30 Days of Pride: The rise of the queer novella

Hi everyone,

Happy Day 24 of Pride! Today I’m talking about a type of book I’ve only very recently started reading (just this year!) but have been overwhelmed with the brilliance of writing we’re seeing: the queer novella.

Novellas (generally books under 200 pages) are short, quick reads that I really feel are becoming more common and visible in the mainstream. Which is great, especially when so many of them are incredible, diverse books that kick as big a punch as books 500 pages long do. And what’s more, whilst I couldn’t tell you the name of a single cishet novella, I am hearing about a ton of queer novellas! They really seem to be leading the charge in this new wave of publishing, so here’s a few of my favourites and some I haven’t read yet but which sound pretty fucking epic. And because there’s so many, the list is longer than the 10 I’ve tried to keep the rest of this months posts at, for which I am not even the tiniest bit sorry for how this may affect your TBR. And I apologise to any contemporary fans – every single one of these is spec fic. I’m sorry, I have a type when it comes to books clearly.

The Seep by Chana Porter

If you want a kickass trans woman who stomps about in big black boots and leather, then this is the book for you! This is a weird and wonderful science fiction novella about an alien invasion. The alien seeps in through the water supply and into the human brain. In The Seep, everything and everyone is connected: so capitalism breaks down, barriers are thrown away. Anything is possible, as long as you can imagine it. Trina and her wife, Deeba, have been living under The Seep, until Deeba wishes to be reborn as a baby. And of course, The Seep can grant her that wish. This is a very odd, surreal book, that combines both deep social commentary on issues like bodily autonomy, capitalism, death and grief, alongside a humourous and punky writing style.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon is an absolute pioneer of speculative fiction and their novella The Deep is no different to their novels. This is a book about the water-breathing descendants of African slave women who were thrown overboard, called wajinru, who have built their own society in the ocean waters. In order to cope with the trauma of their past, one wajinru, a historian, holds the memories of their history so the others do not have to. Yetu is given the honour of being historian, but the role is destroying her and so she runs away to the surface, leaving the other wajinru trapped remembering all the memories that have burdened Yetu for years. This is a novella about intergenerational trauma and a community who come together to survive that trauma, and about Yetu, a young woman trying to find out who she is outside of her community. It’s a powerful and moving novella that brings hope to those suffering from a dark and traumatic past.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

The first of the Sarah Gailey novellas on this list, Upright Women Wanted is set in a Western style dystopia, full of queer librarian spies killing fascists. It’s a story of found family and rebellion. Esther is a stowaway who has snuck into the back of a librarian’s wagon in the hopes of escaping her town, where her girlfriend has just been executed for treason. But when she travels with the librarians, she realises not everything she’s been told about them is quite true. The whole ‘distributing illegal material and killing fascists across America’ thing was a bit of a surprise. This is an absolute bundle of fun, I adored it and am absolutely dying for more books set in this unvierse. Each and every one of the characters is a DELIGHT, though I particularly loved Cye, a rough and tumble nonbinary librarian who’s tasked with watching over Esther to make sure she doesn’t get up to any mischief whilst they travel across the US. It’s action packed, has a wonderful slowburn romance and is just so fucking cool.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

If Upright Women Wanted didn’t convince you that Sarah Gailey writes epic Western-style speculative fiction, then maybe River of Teeth will! River of Teeth is a historical fantasy that imagines what would happen if the US government decided to import and raise hippos in the South in the early 20th century. In hindsight, this was a terrible plan because now they’ve had to hire a group of hippo ranchers to deal with all the feral hippos killing people. The fact that is based on an actual idea the US government had is even better.

Finna by Nino Cipri

Trying to beat “queer librarian spies” for most awesome pitch is Finna, a book where two queer IKEA employees are ordered into the multiverse by their capitalist overlords to hunt down a missing customer. Oh, and these two employees just broke up a week ago so this is going to be an absolute riot of fun for them both. Not. This is such a bundle of fun, all the different IKEAs are so creative (my personal favourite being the one where you have to pay in blood). It’s a humorous take down of capitalism wrapped up in a fun queer adventure with two individuals who don’t want to be anywhere near each other in the normal world, let alone in several murderous parallel universe IKEAs. A sequel to this novella has already been announced and I am ecstatic!

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

One of the most talked about books of 2019, This is How You Lose the Time War is an epic sapphic time travel war story about two agents on opposite sides of the time war who start corresponding through letters to each other. At first, it begins as humourous, battlefield taunts, but develops into an intense and personal relationship that will change the direction of the very war they fight.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

This novella combines so many elements which I love: period drama check! Asian inspired check! A take on an Atwood story check! Talking animals check! Angry empress check! Nonbinary main character check! Does that not sound incredible? The Empress of Salt and Fortune is powerfully told in just 112 pages. Chih, a cleric documenting a coup, meets an elderly woman, called Rabbit, who narrates to him the story of the Empress In-Yo, to whom Rabbit was a personal handmaiden. Combining the feminist powerhouse writing seen in the comparison to Atwood, with high fantasy and a harsh critique of monarchy, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is not to be missed!

