Jeremy C. Shipp
  • Deep Roots, by Ruthanna Emrys [The Innsmouth Legacy #2]
  • The Labryrinth Index, by Charles Stross [Laundry Files #9]
  • Memory’s Blade, by Spencer Ellsworth [Starfire #3]
  • Outbreak, by Melissa F. Olson [Nightshades #3]
  • State Tectonics, by Malka Older [Centenal Cycle #3]
  • Witchmark, by C. L. Polk [Witchmark #1]
  • “The Only Harmless Great Thing”, by Brooke Bolander (novelette)
  • American Hippo, by Sarah Gailey [River of Teeth Omnibus Reprint]

42 thoughts on “2018 Novellapalooza

  1. A quick rot13 function for browsers can be created by saving a shortcut in your browser’s Bookmarks / Favorites bar, and then replacing the shortcut link with the text string found here.

    You can then highlight / select the rot13’ed text and click the shortcut, which will change the highlighted text in your browser display back to its unencrypted form.

  2. Great work yet again, JJ.

    Here’s some thoughts on ones that don’t have a comment from me already.

    Umbernight by Carolyn Ives Gilman – possible I didn’t give this enough attention, but basically several of the characters annoyed me and I ended up skipping through to just see what happened.
    Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – MURDERBOT!
    Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield – on goodreads I wrote “An enjoyable little novella (c28,000 words), but very much half of an unfinished story – the sequel is coming next year – that means I’m not really sure whether or not the story really stands up to the interesting premise.”
    The Barrow Will Send What It May by Margaret Killjoy – an enjoyable sequel if you’ve read the first one. Roadtripping mystical anarchists deal with some Weird Stuff in a small town.
    Between the Firmaments by JY Yang – on GR I wrote “It’s an interesting setting and a fun, quick story driven by the characters. Mind you, the ending is a little sudden, and very much deus ex machina – but maybe that works for a story of gods and their fates.” I should add that there’s something a bit haunting about the characters and their relationships.
    The Martian Simulacra by Eric Brown – really not very good, and I like Holmesian pastiches
    The Warrior Within by Angus McIntyre – I can see something good coming out of this setting, but the MC seemed far too generic tough-guy for me.

  3. One that isn’t listed above – The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia Ward

    From my Goodreads review:

    This is a sequel to last year’s The Adventure of the Incognita Countess which made the Locus recommended list. That book was good pulp fun with Lucy Harker (British intelligence agent with a small vampirism problem) dispatched on the Titanic by Mycroft Holmes to safeguard some plans stemming from captured Martian war machines….you get the idea. Anyway, that story had her running into Countess Karnstein (sometimes known as Carmilla, but now going by Clarimal…) and so this new volume opens several years later during WW1. Lucy has been parted from Clarimal by the call of duty, the latest of which is bodyguarding Winston Churchill as he takes up a post on the Western Front amid reports of German werewolves, hollow earth expeditions, and the like. So, again, good pulpish fun to be had but this time mixed with a bit more meditation on the conflict, Lucy and Clarimal’s relationship, and so on. There’s a bit of tension between the swift-moving adventure, the portrayal of Lucy as being somewhat “of her time” in her support for her country, and the desire to show the consequences of war on Europe’s civilians. This shows up most in the rather pulpish German super-scientist whose handling brings to mind the misuse of Ludendorff in Wonder Woman.

    Overall, good pulpish fun whose flaws are brought on by trying to stretch the conventions a bit – and that’s no bad thing.

  4. Does everyone wishing to nominate for the Hugos have either their membership to Worldcon 76 in San Jose or Dublin in 2019?

    Because if you don’t, you need to purchase at least a supporting membership to Dublin by MONDAY 31 December!!

  5. Wow, JJ, this gave me a flashback to my fanzine-publishing days, and how thrilled I’d be when a big meaty article would show up in the mail. I’d have loved to have published something like this — even though I’d have had to retype the whole thing on mimeo stencils.

  6. Mark-kitteh, thanks for those additional comments; I’ve added them to the main post.

    cmm, thanks for the reminder: a permalink to this post has been added under the “2018 Recommended SF/F Page” page linked at the top of File 770, so that Filers can refer back to it at their leisure.

