2019 Novellapalooza

[Editor’s note: be sure to read the comments on this post for more novellas and more Filer reviews.]

By JJ:

TL;DR: Here’s what I thought of the 2019 Novellas. What did you think?

I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But the last few years, I’ve done a personal project to read and review as many Novellas as I could (presuming that the story synopsis had some appeal for me). I ended up reading:

  • 31 of the novellas published in 2015,
  • 35 of the novellas published in 2016,
  • 46 of the novellas published in 2017,
  • and 38 of the 2018 novellas.
  • (and this year I was waiting for access to a few novellas, so I was reading others, and thus my final total crept up to 55!)

The result of these reading sprees were

I really felt as though this enabled me to do Hugo nominations for the Novella category in an informed way, and a lot of Filers got involved with their own comments. So I’m doing it again this year.

The success and popularity of novellas in the last 5 years seems to have sparked a Golden Age for SFF novellas – so there are a lot more novellas to cover this year. By necessity, I’ve gotten to the point of being more selective about which ones I read, based on the synopsis being of interest to me.

It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book despite not feeling that the jacket copy makes the book sound as though it is something I would like – and to discover that I really like or love the work anyway. On the other hand, It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book which sounds as though it will be up my alley and to discover that, actually, the book doesn’t really do much for me.

Thus, my opinions on the following novellas vary wildly: stories I thought I would love but didn’t, stories I didn’t expect to love but did, and stories which aligned with my expectations – whether high or low.

Bear in mind that while I enjoy both, I tend to prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy – and that while I enjoy suspense and thrillers, I have very little appreciation for Horror (and to be honest, I think Lovecraft is way overrated). What’s more, I apparently had a defective childhood, and do not share a lot of peoples’ appreciation for fairytale retellings and portal fantasies. My personal assessments are therefore not intended to be the final word on these stories, but merely a jumping-off point for Filer discussion.

Novellas I’ve read appear in order based on how much I liked them (best to least), followed by the novellas I haven’t read in alphabetical order.

I’ve included plot summaries, and where I could find them, links to either excerpts or the full stories which can be read online for free. Short novels which fall between 40,000 and 48,000 words (within the Hugo Novella category tolerance) have been included.

Please feel free to post comments about any other 2019 novellas which you’ve read, as well. And if I’ve missed your comment about a novella, or an excerpt for a novella, please point me to it!

(Please be sure to rot-13 any spoilers.)

(fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)

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Pixel Scroll 1/17/16 Kaiser Scroll, Hold The Pixel

(1) HONEST POSTERS. “If 2016’s Oscar-nominated movie posters told the truth” they’d be very funny. Courtesy of Shiznit.

MARTIAN COMP

(2) A TOP TEN WITH FANGS. Here’s Fantasy Faction’s ingenious list – “Top Ten Wolves In Fantasy”. How come I never do Top 10 Lists for File 770? People love them. Ah well, there isn’t enough time to do everything that’s a good idea.

  1. Maugrim (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S.Lewis)

Maugrim was the head of The Witch’s Police in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and relished the dirty work that had to be done. Seen by many as an agent of the Devil, he is the ugly face of evil in Narnia and makes no bones about it. He is instrumental in the coming of age of Peter who eventually slays him, earning the name Sir Peter Wolfsbane.

(3) BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Gustaff Behr tries to work out “How Much Does It Cost Being A Doctor Who Fan?”

Fred starts where all new fans start. He wants to go back and take a look at how Doctor Who came back in 2005 which means, including Series 9 which he will definitely get; Fred needs 9 seasons of complete box sets which costs on average $65.00. That’s $585.00 in total for Chris, David, Matt, John and Peter.

Being a Who fan costs at least $585.00 if you buy all nine New Who seasons of Doctor Who.

And after watching nine seasons of Doctor Who, barely sleeping, bathing or eating, Fred craves more. He needs to see how Doctor Who started all the way back in 1963. He also has to see the celery Doctor, the scarf Doctor, the pullover one and all the other past Doctors he’s heard so much about. He knows there are 156 classic stories of Doctor Who which range between $13.99 and $16.99 so we’ll budget for $15.49 as a rough average. That’s $2416.44 for the whole of the Classic Era of Doctor Who.

Being a Who fan costs at least $3001.44 if you want to have the entire television collection of Doctor Who from William Hartnell all the way up to Peter Capaldi.

And then he moves on to the merchandise….

