Tor.com’s Novella Lineup Proves Good Books Come in Small Packages

novellaFor years, Tor.com has been a source for daring, original—and free—online short fiction, publishing wonderful, occasionally even Hugo-winning work by both established genre stars and exciting new voices. Which is why we were thrilled when the announcement came earlier this year that Tor.com was launching its own imprint, Tor.com Publishing, with the aim to deliver novella-length fiction to your ereader (or, if you prefer, print-on-demand paperbacks into your hot little hands) with alarming regularity.

The first wave of Tor.com novellas launch today, but we’ve read the entire initial lineup of 10 titles, all of which will be out by the end of November. The verdict? The novella length is pretty much perfect for those of us who yearn in vain for the days we used to have the time to bury ourselves in a door-stopping epic fantasy—long enough to develop engaging plots and complex worlds, but short enough to digest over the course of a commute or two. Also, the editorial team over there has amazing taste—there’s considerable merit in every single one of these, well, let’s just call them what they are: books, and we’d hardly be surprised to see a couple of them on next year’s award ballots. Here’s our take on Tor.com’s first 10, and here’s hoping this publishing experiment keeps us happy on the subway for a long time coming.

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashanti Wilson
Wilson has earned considerable acclaim for his short fiction (some of which appeared on Tor.com); this lengthy novella marks his commercial debut. And what a debut—this is rich, startling, deeply original fantasy. With prose that has drawn comparisons to Gene Wolf, he creates a new world that might be in our own far future (or distant past): abandoned by aliens, or gods, or alien gods; where magic and belief intermingle; where humans scrabble for purchase in the dirt. Demane is a descendant of the gods, but lives unremarkably as a guard for a group of traders, finding solace where he can in quiet moments with another man, called Captain, who is also of mixed celestial origin. The two must safeguard the merchants’ passage through the Wildeeps, a wilderness only safely traversed via an enchanted road—but there is a monster in the ‘deeps that can cross the wards. The evocative imagery, sudden splashes of blood and gore, and strange, nearly anachronistic dialogue (if anachronisms can exist in a world so strange and singular as this one) come together to create an experience, dare I say it, worthy of being spoken of alongside Samuel R. Delaney. (Available September 1)

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor trades in the planet-based, occasionally apocalyptic settings of her celebrated novels for this slim space adventure, a first contact story that pays careful consideration to the difficultly we face when encountering people (be they human or alien) with vastly different cultural backgrounds than our own. The title character is taking her first starship voyage—and leaving behind her tightly knit, conservative community on Earth—when the vessel is attacked by some extremely alien aliens. The only survivor, Binti must use the skills she developed as an outsider and shunned minority on our world to save us from an all-out war with another. It loses none of its power for being the slimmest novella in this lineup—rich in character and almost palpable detail. (Available September 22)

The Shootout Solution: The Genrenauts Episode One, by Micheal R. Underwood
This is one of those high concepts so irresistible, you can’t believe no one has come up with it before: the worlds of every type of genre novel you can imagine really exist, tucked alongside our own like pages in a quantum envelope. From sci-fi, to epic fantasy, to romance, to westerns, these universes are populated by stock characters and littered with the tropes you know and love. When something goes out of whack on a genre world—when the narratives don’t play out the way they should—the Genrenauts, an elite team of government “narrative specialists,” must step in to set things right, lest the ripples be felt as violence and upheaval in our own world. Confused? Well, you won’t be. “Because technobabble, got it,” observes one of the characters, and that’s really all you need to know to get going. This first installment is a rollicking exploration of western tropes, with hints of a larger conspiracy afoot. Underwood has plans for a lot more of these, and I can’t wait to read them. (Available November 17)

Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace
Not content to let Underwood steal the high-concept crown, Wallace came up with a humdinger of his own: there’s a catering company in Manhattan called Sin du Jour that cooks up world-class cuisine for one very particular group of diners—the demons and greater denizens of Hell itself. In the debut installment of a planned series, there’s a very rare, divinely delicious ingredient on the menu, and the crew has to figure out if doing the job is worth sacrificing their souls in the bargain. As witnessed through the eyes of two newbie chefs on the line, this one starts out zany and only gets weirder from there—knife duels, a fleshy bluetooth that controls the undead, a razor-clawed monster in the pantry, a troop of zombie clowns, and one seriously messed up chicken, not to mention the yappy little dog. Guess what angels taste like. C’mon, guess. (Available October 20)