    Jeff Smith, it’s a good thing that the days of stencils are loooooooong gone, because I wouldn’t be doing that for Mike, much as I love File 770. 😉

  7. @Jeff Smith
    I grew up with a manual typer that had a stencil setting. Getting a computer with a word processor was a big step up even from the electric typer I had (and I still have one of those – with a parallel port, and non-standard character codes).

  8. I just compiled a list of indie and small press SFF novellas we featured at the Speculative Fiction Showcase this year, but apparently the number of links tripped the spam filter.

  9. Thank you for adding those, Cora!

    And thanks for your links, Steve (no relation) — I feel ever so much better, having read your more articulate summation of what were pretty much my impressions about Black Helicopters.

  10. Read 19 Novellas this year. My favorite and I’m stunned to not see mentioned here yet, is Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing, which is brilliantly devastating. I hope it doesn’t get overlooked because it came out so early in the year.

    (My review on my blog of it is here: https://garik16.blogspot.com/2018/02/scififantasy-novella-review-only.html)

    EDIT: AH I see now it was listed as a novelette. God the Novella definition is tricky, cuz I’d think it was too long for a Novelette.

  11. garik16, it’s 16,825 words — which means that it could fall within the +/- 20% Hugo Novella leeway of the 17,500-word lower limit, but honestly, with Novella competition so stiff, I think that the people who love it would be better off nominating it as a Novelette.

  12. Just a quick correction: I haven’t read “Every River Runs to Salt,” by Rachael K. Jones. I think you mean to mark me as having recommended a different story, but I’m not sure which one. (I’ll update the recommendations I made in March 2018.)

  13. Here are all 22 novellas I recommended that are eligible for the 2019 Hugo Awards:

    Artificial Condition,” by Martha Wells, Tor Publishing

    Murderbot heads to the RaviHyral Mining Facility to learn the truth about why it went rogue and killed its own clients many years ago.

    Great characters, great action, interesting setting

    The Barrow Will Send What It May,” by Margaret Killjoy, Tor Publishing

    A group of young, anarchist, demon hunters come to a town where some of the dead are walking.

    Interesting Characters, Good Action, Cool Plot

    Beneath the Sugar Sky,” by Seanan McGuire, Tor Publishing

    Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children caters to children who went to a portal world, came back, and can’t cope. No one planned on the arrival of a child born in a portal world, much less one asking for help—from a dead person.

    Sweet, Exciting, Funny, and Moving

    The Black God’s Drums,” by P. Djèlí Clark, Tor Publishing

    The Civil War left the US in pieces, and New Orleans is a free city. A teenage cutpurse overhears a plot by Confederate officers to steal a powerful magic weapon, and she sets out to stop them.

    Rich World, Great Characters, Lots of Action

    Bubble and Squeak,” by David Gerrold and Ctein, Penny Publications

    As a tsunami bears down on LA, James and his fiancé Hu struggle to escape before it hits.

    Exciting, Scary, Moving, and Fun

    The Emotionless, in Love,” by Jason Sanford, Beneath Ceaseless Skies

    Ancient nanotech controls a few humans to enforce harsh anti-technology rules on a reluctant population. Colton escaped its control at the cost of losing all emotion, and he struggles to be accepted by a caravan that’s trying to evade some of the restrictions.

    Good Characters and Action in a Great Setting

    Exit Strategy,” by Martha Wells, Tor Publishing

    Muderbot’s recent exploits targeting GrayCris have hurt the company enough that it has kidnapped Murderbot’s friend, Mensah, thinking she was behind it all. It has to rescue her, even though this may be a trap.

    Great characters, Good Conclusion to a Great Series

    The Expert System’s Brother,” by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor Publishing

    Young Handry’s life changes forever when he’s accidentally soaked in a “severing” mixture, which alienates him from the people in his village.

    A fascinating world and a plot with lots of twists and turns

    Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling,” by L.X. Beckett, Spilogale Inc

    A young musician/writer’s attempt to recover his online social standing leads him to dangerous people whose idea of “art” can be life-threatening, especially to the desperate.

    A Gripping Story in a Fascinating Setting

    Girl with a Curl,” by R. Garcia y Robertson, Penny Publications

    Amanda James, unlikely survivor of a battle with slavers, finds herself in command of the largest remaining battleship in the Jovian system. But can she stay in command?

