I love science fiction and I love novellas, so combining the two is an obvious win in my book. And luckily for me, sci-fi novellas (as well as SFF novellas in general) have been growing in popularity, especially with popular awards like the Nebulas, Hugos, and Shirley Jackson Award recognizing them. They’re one of my favorite cures for a book slump or a rainy day where I just want to feel like I’ve accomplished something. And finishing a book in one sitting makes me feel like I’m at least a halfway productive human being.
Novellas are usually categorized as a piece of fiction that is between 10,000 and 40,000 words (or between 20,000 and 40,000 if you exclude the in-between category of novelettes). Because novellas are categorized by word count, translating that length into page count can be a bit tricky what with variability in font, type size, margins, etc. But let’s say, generally, novellas are somewhere between 100 and 200 pages, give or take. That seems reasonable.
So these short sci-fi novellas come in at under or around 200 pages. The page numbers are taken from Goodreads and may vary slightly by edition, but I think we can all agree that’s not something to get worked up over.
Finna by Nino Cipri
An Ikea-like big box store with a bit of a wormhole problem might not be the ideal place to work, but then Ava and Jules only just learned about the whole wormhole thing when an elderly customer fell through one this morning. To make matters worse, the newly broken up couple find out it’s up to them to get her back, according to company policy. What follows is a rollicking adventure through the multiverse.
Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Amelia dreams of life on Mars, where it seems opportunities are limitless, but for now, she’s stuck doing everything she can to get by in Mexico City. Selling her blood to the elderly rich and working as a rent-a-friend help make ends meet, but even as the day-to-day threatens to drag her down, there is always Mars and her dreams of a better future.
The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken
Buckle in for a sci-fi adventure full of existential dread. Told through a series of interviews and employee complaints, The Employees recounts the fate of the crew — both human and nonhuman — of the Six-Thousand Ship. It’s a surreal and doom-laden trip through the travails of productivity culture.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Murderbot’s just your average SecUnit protecting the people its been assigned to and hoping there’s some free time to watch Sanctuary Moon after. Okay, actually that second part isn’t so normal for a SecUnit. But when a conspiracy endangers the humans Murderbot is protecting, it’s drawn into a bloody corporate coverup and maybe even forced to make some friends along the way.
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard
A space station run by an artificial intelligence born of a human womb faces turmoil when war break out in the Dai Viet Empire. The AI, known as the Honoured Ancestress, and the Station Mistress try to keep life running smoothly even as residents are called away to war and a flood of refugees arrive on the station. But, secretly, the Honoured Ancestress is also faltering, eaten away by an unknown disease that seems to be incurable.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
Hopepunk meets Solarpunk in this optimistic, environmental novella from SFF master, Becky Chambers. Dex thought they had finally found their purpose as a tea monk, but then they run into a wild robot in the woods. No one has seen a robot since they gained sentience and disappeared into the forests years ago. But now Dex has become the first human to come face to face with a wild robot in years and discovers the robots have a question for humanity: “what do you need?”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This hilarious sci-fi classic is not only a must-read of the genre, but a fast-paced novella you can read in one sitting. When Earth is demolished to make way for an intergalactic super highway, regular human, Arthur Dent, is whisked away by his alien friend, Ford Prefect, on a galaxy-wide adventure. Along the way, the wacky universe is explained through helpful excerpts from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide, a guide book for intergalactic travelers.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
A quarantined area reclaimed by nature that has baffled scientists and explorers for decades, and referred to only as Area X, is about to be surveyed once more. No expedition to venture into Area X has ever come back the same — if they come back at all. And as the twelfth expedition begins their exploration, strange phenomena begin changing the stakes for the group almost at once.
The Seep by Chana Porter
An alien invasion calling itself “the Seep” has taken over the world, gently and irrevocably. The Seep has done away with capitalism and hierarchies, but for Trina, it has also spelled the end of her happy existence. When Trina’s wife, Deeba decides to begin life over as a baby — something made possible through Seep tech — she leaves Trina behind to face this new world on her own.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Time agents for two competing factions meet throughout time and space in what begins as a competition but soon turns into something more. Through an unlikely correspondence, the rival agents move from taunting each other on the battlefield to something that begins to look a lot like romance. But even as they seek the best future for their faction, they know their relationship could mean the end of them both.
Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
The quirky format of this book makes it a much quicker read than the page count would suggest. Told through a series of messages on a work texting app, the book follows an employee at a New York based PR firm who accidentally uploads his consciousness to Slack. When Gerald tells his coworkers about his situation, they all assume it’s some elaborate ploy to get out of coming into the office. Unfortunately for Gerald, it’s not. And the more time Gerald spends with his mind online, interacting with the ever-stranger Slackbot, the wackier this madcap story gets.
Looking for more quick reads and short SFF? Check out these other useful guides on Book Riot: