Over the course of this column, I usually open with a couple of books that I’ve been reading recently alongside what’s to come. I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more — and to read widely — and while I do pick up a number of novels or novellas, I’ve been doing the same with another avenue: short fiction.
Flash fiction, short stories, and novelettes don’t usually get the same amount of attention as their longer counterparts, which is a shame. There’s a lot of creative and innovative storytelling taking place at that 100- to 25,000-word level. Authors can’t spend page after page on descriptions; they have to hone their characters and plot to get right to the point. It’s refreshing, especially when 800- to 1,000-page epic fantasy tomes are commonplace.
This year, I’ve picked up a bunch of magazines, like Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as newer startups like Serial Box, which specialize in shorter-form storytelling. Novels might be big milestones in a writer’s career, but the short fiction world is where there’s a ton of innovation, experimentation, and really excellent stories that often rival what their longer counterparts are doing. As a reader, there’s a wealth of choices — the publications I just listed are just the tip of the iceberg — and most often, they’re free to read, although I’d highly recommend subscribing if you happen to enjoy what you’re reading.
But, if longer-form fiction is what you’re after, here are 11 books that caught our eyes coming out in the latter half of November.
Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Originally published in Russia more than a decade ago, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s novel Vita Nostra earned considerable acclaim overseas, but while it was proclaimed the best fantasy novel of the 21st century, English readers were left out. That changed when a Russian reader spoke with Magicians author Lev Grossman about the novel, and the book found its way to the US. The story follows a young woman named Sasha Samokhina, who enters the Institute of Special Technologies, where she encounters a difficult curriculum and failure results in horrible punishments. As she learns and excels, she begins to change into something beyond human. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that it “takes the trope of young people selected for a school for magic and transforms it into an unnerving, deeply philosophical coming-of-age tale.”
Read an excerpt.
The Winter Road by Adrian Selby
A former soldier named Teyr Amondsen sets out to cross The Circle — a thousand-mile stretch of forests that is occupied by warring clans. Her goal is to protect a merchant caravan as it attempts to cross and to help set up the first trade route across the region. But as they do so, a warlord has begun to amass power in The Circle, threatening their progress. Publishers Weekly calls the book exceedingly grim, but notes that “Selby has crafted a deeply imagined world.”
Read an excerpt here.
Bedfellow by Jeremy C. Shipp
When a strange man named Marvin appears in the Lund’s home, they’re initially terrified, but after he saves one of the family’s children, reality begins to shift. The stranger appears to have a strange influence on their memories, and before long, it seems as though he’s been part of their lives for years. As he manipulates the family, unearthing their deepest secrets, the family must try and regain their wits before he — or it — finishes building … something. Kirkus Reviews says that the book is “ingeniously constructed,” and that “Shipp’s ability to create an atmosphere so sick and twisted, readers will almost feel it polluting their souls.”
Limetown: The Prequel by Cote Smith, Zack Akers, and Skip Bronkie
The Limetown podcast was a huge hit, telling the story of journalist Lia Haddock who begins to investigate what happened to 300 people who vanished from a research facility. Now, the creators have written a prequel about Haddock and how she became obsessed with the case. Kirkus Reviews says that for “fans of the podcast, it should be reasonably entertaining—at the very least a breezy lead-in to the second season.”
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
In this debut novel by Tasha Suri, a young woman named Mehr is the daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi woman, inheriting her face and magical abilities. During a fight with her stepmother, she accidentally uses her powers for the first time and catches the attention of the Emperor and his mystics. She’s coerced into a marriage to perform a ritual, unwittingly pulling her into a powerful struggle with powers beyond her control. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s a “very strong start for a new voice.”
Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer
In Molly Tanzer’s latest novel, a follow-up to last year’s Creatures of Will and Temper, Amityville baywoman Ellie West is a bootlegger avoiding prohibition agents and monsters in the midst of the 1920s. When she supplies some liquor to a ritzy party, she includes some odd bottles that she acquired under strange circumstances. It turns out that the moonshine was distilled by a cult, and anyone who drinks it is left with strange visions of destruction, and she has to figure out a way to set things right. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, and says that Tanzer’s portrayal of “of groups of normal people falling into mob violence and hatred of the other groups is genuinely unnerving,” and that she “resists simplistic moral takes.”
City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender
Five centuries ago, Magi accidentally unleashed a magical weapon that got out of control — an infestation that eats magic. Twenty-year-old Laura Kramer is an apprentice to a Sweeper in the island city of Amicae in the Orien Territories, cleaning up the infestation before it gets out of control. As Laura joins the team, she confronts corrupt businessmen and criminals to protect a city that hasn’t accepted the danger that it’s in. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Amicae’s strict caste system is expertly woven into the fast-paced plot that will keep readers turning pages until the very end. This debut builds a fascinating setting that readers will want to keep coming back to.”
Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove and Nancy Holder
Earlier this year, Titan Books announced that it was releasing a trilogy of Firefly novels, expanding the world of Joss Whedon’s short-lived TV show. With Whedon on board as a consulting editor, the first novel follows the crew of the Serenity as they’re hired to transport a cargo of explosives to a buyer. Things go sideways the Alliance takes an interest in the cargo and as a band of rebel Browncoat veterans begin to cause trouble. In the midst of it all, Captain Malcolm Reynolds goes missing, and his first mate, Zoë, has to make a choice between finding him and saving her crew.
Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin
There’s a new Song of Ice and Fire book coming — not that one, but a prequel history about events are set hundreds of years before the events of A Game of Thrones, detailing House Targaryen and how they survived the Doom of Valyria and came to live on Dragonstone. The book is a collection of short stories that “tell the definitive” history of the family. It’s the first of two planned volumes, and it might provide some hint of what HBO’s upcoming prequel series will be about.
Read an excerpt.
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin recently won her third consecutive Hugo Award for The Stone Sky, the concluding volume of her phenomenal Broken Earth trilogy. She has another book in the works right now, but her next will be her first collection of short fiction, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? The book features 22 of her fantastic, shorter works. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review and said that the stories “demonstrate both the growth and active flourishing of one of speculative fiction’s most thoughtful and exciting writers.”
Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates turns her attention to time travel in her latest novel, following a woman named Adriane who is sent back in time in punishment after she questions the state of the world in her high school valedictorian speech. She’s sent to a reeducation camp that’s located in central Wisconsin in 1959, 80 years in the past where she’s expected to toe the line so that she can be returned to the future. That backfires, and she bonds with a psychology professor who might have also been exiled. Publishers Weekly says that “Oates weaves a feeling of constant menace and paranoia throughout as Adriane struggles to remember her old life and adjust to her new one.”