    Spectacular and Surprising

    Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach,” by Kelly Robson, Tor Publishing

    Minh works restoring ecosystems destroyed during the collapse, and she’s intrigued by an opportunity to restore the Tigris/Euphrates valley by using a time machine to gather samples from 4,000 years ago.

    Great Writing, Cool Setting, Strong Characters

    In the Lost City of Leng,” by Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo, Penny Publications

    In 1933, Doug quits his job to go on an expedition to Antarctica to kill the Great Shoggoth and retrieve the priceless treasures of the lost city of Leng.

    A Very Different Twist on Lovecraft’s Story

    Jewel of the Heart,” by Matthew Hughes, Spilogale Inc

    Baldemar is just a young henchman for the mage Thelerion, but he’s the only one who can wear the Helm of Sagacity, and right at the moment, they’re doomed without its help. But that help comes at a price.

    Great Sword & Sorcery Fun

    Joyride,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Penny Publications

    A Fleet training ship passes close to a “scrapheap” of abandoned ships, and Teenage Nadim, leads a group of his friends to “borrow” a scout ship and check it out.

    Moving story in a fascinating setting with lots of action

    The Persistence of Blood,” by Juliette Wade, Clarkesworld Magazine

    Selemei’s push for a law to allow women to stop having children when it risks their health upends the complex caste-based society she lives in.

    Solid Characters in a Rich, Complex World

    Rogue Protocol,” by Martha Wells, Tor Publishing

    Murderbot’s hunt for evidence against the GrayCris corporation leads it to a supposedly abandoned terraforming facility it thinks was a cover for illegally extracting alien remnants.

    Great Protagonist, Thrilling and Moving Plot.

    Shadowdrop,” by Chris Willrich, Beneath Ceaseless Skies

    Action, Adventure, Tragedy, Victory—with Lots of Cats.

    Action, Adventure, Tragedy, Victory—with Lots of Cats.

    A Stab of the Knife,” by Adam-Troy Castro, Penny Publications

    Two series meet in this crossover episode where ex-assassin Draiken’s search for justice is interrupted when he’s arrested by ace prosecutor Andrea Cort.

    Great characters, great dialogue, great worldbuilding

    Starship Mountain,” by Allen M. Steele, Penny Publications

    Jeremy Crowe hunts for a missing nobleman’s daughter in a human colony on Tau Ceti e reduced to flintlock-era technology.

    Fun characters, interesting setting, solid plot

    Taste of Wrath,” by Matt Wallace, Tor Publishing

    In which The Forces of Evil try to destroy our favorite caterers-to-the-supernatural and find they have their plates full

    Saved the Best for Last—Deeply Satisfying

    War Cry,” by Brian McClellan, Tor Publishing

    After more than thirty years of war, the enemy is getting close to the capital city. Teado’s little team of rangers are holding them off, but they’re starving, and running out of everything, so a chance to ambush an enemy food convey is something they can’t pass up.

    A Great War Story with Just a Bit of Fantasy

    We Ragged Few,” by Kate Marshall, Beneath Ceaseless Skies

    When Reyna kills a rot hound, she knows her dead sister’s prophecy is coming true, and there’s not much time to convince the rest of the hold they all need to flee.

    Strong Characters, Intricate Plot, Lots of Surprises

  14. Farewell, Doraemon by A Que (Clarkesworld)

    (I often don’t get on with the Chinese translated stories in Clarkesworld so take with with a pinch of salt) I didn’t dislike this story but didn’t find much to recommend in it either. It’s a leisurely slice-of-life tale with copious flashbacks that paints a good portrait of small village life in China, and very slowly reveals a SFnal element. That element doesn’t really add much to the story and is probably the weakest part of this tale, which is a decent character portrait but lacks any sense of urgency.

  15. Mark-kitteh: I often don’t get on with the Chinese translated stories in Clarkesworld so take with with a pinch of salt

    After having read several translated Chinese SF works over the last 3 years, I have come to the conclusion that the style of those stories (flat characters, dry narration which reads like the diary of a not-terribly-interesting person) is just not my thing, which is why I didn’t try this one.

