Charlie Stross: December 2014 Archives

Q: What constraints dictate the length of works of fiction?

A: Same as any other product: money and time …

The most familiar form of fiction in the English-language publishing world, today, is a stand-alone bound book containing a novel. (Perhaps the second most familiar form is the series novel, which recycles characters of a setting from earlier works, optionally continuing to unfold a multi-book story or hitting a reset button between novels, as with some TV serials.)

A typical modern novel is in the range 85,000-140,000 words. But there’s nothing inevitable about this. The shortest work of fiction I ever wrote and sold was seven words long; the longest was 196,000 words. I’ve written plenty of short stories, in the 3000-8000 word range, novelettes (8000-18,000 words), and novellas (20,000-45,000 words). (Anything longer than a novella is a “short novel” and deeply unfashionable these days, at least in adult genre fiction, which seems to be sold by the kilogram.)

One would think that it’s so much easier to write a 5000 word short story (it can sometimes be done in a day) than a novel (it can sometimes take years) that they should be commoner. But trade fiction authors who write for a living seem to focus exclusively on novels, to the point where some of us don’t write short fiction at all. Why is this? Stay with me below the cut and I’ll try to give you a [highly subjective, personal, biased] explanation.

Just so you know, I've delivered the next Laundry Files novel to my publishers and it's in the pipeline for publication in the first week of July. I don't have any covers to show you yet, but my editor at Ace has kindly agreed to let me share the cover copy (text) for The Annihilation Score with you:

Hugo Award-winning author Charles Stross presents the next case in The Laundry Files, "a weirdly alluring blend of super-spy thriller, deadpan comic fantasy, and Lovecraftian horror" (Kirkus Reviews).

Dominique O'Brien—her friends call her Mo—lives a curious double life with her husband, Bob Howard. To the average civilian, they're boring middle-aged civil servants. But within the labyrinthian secret circles of Her Majesty's government, they're operatives working for the nation's occult security service known as the Laundry, charged with defending Britain against dark supernatural forces threatening humanity.

Mo's latest assignment is assisting the police in containing an unusual outbreak: ordinary citizens suddenly imbued with extraordinary abilities of the super-powered kind. Unfortunately these people prefer playing super-pranks instead of super-heroics. The Mayor of London being levitated by a dumpy man in Trafalgar Square would normally be a source of shared amusement for Mo and Bob, but they're currently separated because something's come between them--something evil.

An antique violin, an Erich Zann original, made of human white bone, was designed to produce music capable of slaughtering demons. Mo is the custodian of this unholy instrument. It invades her dreams and yearns for the blood of her colleagues—and her husband. And despite Mo's proficiency as a world class violinist, it cannot be controlled ...

No, you can't pre-order this just yet. Patience: I'll let you know when it's available.

This is a bucket list. Feel free to contribute. To participate, items should be:

* affordable by weight and size and time (PLA or nylon feedstock isn't free—you're looking at up to £100/kg in bulk—and can take an hour per inch of depth to extrude)

* require only a consumer-grade 3D printer such as an UP! Mini-printer (anything costing over £2000 is disqualified—I'm after plausible hobbyist uses here—I assume you already have a computer to run design software on: high end sintered-metal printers are right out)

* shouldn't be a duplicate of a readily-available commercial product

* shouldn't already have a download available on Thingiverse (such as my head)

So Goodreads are trolling for author content. And they're trying to get authors with goodreads listings to make themselves available for Ask the Author events!

Shocking. I'd never have thought of doing that.

Anyway: here I am, I haven't done it for a while, so consider this your invitation to an open mike Q&A with me.

Note that I will be spending a good chunk of this week visiting relatives, so on a train/using an iPad/not responding promptly. I may decline to answer any question for any reason at all. I may even lie to you. (I am not a performing monkey: I will not dance if you shoot at my feet.)

What do you want to know?

In the previous discussion thread, someone mentioned having a problem with one particular far-future (well, set 400 years hence) SF novel that disrupted their reading of it so badly that they ended up giving up on the book. Interestingly, I had the exact same problem (and ended up bailing 50 pages before the end of a 1100 page novel—there's your sunk cost fallacy in a nutshell). And I think it's worth taking a look at it, because it's one of my own pet shibboleths and I'm bored and I want to take it out for a walk today.



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in December 2014.

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