Size Matters

Those of you with a childish sense of humour* can stop chuckling now.

I have often thought about the importance of a story’s length, ever since reading the introduction to Michael Marshall Smith’s What You Make It. In fact, I hadn’t really read many short stories before then – that the National Curriculum prescribes so many novels and yet so few short stories, until only recently, is a matter for another post. I remember being amazed at the sheer power of the form, the succinctness and the viscerality. (Especially true of ‘Hell Hath Enlarged Herself’, which made me put the book down afterwards and just think.** Indeed, I have mentioned before that in fact, I think the greatest form for the horror story is the short.

Regarding short fiction – which seems to be undergoing a renaissance, at least amongst readers if not markets, as Nicholas Royle’s article today on the form suggests – I think that there is a lot to be said for the form in modern society. The short story is lauded for its ability / inclination to be read in an entire sitting.*** With so many distractions in today’s society, a story that is designed to be read in one fell swoop forces back the tedium of reality and its responsibilites. It doesn’t let you out – you are forced to maintain your suspension of disbelief until it is done.

There are a lot of fragmented stories these days. The way in which most people read novels. Television dramas – serialised and often interrupted by adverts. Even movies tend to be interrupted by people going to the toilet.

Do you prefer to read novels to short stories? What do you enjoy most about the short story form? What is your favourite short story and why?

Your turn.

* Thought clearly more than a child’s knowledge.

** Read it.

*** See Nick’s article/

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Size Matters

7 thoughts on “Size Matters

  1. Phill Smith says:

    I’m a big fan of Greg Egan, and I think that Luminous is perhaps one of my favourites of his: not an amazing writer, but he is a fantastic thinker and the ideas he summons up are so brain explodingly weird, I love it.

    I grew up on Asimov though, and his robot stories are gold, as were his Azazel stories. To be honest I can’t remember any individual stories as being A* but their consistency was fascinating.

    In fact thinking about it now, I’m pretty sure Asimov got me into writing. Thanks for that!

    1. archaism says:

      Asimov I have been meaning to read for ages, and whilst Egan sounds familiar, I’m not sure I’ve heard of him. I do think though that quality of ideas can buoy up a short story quite well, whereas its immediately offputting if a novel is badly written. Case in point – I haven’t even finished the first page of Ordinary Thunderstorms* and I’m a compulsive reader.

      * The sample page on every Kindle ad, and a possible future post.

      1. Phill Smith says:

        By ‘meaning to read Asimov’ you mean you HAVEN’T? Outrageous!

        Egan isn’t a bad writer, but he is not prone to literary gymnastics. The story is a framework to explore the ideas often, perhaps more so than the other way round. That doesn’t sound like much cop but the ideas are sublime.

        I guess short form fiction forgives the minimal characterisation that is a bit of a hallmark of scifi writing a bit more than a novel does, and a single concept that would buckle under the weight of a novel can easily carry a short story to glory.

        Science fiction is largely the fiction of impersonal ideas so I think it suits the format nicely. That said, Egan’s novels are great too, mountains of remarkable ideas. Diaspora is probably my favourite.

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