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Date: Wed, 25 Jun 2003 11:53:55 -0700
From: Michael Andre-Driussi 
Subject: (urth) limitations of short fiction

Sam Keyes wrote:
>So maybe it's not that Wolfe is weaker in short stories,
>but rather that short stories, formally, are usually weaker--or, I ought
>to add, weaker at asking the questions and playing the games that Wolfe
>likes to do, which are usually on a grand scale.

Now this is something I find interesting, and I don't recall it coming up

Yes, the limitations of the short form -- for example, it seems to be more
or less impossible for any serious "world building" to be in a short story.
There just isn't enough =room= and every word counts double.  This means, I
think, that short fiction often has "Hitchcock landscapes": if you show
Mount Rushmore, then the protag is going to be in danger of falling off of
it; if you show a field of corn, then that crop-duster biplane is going to
threaten the protag.  Everything in every scene is a loaded Chekov's Gun,
and they all go off "sooner" rather than "later."

This is not to say that Gene Wolfe is interested in "world building," but
this is a case I immediately thought of in terms of scale (short story
versus novel).  IIRC, in one of his essays on writing (in CASTLE OF DAYS, I
think) Gene Wolfe has a line something like "if it is about a world, then
it is a novel."

So if an sf short story has a "beanstalk" orbital elevator, then either the
protag's car has to fall off of it (or threaten to fall off) or some
terrorist has to break the "rail" it so it falls down and around the world
in a RED MARS-style equatorial apocalypse.

What holds for the physical sciences also holds true for the soft sciences.
Jack Vance's "The Moon Moth" is a classic of societal world-building, but
alas, it is also a novelette (rather than a short story).  Even so, I will
continue: upon examination one sees how all the cultural stuff is given for
the direct purpose of the story, which itself is pretty slight when shorn
of all the Vancean detail.

Le Guin's "Semley's Necklace" (novelette?  I don't know) does the neat
trick of telling a story of two worlds and four or more cultures with
virtually no "world-building": she does it by using only off-the-shelf
stuff, in a clever way.  Shorn of details, the story itself is pretty
slight, as in the case of "Moon Moth," but from a completely different

Just a few thoughts.



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