MY NOVELLA FAVORITES THIS YEAR:
"Burning Girls" by Veronica Schanoes: Veronica is fantastic with writing vivid, striking Jewish historial pieces such as this retelling of Rumplestiltskin that follows the story of two sisters as they try to survive the pogroms of the old world and the garment factories of the new world. I didn't feel that the ending was entirely earned by the story, but I love the characters and their exchanges, the fantastic detail, the clever interweaving of the fairy tale and the history, and I said this already, but the character, who is acidly wonderful.
"Wakulla Springs" by Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan: I'd been anticipating this collaboration for years, and it's been ongoing for longer than that! This novella tells the stories of people whose lives are bound up with the Wakulla Springs park and the movies that were filmed there, including Tarzan and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Both Andy and Ellen excel at historical pieces with rich characters and amazing dialogue; together, they create really beautiful language, and I just am bowled over by the dialogue. This is a piece to get lost in the beauty of! Complex social issues make this even more interesting. I would argue that it's not speculative fiction, but who cares?
"The Weight of the Sunrise" by Vylar Kaftan: Vylar's been calling this piece her "Incawank." It's an alternate history wherein the Incan empire managed to survive and flourish, though it is still plagued by smallpox outbreaks. When America wants to rebel against Britain, the fledgling republic offers the Incans a vaccine in exchange for a huge sum of gold. The gold has religious associations and giving it up would be terrible for the Incans, but the American doesn't care. I thought there were some problems in this with bluntness and with awkward exposition, but overall it was a really interesting and unusual read.
"Spin" by Nina Allan: I'm ashamed to say that I have on hand two more novellas by Nina Allan and haven't had time to read them and it's entirely possible that they would both be on this list with "Spin" if I could carve out the hours. My lack of time this year is very frustrating. Nina is an underappreciated, brilliant short fiction writer, and it frustrates me that she doesn't get more traction. You should read her! Her calm, precise linguistic control and gift for telling detail of setting and character makes her writing intriguing, emotional, and immersive. In a Greek-myth-inspired modern world where magic exists and the oracles at Delphi were really clairvoyant, the daughter of a silk dyer foretells the future in tapestries, brilliantly and beautifully described. This is a beautiful, luxurious piece to read, with beautiful descriptions of the art, the setting and the character's emotional states.
WITH BONUS DISTINCTION TO:
"Martyr's Gem" by C.S.E. Cooney: High fantasy about a stuttering fisherman who everyone assumes is stupid and his unexpected marriage to a wealthy woman who is obsessed with avenging her sister's murder. There are some world-building consistency issues, especially inasmuch as my inner anthropologist wanted to argue with the way that some of the cultural details didn't match up, but they weren't drastic. There were also some structural issues, but again, they weren't drastic. It felt more like the story felt rough hewn in a way that worked for me, especially since it was partially about old-fashioned storytelling, which wouldn't necessarily be polished and ground down to a smooth surface. It carries itself on verve, humor, interesting details, unexpected threads, and strong characters. It's a rewarding read that reaches beyond the rough patches to something unusual and memorable.
I really wish I'd had a chance to read the rest of Nina's novellas. If I do, and I have the time and energy, I'll try to review them. Repeating that Nina Allan is a really brilliant, under-appreciated writer, and people should check her out if they can.