Top Ten Novellas I’ve Read

Call them really long short stories or too-short novels, there’s some good reading in them even as they defy an exact category. Novellete? Yeah, yeah, there’s agreed-upon definitions but who gets to decide that? So I will: if you can finish it before the evening’s out, then it’s probably a novella. Or novellete. Or long short story. Whatever.

10. Beggars in Spain. This is a story about a group of people who, through genetic modification, no longer need to sleep, which makes them vastly more talented and intelligent than everyone else because, well, you’ve got more time to learn things like nuclear physics. And you’d think forgoing sleep would be a good thing but, oh no, it’s not. The title comes from a philosophical stance along the lines of what do productive and talented people owe the beggars in Spain.

9. The Mist

Written back when Stephen King still wrote horror, this is one of his best, although it’s not really horror so much as it’s scifi. Scary scifi, to be sure. An Army experiment breaches a dimension where terrifying monsters live and they pour into the small town of Bridgton, Maine and, actually, the entire world. A really good movie was made out of this which has a completely different ending than the novella, so you can enjoy both.

8. A Boy and his Dog- Harlan Ellison’s brutal post-apocalyptic classic, this has also been turned into a fairly decent movie starring Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame when he was little more than a teenager. The nuclear wars have created a series of mutations allowing an orphan to telepathically connect with his dog so the two of them can survive a truly horrendous world.

7. The Third Man- Graham Greene is an old master of the suspense thriller detective police – you name it – story that rarely has a happy ending. Hack writer Buck Dexter is invited to visit his old friend Harry Lime in post war Vienna, only to arrive just in time for Lime’s funeral. Apparently, he died in an accident. Or was it? Also turned into a decent film with Orson Wells.

6. The Horla- Guy de Maupassant’s best known story in English, I’m guessing, is about a man who waves at a passing ship and, next thing you know, something is living in his house, drinking his water, and driving him slowly insane. Rather creepy 1960s movie made from this called Diary of a Madman.

5. A River Runs Through It- by Norman Maclean and, yes, the first thing you think of is the extraordinary film with Brad Pitt and, yes, the film is rather true to the story. But the story itself is a lyric, an ode to a self-destructive man as seen through the eyes of the brother who loved him.

4. Notes From the Underground- this is, as far as I am concerned. Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. It is the ruminations of a very bitter retired civil servant who rejects every convention and standard of society. Parts of this just soar into almost psychedelia and is sheer unadulterated genius. 

3. Siddhartha- like any teenager of the 1970s, I read everything by Herman Hesse because, you know, metaphysics. Of all his novels, this is the one I remember best, primarily because of the river metaphor. The last part, where Siddhartha sits on the banks and watches his life flow by is perfect summary.

2. The Halloween Tree- anything by Ray Bradbury is going to get my vote although mostly those are disconnected short stories, as in R is for Rocket. This one, though, is a series of stories following the attempts of eight friends to save a ninth who has been spirited away into the Land of the Dead. Juvenile, yes, but compelling. 

1. The Dragon Masters- this is the first Jack Vance I ever read, and it remains my favorite. Set in a future so far away that people can actually wield magic, it is the story of a human band that has genetically altered their alien enemies, turning them into war beasts. Typical Vance with crazy dialogue and wild battle scenes.

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