  16. Great, great info, JJ and all.

    I’ll check through the list and add whatever vellas I’ve missed to the Goodreads Hugo novella listopia in the next couple of days. I also encourage everyone to add vellas and/or vote there — the more exposure, the better! –> 2019 Hugo novellas .

    And JJ, my apologies! I completely forgot that you were waiting for me to figure out those two vella files we were talking about. I’m too tired to want to try messing with them tonight, but if you’re still interested I’ll give em another try tomorrow!

  17. JJ & Mike,
    Could really long articles like this one have a lede and then the rest behind the cut? Like the video articles?
    Just a suggestion

  18. BravoLimaPoppa3: Could really long articles like this one have a lede and then the rest behind the cut? Like the video articles?

    It does, and I did, but that only works on the main page of the blog. I checked, and WordPress’ support site specifically says that this does not work on the actual post page.

    However, I did just find their support post on how to paginate, so I’ve implemented that, and broken this post into 4 pages. Let me know if this works for you.

  19. Contrarius: my apologies! I completely forgot that you were waiting for me to figure out those two vella files we were talking about. I’m too tired to want to try messing with them tonight, but if you’re still interested I’ll give em another try tomorrow!

    No worries, it’s a busy time of year, and I figured you were doing the holiday thing. But yes, if you’re up to trying to sort it out, I’m still interested. 🙂

  20. The problem with translated stories, for the most part, is that magazines have already paid for the translation (at ~ 50 US-cents per word) before they get to read them. Since they normally pay ~10 US-cents per word for stories, that makes these very expensive stories, so they have to print them, no matter how bad they are.

    The problem with Chinese stories in particular is that, until recently, nearly all of the natively written stories were very low quality stuff aimed at small children. Chinese SF/F fans almost exclusively read stories translated from English and turned their noses up at the local product. That means that even something that was professionally published in China (even award winning stories) might well be unfit for publication in the US.

    The big exception is Ken Liu’s translations; he reads Chinese stories for pleasure and translates ones he likes, submitting them like any other stories. (I.e. they can get rejected.) His translations–and his alone–score as well or better than stories written by native English speakers. No surprise; they’re the only ones subject to the same editorial standards.

    That said, I think there’s been some improvement in the past year or so. I asked Neil Clarke about that, and he told me that he thought the people he worked with in China had, over time, learned what he’s really looking for in stories. If he can get his folks in China to apply the same editorial standards he does in the US, he’ll have accomplished something pretty major.

    I also chatted with the Chengu folks at WorldCon 76 in San Jose, and they told me that although there was still a great deal of kid stuff being produced, the government had been subsidizing production of more “Western-style” SF (not fantasy though–the government disapproves of that), and that that meant there was a lot more adult-quality stuff being produced than before.

    And an acquaintance who’s a professional translator told me that there’s a great deal of discussion in China right now about things like “show don’t tell” and what sort of principles in general make for excellent stories. (He was specifically talking about SF/F writers.)

    So although the general quality of translated Chinese stories has been pretty poor, I do think it has been improving (I actually recommended a few this past year), and I’m optimistic that it’ll get much better over the next few years.

  21. Thanks for that interesting information, Greg, that makes some things more clear. I thought that What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear had an interesting idea, but that it wasn’t developed in a way that would have made the story a great one, and I thought that it read almost like a children’s story (and it was completely a tell-don’t-show story), so I was really mystified by all of the acclaim it was getting.

  22. re: “Kingdom of Needle and Bone”

    (from my Goodreads review)

    I suspect this will prove to be a marmite of a book: people will love it or hate it. I definitely don’t hate it, but I’m not quite sure I love it either.

    This is not the fault of the author. This book is typical Mira Grant–well researched, thought out, and written. The POV here is omniscient, an unusual choice for this kind of book (previous Grant books have been first- or tight third-person narratives), but the reason why becomes apparent at the end. What’s also apparent from the get-go is the author’s dislike (to put it mildly) of the anti-vaxx crowd, and the reader soon realizes this is a thought experiment of what could happen if they get their way.

    I don’t think it’s one of her best, but YMMV.

