Because all of life is stories.
Alright, technically, not all of these stories are going to qualify as “novellas.” Some of them technically count as short stories or novelettes. For the purpose of this article we’re going to call them novellas though because it’s simpler. Basically, when the year came around, I didn’t know what book to start. But I had a lot of them piling up, and a few of them were much shorter than the others. So I rifled through all of those first. Don’t let that dissuade you from reading these stories though. Even though they are brief, they are brilliant. They are entertaining, they are meaningful, and one or two of them are downright beautiful. And I think we have one for everybody.
So let’s begin.
By Brandon Sanderson
Stephen Leeds is the definition of sanity. He’s also quite probably suffering from schizophrenia. Suffering of course in this case means being extremely rich and also being the smartest man in the world. But he won’t tell you he is. He’ll say it’s all of his hallucinations that are brilliant, and he’s just there to corral them all. There’s one who is a psychologist. One is a weapons specialist. One of them is an expert in quantum mechanics. One is a religious scholar.
There are usually somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty or so of these constructs, but he is the only one who can see or hear them.
Leeds uses these hallucinations as his own consulting firm. And he’s famous for it. And one day he gets a case at his front door that piques his, and his hallucinations’, interest. Someone at a high tech security firm has stolen a new camera. The fun part? It takes pictures of the past. How far back? How does it work? We really don’t know all of the nuts and bolts details. This is moreof a detective story with a sci-fi twist than the other way around. Most of the nuts and bolts aren’t important to the story.
The story takes them across the world, to a place I can’t tell you about because spoilers. There is action. There is cleverness. And there a whole damn lot of things I want answered in the sequel coming sometime in the future. As it stands, Legion is a fun and entertaining introduction into a new world by a guy who, if nothing else, knows how to churn out stories.
A Short Stay in Hell
By Stephen L. Peck
Holy Hell. I do mean that in every sense of the phrase. This one will stay with you.
A Short Stay in Hell is about a man in hell. The confusion, on his part anyways, is that he was a devout Mormon. In fact, everyone he arrives in Hell with is confused. The Catholics, the Jewish, the Atheists, everyone is puzzled and understandably pretty upset. The demon they meet explains to them that there is a chance at salvation. Everyone leaves Hell one day. You just have to learn a lesson.
Soren gets sentenced to one of what seems like many possible Hells. His is the Library. Every book that could ever possibly be written, from nonsense to Moby Dick. Billions of miles of shelves in every direction of books. How does one get out? By finding their book. The one that describes their true life story. Until then, they are looked out for. There are beds at regular intervals inside side rooms. Showers, bathrooms, food. In fact you can order absolutely anything, and the food is even pretty good.
But imagine for a second this punishment. Billions of years spent looking. Everything is the same. Nothing around you ever looks any different. Even the people you meet are all just like you. The point of the thing is robbing you of variety. Of new experience. Of change. I didn’t truly understand until the story ended. I wasn’t truly horrified. But in those first minutes after putting this book down, I shivered. I was haunted. Peck’s words are poetic. In the simplicity of a place that, at first glance, seems like it wouldn’t be too terrible, Peck really has found a Hell that would haunt anyone.
Especially the book lover.
I couldn’t put it down.
By Nancy Fulda
Less than 30 pages long, and beautiful. This story centers around a young girl named Hannah, who was born with a rare condition that changes the way she interprets time. Many of her personality traits coincide with something on the autism spectrum. Indeed Nancy Fulda is the mother of a child who was born with autism.
The story is told first person from Hannah’s point of view as she wanders out of her home, no longer wishing to hear her parents discuss her future with a doctor. She examines flowers on the street. She walks to a nearby cathedral and dances in one of small rooms therein. Dancing is one of her talents. Ballet more specifically. Through dance she communicates. She feels at peace.
I think there is one line that really got me caught up in the story. The metaphor is obvious, but poignant.
“I want the flytrap to survive, but I can tell from the sickly color of its leaves that this is unlikely. I wonder, if the plant had been offered the certainty of mediocrity rather than the chance of greatness, would it have accepted?”
Movement is a stirring short story that offers a glimpse into a world many of us are quick to dismiss as damaged. Fulda shows us that really it is just different. And in its difference, we find wonder, beauty, and love. A wonderful message for the new year, and life in general.
Slow Tuesday Night
By RA Lafferty
RA Lafferty is amazing. Along with Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov he is one of the true kings of the short fiction format. The tragedy of RA Lafferty is that nearly all of his works are out of print. It’s a disservice to literature. Thankfully we have libraries and the Internet. This story was one I found online while researching Lafferty. And it take place over the course of a night. Starting at dusk, and ending at dawn.
The idea of this story is to follow the logical progression of our world. Attention spans get shorter. Trends change and morph in hours or days. All of life is getting faster. And now, in Lafferty’s future, all of this takes place in a night. Several times each night actually. Fortunes are won and lost every hour. Marriages last minutes. The best parties and products last just as long. Especially since production and delivery are now instant. Lafferty’s world is utterly fascinating. It lacks the heart of a story like Movement or the punch of A Short Stay in Hell but it is a stunning look at our future extrapolated out toward an extreme.
It encompasses everything good science fiction is supposed to. It’s full of interesting technology. It’s a closeup of human nature through an unfamiliar lens. It’s brilliant. If you can find his other stories, do pick them up and treasure them.
Above are four tremendous stories. And all wonderful places to start 2014. I hope you find enjoyment in at least one of them.
Stay literate my friends.