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17,500 words or more

A few weeks ago in a review of Kate Wilhelm’s ‘The Infinity Box’ – see here – sf critic Paul Kincaid mentioned it was one of his favourite novellas. He also provided a link to an earlier post on another blog giving his favourite science fiction novellas – see here. So, of course, I started thinking about a list of my own… and immediately hit a couple of snags…

I like the novella, I think it’s an interesting length. It gives you the freedom to experiment you don’t have in a novel, and the room to experiment you don’t have in a short story. The four books of the Apollo Quartet are novellas, and I plan to write further at that length. But. Novellas are not as common as short stories – because they’re harder to write and harder to sell – and, as I tried putting together a list of ten favourite novellas, I discovered that few of them are all that memorable. It’s likely down to pure numbers: I’ve read so many short stories that I can quite easily think of ten which have stayed with me over the years. But ten novellas? Have I read enough for a critical mass of favourites to form?

The first few choices were easy. But then I had to resort to various collections and anthologies to prompt my memory. I also discovered that some of my choices were actually novelettes…

I hate the novelette.

It is a completely useless category. According to the Hugo Awards, a short story is up to 7,499 words, a novelette between 7,500 and 17,499 words, and a novella between 17,500 and 39,999 words. Anything over that is a novel. Back in the day, magazines apparently offered different pay rates for short stories, novelettes and novellas, and some magazines – well, Asimov’s and Analog – still list stories by category in their table of contents. But the novelette as a category serves no useful function for readers. There are short stories and there are novellas. Why do we need something in between? So the Hugo and Nebula Awards can hand out more awards to the voters’ friends? Most genre awards only have a short fiction category, they don’t even make a distinction between short story and novella…

But, as I said earlier, I like novellas, and I think it’s important to recognise them in the annual awards merry-go-round. But, please, kill the novelette. Expunge it, exterminate it, marmelize it, remove it from every ballot and magazine TOC.

Anyway, my favourite novellas… After some research, I managed a list of ten, all of which were categorised as novellas by isfdb.org. But restricting myself to stories of 17,500 to 39,999 words meant I’d been forced to chose some novellas I would be hard-pressed to call favourites. So I thought, sod it. I don’t care if some of them are novelettes. I reject the bloody category anyway. Which is how I ended up with the following ten novella/ettes…

‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1959)
One of the things about a favourite piece of short fiction is that you can remember where you first read it. This was in an anthology called The Future Makers which I was given as a present one Christmas or birthday back in my early teens. The story itself is a piece of spy fiction with added aliens, and there’s something about its 1950s thriller template that makes it more memorable than it would be otherwise. It was also published separately as a novel under the same title.

‘Empire Star’, Samuel R Delany (1966)
Delany was one of my favourite writers during my teens and twenties, and I read everything by him I could lay my hands on. Dhalgren remains a favourite novel. But I remember being really impressed by the Moebius strip-like structure of this novella when I first read it. And it still impresses me on rereads. I first read it as one half of a Sphere double with ‘The Ballad of Beta-2′, and I’m pretty sure it was while on holiday in Paris with the family in the early 1980s.

‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
I’ve been a fan of Varley’s fiction since first reading one of his Eight Worlds short stories, but I can’t actually remember when I first read him. Having said that, ‘The Barbie Murders’ is not an Eight Worlds story but an Anna-Louise Bach one – although like many of the former, it’s set on the Moon. There is something very creepy about the story’s central premise – a cult in which all the members have had themselves surgically remade to resemble Barbie; and Varley uses this idea to ask questions about identity. I also think this is one of those stories which exists in that Schrödinger’s-Cat-like area between utopia and dystopia.

‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
I read this is The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection, and it’s probably the premier work of time paradox fiction in the genre. It originally appeared in an author collection, Novelty: Four Stories, and has even been published as a standalone novella.

‘Identifying the Object’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
This story (it’s one of ones on this list that’s actually a novelette) first appeared in Interzone #42, December 1990, under the title ‘Forward Echoes’. It’s the story that turned me into a collector of Gwyneth Jones’ fiction, Later, she amended it and it was published under its new title as the title story in a chapbook by Swan Press of Austin, Texas. The story takes place in the same world as Jones’ Aleutian trilogy, Buonarotti stories and Spirit: The Princess of Bois Dormant.

‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
I first read this in the collection Four Ways to Forgiveness, and of the four novellas in that collection, it’s the one that stood out the most for me. There are a lot of stories set in the Ekumen which could have made it onto this list, but most of them aren’t really long enough to qualify as novellas.

‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
I read this in the issue of Asimov’s in which it appeared, March 1996. In my contribution to the Acnestis APA a couple of months later, I described it as “brilliant” and wrote that “if it doesn’t get nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula, then there’s no justice”. In fact, it was shortlisted for the Hugo as a novelette and the World Fantasy Award as a novella (which proves my point above), and shortlisted for the Tiptree.

‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
Science fiction is full of Big Dumb Objects, from Niven’s ringworld to Clarke’s Rama, but most are associated with quite dull pieces of fiction. Reed’s ‘Marrow’ is told with a very clinical, detached voice, which only heightens the impact of the BDOs which furnish this novella. There’s the Great Ship, a slower-than-light starship the size and shape of a gas giant, and there’s the title world itself, which exists at the core of the Great Ship. This novellas was later fixed up into a novel of the same title.

‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
When I first read this in Interzone #124, October 1997, I characterised it as one of Watson’s occasional completely-off-the-wall stories, the ones he churns out every now and again that are even more bonkers than his usual output. It’s about jigsaws, Vidkun Quisling, Nazi occultism, and getting naked in an Oslo park. I liked it a lot, and it was certainly memorable. And then it re-appeared as the first section of the novel Mockymen, and it seemed even more mad, and I liked it even more. It reads like fantasy, and to use it as the opener for a sf novel (about aliens invading Earth) demonstrates such an insane view of genre that it’s hard not to admire its brazenness.

‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
I read this as a standalone chapbook published by Phoenix Pick, which I’d purchased after being mightily impressed by Gilman’s fantasy Isles of the Forsaken. I reviewed ‘Arkfall’ for Daughters of Prometheus – see here – and yes, its setting could almost have been designed to appeal to me, but it was the social world-building Gilman does in the novel that, I think, most impressed me. It is certainly a novella that has haunted me since I read it.

So there you have it, ten pieces of long short fiction of novella-ish-type length. I suspect if I were to try the same exercise a couple of years from now I might come up with a slightly different list. But this will do for now. And I’m serious about getting rid of the novelette.


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The list: 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women

Now let the arguing begin…

The list below contains 100 pieces of short fiction – short stories, novelettes and novellas – by women writers, published between 1927 and 2012. Each author appears only once. The stories are by no means the best by each writer. In most cases, I’m simply not familiar enough with an oeuvre to choose the best; in other cases, I’ve picked a story I’ve read and thought good, and yes, there are a few of my favourite stories in the list too. I’ve not read them all – some came from suggestions on Twitter or on an earlier post on this blog (many thanks to all who contributed), others I took from various award lists or Year’s Best TOCs. One or two fantasy stories might have sneaked through the net, because I couldn’t find copies to read and check. However, the list should all be science fiction – and it should also demonstrate a good spread of styles and themes and approaches across the genre.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that women have been writing good science fiction since the beginnings of the genre – a point signally ignored by the table of contents of the 1978 anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, which contained only five stories by women. The first story on this list, for example, came third in a competition in Amazing Stories during the magazine’s second year of publication.

