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From: Richard Horton 
Subject: Re: (urth) limitations of short fiction
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 23:07:03 -0500

On Fri, 27 Jun 2003 12:54:14 -0700, you wrote:

>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 =
>(subsequently) awards, even if we readers don't much distinguish beyond =
>scales of "short story" and "novel" in general;

Well, yes (though the "publication" categories are notoriously loose
-- I've just been reading a 1961 issue of Galaxy with a 5500 word
story proudly labelled "novelette", and I note that in the old pulps
you sometimes saw 10,000 word stories bannered "Complete Novel").

>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 =
>(where the wordcount <=3D 7,500 words);

I'd argue that there is a useful short story/novella distinction, such
that at somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 words, perhaps, there is a
"phase change", if you will, or a qualitative difference in forms.
It's a loose distinction -- a 15,000 word story could be in form a
"short story" but a 10,000 word story a "novella".

All I really meant was that I didn't think it important that "Semley's
Necklace" is 7700 words but another story might be 7400.

>3) searching for a readily grasped comparison for the scale-differences =
>novels and short stories, I was trying to think up "world-building" =
>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).

I shall have to try to come up with a world building short -- but I do
think your notion is reasonable -- the longer the story, the more
building you can do, in general.

>>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 =
>wordcount.  It's all done by association.  And yes, she does it so well =
>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 =
>of the same story, but lately I'm not sure that it is the better of the =
>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.

I think I expressed myself poorly.  The overall plot is as far as I
know not specifically that of a given fairy tale, but it turns on a
common legend about fairies ... I will elaborate after spoiler space

The one where you go "under the hill" for a night and you return years

Rich Horton | Stable Email: mailto://richard.horton@sff.net
Home Page: http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton
Also visit SF Site (http://www.sfsite.com) and Tangent Online =


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