A Novella On Novellas

I love a lot of things.

An abnormal amount, you might say. Books. Dogs. Beards. Hockey. Beer. Snow. Quesadillas. The cold side of the pillow. Joe Abercrombie. You get the idea.

When it comes to my choice of books, I also have a lot of preferences and sub-genre choices I like more than others. I try not to let that cloud my judgement when I’m picking books, or reviewing them, or ignoring them. However, there is one thing I’m a complete, total, irrevocable sucker for.

In-world novellas.

the-penitent-damned  

There’s just something about expounding on your own story, characters and worldbuilding via bite-sized nuggets of glory that screams to me. How many times have you been reading a book, and thought to yourself, “Man! I would LOVE to know more about Little Timmy’s adventures in Worldplace!”. You know you have. Don’t lie to me.

One of the glorious realities, about fantasy and sci-fi in particular, is that the authors tend to have huge imaginations. They create amazing, made-up worlds with magic, creatures, and unique touches and histories. Many authors craft up massive worlds on a spectacular scale, with long, right histories. The unfortunate reality is that they are limited by the amount of this detail they are able to fit into their novels without bloating them, or stalling the story.

Enter the savior – novellas!

Oh my, yes. 50-150 glorious pages of pure frivolity. Of author self-indulgence. Of delicious, delicious content!

I think a lot of people enjoy a nice short story – many authors cut their teeth in writing by pumping out dozens of short stories, practicing their writing with smaller ideas, quick chunks that aren’t a massive investment, but can be brilliant. I read quite a few short story compilations, especially as anthologies of top authors become more and more popular. I like them.

However, I prefer a nice storyline expansion 10-to-1 over a unique story.

“Why?!” I can hear you asking. “Why wouldn’t you want to read something new? Something different? Why would you just want more of the same?”

Because if I like a book, I want more of the same. When I’m reading through something like Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series, I was thinking to myself “God, I would love to hear more about the messenger runs that he keeps alluding to in the books.” Imagine my surprise when I researched, and found out about Brayan’s Gold and The Great Bazaar, little bits of wonderful. They were exactly what I was looking for – just easy-reading chunks of story that, while not integral in the slightest to the main book, helped to enrich the world of the full novels.

And that lead me to thinking – if these authors are making these huge, rich worlds, why not  release little bits of fun like this? I know there is a sect of authors who believe “Less is more” when it comes to their books – they give what they want to give and nothing more, and leave the rest to the imagination. There’s nothing wrong  with that, but it doesn’t exactly satiate my needs and desires. Thankfully, I’ve come to find a lot of authors who write some really neat in-world novellas. Some examples of my favorites:
  • Peter V. Brett (Demon Cycle) – Brayan’s Gold, The Great Bazaar, Messenger’s Legacy
  • Django Wexler (Shadow Campaigns) – The Penitent Damned
  • Brian McClellan (Powder Mage) – Forsworn, Hope’s End, The Girl of Hrusch Avenue, Servant of the Crown, The Face In The Window, Return to Honor
  • Brent Weeks (Night Angel) – Perfect Shadow
  • Michael J. Sullivan (Riyria Chronicles) – The Vicount And The Witch
  • John Scalzi (Multiple Stories) – Unlocked, Questions For A Soldier, God Engines, Sagan’s Diary
  • Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicles) – The Slow Regard of Silent Things

There are many more of these out there, and I love them.

On Collectability….

As a burgeoning book collector as well, novellas offer a unique opportunity, both for authors and for collectors. Some authors seem to sign contracts through their normal publisher for planned novellas, however many other authors reserve the rights to their novella stories themselves, and therefore have some flexibility in how they release them. Some do e-book only, often even for free, as a method of getting new readers to their stories – this is what Michael J. Sullivan did with his short story The Vicount and the Witch, which he released free on Amazon and his website as a taster for his stories.

