Ellen Klages’ Passing Strange starts off with a magical mystery in modern-day San Francisco, and then immediately jumps into the pre-WW2 past to give us the backstory. Mostly, this consists of a portrait of gay culture in pre-war SF, and just enough plot to carry the story through its interesting (and I assume well-researched) setting.
When I got to the end, I had a bit of a “that’s it?” feeling, and thought that it would probably have been a better novella than a novel… at which point, I discovered that it was, in fact, a novella. Oh. That would explain why I read it so fast, I guess. And as a novella, it’s very good.
Martha Wells’ Exit Strategy is also a novella, but nobody would ever accuse it of being short on plot. This is the conclusion of the first arc of Murderbot novellas, and it’s got a lot to wrap up, both action and character development. In doing so, it’s maybe more straightforward than previous installments—there aren’t any new characters introduced (though old ones return) and there’s not a whole lot of mystery to puzzle through. This is taking all the pieces that have been set up in the previous novellas and knocking them down. Which it does well, while leaving just enough hooks for there to be a place to hang the upcoming Murderbot novel. Good stuff.