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November 1, 2009

Is Bigger Better? (not a sex question)

Now that I've got you reading, I can tell you that I'm really talking about whether you are one of those people who can't stand short fiction or not. I've read novels all my life but it was only in the last five or six years that I started really enjoying short fiction as well. I've been reading numerous "Year's Best" anthologies in both Fantasy and Science Fiction (as well as some Horror stories in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant, though I'm not typically a Horror fan), and I've really come to appreciate the artistry in short fiction.

On the other hand, when I've reviewed some of these anthologies, I've received a couple of comments from people who say "These stories sound interesting, but I hate short fiction and can't get into it." I guess some people don't like having a story end that quickly? I don't know. One person said "I just start getting interested in the story and then it ends." I, however, love the conciseness of the style, with no superfluous subplots or characters. One thing's going on, a few characters are dealing with the situation, and then it's over.

Amazingly, shorter stories seem to be catching on even as the traditional genre magazines (Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, etc) are experiencing declining subscription rates. It seems like new anthologies are coming out all the time, the stable of "Year's Best" books seems to get new entries all the time, single-author short story collections are coming out like crazy (though admittedly these are usually collections of stories over the author's career). Sadly, we've lost at least one "Year's Best" series of books, as the Ellen Datlow/Kelly Link edited Year's Best Fantasy & Horror has unfortunately ceased production.  I wasn't aware of that until it didn't show up this year and then I read it on the web somewhere.

Shorter fiction can be divided into three types: Short Stories (stories no longer than 7500 words), novelets (7500-17,500 words), and novellas (17,500-40,000 words). Novellas are commonly being published in their own volumes now, in addition to being included in magazines (case in point: the wonderful Empress of Mars by Kage Baker). Admittedly, these novellas are being published by smaller presses, but they must be making some money. And Empress has actually now been expanded into a full-length novel!  I haven't read it yet, but it should be interesting.

I have a feeling that, when they complain about short fiction, the detractors are mainly thinking of short stories. Some novellas are wonderfully complex even as the author keeps things on a narrow focus.

So, as a reader, do you like short fiction or are you a novel type of person? Or do you like them both?

Note: For those of you who are saying "Wait, this sounds familiar," you may not be wrong.  This is a slightly re-worked repeat of something I posted on Facebook back in March.  However, unless you saw it at the time, you would have to really dig for it, so most of you have probably not seen it, even if we are FB friends.


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