However, on the collectability side, authors can also choose to use a specialty publisher, such as Subterranean Press, to release limited prints of their novellas, usually in signed and numbered for uniqueness. This is a fun way of doing things, as it gives collectors a unique book, generally very high quality, and allows the authors to make some extra money for their time.

Authors are also left with the ability to self-pub their own novellas, as Brian McClellan is doing with his Powder Mage novellas. This gives the author a lot more sales and creative control, and makes for a much more unique book on your shelf.

Regardless of how they are presented, produced or published, I eat these up every time. If an author I enjoy announces a new novella featuring the worlds or characters of their novels, I am ecstatic, and get my hands on them as soon as I can. In the end, I hope that other authors see the success of these novellas, and decide to take a break from their normal writing  to spit out some extra content for us fanboys.

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2015 – Year in Preview

Whereas the previous post I made went over what I read and loved that came out in 2014, 2015 is upon us and has a full plate of exciting books. I’m going to go over the ones that excite me the most, are on the ‘must read’, and some that I am interested in but don’t know a ton about, or am unsure if I will find time for them.

Each year, I try and lay out what my buying/preorder schedule will be, shortly before dates are changed, new stuff is announced, and my budget is blown on collectible novellas from SubPress. However, I’ll put it this way – even if I opted to only read new, 2015-release books all year, I’d still not get through my entire list. So I’ve pared it down to just books I’m the most interested in.

Without further ado…

The “Must Consume” List:

  • Golden Son by Pierce Brown (January)

Pierce’s Red Rising was one of the smash hits of 2014, and was #3 on my top books from last year. The sequel promises to grow on the base set in the first novel. I’m reading it currently, and it’s already amazing

  • Half the World by Joe Abercrombie (February)

Joe Abercrombie is easily one of my favorite writers alive, and any book of his is an instant must-read. Considering how good the first entry in this “YA” series was, Half the World has to jump to the top of any list.

  • The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan (March)

After two excellent efforts in Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign, followed by a string of very well written novellas, Brian has set quite the high bar for the completion of his debut trilogy.

  • The Skull Throne by Peter V Brett (March)

Following the cliffhanger  ending to The Daylight War, there are a lot of questions left unanswered and storylines yet completed in Brett’s Demon Cycle  series.

  • The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence (June)

Mark did a 180° from his work in the Broken Empire  series with the release of last year’s Prince of Fools. He went with a more lighthearted approach – more humor, less grimdark. It worked brilliantly, and cemented Mark’s status as one of fantasy’s rising stars.

  • The Price of Valour by Django Wexler (July)

The Shadow Throne took the world Django created in The Thousand Names and expanded upon it significantly, brining much more magic, political intrigue, and his trademark military accuracy into the fold. I’m quite excited to see where else he can take the series.

  • Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson (November)

Just based on the preview chapter Brandon read on his tour in early 2014, it became obvious that the next installment in his Wax and Wayne era Mistborn novels was going to be a riot.

The “Relative Confidence” List:

  • Gemini Cell by Myke Cole (January)

Myke’s unique brand of modern military fantasy is a blast to read, and this new series promises to be as exciting as the previous entries.

  • The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (January)

Another one I feel safe about – The Emperor’s Blades was a fantastic and fun book, and Brian is an A+ fellow.

  • Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal (April)

Mary is an absolutely brilliant writer, and the world and magic she’s created in her Glamorous Histories is more than enough to pull me well outside of my normal comfort zone and engrossed in her novels.

  • Sword Of The North by Luke Scull (May)

This one could go on the following list, but I enjoyed the books predecessor, The Grim Company, quite a bit, and have been eagerly awaiting the second entry in the series. I hope Luke can deliver.

The “Not Sure What I’m Gonna Get But Still Has My Attention” List:

  • Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (January)

Brandon writes good books – books I enjoy. His YA stuff? Well, not as much. Steelheart had some promise but also some glaring issues, and I’m lukewarm on what I expect from Firefight.