1 ‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’, Clare Winger Harris (1927, short story) online here
2 ‘The Conquest of Gola,’ Leslie F Stone (1931, short story) available in
3 ‘Water Pirate’, Leigh Brackett (1941, short story) available in
4 ‘Space Episode’, Leslie Perri (1941, short story) available in
5 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944, novelette) available in
6 ‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merril (1948, short story) available in
7 ‘Contagion’, Katherine Maclean (1950, novelette) available in
8 ‘Brightness Falls from the Air’, Margaret St Clair [as Idris Seabright] (1951, short story) available in
9 ‘All Cats are Gray’, Andre Norton (1953, short story) available in
10 ‘The Last Day’, Helen Clarkson (1958, short story) available in
11 ‘Captivity’, Zenna Henderson (1958, novella) available in
12 ‘The New You’, Kit Reed (1962, short story) online here
13 ‘The Putnam Tradition’, Sonya Dorman (1963, short story) online here
14 ‘Lord Moon’, MJ Engh [as Jane Beauclerk] (1965, short story) available in
15 ‘Weyr Search’, Anne McCaffrey (1967, novella) available in
16 ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline (1967, short story) online here
17 ‘The Steiger Effect’, Betsy Curtis (1968, short story) available in
18 ‘The Power of Time’, Josephine Saxton (1971, novelette) available in
19 ‘And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side’, James Tiptree Jr (1972, short story) available in
20 ‘When It Changed’, Joanna Russ (1972, short story) online here
21 ‘Sheltering Dream’, Doris Piserchia (1972, short story) available in
22 ‘Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand’, Vonda N McIntyre (1973, novelette) available in
23 ‘Clone Sister’, Pamela Sargent (1973, novelette) available in
24 ‘The Violet’s Embryo’, Angélica Gorodischer (1973, novelette) online here (excerpt)
25 ‘Stone Circle’, Lisa Tuttle (1976, short story) available in
26 ‘Eyes of Amber’, Joan D Vinge (1977, novelette) available in
27 ‘Cassandra, CJ Cherryh (1978, short story) available in
28 ‘The View from Endless Scarp’, Marta Randall (1978, short story) online here
29 ‘Scorched Supper on New Niger’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1980, novelette) available in
30 ‘Abominable’, Carol Emshwiller (1980, short story) available in
31 ‘Sea Changeling’, Mildred Downey Broxon (1981, novelette) available in
32 ‘In the Western Tradition’, Phyllis Eisenstein (1981, novella) available in
33 ‘Her Furry Face’, Leigh Kennedy (1983, short story) available in
34 ‘Bloodchild’ Octavia E Butler (1984, novelette) available in
35 ‘Symphony for a Lost Traveller’, Lee Killough (1984, short story) available in
36 ‘All My Darling Daughters’, Connie Willis (1985, novelette) available in
37 ‘Webrider’, Jayge Carr (1985, short story) available in
38 ‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’, Nancy Kress (1985, short story) available in
39 ‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (1986, novelette) available in
40 ‘Reichs-Peace’, Sheila Finch (1986, novelette) available in
41 ‘Daily Voices’, Lisa Goldstein (1986, short story) available in
42 ‘Rachel in Love’, Pat Murphy (1987, novelette) available in
43 ‘Forever Yours, Anna’, Kate Wilhelm (1987, short story) available in
44 ‘Stable Strategies for Middle Management’, Eileen Gunn (1988, short story) available in
45 ‘War and Rumours of War’, Candas Jane Dorsey (1988, short story) available in
46 ‘The Mountains of Mourning’, Lois McMaster Bujold (1989, novella) available in
47 ‘Tiny Tango’, Judith Moffett (1989, novella) available in
48 ‘Identifying the Object’, Gwyneth Jones (1990, novelette) available in
49 ‘Loose Cannon’, Susan Shwartz (1990, novelette) available in
50 ‘Dispatches from the Revolution’, Pat Cadigan (1991, novelette) available here
51 ‘The Road to Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991, short story) online here
52 ‘The Missionary’s Child’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novelette) available in
53 ‘The Story So Far’, Martha Soukup (1993, short story) available in
54 ‘The Good Pup’, Bridget McKenna (1993, short story) available in
55 ‘California Dreamer’, Mary Rosenblum (1994, short story) available in
56 ‘Last Summer at Mars Hill’, Elizabeth Hand (1994, novella) available in
57 ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, Ursula K Le Guin (1995, novelette) available in
58 ‘De Secretis Mulierum’, L Timmel Duchamp (1995, novella) available in
59 ‘Merlusine’, Lucy Sussex (1997, novelette) available in
60 ‘Noble Mold’, Kage Baker (1997, short story) available in
61 ‘All the Birds of Hell’, Tanith Lee (1998, novelette) available in
62 ‘Rain Season’, Leanne Frahm (1998, short story) available in
63 ‘Echea’, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1998, novelette) available in
64 ‘Patient Zero’, Tananarive Due (2000, short story) online here
65 ‘Knapsack Poems’, Eleanor Arnason (2002, short story) available in
66 ‘State of Oblivion’, Kaaron Warren (2003, short story) available in
67 ‘Inside Out’, Michaela Roessner (2004, short story) online here
68 ‘Griots of the Galaxy’, Andrea Hairston (2004, novelette) available in
69 ‘Riding the White Bull’, Caitlín R Kiernan (2004, novelette) available in
70 ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (2006, short story) available in
71 ‘Captive Girl’, Jennifer Pelland (2006, short story) online here
72 ‘The Bride Price’, Cat Sparks (2007, short story) available in
73 ‘Tideline’, Elizabeth Bear (2007, short story) online here
74 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008, novella) available in
75 ‘Legolas does the Dishes’, Justina Robson (2008, short story) available in
76 ‘The Ecologist and the Avon Lady’, Tricia Sullivan (2008, novelette) available in
77 ‘Infinities’, Vandana Singh (2008, novelette) available in
78 ‘Chica, Let Me Tell You a Story’, Alex Dally MacFarlane (2008, short story) available in
79 ‘Spider the Artist’, Nnedi Okrafor (2008, short story) online here
80 ‘Cold Words’, Juliette Wade (2009, novelette) available in
81 ‘Eros, Philia, Agape’, Rachel Swirsky (2009, novelette) onine here
82 ‘Non-Zero Probabilities’, NK Jemisin (2009, short story) online here
83 ‘Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’, Eugie Foster (2009, short story) available in
84 ‘It Takes Two’, Nicola Griffith (2009, novelette) available in
85 ‘Blood, Blood’, Abbey Mei Otis (2010, short story) online here and here
86 ‘The Other Graces’, Alice Sola Kim (2010, short story) available in
87 ‘Agents of Repair’, Rosie Oliver (2010, short story) available in
88 ‘Amaryllis’, Carrie Vaughn (2010, short story) online here
89 ‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, Vylar Kaftan (2010, short story) online here
90 ‘Flying in the Face of God’, Nina Allan (2010, short story) available in
91 ‘Six Months, Three Days’, Charlie Jane Anders (2011, short story) online here
92 ‘Nahiku West’, Linda Nagata (2011, novelette) available in
93 ‘The Cartographer Bees and the Anarchist Wasps’, E Lily Yu (2011, short story) online here
94 ‘Silently and Very Fast’, Catherynne M Valente (2011, novella) online here, here and here
95 ‘Jagannath’, Karin Tidbeck (2011, short story) available in
96 ‘A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel’, Yoon Ha Lee (2011, short story) online here
97 ‘Immersion’, Aliette de Bodard (2012, short story) online here
98 ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012, novelette) online here
99 ‘The Green’, Lauren Beukes (2012, short story) available in
100 ‘Significant Dust’, Margo Lanagan (2012, novelette) available in