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  24. The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed (self-published, about 28,000 words)

    This is set in an alt-history Edwardian Britain, with bits of newer technology creeping in here and there, in the aftermath of a continental war. Lt. Benjamin Braddock has returned home from that war haunted by the massacre of his unit and the death of his commanding officer, Wickersley. He feels a strong connection to his late commander and ends up being the only person prepared to stand up at his funeral and say the expected words – Wickersley being widely blamed for the massacre of his men. For some reason this leads to the Wickersley family taking him under their wing, and possibly is also the cause of his late commander deciding to haunt him…
    This is very much a character piece, Ben is recovering poorly from the traumas of war but does have some friends to help him. It successfully gives a sense of melancholy and wistfulness as Ben works through the sense of comradeship he had in the military versus the inevitable trauma and loss it caused. The haunting adds verisimilitude for Ben’s emotional journey but perhaps little else. The alt-history element could be very interesting but there’s no real exploration of it at all – and to be fair that’s not the thrust of the story.
    Overall I enjoyed this but felt like the component parts weren’t adding together as successfully as they ought to. I’d happily read more by the author though.

  25. Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire), Subterranean Press (excerpt)

    Synopsis: Vaccination and treatment for many diseases have been widely available for years – so much so that the populace has come to take their immunity for granted, and complacency sets in. Then a new pandemic appears, from which even the survivors suffer irrevocable damage.

    What I thought: This is a standalone novella; however, the text hints that there is going to be a sequel. The author has done extensive research in virology, and this shows in the veracity of the details. This is a cautionary tale about not just the dangers of non-vaccination, but of the difficulties in defining an answer to the question: when is it okay, and not okay, for the government to tell people what they can do with their own bodies?

    There are no easy answers here, and this is not easy reading – but there is plenty of food for thought. And the characters are developed enough to make the story feel personal. I’ll be interested to see how a sequel develops this story further.

  26. Compost Traumatic Stress by Brian Koukol, GigaNotoSaurus December 1, 2018 (full text)

    Synopsis: The lone survivor of a combat unit annihilated on an alien planet does penance after the end of the war by cleaning up leftover cartridge brass and clearing the alien vegetation, supplanting it with flora which is compatible with humans. As he weeds and plants, he flashes back to scenes from the war and how his own actions, or lack thereof, may have influenced the outcome.

    What I thought: This is a really different, interesting story with some unusual and intriguing worldbuilding. The different ways in which PTSD can manifest, and the challenges faced by disabled people, are authentically portrayed by the author, who has spent a lifetime dealing with these conditions. This is a grim story, but it is also a hopeful one, and it is well worth reading.

  27. I don’t really have much to add to what’s already been said regarding The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Umbernight, and everything Murderbot, but will n+1 the recommendations for them.

    Beneath the Sugar Sky

    To me this was the best one so far, mostly because I found the Down Among the Sticks and Bones narrator to be painfully didactic and distracting from an otherwise enjoyable story. Didacticism is not completely absent here but I didn’t find it particularly intrusive, and the narrative was strong and coherent. I think this would probably work fine on its own storywise but you’d lose a lot of emotional resonance without having read Every Heart a Doorway first.

    Binti: the Night Masquerade

    I am hesitant to call deus ex machina without a reread but that’s how Ovagv’f erfheerpgvba felt to me in this volume.

    The Emotionless, in Love

    I liked this a lot and didn’t know it was a sequel until after I had finished it. (And immediately added the prequel to my TBR.)

    Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

    I really enjoyed the first half of this but share other Filers’ frustration with the second half. I’m not sure I agree that it doesn’t have an ending, but what we got wasn’t very satisfying. More broadly, I thought the second half generally was trying to do too much thematically in not enough space; the bit about the younger generation’s attitude towards the older in particular felt underdeveloped. Upon reflection I think the pacing issue is exacerbated because much of the first half is process and worldbuilding and there’s not that much room for surprises until the second half.

  28. +1 to Compost Traumatic Stress by Brian Koukol

    This was a tough read at times but a really strong story.

  29. Yay, I’m glad you took the time to read it, and found it a good story.

    I’m not sure where I happened to see it listed as a 2018 Novella; I think it might have been when I was listing all the Short Form Editor credits (and I think it’s the first novella that GigaNotoSaurus has ever published), but I’m glad that I made a point of finding and reading it.

    Yes, it’s a tough read, but an authentic one and really worth it.

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