Happy Halloween! There's one extra Friday in this month — just enough time to sneak in one more dark story for this dark time of year.

Yes, I said just one more. This is a long one, and worth settling in to read.

Dream Houses by Genevieve Valentine

It takes a certain type to crew a ship that drops you seven years at a time into the Deep. Kite-class cargo ships like Menkalinan get burned-out veterans, techs who've been warned off-planet, medics who weren't much good on the ground. The Gliese-D run isn't quite the end of the line, but it's getting there. No cachet, no rewards, no future; their trading posts get Kites full of cargo that the crew never ask questions about, because if it's headed for Gliese-D, it's probably something nobody wanted.

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A year into the Deep, Amadis Reyes wakes up. Menkalinan is sounding the alarm; something's wrong. The rest of the crew are dead.

That's not even what's wrong.

Isolation is often the theme of science fiction stories with a dark or horror-tinged element to them. That and AIs that turn out to be unreliable or malicious. This is mixed in with some very well done psychological exploration, and a character who ends up being more fascinating than I anticipated from the start.

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Valentine's fiction is often just as much about what she eludes to and implicates as what she reveals and makes explicit. This can lead to her climaxes and endings feeling more ambiguous than I'm used to. Almost as if she's leaving the reader extra room to pull things together on their own. This novella is no different. And while that means the ending didn't quite come together for me the way I wanted it to, I enjoyed the ride up to that point so much that I was far from disappointed.

I should also mention that this is a standalone novella—you don't have to have read any of Valentine's novels or other short fiction to understand this one. (Full disclosure: Valentine is a regular io9 contributor, and a friend of the site's editors.)

The fashion for publishing novellas and novelettes set in the world of previously published stuff has pros and cons. Fans who already love the author get more stories. Readers just discovering an author might not feel connected to anything in the story because they're not familiar with the world or characters. The best authors find a way to make a novella interesting to both kinds of readers. For the rest of the year, I'm going to be on the lookout for that kind of novella in addition to everything else.

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Have you ever read a short story that intrigued you so much that you started reading novels set in the same world?

K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author and media critic. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.