No doubt there are stories and authors I’ve missed off the list, and which/who you feel strongly should be on it. Tell me so in a comment. Also, feel free to disseminate the list as a meme – you know, bold those you’ve read, italicise those on the TBR; or something like that.

For the record, I’ve read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 53, 55, 57, 58, 64, 65, 70, 73, 74, 75, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98. Which I make to be sixty-three in total. Not too bad a showing…

ETA
This is a list of short fiction – short stories, novelettes and novels. If you’re interested in novels by women sf writers, then check out SF Mistressworks.

ETA #2: NOTES FOR REDDITORS
This is the easy summary for those on reddit who seem to have trouble understanding the purpose of this list:

  1. It is not novels, it is short stories, novelettes and novellas.
  2. Each writer appears only once.
  3. It is not a list of “best” or “top” sf stories by women. It is “great” because it was inspired by the anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories.
  4. The list demonstrates that women have been writing good science fiction since the genre was created in 1926.
  5. There are many more than 100 excellent women sf writers, but I chose 100 because of the anthology named in point 3.
  6. The gender of the author is not irrelevant. Find me a list of great or top or best sf stories where at least half were written by women. You will fail.
  7. The stories were chosen from a) my own favourites, b) suggestions by other people, c) award shortlists, and d) the tables of contents of Year’s Best anthologies.
  8. I have read 63 of the stories on the list.
  9. There are several authors on the list who have yet to have novels published – ie, new authors.
  10. If there’s someone missing you feel should be on the list, tell me in a comment.
  11. I’m happy to defend all my choices – leave a comment.
  12. Finally, why not click on the links in the list and read those stories which are available online?


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Locus All-Centuries Poll short fiction results

Locus posted the short fiction results to its poll a couple of days ago and the results are… not entirely unexpected. Americocentric. A little more diverse in terms of race and gender than the novel results, but not by that much. And yes, pretty much exclusively Anglophone. But let’s see how my choices did…

20th Century SF/F Novella
22 – 1 ‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
6 – 2 ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, Gene Wolfe (1972)
51 – 3 ‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
0 – 4 ‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1958)
72 – 5 ‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1985)
83 – 6 ‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
0 – 7 ‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
1 – 8 ‘Story of Your Life’, Ted Chiang (1998)
71 – 9 ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, Richard Cowper (1976)
10

Well, I picked the number one novella, although I had it down at number eight. A single Aldiss novella barely made the top fifty – so much for his sixty-year career (though I will admit ‘Equator’ is not generally seen as one of his career highlights; I still love it, however.) A single Ian Watson novelette made it to number 117 – so there’s another British author who has been cruelly neglected.

Instead, the actual top twenty had Chiang, old favourites like Heinlein and Simak and John W Campbell and Sturgeon and Lovecraft, and six women (including US middle-aged fan favourite Connie Willis). Most, surprisingly, are science fiction, rather than fantasy.

