East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The long and short of it

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I write mostly short stories and novellas. The main reasons, I think, have to do with time – on one hand, I often write to pay my bills, and writing fast is OK, but shorter works can be mailed out to publishers faster. But there is also another element, and it’s got to do with my impatience – as I often write to see how the story will go and what will happen to the characters, by writing short I get my answers sooner.

The same goes, I believe, with reading – as I grow old I find myself more attracted to short stories and novellas than to longer works, and I tend to prefer one shot novels to lengthy series.

But there are exceptions.

Two names come to mind immediately, and they are Neal Stephenson and Peter F. Hamilton. Two authors that seem incapable of keeping a book under the 700-pages mark.

Right now I am writing Hamilton’s Salvation, the first 500-pages book in a trilogy. I am liking it so far – and it worries me and it delights me in the same measure that I’ll have to catch volumes two and three afterwards.
This, while I still have a number of unread Hamilton trilogies on my Kindle, and on my wishlist.
And I still remember how I discovered this author – with the million-words Night’s Dawn Trilogy, that in Italy was later translated in twelve volumes – count’em… twelve!

And I’ve just been through Stephenson’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., co-written with Nicole Galland. A staggering 800-pages book. And again, I’ve another couple of Neal Stephenson books here, one of them as thick as a dictionary, and in hardback – a true safety risk when read in bed. Fall asleep, and you could get crushed.

So, what gives?
What’s causing me to break my rule of never getting involved in huge thick books and long series?

In the end it’s the same that made me go into C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner sequence (how many books are there in this series? Twenty-odd, right?), and why I am slowly building a full collection of P.C. Hodgell fantasy novels: because of the ideas, and the writing.

Also, these are stories that run like a freight train on jet fuel – you read through them at a nice clip, and my impatience to know “what next?” is easily satisfied.

Many years ago, while wasting some time in a bookstore, I heard an exchange between two young girls that were perusing the Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games shelf…

“What genre of books do you like?”
“The thick ones.”

But it turns out that “thick” is no genre, no more than “short” or “softcover”.
Right now I’m on a Science Fiction roll, and therefore Peter F. Hamilton’s big thick space operas or C.J. Cherryh’s complex alien societies are exactly what I need. Next I could go with a collection of short stories, an anthology, or one of those nifty novellas Tor.com publishes.

It’s good to be finally able to go beyond issues of page-count or number of volumes, by just focusing on how good the books are.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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