The Nebula Awards will be announced May 19, 2018. The awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This post is the third in a series of reviews of the nominees for this year’s Nebula award for best novella. The Nebula defines a work as a novella if it is between 17,500 and 40,000 words. These are short books.
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages is basically historical literary fiction involving the LBGT scene of early 1940s San Francisco with a little magic thrown in here and there.
I first heard of Ellen Klages last year, when I read her short story collection Wicked Wonders. I absolutely loved it and recommended it to everyone I knew that liked sci-fi/fantasy. The stories varied from nostalgic childhood reminiscences, hard science fiction (with a touch of wistfulness for the simpler pleasures of the past), and fantasy. It’s rare enough to find authors that can write genre fiction well, even rarer to find one that can write ALL the genre fiction well.
I didn’t love Passing Strange as much. Its point-of-view switches were a little clumsy, sometimes alternating between chapters, sometimes between paragraphs, occasionally between sentences. The characters were a tad underdeveloped, with a slightly too-big cast for a novella-length story. I never really got a good feel for each of the characters individually.
But there’s a lot to like about this book. The author’s affection for the city of San Francisco shines through the work. The beginnings of the LBGT culture and club scene- and the need for such spaces – are organically explored. Klages does a wonderful job highlighting the beauty and magic of the past and the start of something important while also not shying away from portraying the ugly and revolting discriminatory and violent aspects of that past (that is still all-too present). All of the main characters are women who exhibit a range of personalities, skills, beliefs, and interests, and I love seeing that level of character variety. The love story at the heart of the book is sweet.
It’s a short book that takes about 4 hours to read. An electronic version costs about $4 on amazon. For that relatively small investment of time and money, you’ll be treated to pretty dang good story of a magical past that, at times, wasn’t all that magical.
My rating: 4 stars