20th Century SF/F Novelette
108 – 1 ‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
170 – 2 ‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
0 – 3 ‘The Time-Tombs’, JG Ballard (1963)
73 – 4 ‘A Little Something For Us Tempunauts’, Philip K Dick (1974)
157 – 5 ‘Black Air’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1983)
0 – 6 ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’, Leigh Brackett (1952)
100 – 7 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944)
0 – 8 ‘FOAM’, Brian W Aldiss (1991)
44 – 9 ‘Swarm’, Bruce Sterling (1982)
0 – 10 ‘Housecall’, Terry Dowling (1986)

A few more zeros here, meaning no one selected those choices as their number one. My highest placer is Bruce Sterling at 44, and I thought that was my most commercial pick. I should have instead listed ‘The View From Venus: A Case Study’ by Karen Joy Fowler, which, er, no one picked at all.

The actual top twenty has the execrable ‘Nightfall’ at number two. Kill it with fire. And another Asimov at number four. Plus Harlan Ellison (it’s harder to know which to despise more, the man or his fiction). Three women, although Tiptree is selected twice. Samuel Delany sneaks in at number sixteen. All twenty novelettes are by Americans (the first Brit appears at 41).

20th Century SF/F Short Story
56 – 1 ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill Side’, James Tiptree Jr. (1972)
25 – 2 ‘Air Raid’, John Varley (1977)
0 – 3 ‘Forward Echoes (AKA Identifying the Object)’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
213 – 4 ‘The Lake of Tuonela’, Keith Roberts (1973)
0 – 5 ‘The Road To Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991)
0 – 6 ‘A Map of the Mines of Barnath’, Sean Williams (1995)
0 – 7 ‘The Brains Of Rats’, Michael Blumlein (1986)
22 – 8 ‘Aye, And Gomorrah’, Samuel R Delany (1967)
276 – 9 ‘A Gift From The Culture’, Iain M Banks (1987)
101 – 10 ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

I wasn’t expecting to have many popular choices in this category, but not a single one of mine made it into the top twenty. Delany came highest at 22, and then Varley at 25. And they’re popular works of sf. I got four zeroes.

The actual results featured Ellison (3), Heinlein (2), Clarke (3), Asimov, Bradbury (2)… It’s Dead White Male time. (Except Ellison isn’t dead, of course.) Four women. JG Ballard’s highest placing is 47, which is dismaying. Looking at the results, I see a lot of stories that are repeatedly anthologised. Well, there you go…

21st Century SF/F Novella
59 – 1 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
0 – 2 ‘My Death’, Lisa Tuttle (2004)
6 – 3 ‘Diamond Dogs’, Alastair Reynolds (2001)
0 – 4 ‘Dangerous Space’, Kelley Eskridge (2007)
0 – 5 ‘A Writer’s Life’, Eric Brown (2001)

I’ve read two of the novellas which made the top ten in this category. One of them was the Reynolds. I was surprised Carolyn Ives Gilman didn’t get zero, but then it was originally published in Asimov’s. Two of the others were original novellas from PS Publishing, so no surprise with the zeroes there…

21st Century SF/F Novelette
2 – 1 ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, Ted Chiang (2007)
66 – 2 ‘Divining Light’, Ted Kosmatka (2008)
3
4
5

I freely admit to being crap at this category. Not only is the novelette a completely useless category and should be roundly expunged from, well, everything, but I’ve not read enough long short fiction published this century. Still, my number one choice made number two. Still, Chiang… (On the other hand, he also made the number one spot.)

As it is, the top ten are all genre darlings – Chiang, Link, Gaiman, Stross, Miéville, Bacigalupi…

21st Century SF/F Short Story

I was so rubbish at this one, I couldn’t think of a single story to nominate. If I had chosen the story I remembered after the deadline, ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley, it would have come… nowhere. No one picked it. Instead, we got ten relatively recent award winners, with a couple of outliers – Le Guin and Swanwick.

We can thus conclude that all worthwhile science fiction and fantasy short fiction is written by a group of about thirty people, over half of whom are dead. Of course, this is a consequence of the small number of voters, most of whom probably fit a fairly similar profile. I’m not sure how useful an exercise that makes the poll, though as a guideline for changing a reader’s approach to the genre it offers a possible blueprint. You know, don’t read the writers in the top twenties for each category, read other ones instead, ones you may not have come across before. Diversify your diet of genre fiction. Add some diversity to it.

