10 Dark Fantasy & Sci-Fi Novellas to Read in One Weekend

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, 112 pages

A magical forest by the name of Greenhollow is home to a mysterious guardian named Tobias or, as the locals call him, The Wild Man of the woods. The delicate balance of Tobias’s life is suddenly upset when the old house on the estate is bought by a man named Henry Silver. Silver is fascinated by folklore and goes digging for the facts behind the local Wild Man legends. But what he unearths goes beyond the laws of nature, into the dark heart of the wood itself, and darker tales of magic, betrayal, and transformation. A sequel, Drowned Country, came out in the summer of 2020. The winner of the 2020 World Fantasy Award! (1)


Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant, 123 pages

There’s a rumor that real mermaids can be found deep in the Mariana Trench. When a crew sets out to try to capture the phenomena for a sensationalist documentary, they sail right into a horror scene. There are no survivors. What is left are partial reports, confusing footage showing some sort of terrible creature, and a debate over whether the whole thing is a massive hoax. A full-length sequel Into the Drowning Deep was published in 2017, and a movie adaptation was announced in 2018. Author Mira Grant also writes as Seanan McGuire. (2)


All Systems Red by Martha Wells, 144 pages

The first in a new series by a popular author. A half-human construct becomes bored with their work as a security unit for a scientific team. They hack their own software so they can binge-watch media content in the background, while they’re supposed to be working. But, when the team they are protecting seem to become the target of sabotage, Murderbot (as they call themselves) must focus. Grudgingly, they are determined to protect their humans, figure out what’s going on, and save them all. Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award. (3)“The Murderbot Diaries” Taught Me About Myself and About Humans, Too
My absolute favourite series of the last few years is The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. It is made up of several…baos.pub


Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather, 176 pages

In this debut novella a tough band of space-faring nuns risk their lives to bring aid and comfort to far-flung colonies. Their lives are dangerous, and they are also each dealing with secrets of their own past. When their living spaceship starts to make decisions of its own, they must figure out the religious and ethical decisions they have to make. Then they come to the aid of a brand new colony and suddenly find themselves caught up in a massive intergalactic conspiracy. Now the future of their ship, their order, and their church is in question. (4)


The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, 112 pages

The first of the Singing Hills Cycle. In an empire similar to Imperial China we meet the lowly handmaiden Rabbit. We follow Rabbit as she becomes friends with the new princess, recently forced into a political marriage. She becomes the companion of the new Empress In-yo, otherwise alone in the world. A quick but full feminist take on a story of political intrigue and high fantasy. Vo’s full-length novel The Chosen and the Beautiful is being published in spring 2021. A 2020 ALA Booklist Top Ten SF/F Debut and a Book Riot Must-Read Fantasy of 2020. (5)


Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker, 101 pages

Our unnamed narrator is a travelling exorcist. In a version of Renaissance Europe, he finds himself removing the same demons over and over from different people. Occasionally, he is himself possessed, committing horrific acts that then require him to move on. When one of his demon-acquaintances becomes interested in a princess’s new baby, the narrator follows. Trying to protect the baby, he befriends the princess’s tutor, Prosper of Schanz. Prosper, of course, also seems to be possessed by a demon. Full of dark humor, it also pokes fun at a popular horror staple. Parker also writes as Tom Holt. (6)


To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, 153 pages

Chambers, author of the notable Wayfarers series, including the award-winning The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, changes gears slightly for the story of Ariadne and her team. Astronauts and scientists, they travel vast distances in order to document new planets and forms of life for the progress of the humanity they left behind on Earth. Spending as much time as they do asleep between planets, the crew has long ago accepted that they have only a tenuous connection to their home. When that connection is severed, they much decide whether to try to return or continue their work and as they see it, their calling. (7)

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The Test by Sylvain Neuvel, 108 pages

Sylvain Neuvel is the author of the alien robot series the Themis Files, starting with Sleeping Giants. In a near-future Britain, dentist Idir Jalil is sitting for a high-stakes citizen test. Failing comes with immediate consequences for him and his family. Taking place during a single day, the test turns out to be more about Jalil’s moral decisions than any knowledge about his chosen home. Containing questions of the value of one life over another, and of the role cultural or religious distinctions can play, there are many big questions in just over 100 pages. (8)


The Dispatcher by John Scalzi, 130 pages

The first in a series, originally written and published as an audiobook on Audible, and only secondarily in paper. In a departure of space opera author Scalzi, best known for Old Man’s War Series, it is a combination of urban fantasy and mystery. Tony Valdez is a socially-sanctioned professional killer, known as a “Dispatcher”. In this future, people who are murdered by a Dispatcher are able to come back to life. Dispatchers, therefore do the important work of seeking out those in their last moments to save them suffering and make sure they return. A sequel, Murder By Other Means, was published as an Audible audiobook in 2020 and will be out in paper in spring 2021. (9)


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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, 195 pages

Book one of the Southern Reach Trilogy, it was adapted into a movie in 2018. Four women arrive in Area X, and are known to us only by their job: the biologist, anthropologist, psychologist, and surveyor. We follow the biologist’s field notes as they explore this mysterious, isolated, and dangerous territory. They discover a tower-like “topographical anomaly”, and other disturbing life forms, large and small. Through bizarre findings, they slowly learn more about the members of the eleven unlucky expeditions that preceded them. Some of these members disappeared, died by suicide, returned mentally traumatized, or with aggressive terminal illnesses. They also watch each other intently for odd behavior and other possible signs of contamination. A Nebula Award Winner and Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year Winner. (10)


1: https://theconversation.com/how-reading-habits-have-changed-during-the-covid-19-lockdown-146894

2: https://publishing.tor.com/silverinthewood-emilytesh/9781250229786/

3: https://www.tor.com/2018/11/15/mira-grant-rolling-in-the-deep-adaptation-seanan-mcguire-killer-mermaids/

4: https://publishing.tor.com/allsystemsred-marthawells/9780765397522/

5: https://publishing.tor.com/sistersofthevastblack-linarather/9781250260260/

6: https://publishing.tor.com/theempressofsaltandfortune-nghivo/9781250750297/

7: https://publishing.tor.com/prospersdemon-kjparker/9781250260505/

8: https://www.tor.com/2019/09/03/book-reviews-to-be-taught-if-fortunate-by-becky-chambers/

9: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/sylvain-neuvel/the-test-neuvel/

10: https://www.npr.org/2017/05/31/529749088/the-dispatcher-is-a-short-stroll-in-a-strange-neighborhood

11: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374104092

First published at ericaball.medium.com