Wild Cards and Short Story Trends

Posted: September 15, 2012 in Genre, Reading, Writing
Tags: , ,

It took a while but I finished Wilds Cards a few days ago. My copy is an oversized paperback which is very much not my preferred format. This is in part because I can’t stuff it in my pocket when I’m at work. But I got through it and was glad that I did. I enjoyed the whole shared world concept. It let the stories move about into different areas that one author alone might not dive into.

My copy was the 2010 release with the additional stories. I think the compilation was bookended with the best stories front and back. I really wasn’t feeling the Fortunato story in the middle with “I get my super powers by nailing hookers” thing. It wasn’t a prudish or gratuitous thing, I just felt that story didn’t age as well as the others. It was a product of its time more than the rest. “Comes a Hunter” was a bit of a let down. Yeoman was an awesome character, being a normal person in this supernatural world, but the story just ended. “To be continued” is ok but I like some sort of conclusion before the cliffhanger. I was really happy to read “The Sleeper.” It’s the first Zelazny story I hadn’t read before in years. Croyd is a fascinating character too.

My favorite of the bunch was actually one of the new stories, “Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn. Croyd is appropriately awesome as a supporting character in that story. That one takes place in the 80s music scene which made for a more intriguing backdrop for my tastes. ‘Cause, ya know… punk rock. I think superheroes take a special touch, especially when you’re character has Kitty Pride powers (walking through walls for non-X-Men aficionados) that could be abused easily. Abused by the writer into making overpowered characters. Overpowered characters equal uninteresting characters. Vaughn wrote After the Golden Age which I read earlier this year, so she’s got a deft hand with supers.

So enough blathering about a book almost as old as I am. Most people who read from the same shelves I do aren’t late to this part like I am. One of the reasons I read Wild Cards is that I want to get into more short stories to help with writing the same.

The biggest thing I noticed is that short stories have gotten a lot shorter in the last twenty five years.

I’m sure the internet is why. People as a whole don’t have the same attention span as they used to. Websites like Daily Science Fiction cater to lunch break reads. The market has been tightening up for short stories too. In the last couple years, F&SF went to bimonthly and I think some others did too. From a practical standpoint, they can’t really put a magnum opus of a short into their publications any longer. I’ve got a 9k word short story I was shopping around that was too big for most of the professional markets. 5k seems to be the magic number for a lot of places now.

Ironically, novels are getting longer. I’m doing my annual reread of my favorite book, Nine Princes of Amber by Zelazny, and it’s only 174 pages long. Any of Neal Stephensen’s books would outweigh the entire ten book cycle of Amber. I saw a tweet from Tobias Buckell from earlier this week saying “I missed the tighter paperbacks of the 70s and 80s not just b/c of a golden age of my youth reading, but b/c 50-70K is clean and tight”.  I’m not sure how I feel about that. All the 80s and 90s fantasy books I cut my teeth on back in the day often fell in the 300 page range, but I went months at a time without reading a single standalone book because everything was trilogies or more back then. I think that’s part of why my writing is better suited to slightly sprawling longform, that’s what I’ve been reading for twenty years.

Back to my main point of short stories, 5k is a tough magic number for me to hit. The longer stuff from a Wild Cards-era ’87 would be much more suited to me. I’ve had shorts mushroom cloud and start creeping up on 20k. And the 1k flash fiction stuff is wicked hard. But one of the reasons to write shorts is because they’re difficult. If you’re not growing as a writer, you’re dying. Feedback is getting more and more positive, in fact, today I’m going to button up the rewrite (and sleight mushroom clouding) of the short I got personal feedback on. So that’s a thing. And it’s a positive thing that is only going to lead to better writing.

(I also apologize for the lack of my usual Goodreads links. The wifi at Starbucks is bollocks today. WordPress and Fark and Wikipedia are working fine, but Twitter and Goodreads are being pwn’d. Don’t advertise free wifi if you’re going to pick and choose which websites work on it. I’ll edit to add my links in when I’m home.)

Edit: Fixed the links and whatnot. Still… Starbucks, don’t be a dink about your wifi.

  1. Fred M says:

    Good analysis of how stories are shrinking in todays SCI FI enviroment.

  2. Mari douton says:

    people with a tight budget back in the ’80’s and 90’s, would often shop for books based on a pages per dollar formula. More reading for your money. this could be why you never saw many of the shorter novels. I wonder if that ecomonic theory still holds true?

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