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Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 12:54:14 -0700
From: Michael Andre-Driussi 
Subject: Re: (urth) limitations of short fiction

Rich Horton wrote:
>"Semley's Necklace" is just barely a novelette, at some 7700 words --
>but I don't think parsing short story/novelette distinctions at that
>level is useful.

Normally I would agree with you, except for three points:

1) the categorical distinctions are made professionally for publication and
(subsequently) awards, even if we readers don't much distinguish beyond the
scales of "short story" and "novel" in general;

2) granted that the main comparison is to Gene Wolfe's novels, still, I
don't believe anyone is complaining about Gene Wolfe's novellas (17,500 -
40,000 words), or novelettes ("Alien Stones," "Forlesen," "The Haunted
Boardinghouse," etc.) I think they are limiting themselves to short stories
(where the wordcount <= 7,500 words);

3) searching for a readily grasped comparison for the scale-differences in
novels and short stories, I was trying to think up "world-building" short
stories (where world-building seems almost exclusively the province of
novels) and was surprised/frustrated in that the couple I could think of
were in fact novelettes (which kind of proves my notion, in a way).

>One of the neat things about "Semley's Necklace" is that the
>"off-the-shelf" stuff includes fantasy conventions such as fairies and
>trolls.  It's an old trick to give those science fictional rationales,
>but Le Guin does so very gracefully, and the story turns on a
>particular fairy legend, given physical possibility by scientific
>means, and it does so very nicely.

Precisely: she uses stock sf and fairy tale stuff, and because each item
has a bookload of association behind it (from space adventure tales to
Brothers Grimm) she is able to tap into "world-building" power without the
wordcount.  It's all done by association.  And yes, she does it so well it
is as though she had invented the mode.  The later "Winter's King" is
smoother, having the developed Le Guin style, and is obviously a treatment
of the same story, but lately I'm not sure that it is the better of the two.

Is "Semley's Necklace" based on a specific fairy legend?  I did not know
that!  (I thought Le Guin was using elements, not importing wholesale.)
Please name the story for me.



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