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

Dark and gorey, this is a novella full of murder and revenge! The city of Elendhaven has been wracked with a plague, industry has vacated the town, and they have been forgotten and left to die. But the monsters of Elendhaven want their revenge. This is a bloody gothic horror about a magician who loves murder and monsters and yes, that does sound brilliant.

Silver in the Woods by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Woods is the first in a novella duology about Greenhollow, about a mysterious and not-quite-normal man called Tobias who lives near the woods. When he falls in love with the handsome stranger, Henry, who moves there, Tobias must reckon with secrets about the forest and himself. Lyrical and fairytale-esque, this is the start of a lush debut which continutes in….*drum roll*

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

In this follow up to Silver in the Woods, Tobias’ mother is calling for him and so he and Henry must journey to Rothport, a town where the ancient forest that used to be there was drowned by the sea. Along with some monsters and a missing girl, this continues a beautiful, unique and mythical world.

The Order of Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

This gorgeous novella just published yesterday and I was so excited to read it (and not just because of that stunning cover). This is a found family wuxia fantasy about a nun who joins a group of bandits, with a focus on identity and spirituality and with a nonbinary lead, yas!

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling

I hope you’re ready for this incredible novella coming from the author who brought us one of my favourite horror novels, The Luminous Dead. A reviewer on Goodreads described this as if Mexican Gothic, which is pretty much my favourite book of the year so far (and so fucked up, it’s amazing), had a baby with The Monster of Elendhaven, so gorey murdery monster goodness. Thus, this sounds incredible. It’s coming out in September, and follows a shipping magnate, who has a ship where the crew is coming down with a mysterious illness – one that causes obsessive behaviour and then catatonic stupor, and it all seems to be focused on her. She escapes to her family’s estate, but the sick are coming for her and she needs to work out how this illness is connected to her before it destorys everything she’s built.

To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Sci-fi extraordinaire Becky Chambers of the Wayfarers series has now released this fantastic novella, not set in the series, but still a very fun space romp. In To Be Taught If Fortunate, instead of humans terraforming planets to be suitable to them, they terraform their bodies, changing them to be suited to each new environment. Adriane is an explorer, she goes to sleep during the travel between planets and wakes up changed. It also has a whole cast of queer characters, including trans, ace, bi/pan and poly rep.

A Glimmer of Silver by Juliet Kemp

This novella is described as what happens after first contact: when the humans have colonised a far away planet, what happens next? On this world, Ocean is alive. If Ocean talks to you before you turn 16, you become a communicator. Jennery does not want to be a communicator, xe wants to be a musician. But Ocean is angry about the humans colonising the planet and Jennery must decide whether to listen or not.

The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang

The is the fourth installment of the Tensorate novella series, but this one features a sapphic villain romance which is just amazing. It follows the series villain, and a courtesan she had a relationship with. So read the first three to get this, or just give this one a go!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I haven’t actually read any of Seann McGuire’s very popular Wayward Children series but I’ve read her work as Mira Grant and adore it so I’m pretty confident these will be just as brilliant when I finally get around to reading them. These are set at a home for wayward children, who sometimes disappear in a magical land and come back changed.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

This book is publishing in September this year and I am very excited to have an ARC for it. This is a trans epic fantasy, set in a world with very strict gender roles and a man who has changed between them and struggles to embody the masculinity required of his new role after years performing the life of a woman.

Thank you Tor.com for your help in pushing novella publishing into the queerest realms possible. I’ve been really enjoying reading lots of novellas, but I do admit, I often fall in love with the world so much I want full books set there! Do you prefer to read novellas or novels? Do you have any favourite queer novellas I didn’t feature on this list? Let me know in the comments!

30 Days of Pride: Science fiction & fantasy

Hi everyone,

I’d like to start again by directing you to the Black Lives matter carrd to continue efforts to sign petitions and donate money to support protestors. If you’re Australian, we have a number of protests this weekend in state capitals across the country, to lend our voices and support to Bla(c)k Australians, so please check out if you have any near you! For fellow Melbournians, event info can be found here.

Today’s post is pretty much just a list of my favourite books. Science fiction, fantasy, horror and all that comes under the SFF heading are by far my favourite genres and I read so much of it, so today’s list of ‘queer speculative fiction’ ended up basically just being a list of all my favourite books. I hope you find a few books at least to add to your TBR!