(4) FUNICELLO OBIT. [CORRECTION — Turns out the source has taken an old story and given it a 2016 timestamp. But it might still be news to somebody….] Annette Funicello (1942-20162013) died January 11, 2013 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. She was 70. Funicello was a child star as a Mousketeer on the original Mickey Mouse Club, and as a teenager starred opposite Frankie Avalon in several beach movies. Her genre work included Babes In Toyland (1961), and quasi-genre movies like The Monkey’s Uncle, and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

(5) GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON TRIBUTE. The Girl George & the Dragons Radio Show talked about George Clayton Johnson with his son, Paul Johnson, and others on January 17.

(6) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • January 17, 1605 Don Quixote was published.

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY SITH

  • Born January 17, 1931 — James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader (and an actor renowned for many other roles.)

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born January 17, 1962 – Jim Carrey, of Hugo-winner The Truman Show, The Mask, and other quasi-fantasy films.

(9) MEET KYLO. Joseph Pimentel reports in the Orange County Register that Kylo Ren will replace Darth Vader in the “meet-and-greet” section of Disneyland’s Star Wars area in Tomorrowland where people stand in line to get autographs and photos with Disney characters.

Guests will be able to mingle with Kylo Ren, a central character from the smash hit “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” in Tomorrowland, Disney announced Friday. The company declined to say when the light-saber-wielding dark warrior and Jedi slayer will debut.

Ren will join Chewbacca, and Boba Fett as characters from the “Star Wars” franchise available for visitors to meet and take photos with at the Star Wars Launch Bay. There’ll also First Order Stormtroopers roaming around.

The upper floor of the building, the Tomorrowland Expo Center formerly known as Innoventions, houses the Super Hero HQ where guests meet Spider-Man and Thor.

Ren will replace Darth Vader, the original “Star Wars” villain, in the meet-and-greet. The Sith Lord Vader will continue to be in the show “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple.”

Meet-and-greets with various Disney characters have become one of Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s signature attractions, drawing long lines of visitors wanting autograph, pictures and hugs.

(10) KYLO ON SNL. Saturday Night Live sent Kylo Ren (guest star Adam Driver) undercover as Matt, a radar technician, in Star Wars Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base.

(11) ABOUT SPECTRAL PRESS. Simon Bestwick has written a lengthy, heavily-documented post about issues with Spectral Press, publishers of his book Black Mountain.

Readers may wish to pour themselves a large, stiff drink before continuing. This is going to be a long post.

I’ve thought long and hard before blogging on this topic, but there is a great deal of confusion and misinformation out there, and I believe it’s important that the facts be made available. There is also an issue of transparency to customers regarding Spectral Press in its past or present incarnations….

7) The Short Version  Spectral Press has published books, which sold. A share of the money from their sales is, contractually, their authors’. Their authors have not received it, and yet Spectral do not have it. Spectral Press has taken money from customers from books that have gone undelivered and, in some cases, unpublished. Many of these customers want their money back, and yet Spectral do not have it. I would just like to close by reminding anyone who feels Spectral’s critics are being unreasonable, that this situation has persisted for over a year; that the amount owed is a very large sum for a small press to owe, and that the individual in whose hands this situation has been placed has responded to polite and factual criticism with insults and blocking critics on social media, and whose own history should be cause for concern.

(12) ENOUGH IS TOO MUCH. Anne Wheaton tells her blog readers why she bid Twitter goodbye.

In real life, I stand up for myself. If someone says or does something to me or someone around me, I do something about it. As my online presence grew, there were people who don’t follow me showing up to say something horrible about me, my husband, or my children. Yes, they can be muted, blocked, or reported, and I was doing that all the time, every day. Sometimes I responded because like I said, in real life I stand up for myself so occasionally, I will do that online. But after a while, it’s like trying to smile and have a pleasant conversation with a kind person in a room full of people screaming hateful things in your face. You can ignore it but eventually, it just isn’t worth even talking at all and you just have to walk out of that room to protect yourself.

I chose to be on Twitter. I am not a celebrity. I am a middle-aged woman who’s a retired hairdresser who now runs a non-profit, is on the Board of Directors at Pasadena Humane Society, has a house FULL of rescue animals, and has two wonderful boys. I do not have a job I need to promote, nor am I looking for a job to take on. I have a full life with an amazing husband and family, wonderful friends, and a successful business I run. If something I choose to do on the side isn’t fun, I need to walk away from it because my free time is pretty scarce. Twitter used to be the fun thing I did on the side, and for the most part, it just isn’t fun anymore, so I need to walk away from it and that’s okay.

(13) ANOTHER TWITTER MAELSTROM. Neil Gaiman’s tweet endorsing Clarion set off a wave of complaints. Brad R. Torgersen was as surprised as Gaiman himself by the controversy, but did a better job of understanding the reaction.

I guess Gaiman upset people with this?

