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Favorite Tor.com Novellas

In the past few years, Tor.com’s novella line has really grown and strengthened. Here are a few of the offerings I especially enjoyed.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander: This one is really stunning; it’s all about history and alternate history and the stories we tell. The prose is beautiful and the story is powerful. There are a few threads interwoven and each of them is treated seriously and given its own significance.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson: I’ve had a very strong reaction to some of Johnson’s other short fiction, but I really enjoyed this one. Centered on an older woman, whose academic background reminded me a bit of Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night, this also features some interesting cats and lovely descriptions.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: A brutal, thoughtful take on portal fantasies and what happens afterwards. It’s probably my favorite writing from McGuire and I recommend it if you are interested in both stories and subversions of the stories.

Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor: Oh, the Binti trilogy! I love the writing in these books so much, the emphasis on diplomacy, on peacemaking. The scifi elements combined with a deep sense of history and culture and customs. Binti herself and her growth of over the course of the three novellas. There’s something really magical about these ones.

All Systems Red & Artificial Condition by Martha Wells: MURDERBOT. I love Murderbot so much, which sounds sketchy if you haven’t read these lovely space operas yet. But Murderbot is a disenchanted securitybot who just wants to protect humans and hacked its own governor module so it can watch entertainment feeds and doesn’t want to feel anything and I LOVE IT. The second novella is just as good as the first and I can’t wait for the next few. (PS, if you know Wells through the Murderbot novellas, please check out some of her other books; they are also excellent.

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Alternate takes on portal fantasies

rest of us just live hereI’m not 100% sure that I exactly mean portal fantasies. What I really mean is that these books look at the structure of classic fantasy and play with it. By classic fantasy, in this case, I mean things like Harry Potter and Narnia, which of course are both portal fantasies, so maybe that’s what I mean after all.

At any rate, recently there’s been a little spurt of these books and I thought it’d be interesting to highlight a few.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is possibly the best known. I have to admit that while I’ve appreciated his writing about fantasy, I really really really disliked this book. I don’t think I even finished it. For me it was simply too anti, too negatively set against things I might critique but also love.

Second is one that I read as it was coming out, with both great delight and great nail-biting: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Turn of the Story. I loved the characters, and SRB’s thoughtful interrogation of fantasy tropes worked really well for me. (There’s also a follow up short story in the Monstrous Affections anthology.)

Of course Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On was one of last year’s big releases. While Simon Snow might seem like a simple Harry Potter analogue, I did appreciate that Rowell both critiqued and honored her inspiration.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, is an interesting example in that the main story is all about the kids who live just outside the usual portal fantasy. The chapter descriptions tell us the Chosen One story, but the rest of the book is concerned with, well—the rest of us.

Finally Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a new book that I haven’t yet read but have heard good things about (and have on my library book bookshelf).

Are there other recentish books that fit this list? It’s an interesting mini-trend to me.