by Luke Forney
Many members of the science fiction community feel that the novella is the perfect length for a science fiction story (This writer remembers first hearing it in Larry Niven’s N-Space, for example). However, the novella is frequently the unwelcome black sheep of the family. It is too long for most collections and anthologies, where it can dominate the proceedings, forcing other stories out. Generally, no author or publisher wants one large story, rather than three short ones, to fill out a collection from a single author (the exception being Stephen King, not just because of novella collections like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, but also for the inclusion of the long novella “The Mist” to kick off Skeleton Crew). When it comes to anthologies, it is even more unlikely, as one author will get far more face time than the others. Even genre fiction magazines like Analog and Asimov’s will feature at most one novella in regular issues, frequently going for slightly shorter novelettes instead, so that they can include a larger number of authors and stories. Some novellas are published as individual books (a recent example being Peter Straub’s A Special Place). However, before the advent of ebooks, these trade paperback novellas, priced around $10-15, were competing against mass market novels selling for half that. It is no challenging task to guess which sold better.
Thankfully, along came ebooks and the explosion of small genre presses.
Thanks to ebooks, many novellas are escaping the costs of printing prices, and can sell for cheaper than novels, reaching a larger audience than before. Straub’s novella referenced above, for example, is selling for $12.95 in paperback at bookstores, and for only $2.00 as an ebook. Readers are at one of the best times for accessing new material ever, as fiction is coming out at prices that are affordable even in the topsy-turvy economy, and more fiction (including novellas) is available to the average reader than ever before.
And then along come the small presses. Without the large press weight being thrown around, small presses are slipping into the ebook market, and are integrating far better than many of the big publishers. Even without the big names, by putting out quality fiction at prices lower than the Big 6, they are able to reach markets that limited bookstore appearances never would have achieved. On top of that, they can address new and niche markets that were more difficult with print publishing. Such as novellas.
A number of publishers are exploring novella ebooks, and are putting out some stories that science fiction readers won’t want to miss. Rosetta Books has just kicked off their wonderful “Galaxy Project” series, which is reprinting novellas from the now defunct Galaxy magazine. Including among this list of greats, both remembered and forgotten, are Fredric Brown’s “Honeymoon in Hell,” Kurt Vonnegut’s “Unready to Wear,” Lester del Rey’s “The Wind Between the Worlds,” Damon Knight’s “Four in One,” William Tenn’s “The Flat-Eyed Monster,” and C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons,” among many others. Italian publisher 40kBooks is also exploring the novella route, with releases such as Bruce Sterling’s “Black Swan” and “The Parthenopean Scalpel,” Paul Di Filippo’s “Wikiworld,” “Return to the 20th Century,” and the essay “How To Write Science Fiction,” Jeff VanDerMeer’s “Secret Lives,” and Mike Resnick’s Keepsakes,” again among many others. Another small press publisher of science fiction novellas is Panverse Publishing. Along with the occasional collection, Panverse is putting out a yearly anthology of five science fiction novellas. The first one, which was packed with brilliant stories, is available in ebook for only $2.99, and is a must buy for science fiction fans. Panverse is now on their third trip[ on the merry-go-round, with the release of Panverse Three, featuring, among others, Ken Liu, who will be familiar to readers of Digital Science Fiction’s anthologies, as well as the latest issue of Asimov’s.
Next week we will take a look at Panverse Three, and all of the novellas contained within. And let me tell you, there are some great stories inside.
Before we close for the week, though, I promised a couple weeks ago in “So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 2” that I had a story about Panverse Three and the tight-knit nature of the science fiction community. When I first started Luke Reviews a few years ago (Luke Reviews and its spin-offs now, sadly, defunct), I was excited about a few aspects of my review site-in-the-making. I was intrigued by the idea of sharing my opinion of books with an audience that enjoyed genre fiction like I did. I wanted to contact people who I looked up to in the field. And I wanted to help smaller publishers get the word out on their products. I contacted a number of publishers right out of the gate, hoping to get some review copies so that I could get the ball rolling on some exciting new and up-coming fiction that was hitting the stands, rather than retreads of books I already owned and had been reviewed elsewhere. Early on a contacted Fairwood Press, Galaxy Press, the Black Library, and Panverse Publishing. Unbelievably, I ended up working with all of them to some degree or other (a story for another day, but the generosity and support of Black Library in particular has made me a fan for life), including Dario Ciriello at Panverse on Eight Against Reality. I bought and read Panverse One after closing Luke Reviews, and loved it. Ciriello was even a fan of Luke Reivews on Facebook!
And then Luke Reviews closed, and a lot of the connections Luke Reviews created dried up. However, I still kept tabs on the publishers and authors I had worked with, and loved to see their successes, and mourned their failures. So, when I was contacted for my first brand-new book review since Luke Reviews, on a “novella book,” I bit, hoping to write an article on novellas in the genre (which you just read). When I saw it was Panverse Three, I had to chuckle, because some of the connections made during Luke Reviews just won’t go away!
For interested readers, Luke Reviews’ look at Panverse Publishing’s Eight Against Reality can be found here: http://lukereviews.blogspot.com/2010/08/eight-against-reality-edited-by-dario.html