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree is the only book on today’s list that I haven’t read yet (although at time of posting, I’m 300 pages in!), and that’s because I couldn’t talk about queer speculative fiction without mentioning the powerhouse that is Priory. Priory is a hefty, high fantasy involving dragons, assassins and queens. As word of the Nameless One’s return takes root, Queen Sabran the Ninth, unwed and with no heir, must birth a daughter. Assassins circle around her whilst her lady-in-waiting, Ead, works to protect the queen by using forbidden magic. Not only that, the world has zero homophobia AND has an f/f relationship. A slow burn, epic fantasy at its best, The Priory of the Orange Tree is not to be missed.

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

A surprise to none to see this title on my favourite queer speculative fiction, as The Fever King is my favourite book. Alongside the sequel, The Electric Heir, this series blew me away unlike any other. Set in a dystopian universe where the world has been ravaged by a virus, those who survive have magic. In Carolinia, Noam, a technopath, is trained by none other than Calix Leher, ex-King of Carolinia. Alongside a group of trainees, Noam vows to take down the current regime who terrorise the refugee and immigrant population in Carolinia. This is a series about trauma, how to survive, and finding the strength to fight back against abuse by the powerful. You can read my full reviews here for The Fever King and The Electric Heir.

The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin

The Fifth Season is the first book in one of my favourite fantasy trilogies. If you haven’t heard of N.K Jemisin, firstly, maybe think about correcting that, because her work is outstanding. The worldbuilding, the plot, the sheer geological magnitude of it all, makes The Fifth Season the powerhouse of SFF that it is. I’m very close to rereading this whole trilogy so maybe at some point this month I’m going to end up saying ‘fuck it’ to all my other books and reread this trilogy. This is a story with several POVs, set in a world with dangerous and regular seismac events. It follows several Orogenes, individuals who can control thermal energy and help with the aforementioned terrible seismic events. We have: Essun, told in second person POV, a woman who’s trying to track down her daughter and husband (who just killed her son). Demaya, a young girl who grew up in an abusive household and has been given to the Fulcrum, to train her Orogene powers. And Syenite, who is an adult in the Fulcrum and has been asked to have a child with one of the most powerful Orogene. This book is just full of twists and turns and is one of the most clever and wellcrafted novels I’ve ever read.

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

The Library of the Unwritten is one of the most fun fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Hell’s Library is the place where all unwritten manuscripts are housed. But sometimes the books come alive. When a character goes missing from one of the books, Claire, the Head Librarian, must track down the character on Earth but somehow ends up in the midst of a battle between Heaven and Hell as each searches for the Devil’s Bible. This book is an absolute riot of fun, full of snark and sass and with the first on-page pansexual rep I’ve ever read! You can read a full review here.

The Unpoken Name by A.K Larkwood

One of my more recent favourites, I read The Unspoken Name earlier this year. This is an expansive and detailed slow burn portal fantasy about an orc named Csorwe. She is destined to be sacrificied to her god on her fourteenth birthday. Instead, on the day of her death, she runs away with a wizard who trains her up to be his sword. She must then embark on a quest to find an ancient artifact holding powerful knowledge. This has a huge number of my favourite things in fantasies: necromancers, powerful god magic, wizards, all powerful women losing complete control, different worlds and peoples. It’s a huge story, and I absolutely loved it. You can read my full review here.

Witchmark by C. Polk

Witchmark is one of the most magical books I’ve ever read! Set in a world similar to Edwardian England, Miles is a doctor, using his healing magic to treat soldiers with PTSD after a world war. But his past is bound to catch up with him: Miles ran away to war to escape his noble family, where he would be enslaved to provide his sister with a source of power for her magic. When a fatally poisoned patient reveals Miles magic to a handsome stranger, Miles must investigate the murder, with the help of a handsome stranger, all while trying to stay free from his family’s influence. There is a really sweet romance in this, as well as lots of action, and a fascinating world that reimagines an Edwardian England with magic.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Now onto The Scary One on this post. The Luminous Dead is a terrifying horror sci-fi about being trapped in a caving system and trying to make it out alive. Told in only one setting, and with just two characters, The Luminous Dead is absolutely remarkable for such a small cast and setting. I thought it might get a little repetitive given the small setting, but it really doesn’t. It is a terrifying descent to madness, psychological horror at its best, as you never know if the main character is experiencing reality or hallucination. You can check out my full review here.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

