I haven't finished reading all the non-SH stories from 2005 that I plan to read before making my Hugo nominations, but I'm pretty sure what my favorite of those will be.
I bought the October/November 2005 issue of F&SF for several reasons. One was that I've liked a lot of stuff from that magazine lately; one was that that issue had stories by Paolo Bacigalupi and Dale Bailey, both of whom have written stuff I've liked a lot recently.
But the main reason, the reason I would've bought that issue even if it had contained nothing else, was a novella titled "Two Hearts," by Peter S. Beagle.
As I've mentioned here before, Beagle's The Last Unicorn is among my favorite books ever--probably in my top five, certainly in my top ten.
It was published in 1968, and until recently, as far as I know, Beagle had no plans to write a sequel.
But now he's written a full-length sequel novel (or possibly is in the process of writing it; I'm not sure of its current status), due out in 2007. And to bridge the gap between the original and the sequel, he wrote a novella, "Two Hearts." (Well, okay, maybe the idea for the novella came first. You can read about the genesis of "Two Hearts" at Conlan Press; more about them in next entry.)
The paper version of the issue of F&SF where it appeared sold out quickly, but you can still buy the electronic version from Fictionwise. If you're a Last Unicorn fan (I'm talking about the book, not the animated movie, though maybe that too) then the issue is totally worth the price for this story alone; the fact that you also get stories by Bacigalupi, Friesner, Haldeman, Bailey, Bisson, Wolfe, Utley, Hand, and Ford is lagniappe.
I went into the story with a great deal of trepidation. I've liked everything else of Beagle's I've read, but I haven't loved very much of it. The curse of writing a totally brilliant book that early in your career: everything else you write will be judged by comparison. And I very much wanted to love "Two Hearts," but I'm usually dubious about sequels, and I figured there was a good chance that I would only like it, and that that would be disappointing. Which is why I waited several months before reading it.
But last night, working on my Hugo nominations list, I decided it was time. So I sat down and read it, in PDF, on my computer screen.
And loved it.
As with my reaction to the Narnia movie, it's hard to say how much of my reaction to "Two Hearts" is nostalgia and how much of it is relief at the lack of serious problems. But I think Beagle could have written a Last Unicorn sequel that I would've felt nostalgia and relief over without it having nearly as strong an effect on me as "Two Hearts" did.
It felt right. Partly like seeing old friends again after too long; but new, too, with an added measure of wisdom and experience, with a very likable and believable and strong-willed girl protagonist, with just the right amount of heartbreak and just the right amount of silliness.
I haven't seen much discussion of the story; I don't know whether that's 'cause people didn't read it, or 'cause they didn't like it, or 'cause I've been pretty out of touch with the blogosphere for a while now. But in case it's due to not having read it: go read it.
If you can't stand reading from a screen, you can always buy the PDF and print out the relevant pages, though it'll cost you a fair bit of paper.
There's also a way you can get a printed and bound copy of the story, but I'll go into that in my next entry.
I'm not quite certain what length category it goes in for the Hugos, but I'm assuming that the "novella" label in the magazine is accurate.
Btw, it turns out Beagle is at the Bay Area filk convention, Consonance, this weekend. I'm half-tempted to head over there for the day. But I've got too much else to do, and anyway I wouldn't manage to say anything to Beagle except the usual fanboy gushing, which I'm sure he hears all the time.
More on Beagle in next entry.