In addition to the annual Nebula awards for best novel, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America also award Nebulas for best novella (defined as a work between 17,500 words and 40,000 words), and we have three of the nominees for best novella here at the Field Library as well, so if you’re interested in the best speculative fiction but aren’t ready to commit to a full length novel, give these nominees a look.
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, starts with an intriguing premise: all those children from the books where children travel to magical worlds (think Narnia and Peter Pan and the like) eventually return to their own mundane world, but obviously they have been changed by their otherworldly experiences, and maybe they can’t deal with the normal world anymore. There’s a place for them, Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where there are no visitors, no solicitations, no guests, only other kids who have crossed over and crossed back, who understand what it’s like to lose your dream world, and how much you long to return. When Nancy finds her way to Ms. West’s Home, she and the other children notice a change in the place, a new darkness, shadows behind the corners, and then tragedy strikes, and Nancy and the other inhabitants of the Home have to find out what happened, and why. If you’ve ever wondered what Alice’s life was like after she returned from Wonderland, or how the Pevensie children dealt with life in England after Narnia, Every Heart a Doorway should give you an interesting insight.
Victor Lavelle’s The Ballad of Black Tom is a different kind of dark fantasy novel, grounded in the realities of racism in America in the 1920’s and touching also on the weird stories of H. P. Lovecraft. Black Tom is the nickname of Charles Thomas Tester, a young man living in Harlem in the 20’s who just wants to keep food on the table and a roof over his and his father’s heads. He wants to keep out of trouble and out of the way of powerful white people, especially police officers, but when he delivers a strange book to a powerful and dangerous sorceress in the heart of Queens, he’s taken the first step down a path that leads to terrifying possibilities, involving the return of the sleeping gods from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, which could destroy reality. Bringing Lovecraft’s nightmare world into closer contact with the dark and dangerous realities of life in the Jazz Age for African Americans is a brilliant concept, and Tom is an intriguing character to bring that world to life.
Sometimes a really good book is a little more difficult to read than an average book. Kai Ashante Wilson’s Nebula nominee, A Taste of Honey, has a somewhat nonlinear structure that might be a little off-putting at first, and the world in which the story takes place is more based on Islam and Africa than on Christianity and Europe, not to mention the convoluted gender norms which are not like those of most fantasy books. However, if you can look past these details, you’re in for a fantastic love story between two characters who are attracted to each other immediately and then have to fight their way to each other over obstacles of gods and intrigues, magic and science. If you read his earlier work, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, you’ll be interested to take another trip in that world (albeit in a different period) and spend some time with his intriguing characters.