Domnall and the Borrowed Child, by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
For centuries, legends of “borrowed children”—human children taken by the fae and replaced with disguised faerie folk—have led Irish mothers to keep an extra watchful eye over their wee ones as they slumber. But what if the thieves in question have a really, really good reason for it? In this swift, lively, and even a little romantic tale, gruff seen-it-all faerie Domnall must trade a wounded fae child for an human baby in order to get her life-sustaining mothers’ milk, but the rules of enchantment, not to mention politicking among his fellow fae, make it more difficult than he imagined. (Available November 10)

Of Sorrow and Such, by Angela Slatter
This unabashedly feminist witches’ tale offers up a black mirror to the sad story of the burnings in Salem. The residents of Edda’s Meadow won’t admit to themselves that Mistress Gideon is a witch, but they know where to come when injured, heartsick, or burdened with an unwanted child. When an impulsive group of shape-shifting sisters threaten to expose her (and uncover the secrets tucked away in the dark corners of her heart), Gideon must choose whether to go on the run or stay and fight. Stark prose, unforgettable characters, and visceral scenes of sudden, shocking violence make this one stand out. (Available October 13)

Sunset Mantle, by Alter S. Reiss
Epic fantasy in miniature—in his debut novella, Reiss crams all the action and world-building of an expansive Joe Abercrombie novel into less than 200 pages. Cete is a disgraced soldier is search of a home. He travels to distant Reach Antach, but he has arrived to late to find any sort of peace. Slaughter is coming, as surely as he breathes. The barbarians are at the gate, and schemers behind them are conspiring to open them and profit from the spoils of war. But Cete can’t bring himself to leave—there’s a blind old weaver in the Reach that has crafted a glorious mantle, a warrior’s cloak that somehow comes to stand for his redemption, and a chance at renewal. (Available September 15)

The Last Witness, by K.J. Parker
If you’ve read anything by K.J. Parker, the tools he’s using here will feel familiar—a twisted premise, a supremely unreliable narrator, a punch-in-the-gut final reveal—but if anything, practice has only made the author (recently revealed to somehow also be mega-prolific funny fantasist Tom Holt) a master at wielding them. Our narrator has a very paticular set of skills—he can literally walk into the library of your mind and snip out pesky memories you’d rather forget. The trouble is, once he has them, he can’t get rid of them, a fact that some of his trickier clients take issue with. As the lines between shared memory and reality start to blur, he realizes that forgetting can be a blessing, and memory, a terrible curse. (Available October 6)

The Builders, by Daniel Polansky
Polansky characterizes this one as a “one-note joke,” but it’s a pretty good joke: a mashup of a Magnificent Seven-style story of a ragged group of desperados on a mission of revenge with anthropomorphic animal critter fantasy. There’s the beret-wearing stoat who will talk you to death before he slits your throat. The opossum who’s a crack-snot with a sniper rifle. The quick-draw salamander who can kill you dead before you finish blinking. And the Captain. He’s a mouse, but don’t let that fool you, because no one underestimates the Captain and lives. Actually, no one does much of anything to the Captain and lives. Think Redwall mashed up with Django Unchained and you’re halfway there. Incredibly fun. (Available November 3)

Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Before he wrote urban fantasy detective novels like London Falling, Cornell wrote for Doctor Who, and that quirky, tongue-in-cheek-Brit flavour is all over this story of a quaint village under the threat of invasion by that most feared of enemies: the big box retailer. Never mind the debates over job creation and the destruction of the mom-and-pop economy; resident crazy old lady (and witch) Judith sees the truth—if the store is built, it will tear down the walls of reality and allow the Folk (and worse) to come streaming through. Meanwhile, the town’s new reverend, Lizzie, struggles with her faltering faith and attempts to reconnect with an old friend, an atheist who now somehow owns a magic shop. It’s good fun, until the poignant ending knocks the wind right out of you. (Available September 8)

Want to enter for a chance to win a collection of advanced reading print copies of the Tor.com novellas? Follow us on Twitter and retweet this tweet before September 5, 2015. Three winners will receive a selection of books, and one grand prize winner will win all 10! Terms: http://t.co/hbCGLFgWok

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