And finally, I just have to say something about the amazingly stupid remark made in the comment thread on the results page:

“If there was more women and minorities that cared enough to vote in this poll, then there would have been more females and minorities on the list. you cannot blame others for it.”

Poor grammar aside, it’s a remarkably dumb thing to say. Because of course only women and minorities nominate women and minorities. And women only vote for women, just as minorities only vote for minorities. Someone take away Maddog’s computer, he’s clearly too stupid to use it properly.


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The Novel Poll results are in

… and oh dear. Well, that’s a little embarrassing. The results for the novels for the Locus All-Centuries Poll are in – see here. The best science fiction novel of the twentieth century is apparently Frank Herbert’s Dune, the best fantasy novel of the twentieth century is The Lord of the Rings, the best sf novel of the twenty-first century is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and the best fantasy novel of the twenty-first century is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

These results only show that most people confuse popularity with quality. I love Dune and I’ve read it many times, but it’s not a very well-written book. In fact, Herbert’s prose rarely rises above the embarrassingly bad. The Lord of the Rings is the giant elephant in the fantasy room, and it’s about time fantasy got over it. The less said about the twenty-first century novel choices, the better. I’ve read neither, I have no intention of reading them, they are not books I’d ever consider would merit the description “best”.

Unsurprisingly, my own choices did woefully badly. Only one actually made it onto a list – Watership Down at number ten on the 20th Century Fantasy Novel. For the record, here are the actual positions of my choices, where 0 (zero) means the book was not chosen as number one on a list by anyone.

20th Century SF Novel
221 – 1 Coelestis, Paul Park (1993)
206 – 2 Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
16 – 3 The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974)
283 – 4 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
0 – 5 Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968)
349 – 6 Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)
0 – 7 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
35 – 8 Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
0 – 9 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)
76 – 10 The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)

20th Century Fantasy Novel
229 – 1 Aegypt, John Crowley (1987)
265 – 2 In Viriconium, M John Harrison (1982)
236 – 3 Rats & Gargoyles, Mary Gentle (1990)
34 – 4 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock (1984)
0 – 5 Lens of the World, RA McAvoy (1990)
10 – 6 Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972)
102 – 7 The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (1995)
62 – 8 Tehanu, Ursula K Le Guin (1990)
18 – 9 The Book Of The New Sun, Gene Wolfe (1983)
0 – 10 The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz (1992)

21st Century SF Novel
14 – 1 Light, M John Harrison (2002)
67 – 2 Life, Gwyneth Jones (2004)
0 – 3 Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007)
0 – 4 Alanya to Alanya, L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
0 – 5 The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (2009)

21st Century Fantasy Novel
0 – 1 Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002)
87 – 2 A Princess of Roumania, Paul Park (2005)
0 – 3 Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005)
155 – 4 Hav, Jan Morris (2006)
0 – 5 Lord of Stone, Keith Brooke (2001)

So there we have it: popularity contest picks most popular novels and calls them “best”. In other words, a total waste of time. I knew going in that some of my choices were reasonably obscure – not totally obscure, as they were published by major publishing houses – but even so I expected some people to recognise their quality. Sadly not. And even my choices for the more popular and better-known authors didn’t even make it into the final top ten or top five. I mean, no halfway-intelligent person can consider Old Man’s War to be a better book than Light. Not, and be taken seriously. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Sf and fantasy aren’t taken seriously. And never will be as long as we pull stupid strokes like the results of this poll.

So, science fiction and fantasy, go and stand in the corner.


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Locus poll adden-doh

So, a day or two after I filled in my selections for the Locus Poll of Polls (see here), I stumbled across this Mind Meld I did back in October 2010 on my perfect short fiction anthology. While most of the TOC made it into my categories for the polls, some didn’t and I wish I’d managed to remember them. The missing ones were:

‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merrill (short story, 1948)
I went for ‘No Woman Born’ by CL Moore instead. I’d have to reread both to decide which of the two I should have chosen. It might have been both.

‘The Sword of Rhiannon’, Leigh Brackett (novel, 1949)
This is apparently a novel, so it doesn’t even belong in a short fiction anthology. Whoops. I picked Brackett’s ‘The Last Days of Shandrakor’ for my 20th Century SF/F Novelette category.

‘A Woman Naked’, Christopher Priest (short story, 1974)
I did think about including this one, but I had more than ten choices for my 20th Century SF/F Short Story category. Even though some turned out to be novelettes, I still had to say no to a couple of titles. Incidentally, I wrote a guest post on this story on Gav Reads – see here.

‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (novelette, 1986)
I considered this one too, but I thought it was a short story and I was over-subscribed in that category. But I’ve just looked on isfdb.org and it’s down as a novelette. So I should have included it in that category, probably in place of the Sterling or the Dowling.

‘In Saturn Time’, William Barton (short story, 1995)
Like the Priest, I considered this, but had no free space in the category.

‘Beside the Sea’, Keith Brooke (short story, 1995)
I’d forgotten about this one, but I suspect it wouldn’t have made the cut anyway. Though it is an excellent short story.

‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (short story, 2006)
I wish I’d remembered this one. I left my 21st Century SF/F Short Story category blank, but I’d have included this one if I’d remembered it. Argh.

I only managed nine in the 20th Century SF/F Novella category, two in the 21st Century SF/F Novelette, and none in 21st Century SF/F Short Story. I think I need to read more short fiction from the first decade of this century. It’s not like I’m prevented from doing so – I have a huge pile of Interzones, a shelf full of Postscripts, and a whole bunch of other magazines and anthologies…

So, I think, as a resolution for 2013, I shall work towards putting together a short fiction best of the year, as I do every year for books, films and albums. That should encourage me to read more short stories. I’ll not differentiate between short story, novelette or novella – they’ll all be munged together into one list. Nor will I work overly hard at reading as much as possible. If a story doesn’t grab me within the first 500 to 1,000 words, I’ll not bother finishing it. I’ll stick to the venues I usually frequent, though if someone recommends a story published elsewhere I’ll give it a go. Hopefully, by the end of the year I’ll have enough to choose from to list the five best. I’ll even be able to pick stories to nominate for the BSFA Award. (hint, hint.)


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The humungous Locus poll and my picks for it

I hate polls; polls are stupid things. Picking the best fiction with a popularity contest? Fail. But I had a bash at it anyway. Not that my choices are likely to appear in the final top ten in any category, or cause anything but the tiniest amount of skew in the results. But it was sort of fun as an intellectual exercise.

Picking out the novels was easy enough, but the short fiction categories were hard, especially the 21st century ones. Some stories stay with you for years afterwards, but they’re few and far between. And numbers alone – plus the fact I don’t read every piece of short fiction as it’s published – means I probably encountered few memorable stories during the first decade of this century.

Anyway, for what it’s worth here are my picks:

20th Century SF Novel
1 Coelestis, Paul Park (1993)
2 Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
3 The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974)
4 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
5 Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968)
6 Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)
7 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
8 Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
9 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)
10 The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)

20th Century Fantasy Novel
1 Aegypt, John Crowley (1987)
2 In Viriconium, M John Harrison (1982)
3 Rats & Gargoyles, Mary Gentle (1990)
4 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock (1984)
5 Lens of the World, RA McAvoy (1990)
6 Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972)
7 The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (1995)
8 Tehanu, Ursula K Le Guin (1990)
9 The Book Of The New Sun, Gene Wolfe (1983)
10 The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz (1992)

20th Century SF/F Novella
1 ‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
2 ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, Gene Wolfe (1972)
3 ‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
4 ‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1958)
5 ‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1985)
6 ‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
7 ‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
8 ‘Story of Your Life’, Ted Chiang (1998)
9 ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, Richard Cowper (1976)
10

20th Century SF/F Novelette
1 ‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
2 ‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
3 ‘The Time-Tombs’, JG Ballard (1963)
4 ‘A Little Something For Us Tempunauts’, Philip K Dick (1974)
5 ‘Black Air’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1983)
6 ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’, Leigh Brackett (1952)
7 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944)
8 ‘FOAM’, Brian W Aldiss (1991)
9 ‘Swarm’, Bruce Sterling (1982)
10 ‘Housecall’, Terry Dowling (1986)

20th Century SF/F Short Story
1 ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill Side’, James Tiptree Jr. (1972)
2 ‘Air Raid’, John Varley (1977)
3 ‘Forward Echoes (AKA Identifying the Object)’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
4 ‘The Lake of Tuonela’, Keith Roberts (1973)
5 ‘The Road To Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991)
6 ‘A Map of the Mines of Barnath’, Sean Williams (1995)
7 ‘The Brains Of Rats’, Michael Blumlein (1986)
8 ‘Aye, And Gomorrah’, Samuel R Delany (1967)
9 ‘A Gift From The Culture’, Iain M Banks (1987)
10 ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

21st Century SF Novel
1 Light, M John Harrison (2002)
2 Life, Gwyneth Jones (2004)
3 Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007)
4 Alanya to Alanya, L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
5 The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (2009)

