the Little Red Reviewer

Storytelling in the Goldilocks Zone

Posted on: July 15, 2019

Ten years ago I wouldn’t have known a novella if one bit me on the ass.


Five years ago,  novellas were those things in short story collections that I avoided, because I thought they were too long.


Novellas are weird little things – way way too long to be short story,  way way to short to be a novel. The author doesn’t have to worry about the space limitations of a short story, but they don’t have the space to tell a generation spanning sprawling epic, either.


if short stories are the Tiny Houses of the story telling world, and doorstopper novels are the McMansions,  then novellas sit in the goldilocks zone of just the right size. You know that house that’s just big enough for your family and your pets and all your stuff (and it’s got a great backyard!), but no so large that you have to “fill it up” with furniture, clutter, and other crap you don’t need?  That’s a novella.


Because there are space limitations, the author does have to make every word, every scene count, there’s no space for extraneous scenes that don’t push the story forward.  But because the author has more space than they would if they were writing say, a 5,000 word story,  there’s plenty of space for characterization,  great dialog, action, plenty of space (between 100 and 200 pages worth!) for the reader to get completely immersed in what is going on.


These last few years, Tor has been absolutely rocking the novella game.  Ten years ago I would have said “you want how much money for a 150 page book???”  and because of the excellent novellas that have been coming out recently, these days I’m more like “A book I can read in an afternoon? Shut up and take my money!”


Introduction over,  let’s talk about super fun science fiction and fantasy novellas that have come out these last few years.  This is no where close to an exhaustive list of all the wonderful novellas that have come out in the last few years, just a handful of my favorites. If you’re not sure about novellas,  here are some great ones to start with:


All Systems Red by Martha Wells – you haven’t read Murderbot yet?  Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go to the bookstore and get yourself some Murderbot diaries novellas!  you can thank me later.  There are four novellas in this series, and if they aren’t yet available as an omnibus, I’m sure they will be soon.


Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – Oh, you like brilliant mathematicians who have to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, and survive and alien attack, all so she can go the galactic university? yeah, things get kinda awkward when she does back home. Another must read, there are 3 novellas in this series, and it is available as an omnibus.


Acadie by Dave Hutchinson – if you like snark, strong narrative voices, and the best twist of the year, this is the novella for you!  yes, this is one of those stories where once you’ve read it once and you know what the twist is, what’s the point of reading it again?  That said, I’ve read this at least three times because it’s just that  entertaining.


If you enjoy the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne, then you’ll love his novella series of Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, which starts with The Squirrel on the Train. told from Oberon’s point of view, these are hilarious and adorable cozy mysteries. But really, it’s about Oberon getting good snacks, and Atticus not getting the spotlight.


The Inconvenient God by Francesca Forrest – if you like mythology, and how people have a bad habit of changing myths and gods to match what they happen to need that year, this is the novella (or maybe a novelette?) for you.


Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew –  a scifi retelling of The Snow Queen,  but with better characters than the original,  climate change,  aunties who play the long game, and ghost kilns which I am still scared of.  Sriduangkaew’s prose is gorgeous and poetic, transporting the reader to lush semi-tropical worlds,  virtual mazes, and iced over landscapes.


Time Was by Ian McDonald – time travel, romance, dusty bookstores, secret messages left across the world tucked into strange books that the bookseller isn’t allowed to sell. Excellent characters that leap off the page. Another novella I’ve read a few times now, just for the excuse of spending more time with these characters.


Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett – do you have a strong stomach? You’ll need it, but it’s worth it for this hard hitting, harder to swallow story about staying armed, staying vigilant, and reality tv gone farther than it ever should.  More people need to read this vicious little cautionary tale, I need to talk about it with people!


Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold – she writes fantasy too!  When a “demon” attaches itself to Penric, that boy is gonna have to grow up real, real fast. As it turns out, Penric was exactly the right person for Desdemona to bind herself to. Compelling, heartfelt, and humorous, the first novella reads as a stand alone, and if you like it, there’s a few more short reads in this series.


this list barely scratches the surface of all the novella wonderfulness out there!  what have been some of your fave novellas to read?  What recommendations do you have for folks who haven’t yet discovered the goldilocks land of novellas?




14 Responses to "Storytelling in the Goldilocks Zone"

Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is my favorite right now😁

Liked by 1 person

Jy Yang’s superb “Tensorate” series stories are all novella length.

On the LitFic side, Jim Harrison published many novellas in his career, including “Legends of the Fall”.

Liked by 1 person

I saw two JY Yang novellas at the bookstore the other day, I KNEW i should have bought them!!!


You’ll like Peter Watts’ The Freeze Frame Revolution!

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i read that when it came out, i can’t believe I forgot to put it on my list!! it was so good!! the “musical appreciation society” was a brilliant way to, um, not going to say, because spoilers.

Liked by 1 person

Bujold wrote one of the best fantasy novels of all time, The Curse of Chalion. I never could get into her scifi, but I think I’m just a fantasy and historical reader.

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If you liked The Curse of Chalion, I am pretty sure Penric’s Demon (and the sequels) take place in the same world. 🙂


The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemison. It’s set after the Hundred Thousand Kingdom books, and it’s a treat. It about a newborn godling discovering what her nature is.


That is one of my favorite series!! I had read Awakened Kingdom when it came out, I remember loving it and loving how well it dovetailed with everything else in that series. I’m kicking myself that I forgot to put this novella on my list, thank you for reminding me of this wonderful novella that is attached to one of my favorite fantasy series!


I loved the Binti novellas, and I have the Murderbot ones to read (I know, I know, I need to get on that, like, yesterday!!). Everything else on your list is now on my to-buy list. 😀


This is detailed. Cool. I got a question though, what makes a story long enough?


great question!!

story’s gotta have a beginning, a middle, and an end. so it’s gotta be long enough to tell the story you wanna tell. once you’ve told your story, it’s done. lol, that doesn’t help much, does it?

i know there are specific word counts for what makes something a short story, a novella, a novel etc, but i don’t know off hand what they are.


Haha, not as simple as that though, but I got your point.


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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