Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Novellas & Short Story Anthologies
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: Favorite Novellas & Short Story Anthologies
As you may know, I am not a novella or short fiction kind of person. Like, at all. Occasionally though, I will come across a few gems, but since I’ve already featured many of my favorites in last year’s “Read in One Sitting/Novellas” topic, this time I’m also going to be including my favorite short story anthologies to help round out my list!
Reading Martha Wells is always a delight, but All Systems Red seemed like such a departure from her usual projects that I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out though, this little novella was a real treat. Told from the point of a view of a rogue SecUnit—a part organic, part synthetic android designed to provide humans with protection and security services—this story takes readers on a journey to a distant planet being explored by team of scientists. Accompanying them is our protagonist, a self-proclaimed “Murderbot”, whose presence is required by the Company sponsoring the mission. Thing is though, Murderbot doesn’t exactly feel warm and fuzzy towards humans, and it knows that the scientists aren’t too comfortable with having a SecUnit on the team either, given the cagey way they get whenever it’s around. Still, that’s just fine for Murderbot. Having hacked its own governor so that it doesn’t have to follow Company directives, all it wants is to be left alone to enjoy the thousands of hours of entertainment vids that it has downloaded from the humans’ satellites. Of course, no one can suspect that Murderbot is secretly autonomous, so it still has to go about its job like everything is normal, and this arrangement was working out just fine until one day, a routine surface test goes seriously wrong. Overall, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this novella, and I definitely would not hesitate recommending it to anyone looking for a quick sci-fi fix with a fun and captivating premise. (Read the full review…)
Apart in the Dark is actually an omnibus, so we’re getting a twofer! The first story in this collection is The Pretty Ones, which takes place in New York City during the sweltering summer of 1977—the year in which the Son of Sam conducted his infamous killing spree. Our protagonist is Nell Sullivan, a auiet, awkward, and extremely self-conscious young woman who doesn’t feel like she fits in with the rest of the girls at work. Silently, she seethes at all their bullying and cruel jabs, imagining torturing and killing them in the worst of ways. More than this I don’t want to say, because wow, there were a ton of cool twists and surprises packed in this novella which only clocks in at about 140 pages. The second story is I Call Upon Thee which follows Maggie Olsen, a college student who was raised in Savannah, Georgia in a big gorgeous house with her two older sisters. But something happened in that house when our protagonist was a child—something dark and unnatural—that made her decide to leave the moment she graduated high school and never look back. Containing all the ingredients of a classic horror tale, this tale plays upon our childhood fears of the dark and things that lurk under our beds or in our closets. Of the strange sounds waking you up in the dead of night. Of the quick blurry shadows that you catch just out of the corner of your eye. If you’re curious about the work of Ania Ahlborn, this would be an excellent place to start. (Read the full review…)
I tend to skip the novellas and short stories that authors are always tacking onto or in between books of their series, but believe me when I say all bets are off when it comes to Rivers of London. The instant I learned about The Furthest Station, I just knew I had to read it. As a city with a long history, London is also home to a lot of ghosts. Many of them even ride the Underground each day along with—and unbeknownst to—the thousands of living Londoners on their work commute, but rarely do these spectral passengers make any trouble. So when the police start receiving a number of reports about frightening, aggressive, and disturbing ghost sightings on the Metropolitan Line, the situation is worrying enough to get PC Peter Grant and his supervisor Inspector Nightingale on the job. Gradually, they are able to collect enough clues to piece together an explanation for the ghosts’ strange behavior…and the prognosis is not good. A very real person’s life maybe in imminent danger, and it is up to the Folly as Britain’s only paranormal investigative unit to save a kidnapping victim before it is too late. While it’s meant to be a fun side episode to help us Peter Grant addicts curb our appetites while waiting for the next book, ultimately I found The Furthest Station so entertaining that I’d readily recommend it to newcomers and old fans alike. (Read the full review…)
The Dispatcher is a novella that takes place in a world where it is nearly impossible to kill anyone. If you committed suicide, you stayed dead. If you died in an accident, you stayed dead. If you passed away due to illness, you stayed dead. But for some bizarre reason, if you were murdered, your body would mysteriously awaken back to life, naked and whole in your home. In 999 times out of a 1000, those whose lives were intentionally ended by someone else would return to the living like this. No one knows why, no one knows how, no one has any clue what it all means. But what they do know, is that the world is forever changed by this phenomenon. With this novella, I truly believe that Scalzi has reached a new stage in his writing career. While his style has always been quite readable to me, in this book I started to see a new level of polish and elegance in his writing, and gone is much of the “popcorn humor” his previous books are known for. Though it wouldn’t be fair to say The Dispatcher is completely devoid of levity, for the most part this is a very serious endeavor, featuring some thought-provoking yet morbid themes. It may be a short book, but it sure packs a lot of substance. (Read the full review…)
This one collects a trio of short stories known as Jim Butcher’s “Bigfoot trilogy” from his Dresden Files series, even though I technically read all three in another anthology called Brief Cases. The first story B is for Bigfoot features Harry Dresden and his first interaction with the Sasquatch known as River Shoulders. In this one, Harry is hired to help Irwin Pounder, River Shoulders’ son who lives with his human mother. It seems lately that Irwin has been having some trouble at school, and Harry takes it upon himself to give the boy a talk about bullies. The second story is I Was A Teenage Bigfoot, where Irwin is a little older, attending the prestigious Saint Mark’s Academy for the Gifted and Talented. But his supernatural origins might have attracted some unwanted attention, so his mother Dr. Helena Pounder hires Harry to keep an eye on her son. The last story is Bigfoot on Campus, following Harry as he helps Irwin Pounder out for the third time. Irwin is now all grown up and in college, playing on the football team, dating a pretty girl, and generally busy doing college student things. However, when it is discovered that Irwin’s girlfriend Connie Barrowill is a vampire of the White Court, Harry goes to let River Shoulders know that his son may be in danger. But as always, things are never as they seem, especially when it turns out Connie is also unaware of her true nature. (Read the full review…)
Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns collects six short stories set in the “Grishaverse”, the world in which her novels like Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows take place. However, these tales are for the most part unrelated to either of those series—a point in this anthology’s favor, in my opinion—and therefore can be enjoyed on their own. It would be more accurate to think of these as fairy tale retellings, each self-contained and often involving their own message and lessons. Personally, I find this format more appealing, as I tend not to get as much out of “side stories” that are tied to (and hence feel “tacked on” to) existing characters and events from a main series. Filled with dark undertones, many of these stories also call back to familiar classic fairy tales—but with a twist. I don’t often find myself recommending anthologies, but I will in this case, since I think this book would appeal to a wide range of readers, especially those who love fairy tale-inspired fiction and imaginative retellings. Perfect for both fans of the author’s Grishverse and newcomers alike. (Read the full review…)
Huge Brandon Sanderson fan that I am, I try to read everything he writes, but especially the works that take place in his fictional universe of the Cosmere. But while I have read all the novels, somehow many of the novellas seem to have slipped through the cracks. When a lot of the stories have only appeared online or in other anthologies, it can make tracking down every single one a challenge. Enter Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. It feels like I have been waiting my whole life for this. Collecting eight previously published short stories and novellas plus one new never-before-seen tale that takes place in the world of The Stormlight Archive, this anthology is a must-have for every Cosmere geek. But even if you are a reader who simply enjoys spending time in Sanderson’s worlds without being all that concerned with how they fit together, you will be amazed by the all-encompassing and in-depth quality of this collection. The stories themselves are fantastic of course, but you are also guaranteed to walk away from this with a better understanding of the immense and epic macrocosm that is the Cosmere. Arcanum Unbounded is now one of the most treasured books on my bookshelf. (Read the full review…)
Like many collections, there are stories in The Paper Menagerie that I liked more than others, but overall I feel confident saying this is one of the best anthologies I have ever read. The book contains fifteen tales, showcasing a stunningly wide spread of themes and subjects. Readers of speculative fiction will enjoy stories featuring everything from artificial intelligence and virtual reality to space exploration and time travel. Many of the stories also combine these elements with influences from with cultural and historical sources, with a strong focus on Asian philosophy, mythology, and identity. Together, they come to create this profoundly heartfelt collection filled with beauty and emotion. Even if it is somewhat front-loaded with the more memorable stories at the beginning, most of the tales in here are captivating in very profound ways and at times carried a personal meaning for me. Like I said, I don’t often recommend short story collections, but I will for this one, and with much enthusiasm. Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a beautiful work of art, guaranteed to touch hearts and engage minds. (Read the full review…)
Golden Age and Other Stories is a charming little anthology that is sure to please fans of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire, though if you are just getting started on the series or are hoping to sample some of the stories here before diving into the main books, this might not be the most ideal entry point. While I don’t think you have to complete the series to appreciate this collection, having some basic knowledge of the world to start will definitely help you out a lot. This anthology also features an interesting format, consisting of six short stories which are then followed by about two dozen snippets termed “Drabbles”. All of them are accompanied by a piece of fan art upon which these tales are based, so not only are you getting plenty of dragon-y goodness with this collection, you’ll also be receiving a generous helping of gorgeous eye candy. But how do the stories themselves stack up, you ask? Well, as with most collections, the offerings here are somewhat unbalanced, hitting both highs and lows. I don’t mind admitting that I was largely unimpressed with the first few stories or any of the Drabbles at the end, but sandwiched between them are several amazing gems that are so good that I would say they are worth the price of admission alone. (Read the full review…)
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a girlfriend or wife of a superhero? The answer is not so glamorous in The Refrigerator Monologues. Inspired by “Women in Refrigerators”, a term used to describe a trope used in many comic book plots involving the deaths, disablement, and disenfranchising of female characters to forward a male superhero protagonist’s storyline, this clever collection offers both a darkly humorous commentary on the subject as well as a vicious lampoon on these kinds of story arcs as a whole. Meet the six women of the Hell Hath Club, all inspired by well-known characters in the DC or Marvel universes so that even passing fans of comics should recognize some of their origins. Each story explores the background of a female character who has been killed, depowered, or generally dismissed in favor of the male superheroes (and in one case, a supervillain) in their lives. Now the six of them meet regularly in the afterlife, hanging out at a quaint little joint called the Lethe Café where they share their stories, support each other, and listen to the gargoyles bands play punk rock. Sharply droll and acerbic, The Refrigerator Monologues offers a look at the superhero genre from a rare but important perspective. Whether these stories make you laugh or cry, pound your fists or roll your eyes, at the end of the day they’re bound to evoke emotions and start some conversations. And sometimes, that’s all that really matters. (Read the full review…)