I absolutely adored this YA fantasy when I read it last year, and I really need to read the sequel! This is a book set in Medio, an island world where women are trained to be Primera (wives to help running the household) or Segunda (wives to have the kids). Dani and Carmen are rivals at the prestigious school and have been chosen to marry the same man. So of course they go and fall in love with each other instead of their husband. But Dani has a secret. When she was young, her parents forged papers and snuck her across the border wall into Medio. When she is asked to spy on her husband for a resistance group, Dani needs to decide whether to keep the privilege her parents sacrifice gave her, or to fight for a free Medio for all. It’s such a relevant book, the similarity to the US/Mexico border is undeniable. This is a book about resistance and fighting for what’s right, and is definitely one I wish more people were reading because it is fantastic. You can read my full review here.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is well known for her beautiful, artistic, poetic style of writing. The Starless Sea is no different to her debut, The Night Circus, in this regard. The Starless Sea follows Zachary, after he picks up a library book and finds himself in the story. Except the book has missing pages so he doesn’t know how his story is going to finish. As he tries to track down the origins of the book, he crosses paths with Dorian, a storyteller Zachary is immediately drawn to, and Mirabel, a door maker. And if you believe enough, if you long enough for something, then Mirabel’s doors might just lead somewhere. (The somewhere being a magical library). At it’s heart, The Starless Sea is a book about readers and their longing to escape reality. You can read my full review here.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, and certainly the most unique science-fiction novel I’ve read. It’s a genre-blending novel crossing hard sci-fi, murder mystery, political thriller and a English Literature thesis on poetry. A Memory Called Empire follows Mahit, an ambassador to a small mining station. She is called to the Texicalaan Empire when her predecessor is murdered. As she tries to discover who killed her predecessor, she is embrolied in complex political battlefield. The writing style of this novel could be difficult to get into – as I mentioned above, it’s almost like a thesis on poetry as in Texicalaan, the language is poetry. Alongside the memory melding technology (whereby Mahit’s predecesor’s memories and voice are embedded in her mind), this makes for a complex, unique book, but one that is absolutely outstanding. You cna read my full review here.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I read Jade City, and it’s sequel Jade War, at the start of the year and adored them! I cannot wait for the finale. These are huge, epic political fantasies, set on an Asian inspired island nation called Kekon, where jade is mined and can give individuals magic abilities. It follows the Kaul family, who are one of two major clans in the capital city. This follows their battles with the opposing Ayt clan to win control of the city, and is an epic tale of politics, family and honour.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

The only YA on this list, and it’s a good one! Wilder Girls was the first horror novel I’ve read (I used to be a real horror wimp), and this book really pushed me to expand my reading and I’m so glad I did, because some of my favourite books in the past year have been horror. Wilder Girls opens in the midst of a virus outbreak, at a quarantined school. The virus has mutated in the girls, causing deformations in the girls and death in the teachers. When Hetty’s best friend goes missing, she ventures outside the quarantine into the dark and haunting woods, where creatures and reality is twisted from the virus, to find her. A disturbing start to my journey into horror! You can read my full review here.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

If The Library of the Unwritten is the most fun fantasy novel I’ve read, then The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the most fun sci-fi I’ve ever read. This book follows the spaceship Wayfarer, a tunnelling ship which travels space and ‘punches’ holes to create tunnels for other ships to travel along. It’s set in the future, after humans have had to leave Earth and take to the skies. As they travelled across the universe to find a place to live, they met other species living in the universe, joining the Galactic Commons. The Wayfarer crew is therefore filled with different, unique alien species, similar to TV series like Star Trek. The characters really shine in this book, from Ashby, the human captain, to Rosemary, the young, inexperienced clerk escaping from her past on Mars, to Corbin, the grumpy and kind-of-a-jerk human who ended up being one of my favourites, to Sissix, an Aandrisk, a reptilian-like species with different social language compared to the humans. This book is just an absolute joy to read! You can read my full review here.

The City We Became by N.K Jemisin

I only finished this book on Sunday so hastily added it to the list before posting because it is a masterpiece. The City We Became is Jemisin’s newest book, released earlier this year. In this world, cities can become alive when they develop a particualrly unique culture and reach a great size. But the act of their awakening is destructive and dangerous to other parallel worlds around them. New York has just awakened, but because of the size and uniqueness of each of the boroughs, six people (five for each of the boroughts, and one for New York itself) have awoken and been tasked with fighting of The Enemy who is trying to kill the city. It’s a complex book and idea to get your head around (which is probably why I’ve done such a terrible job at explaining it). Just know this book is incredible, it is so alive and real, I feel like I know New York even though I’ve only ever spent 5 days there. It also doesn’t shy away from talking about race, racism, and expertly entwines discussions of racism and microaggressions into a powerful fight to save the city. I’ll be posting a full review of this book tomorrow so check back in to find out more about it.

Have you read any of these? What’s your favourite queer SFF book? I am always looking for new ones to add to my TBR!