Wonderful sci fi & fantasy novellas

The last couple of years have seen a marked increase in sci fi and fantasy novellas, and I am allll for it. I'm not usually a fan of short stories, and I love longer novels, but there's something special about the in-between novella, a perfectly sized jewel of an afternoon read, long enough for satisfying character and plot development, short enough to be tightly plotted, no words wasted or throw-away secondary story lines. Here are some of my favourites...

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
This author is firmly on my favourites list, creator of the criminally underrated The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, and I'm thrilled to see her receiving so much acclaim for this latest series. The self-named Murderbot is an AI, a robot to be more specific, a hybrid of organic and inorganic parts designed to act as security, rented out at high costs by an unscrupulous corporation. But Murderbot is a little bit different, since firstly, it hacked its governor module; secondly, its been told its responsible for a massacre in the past (thus, Murderbot); and thirdly, it's incredibly socially anxious. Please don't look at it, it just wants to stream it's favourite shows in peace. However, peace is always hard to find, as Murderbot keeps getting drawn reluctantly into danger, grudgingly forced to save silly humans over and over again. This is a wonderful SF adventure series with a unique protagonist, and I am eagerly waiting to read the last two entries, out in August and December rexpectively.
“I liked the imaginary people on the entertainment feed way more than I liked real ones, but you can’t have one without the other.” Martha Wells, All Systems Red
The Tensorate Series by J. Y. Yang
I've only read the first in this series, and part of the second, but I hope to get back to it at some point soon (I'm always reading multiple things at once and my TBR pile is ridiculous). This is one of the most fascinating worlds I've seen in a long time. Set in an East Asian inspired world where people can manipulate the Drift to do fantastic and terrible things, where children remain genderless until choosing their gender and having their bodies modified accordingly, and where rebellion is brewing, machinists threatening the brutal rulers who retain control thanks in part to their control of magic users. Also, there are dinosaurs. Inventive and tense, this series is well worth checking out.

The Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire
Another author I absolutely adore, and if I had to pick a favourite series of hers, it would be this one. Have you ever wondered what happens to all the children who fall down rabbit holes, walk through a wardrobe, slip between the cracks into worlds wonderful, strange, and dangerous? That's the premise taken in this powerful, beautiful series, as we find out about all different children--teens, now--who have been to strange places and were then forced to come back to earth. Alternating book by book between following a group of teens at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children (for young people who have been on unusual adventures), and individual's adventures in their disparate worlds, these books are part dark fantasy adventure, part musings on the nature of identity, home, and family, along with darker themes of abuse and isolation. The cast is diverse in almost every way you can imagine, featuring positive representation when it comes to race, LGBTQIA+ identities, disability, and different body sizes. Each book is a masterpiece, managing, no matter how disturbing, to also be hopeful and affirming. I seriously can't hype these up enough!
“Now I know that if you open the right door at the right time, you might finally find a place where you belong.” Seanan McGuire, Every Heart a Doorway
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
A heartbreaking collection of short stories, none of them with a happy ending, exploring all the ways that women are "fridged"--banished, abused, killed--to further the stories of men in the superhero comic genre. When I say none of the stories are happy? I mean that all of these women are in the underworld, telling each other how they came to be there, and finding solace, a life of a sorts, with the only other people who really understand. I've described this book in the past as "surreal, furious, and sad," and that really sums it up. Thought-provoking and riveting, I couldn't put this one down.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Though this is set after the first two Kingkiller Chronicles novels, I don't really think you need to have read them in order to enjoy this novella. It's a peculiar little story about a peculiar women, who lives alone in abandoned underground tunnels, and has built a life filled with inanimate "friends," rituals, and daily tasks. Yet in the minutia of her life, we find wonder and danger, sadness and anticipation. Never have I read such an engrossing scene about soap-making! Wistful, immersive, and bittersweet, while this may not be to everyone's taste, I think if you like it, you'll really like it. I, for one, really liked it.
“To be so lovely and so lost. To be all answerful with all that knowing trapped inside. To be beautiful and broken.” Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire
I had to include a second pick by McGuire, because she is truly a master of the novella format. This is technically urban fantasy, but it's urban fantasy that's a lot more lyrical, thoughtful, and yeah, also sad, than I'm used to seeing. Jenna has never been able to forgive herself for her sister's death. Jenna has also never been able to forgive herself for her own death. A ghost "living" out the remainder of the time she should have had, she spends it caring for very old cats and volunteering at a crisis hotline, good deeds that somehow never manage to banish the guilt. But when all the other ghosts in NYC start disappearing, she's the only one who can figure out what's going on, a quest that will lead her back to where she lived and died, and maybe, finally, to something like forgiveness. Seanan McGuire always makes me cry, and I love her for it!