  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (April)

I’ve read several of Ken’s short works in various anthologies, and his prose and mastery of language left me intrigued and interested in seeing some full format. I’m not sure how it’ll translate, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

  • Armada  by Ernest Cline (July)

Ready Player One was a brilliant novel, creative and lovable, and is one of my favorites ever. Armada promises to be a departure from RPO, but early reviews label it a bit boring and too much like Last Starfighter or Ender’s Game. Time will tell – been waiting a long time for this one.

There are quite a few more books I have some interest in that I did not write up, but my mid-year review will probably have that (if I keep writing that long). I would love to see some things in 2015, such as Winds of Winter, The Thorn of Emberlain, Doors of Stone, Skybreaker, or Hymn, but I’m not optimistic to see any of those. Leave a comment if you think I missed any obvious books that should be discussed – but chances are if they aren’t on the list, I didn’t care enough about them to flag them down on the calendar 🙂

2014 Year in Review

With my first “real post” coming in early January, I figure it’s only fitting to reflect on my year in books.

Firstly, some backstory: I really got “back into” fantasy in 2011 or 2012, with 2012 definitely being the year I got involved. I started following fantasy on the internet, started going to book signings more often, and met some great book people. In the time since, I’ve been considered one of the top posters on /r/Fantasy by my peers, started a somewhat popular 1500+ member Goodreads group, and have met countless authors and read hundreds of books. I’ve become a bit of a collector as well, amassing a fairly decent amount of books, signed books and special editions. I’m not a format nazi – I listen to more books on audio than I physically read, by a large margin in fact, but I also read paper books and use a kindle on a routine basis.

No one really cares about this kind of thing, so I’m going to go through right now and give my top ten books released in 2014. I did not read all the books I wanted to read this year, and mixed in a LOT of older books. This is a decent combination of fantasy and sci-fi, and I will rate both equally based on how much I loved them. Some of the best books I read this year weren’t from 2014, but they won’t be rated. So, without further ado…

Joel’s 2014 Top Ten Books!

  • 10) Breach Zone by Myke Cole (review)

A wonderful ending to a wildly creative and engrossing series. Myke’s skill as a writer grew with every book, and Breach Zone showed that he’s ready to be a bigtime piece of the fantasy scene

  • 9) The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan (review)

Speaking of authors who got better with their next book – Brian exploded onto the scene last year with the amazing Promise of Blood, the first in his flintlock-fantasy Powder Mage  series. He proved he was definitely not a one-trick pony with this sequel, which expands greatly on the world he created, and shows a lot more writing craft. You can really tell at times that he is a student of Brandon Sanderson, but who can say that’s a bad thing? He brings a bit of edge and grit that Sanderson’s works lack, and it’s refreshing.

  • 8) The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler (review)

Last year, Django caught me completely by surprise with the brilliant The Thousand Names , the first of his military/flintlock fantasy series. The sophomore effort in this series was far from a letdown – I love Django’s matter-of-fact prose, his unique character voices, his addition of magic, and his continued brilliance in depicting military life.

  • 7) Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (review)

I just want to say that Mark Lawrence is arguably my favorite fantasy writer – at the very least in my elite 5. So to put his book at #7 on my list is more indicative of how good of a year it was in SFF than it is a comment on where this book stands. Prince of Fools was a drastic change of pace from his Broken Empire  trilogy. It felt as though Mark listened to all the criticisms he got, and set out to write a book that addressed those “problems”. What you got was a much more free-flowing novel, with a ton of humor, a more innocent and light-hearted protagonist, and a buddy relationship between the protagonist and a viking that was heart-warming, hilarious and an absolute blast to read. Mark is a truly amazing writer who can wear many hats, and he showed it with this novel.

