I didn't know what to expect from this category. I hadn't read many novelettes previously and so I essentially expected short stories, but a bit longer and that was pretty much what I got.
The first one that I read was Ursula Vernon's The Tomato Thief and it was a great start into the category. The story is clearly inspired by Native American mythology and managed to draw me in, even though that was never something I've been particularly interested in. Clearly something I must rectify. The main character is an amazing badass older woman, something that is far too rare in stories, I feel and she feels very much alive and well-rounded.
After reading this fantasy story, I felt like reading some sci-fi, so I read The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan. It turned out to be only tangentially a sci-fi story, and much more a story about identity and family, but I wouldn't want to have missed it. A beautifully touching story, written with a great sense of timing, which is as important for such an intimate story as it is for comedy.
Moving on from the not-quite sci-fi, I figured that The Jewel and her Lapidary would be another fantasy story and, indeed, it was. Unfortunately, Fran Wilde doesn't manage to turn the interesting basic idea of a gem-powered magical ruling family, overthrown in a coup, into a gripping story. The main characters remain distant and unrelatable and the framing device seems to remain unused. Ultimately, the story doesn't convince me, although it is far from terrible.
Since I started switching between sci-fi and fantasy in this category, I figured I'd continue the pattern and tackled Touring with the Alien next. That turned out to be a great decision, as Carolyn Ives Gilman came up with a very different idea for a story and for the aliens in that story. Definitely a story I can recommend reading if you like thinking about philosophical questions and new conceptions of aliens.
That left me with one last serious contender, Alyssa Wong and You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay. Like the first novelette, this one plays in the desert, though it feels very very different. A big part of that is of course the second person omniscient narration, seemingly directly addressing the reader. I found that to be somewhat distracting as I couldn't identify with the protagonist very well, and thus there was a constant conflict between the narrator and me. Apart from that, it is a fascinating story, once again very different from what I'm used to reading, which makes it more valuable to me, broadening my horizon.
You might've noticed that I said one last serious contender. There is one more novelette, and while I hoped that it would turn out to be as fun as Chuck Tingle is reputed to be, it really wasn't. I didn't make it through the whole thing as the first pages make it painfully clear that the author has no idea how to write the protagonist or has any sense of how that character thinks and talks. I could write better than that and I'm really not much of a writer!
So where does this leave me? The first three spots of this ballot are incredibly close together, but ultimately I went with the following ballot.