…Second, Gaiman is simply expressing what all of us have expressed — from time to time — about our favorite learning experiences. I have evangelized for the Kris Rusch and Dean Smith workshops, the Dave Wolverton workshops, the Writers of the Future workshop, the Superstars Writing Seminar, the “Life, The Universe & Everything” symposium, and so on, and so forth. All of them have been very valuable to me, and remain valuable long after attendance and participation….

It would be great if a Clarion-type experience were free. But running a workshop with that kind of scope and scale, is not cheap. And the truth is, there are people who will argue that it shouldn’t be cheap. That the high cost weeds out the dilettantes. So that only serious students, who are dedicated, will apply for acceptance. Clarion isn’t designed for wannabes. Clarion is for budding professional artists, who want to flower in an environment that will feed and nurture their professional artistry. Or at least that’s the ideal. And I definitely think Gaiman had the ideal in mind, when he wrote what he wrote.

Still, there is no royal road to publication and acclaim. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I suspect Clarion’s success rate is probably on par with just about every other workshop going. Which means two-thirds of Clarion’s graduates, won’t make it. They won’t sell. Or at least, they won’t sell well. They will find that life has other work for them, and they will move on.

(13) ONE THUMB DOWN. Fran Wilde’s tweets, 10 of which are Storified here, illustrate the negative response.

(14) ANOTHER THUMB DOWN. Alex Bledsoe, in “Thoughts on Clarion, Privilege and Gaiman”, is one of many other writers sounding off about how they launched professional writing careers without the help of a workshop.

Now, I don’t for a moment believe that Gaiman literally meant need, as in you can’t consider yourself a real writer unless you have Clarion on your CV. But at the same time, I understand the outrage of those who see his statement as an unthinking beacon of privilege. Who the hell is Neil Gaiman, who will never again have to worry about paying bills, or child care, or taking time off from work, or any of the day-to-day struggles that most of his readers experience, to tell us what we need? It’s in the same ballpark as Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous statements about her being a “typical” mother.

Like a lot of writers, I never went to Clarion, or any professional writing workshop. I learned to write via journalism, both from studying it and working at it. I like to say it’s one reason my books are so short, but in another very important way, it taught me to approach writing as a job. A reporter is no special snowflake: if he or she can’t do the work, there’s always someone waiting to eagerly step up. So you get on with it, and do the best you can with what you have. That lesson has been incredibly useful as a fiction writer, too.

(15) GAYLACTIC SPECTRUM AWARDS. The winners and recommended short list for the 2014/2015 Gaylactic Spectrum Awards in the Best Novel category were announced at Chessiecon in November 2015.

(16) DAVIDSON ON THE FINE POINTS. Steve Davidson discusses “How To Recommend Without Slating” at Amazing Stories.

As it has evolved, an acceptable Eligibility Post is limited to the following elements:

  • A statement that a work is, under the rules in play, eligible for a particular category of award.
  • Information on where and when the story was made available (so that others can verify its eligibility)
  • A suggestion that those voting for the award in question might be interested in checking it out
  • An Eligibility Post may also include an opportunity for others to add other works that are eligible

An Eligibility Post does not contain:

  • reasons why someone ought to vote for the work
  • begging for votes in any manner
  • discussion of external politics that are somehow related to voting for the work
  • discussion of the “messages” that will be sent by voting for the work
  • plays for sympathy, or authorial love, mentions of career status

The Eligibility Post was soon joined by the “Recommended Reading” list…..

(17) POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE. In 2004, soon after meeting Howard Waldrop, Lou Antonelli succeeded in selling his first story.

I wrote Howard and told him meeting him had brought me good luck. He later dropped me this postcard. I recently found it in a drawer while cleaning up a messy storage shed, and thought I’d share it. If you have trouble reading Howard’s handwriting, this is what it says:

“Dear Lou,
“Congratulations on the sale to Gardner. (You were already getting rejection letters – it was only a matter of time, whether you came to Austin or not!) You’ve sentenced yourself to a life of bitterness and frustration, like me..
“Way to go!
“Yer pal,
“Howard”

Howard is a great writer, a nice guy, and it also seems, a clairvoyant.

(18) BOWIE MOVIE SCREENINGS. The Vista Theatre in LA sold out its Labyrinth 30th Anniversary midnight screening (for obvious reasons) and has scheduled another.