21st Century Fantasy Novel
1 Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002)
2 A Princess of Roumania, Paul Park (2005)
3 Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005)
4 Hav, Jan Morris (2006)
5 Lord of Stone, Keith Brooke (2001)

21st Century SF/F Novella
1 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
2 ‘My Death’, Lisa Tuttle (2004)
3 ‘Diamond Dogs’, Alastair Reynolds (2001)
4 ‘Dangerous Space’, Kelley Eskridge (2007)
5 ‘A Writer’s Life’, Eric Brown (2001)

21st Century SF/F Novelette
1 ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, Ted Chiang (2007)
2 ‘Divining Light’, Ted Kosmatka (2008)
3
4
5

21st Century SF/F Short Story
1
2
3
4
5

Well, the same names crop up in most lists, but that’s because I think those writers are amongst the most interesting in genre fiction. I did trawl through the lists of suggested titles provided by Locus, but there were few novels or stories I liked or thought especially good – in fact, many of choices above don’t appear on any of their lists. I’ve not read enough 21st century short fiction to pick the five best. I managed it with a handful of novellas and novelettes, but short stories?

(No doubt I’ll think of possible titles the moment I hit the “Publish” button on this post…)

And let me once more ask what on earth is the use of the novelette? It’s an entirely arbitrary and useless category. Anything bigger than a short story but smaller than a novel is a novella. The only places where novelette is used as a category is in the Big Three genre magazines and US genre awards. And it seems to me it only exists so the big friendly and incestuous club of US genre writers have an excuse to give each other yet another award. Get rid of it, please.


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Doing the Hugos, Part 2

Now it’s the turn of the novelettes. The Hugo Award for Best Novelette is “awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) words”. This year’s shortlist looks like this:

‘Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders’ by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
Sigh. Another Resnick. He’s one of those authors who regularly appears on the Hugo and Nebula shortlists, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. Clearly he’s popular, but when an award is given for the “best” of a category that’s what I expect it to be. This is a tired old Crumbly Fantasy – two old codgers reminisce about a magic shop they used to frequent as kids. They go looking for it and – big surprise – they find it and…. I think people have been writing variations on this deal-with-the-devil / youth-regained story since Poe. Its appearance on this shortlist is, well, baffling….

‘The Gambler’ by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
At least this is 21st Century science fiction. It’s also very good, with a clever extrapolation of some aspects of current technology. But, more than that, it’s relevant. It’s about our world and our future. It’s not some rosy-tinted reminiscence about the dead past. Science fiction is neither predictive nor didactic, but it should certainly look forward. This novelette does exactly that. And it’s very well-written. It belongs on the shortlist.

‘Pride and Prometheus’ by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
This one is very good, this one I like. Austen meets Shelley; one of the Bennetts meets Victor Frankenstein. The Pride and Prejudice pastiche is not pitch-perfect (ugh, too much alliteration), although the modern cadences do make it a more contemporary read. And the ending is rushed. But the writing is very good, and Kessel captures the flavour of Regency England quite well. (I’m not so convinced Mary Bennett would have been quite so willing to meet privately with the various men, but that’s a minor quibble.) Frankenstein is a bit wet, but the monster is handled well. Perhaps the story’s impact has been a little spoiled by the recent publicity for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but never mind.

‘The Ray-Gun: A Love Story’ by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
There’s something a little old-fashioned about this novelette too – its style rather than its subject. A boy finds a ray-gun, it changes his life; but not in the way you’d expect a ray-gun to do so. He could have found a leprechaun’s hat or a magic dog turd, it would not have substantially changed this story. Which does make you wonder what the point is. It’s well-written and very engaging, but it’s a little worrying to have so many stories driven by nostalgia on the shortlist this year.

‘Shoggoths in Bloom’ by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
I wanted to dislike this story. There seemed to be too much in it – 1930s race relations, Nazi persecution of Jews, WWI, and a sudden swerve towards slavery at the end – and I couldn’t decide if the central conceit, the shoggoths, was cleverly done or mishandled. I’m still not sure. But the story grew on me, and by the end of it I did think it was quite good. Not as good as the Kessel or the Bacigalupi, but better than the Gardner.

Definitely a stronger category than short stories. While I prefer stories with a more literary treatment of science fiction tropes, I’d sooner there had been such treatments of tropes closer to the heartland of the genre. You know, like spaceships, or aliens, or AIs, etc. Perhaps that’s because three of the five are from Asimov’s. More variety – in subject, style and source – would have been better, but this is a (mostly) not embarrassing shortlist.

Novellas to follow soon.

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