  • 6) The Martian by Andy Weir (review)

It honestly took a lot to convince myself not to put this book higher on my list – that’s how much I loved it. I only found it because it was on the Goodreads Sci-fi list, and am I ever glad to have read it. It’s got a lot of hard science in it, but it’s mixed with witty characters and dialogue, butt-clenching dramatic elements, and some really fantastic writing. “MacGyver on Mars” is how I often see it described, and I think it’s an apt description. I simply loved it.

  • 5) Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (review)

Joe Abercrombie is a god amongst men. I mean seriously, my mancrush towards him is indescribable. After this hug, I did not shower or change clothes for several weeks. That said, Joe writes what is referred to as grimdark, which means his books are…let’s just say “adult”. Half a King was marketed and written as a YA novel, which scared me initially – would it neuter Joe’s normal style? Would he have to tone back so much that it would be boring? Luckily, none of my concerns were true. Half A King read like a normal Abercrombie book, except with less cussing and sex. There was violence, very smart dialogue and amazing action. It was an absolute blast to read and became an instant favorite of mine.

  • 4) Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards (review)

One of the bigger surprises in my 2013 reading list was Jeff’s Scourge of the Betrayer, a tight and interesting first-person novel following a scribe who signed on with a group of soldiers to document their exploits. I left that book wishing for so much more –  more history, more characters, more of that brilliant dialogue. Luckily, Jeff came through (and how!) with Veil . I got a copy from him via a contest, and thought it took me a while to read it due to life responsibilities, the time I spent on it was some of the best I’ve spent this year. Veil expands on everything I wanted, and improved in every way over Scourge. I simply loved it.

  • 3) Red Rising by Pierce Brown (review)

Oh man, speaking of mancrushes. Pierce is the kind of guy I’d love to hang out with, but also wouldn’t want to be around for long, as he would make me look so hilariously ugly next to him. I mean, look at the guy. Red Rising grabbed me initially by it’s absolutely breathtaking cover – simplicity in it’s finest, but so eye-grabbing. The combination of aspects from many other successful books, combined with prose that I can only describe as spectacular – it reminded me of a slightly less edgy cadence to Mark Lawrence in his Broken Empire. Short sentences, not many commas, matter-of-fact, but relentless. As I said in my review – the book is a masterpiece to me.

  • 2) The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (review)

There aren’t a lot of authors I can say I’m on a first name basis with, but luckily one of them is utterly brilliant and a NY Times Bestseller. Brent blew me away in 2012 with what was easily my favorite book of the year, the 2nd in the Lightbringer series The Blinding Knife. Brent is another author who gets more creative, more subtle, more artful with each book he writes. The Broken Eye was the pinnacle of this growth – not relying on action, magic, or antics, it holds it’s own with plot turns, dialogue, character conflict, and an incredibly deft hand with subtlety. I finished The Broken Eye and wanted to immediately re-read it, forget it and consume it all over again. Absolutely spectacular.

  • 1) Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (review)

I was concerned, for a time, that Brandon had peaked as a writer. The works he had been putting out were lacking in growth, lacking in substantial writing and content. YA novels, short stories, etc. And they seemed to be stagnant. And then, Words of Radiance entered my hands, and all of that was thrown out the window. The growth as a writer he exhibited in this novel is staggering – his worldbuilding is on a herculean scale, the plot windings, the subterfuge and politics, the character growth. As good as he’s ever done with his characterization so far, an area always called out as a weakness. One of the most epic duels/battles I’ve EVER read. This book had it all. It could have been trimmed down a bit, but in the end, I can safely say that it is one of, if not the, best books I’ve ever read.

Best Of The Rest:

To say I only read ten amazing books this year would be unfair. I really deliberated over which books made it into my top 10, but here are more that I feel deserve mention.

Sand by Hugh Howey (review)

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (review)

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley (review)

Lock In by John Scalzi (review)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (review)

With my next post, I will likely go over my 2015 want-list, what books I’m most excited about and want to read the most. For now, this post is plenty long enough – thanks for the 10 of you who will read it!