Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Mega Novella vs Giant Novel

If you are a Freudian psychoanalyst STOP READING THIS NOW. You have been warned.

I’ve just started a new Peter F. Hamilton brick, The Temporal Void. I’ve also just finished a Dean Koontz novel, False Memory, of similar proportions – more about both novels will follow in future posts.

I came across an astute comment by fanzine editor Claire Briarley (I can’t link to it! It’s on paper!) about how it’s become much harder to get a short sci-fi novel published. There must be something in this, at least for mainstream publishers and bookstores where the shelves are dominated by Hamilton-scale novels – while the books I buy from second hand shops or borrow/steal from friends and relatives are tiny slips of things.

Who’s responsible for this timeshift? Are we, the book-buying public, assuming that bigger is better, and buying our books like groceries, by the kilogram? Are we guilty of judging a book not even by its’ cover but by the cost per page?

Alternatively is this something to do with economics or insurance – the risks of publishing a sci-fi novel or some kind of cost benefit analysis that is only justified for books above a certain weight? There does seem to be a difference between the major publishers and some of the smaller, more independent labels – who seem more able to take risks with shorter fiction.

I think it’s worth remembering that so many classic sci-fi novels are small - Farenheit 451, for example, or Flowers for Algernon. Short stories have always been the heart of sci-fi for me, and many novellas or short novels are more like extended short stories, requiring the same degree of tight control. Go back to John Wyndham and you’ll find stories that have everything – but are never a word too long, always ending at a perfect dramatic point.

The short story form, happily, is alive and well – despite the loss of some subscriber magazines in past years Interzone and other magazines carry on, author collections and compilations are being published all the time, and there’s a wealth of free stories on the net. The novella may be an endangered species.


Anonymous said...

I love the points you make here, the bigger and longer the novel does not always equate with a masterpiece(sometimes it does) but as you said, some classics are shorter in length and just as poignant.
Wonderful post.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Thanks Mish! And yes, there are definitely some long masterpieces out there too - Dune for instance. You've got me thinking now - is the longer novel actually something different from the regular novel (just as the novella is different from it) and, when it's a good long novel, what's the difference? Possibly worldbuilding...

Anonymous said...

I would agree that world building takes more time in descriptions of the world, culture, language, etc, such as in Dune, thus you have a much longer novel and if done well a classic. Shorter novels need to focus on one point and explain that idea well and succinctly. Great ideas and food for thought, definitely.