In January we’re going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of our favorite fantasy films- LABYRINTH, featuring everyone’s favorite goblin king Jareth and his Bowie-bulge! Feel free to join us in costume and dance, magic dance! Response to this event was larger than we expected- we were trending towards a sell out by show night, but with the tragic passing of David Bowie yesterday we sold out in 6 hours of the news breaking. We want all our friends and Bowie fans in our nerd circle to be able to grieve in the manner they chose and if celebrating his life with Labyrinth on the big screen is what they want than we’re here to help. We’ve added this SATURDAY NIGHT midnight screening for those that were unable to catch tickets for Friday night. We will have a costume contest both nights, and hope everyone enjoys the hell out of this film and Bowie’s incredible performance on the big screen

(19) ONE BUSY HOMBRE. Today’s mandatory Guillermo del Toro news is that he will develop to potentially direct Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark for CBS Films. The film is based on the trilogy by Alvin Schwartz.

He is such a big fan of the books that he owns ten of the original illustrations by Gammell.
In addition to potentially directing, del Toro will also produce the film alongside Sean Daniel, Jason Brown and Elizabeth Grave. Alvin Schwartz’s trilogy of short story collections have sold more than 7 million copies worldwide. Even though, from the moment it was published in 1984, the Scary Stories series was one of the most banned from placement by the American Library Association, as the collections were considered to be too scary for children. The ensuing controversy only helped to fuel sales, and the trilogy has remained a cultural phenomenon ever since.

(20) RAINBOW BATMAN. DC Comics invites fans to “Brighten your batcave with Rainbow Batman figures”

Why should the criminals of Gotham get all the colorful costumes? Now you can have the Caped Crusader in pink, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

 

rainbowbatmanclip 2Where did these come from? According to Yahoo! Movies

A year ago, DC Collectibles opened up their vault to reveal prototypes of statues, action figures, and busts that were never produced and allowed fans to vote on which item from the collection should be produced and sold. A colorful line of Batmen figures based on “The Rainbow Batman” cover of Detective Comics #241 (1957) won the poll.

(21) JACK KIRBY DRAMATIZED. Now on stage in Seattle (through January 23), “’King Kirby’ play profiles the artist behind the superheroes, overshadowed by Stan Lee”.

“King Kirby” opens with the canonization of its subject at a high-level sale, where an auctioneer recounts the artist’s pictorial achievements and begins the bidding on each Kirby illustration at thousands of dollars.

From somewhere in the beyond, Kirby (who died in the 1990s, and is portrayed with vigor and conviction by Rick Espaillat) looks on disgustedly at the pretentious upscaling of his work.

In a pungent Brooklyn accent and with a defensive edginess, Kirby takes us back to his humble beginnings growing up in a rough neighborhood, where he had to use his fists to fend off attackers.

No wonder he invented heroic protectors and epic rescuers. Fascinated by mythology and quick with a sketchbook, Kirby starts out doing grunt work in a cartoon sweatshop, forms a partnership with a business-savvy pal, and comes into his own working under a series of amusingly irate moguls. In collaboration with head honcho and collaborator Stan Lee, he’s a big reason why Lee’s Marvel Comics still thrill the masses with spinoffs of characters created in the 1940s and ’50s.

Lee is portrayed as a marketing maestro and idea man, who not only stiffed his top artist out of franchise deals and royalties but also presented himself as the sole inventor of superheroes co-created and fleshed out by Kirby.

(22) STAN THE MAN. CBS Sunday Morning program featured “The Marvelous Life of Stan Lee” on January 17.

The comic starts out, as Stan started out, as Stanley Martin Leiber, born to Jewish immigrants in 1922. He grew up poor in a tiny Bronx apartment during the Depression.

When Stan was old enough, he started looking for jobs to help pay the bills, and in 1939 he landed at a publishing house which just happened to have a small division called Timely Comics.

“I’d fill the ink wells — in those days they used ink!” he said. “I’d run down and get them sandwiches at the drug store, and I’d proofread the pages, and sometimes in proofreading I’d say, ‘You know, this sentence doesn’t sound right. It ought to be written like this.’ ‘Well, go ahead and change it!’ They didn’t care!”

Characters like Destroyer, Father Time and Jack Frost soon had Stan’s fingerprints all over them.

He got so caught up in the battles of good vs. evil that after Pearl Harbor, it seemed only natural he join the Army.

“Oh hell, how could you not volunteer for the Army?” he said. “Hitler was over there doing all those horrible things.”

But instead of fighting, Lee found himself drawing. His best work: a poster telling soldiers how NOT to get VD.

“I drew a little soldier, very proudly,” he recalled. “And he’s saying, ‘VD? Not me!’ as he walks in. They must have printed a hundred trillion of those! I think I won the war single-handedly with that poster!”

 [Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Martin Morse Wooster, Tom Galloway, Steve Lieber, Andrew Porter, and Kendall for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Will R.]