As a storyteller, I believe in writing a story to the length that it fits. Sometimes that’s a short story, sometimes that’s a novel. But not every story fits into either of these categories.
Enter the novella, a beautiful piece of literature that is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Adding more story for that novel-length would ruin it, as would cutting it into a shorter form.
Novellas don’t get enough love, in my book. Tor.com Publishing is the main publisher of speculative novellas (or at least my main source. One of the recommendations below was published by Harper Collins). When novels feel like a slog and short stories feel too short, novellas are the perfect gateway. I can usually read one in a day or so if I’m not doing anything else.
So here I am, bringing to light some queer, speculative novellas by queer authors. Check them out if your attention span can’t withstand anything over 40,000 words.
The Tensorate Series by JY Neon Yang
When looking for these, look for JY Yang, who changed their name within the past year (I tried looking for the specific tweet and failed, please take my word for it). Yang is nonbinary (they/them pronouns) and lives in Singapore. Their short fiction has appeared in various markets (please read their recent story in Clarkesworld featuring giant robots), but I absolutely swoon over the Tensorate series.
The Tensorate series doesn’t have an overarching plot from book to book, with each novella focusing on a different character at a different point in a tight history. The thing I love about the world is children are often referred to with gender-neutral pronouns until the child announces their gender, which happens at any age. It is such an inclusive thing to do, particularly when the rest of the books are about a covert revolution.
The series includes: The Black Tides of Heaven, The Red Threads of Fortune, The Descent of Monsters, and The Ascent to Godhood.
And don’t get me started on the prose. So vivid. So gentle, even when it describes horrific acts of war. These novellas cemented Yang as a favorite author of mine, and I have yet to be disappointed by anything they have ever written.
Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather
I describe this novella as Catholic nuns in space being a mighty big nuisance to a fascist regime. The prose takes its time to describe things; despite being a novella, the story is not in any rush to go anywhere. Reading it is almost meditative.
I understand if you are worried about the intersection of Catholicism and queerness. I am a queer who grew up Catholic, and despite not practicing and disliking a lot of Christianity as a whole, anti-religious rhetoric has never sat well with me. I loved the way religion was portrayed in Sisters, not as a spiritual calling, but as something characters attach to for their own, unique reasons.
All this to say, the nun who leaves the order for a queer relationship is not met with any trouble.
Like Yang above, I also recommend checking out Rather’s other works of short fiction. I have a soft spot for this novelette on GigaNOTOsaurus.org. I can’t wait to see where Rather will go in the future. And I especially want to see her name in upcoming award circuits.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
This novella was an early birthday present to myself last year, having pre-ordered it several months before it arrived. (I also gifted myself a week at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I read it. I am nothing if not self-indulgent). Like the Wayfarer series, the foundation for all the characters in TBTIF is compassion.
If a hug could manifest into a piece of writing, it would be found in the words of Becky Chambers. Despite some dark undertones featured in TBTIF, it is not gritty-for-grit’s-sake. There is beauty in channeling hope and kindness, and I like to celebrate that wherever I can. We’re stuck on a world that’s already pretty dreary. We need something that can teach us to look at the light when it manages to shine through.
Chambers also wrote the Wayfarers series, which includes: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; A Closed and Common Orbit; Record of a Spaceborn Few; and (recently announced) The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. If you enjoy To Be Taught, If Fortunate, I highly recommend checking them out too.
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Do you need a gay romance featuring queers of color? Are you a fan of nonlinear storytelling? Then you should check out A Taste of Honey. Documenting the life of Adiq, the son of the Master of Beasts, Adiq must marry well in order to secure a good position for his family. This is complicated by his blooming queer relationship with a soldier from a foreign land, who is in town with a diplomatic delegation.
I will admit, halfway through this (thin) novella, it started to feel long. Stick with it, because reading that ending was like walking outside after breathing musty, recycled air for several hours. The ending took all the loose ends from the middle and tied them in a neat, queer af bow.
Wilson is the author of another queer novella called Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, as well as several other short stories. I have yet to read Sorcerer (though I have it on my e-reader), but it promises to be just as queer as A Taste of Honey.
What are your thoughts on novellas? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments below.