Five Wonderfully Concise SFF Books

In the comments of a previous article on this site, Nancy Lebovitz said: “When I reread three hearts and three lions, I was amazed at how concise it was. It didn’t feel rushed, but each chapter would have been puffed up into a novel by many contemporary authors.

, have often delivered works that seem surprisingly concise and relevant by modern standards. There’s nothing like having no choice to inspire people to make the right choices.

However, even in the age of word processing software and publishers’ enthusiasm for meandering series of huge snippets of history, there are writers who deliver short, effective pieces that contain all the narrative elements. required. They even include that most elusive ingredient – an actual ending. Consider these five relatively recent examples of wonderfully short and to-the-point books.

Wait, ask yourself, will this just be a pitch for Tordotcom novels? No, because I guess if you’re here you know Tordotcom novels, so I don’t need to draw your attention to Tordotcom novels. In fact, I’m so offended by your suggestion that I might insert free references to Tordotcom news that I’m going to take a five-minute break to enjoy this bowl of delicious soup from the Maggi brand…

The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa (2006)

What begins as standard fantasy fare – Lady Miyo encounters a demonic mononoke and survives through the timely intervention of a warrior in blackened, cracked armor, wielding a talking sword – quickly turns into sci-fi once we get a deeper context. The mononoke are aliens from the distant future, the warrior is an android (also from the future), and Lady Miyo’s native Yayoi era is just a battleground in the time war between humans and aliens.

LordThe US edition of is only 196 pages, into which a surprising amount of intrigue has been poured. To quote reviewer Sean O’Hara:

The story contains the entire plot of Turtledove’s World War series compressed into five pages, and The Guns of the South like a one-paragraph flashback.

That leaves 190 pages of similarly dense intrigue for the author to frolic in, which he does masterfully.

The terracotta bride by Zen Cho (2011)

A certain Danish prince wondered if death could put an end to “the heartaches and the thousand natural shocks of which the flesh is the heir”. Siew Tsin knows full well that this is not the case. Struck and killed by an automobile, with no money to fight her way into the afterlife, she is sold by her worthless uncle to the foolish but wealthy Junsheng. An afterlife as Junsheng’s second wife is better than being tortured by demons, but still not great. Especially when Junsheng’s eye falls on another, the artificial and immutable Yonghua.

Technically this is a short story but it was released as a standalone eBook in 2016. Although the situation is clearly a fantasy, the treatment is very SFnal, further proof that genres can overlap and mix . The story explores the creation of a handsome android, Yonghua, in great detail, never losing sight of Siew Tsin’s predicament.

In the Palace of the Vanishers by Aliette de Bodard (2018)

The Vanishers toyed with the world until it shattered, then abandoned the poisoned world and their former slaves to seek green pastures. Those who play no useful role – a category the scholar Yên fears falling into – should expect short, unpleasant lives. Yên fears being fed an artifact in the Plague Grove. She escapes this fate, but only by being sold to Vu Côn, a dragon. As dragon food? Fortunately for Yên, no. Vu Côn needs a tutor for his children. It’s less immediately fatal than becoming a meal, but tutoring a dragon’s children isn’t exactly safe.

This tale reminded me of the European folk tale “Beauty and the Beast”. De Bodard’s narrative is set in an entirely original world of the author’s creation and delivered in enchanting prose.

Between Firmaments by Neon Yang (2018)

Armed with sunmetal, the blasphemous invaders have conquered the magical world of Bariegh. The lucky ones were enslaved. The unlucky ones were consumed as single-use energy sources. Bariegh of the Jungle conceals his divine nature from blasphemers lest he be drained and cast aside. Bariegh’s lover, Sunyol, is as divine as Bariegh. Sunyol comes from another realm and lacks the experience-based caution of Bariegh. In the face of injustice, Sunyol will act. In the face of rebellion, the Blasphemers will do their best to crush the rebel and anyone who stands too close to Sunyol…like Bariegh and his kin.

Kipling and Piper fans might expect a glowing tribute to Blasphemer virtues. Yang instead gives us a rather negative view of imperialism, told in deft prose. It is a very effective story. Too bad the paper edition of the book seems to be currently out of print.

And what can we offer you tonight by Prémé Mohamed (2021)

There are the rich and the poor. The rich enjoy their wealth; the poor suffer and die to create it. Or else it is in this obviously fictitious setting. The social tranquility is disrupted when magic-wielding friends resurrect the late courtesan Winsome Winfield. The reanimated Winsome is angry that he was murdered by a customer. When she was a living courtesan, she could do nothing to make up for the slights. Now that she’s a fearsome revenant, there are so many options to express her displeasure. Many of them are quite violent.

But the greatest horror in this book isn’t a supernatural threat; it is the fact that people have to live in a grotesquely inequitable socio-economic system. Not that there isn’t a fantastic angle to it all… the one percent in this setting do get their reward.

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You undoubtedly have your own favorite short and sweet works – feel free to mention them in the comments below.

In the words of the TexasAndroid Wikipedia editorprolific and lively literary critic Darwin Award Nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability”. Her work has been published in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on her own websites, Reviews of James Nicoll and Aurora finalist Young people read the old SFF (where he is assisted by the editor Karen Lofstrom and internet user Adrienne L. Travis). He’s a four-time finalist for the Hugo Best Fan Writer Award, is eligible to be nominated again this year, and is surprisingly fiery.

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