Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is there a right length for a science fiction story?

I have heard that the novella is the ideal length for a science fiction story. In some ways I have to agree. The short story does not allow enough room for the idea to be presented and the characters to be fleshed out. Over the years I have enjoyed many novellas in Galaxy, Worlds of IF, Analog, the Magazinze of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Amazing.

What is your favorite length?

I tend to favor a short novel like those that were published in the sixties and seventies. It seems like the author is more focused on the story in these books. The stories kept your interest. I was more likely to try a new author if I thought I could read the novel in a few days. The length of many of today's novels discourage readers from trying new authors.

What started me thinking about this? Two things.

First is one of the novels I am currently reading. It is by an author I have never read. The book looked good. The writing is good but to be honest, I was not in a hurry to pick the book up when I took a break from reading. At the local used bookstore, I found a copy of a Philip Jose Farmer book I have not read. I stopped reading the first book and tore into the Farmer book. Once I started it I did not want to stop. I like that in a book. It does not have to be cliffhanger endings to chapters. Sometimes it is the plot, sometimes it is the characters but some books are hard to put down. And this leads into the second thing on my list.

A review on SF Signal. Their review of Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny. I loved this story when it first appeared in Analog. Between it and the early Amber books, Zelazny became one of my favorite authors. The author of the review, Fred Kiesche, comments that this 180 page novel always charms him when he re-reads it. It is economic in language, packed full of ideas, and it still surprises him when he reads it again. I wonder how many of the giant doorstop novels will have that effect on readers in the future.

This does not mean that I will not read a long novel, one look at my bookshelf would tell you otherwise, but I will most likely continue to focus on shorter novels. Sometimes I will post reviews of longer novels. There are many forgotten classics like Doorways in the Sand. I will do my part to help people remember or discover them.


Fred Kiesche said...

Jim, thanks for the mention. I think we're on the same wavelength here--a lot of my favorites are by Poul Anderson, Clifford D. Simak, Alfred Bester, Walter M. Miller--all "short" books by todays doorstop standards.

Sure, I love Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle". But the only way I got through those was to read them as eBooks!!!

Great site, by the way. I'll be back often!

Carl V. said...

I am an enormous fan of short stories, especially science fiction ones. Perhaps I don't judge them as harshly as I should, but I really end up getting so much out of short stories that my feelings on them are honest for the experience I have with them.

Ideally I would prefer novellas or shorter novels to giant books. I like a story to be around 200 to 250 pages or less. That isn't to say that I am disappointed when I read a great book that is 600 pages long. I guess I just prefer the classics, in which an author was able to tell an amazing story without creating a weight lifting device.

adamosf said...

I agree with you that short novels and novellas tend to be the right length for good sf. Thinking back to my favorites, they are generally between about 60 and 200 pages.

Not that this will stop me from reading the massive but acclaimed ANATHEM though. If anybody has proven that he can hold my interest for 1000 pages it's Stephenson.