So back in the paper book era, novellas were kind of an awkward length for a story—too short to be published as a standalone book, but too long to be published in a magazine normally. So typically you saw them in kind of awkward form factors—serialized in magazines or as a giant lump at the end of a short story collection. But ebooks have changed that, and now you can just sell a novella as a standalone book, which works out well for stories that want to be told at novella-length.
Which brings us to Martha Well’s All Systems Red, a novella that’s the first of what is apparently to be a trilogy of Murderbot stories. The eponymous protagonist is a security android that has slipped its leash (but mostly uses its freedom to binge-watch TV) on an expedition where stuff starts going wrong. It’s got a wry voice and an interesting protagonist, and you can always count on Wells for plots that move along quickly. Light, enjoyable, and fun.
Next, we come to Ben Aaronovitch’s The Furthest Station, a novella set in the Rivers of London series that tells a little standalone story of a ghost appearing on a train, the investigation into it, and what that turns up. If you’ve enjoyed any of Aaronovitch’s books in this series, you’ll almost certainly like this one.
In fact, I enjoyed it more than The Hanging Tree, which is not a novella, and is the most recent full-length novel in the series. The problem with this book is that the series has been swallowed by its continuity; I really want the books to be about new crimes to investigate, and they sort of are… but it seems like every book ties back in to the larger over-plot about the Faceless Man, which I’m sure I cared about at one point, but no longer do.
I really want Aaronovitch to just wrap that up already, and move on to new stories that aren’t all tied into a single, increasingly convoluted, Big Bad. Because while I think he’s trying to do the thing Jim Butcher did with his Dresden series—complexifying the world and getting deeper into how it works as the books go on—he’s just not doing it as interestingly or as well. And even Butcher has a collection of continuing antagonists for Dresden, not just one Moriarty for him to face over and over.
Still, it’s not a bad book. On a page-by-page level, it’s a quick read and enjoyable enough. It’s just not moving the series in the directions I want it to be moved.