All Killer, No Filler

Joe Hill's most recent book, Strange Weather (reviewed below), is a reminder of the strengths of short novels and novellas. Strange Weather collects four of Hill's short novels--terminology is slippery, given that no one can agree on the precise length of novellas--and they ably demonstrate the singularly gripping capabilities of the form. Genre fiction has often benefited enormously from brevity--e.g., The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Turn of the Screw, A Clockwork Orange. More recently, Tor has revived interest in novellas thanks to an outstanding string of releases including Binti, Forest of Memory and The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. (Of course, genre fiction is not the sole beneficiary of succinct storytelling--with Denis Johnson's passing we lost one of the greatest writers of short novels and novellas.)

In the afterword to Strange Weather, Joe Hill writes that "short novels are all killer, no filler. They offer the economy of the short story but the depth of characterization we associate with longer works. Little novels aren't leisurely, meandering journeys. They're drag races. You put the pedal to the floor and run your narrative right off the edge of the cliff." In other words, short novels and novellas can hit a sweet spot between short stories and long novels, offering the benefits of both. Getting lost in a world that lasts only one or two sittings often adds a sense of urgency to the work that suits genre fiction. In the case of horror fiction, Hill writes: "You want them to feel like a hand on your throat." While one might not say the same about Train Dreams or Breakfast at Tiffany's, I have a special place in my heart for books that treat every word like a precious resource. --Hank Stephenson

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