As we head into a new year and a new decade, let’s take a moment to consider the novella… These intermediaries between the disparate realms of the novel and the short story are experiencing a renaissance in the publishing world. But for readers and writers who are new to the medium, a brief look at the reviews for even popular, award-winning novellas reveal some common points of confusion over length, reader expectations, and classification, so let’s define our terms.
I was still grieving the loss of Vonda N. McIntyre when I read the controversial interview by Ian McEwan in The Guardian.
Like many others, my initial reaction to his comments was anger: How dare this person ignore the rich traditions of the genre and claim that his work is without precedent while throwing shade at some of our honoured tropes?
Those old “genre vs. literary” anxieties seem to lurk beneath the surface, ever present, waiting for the next opportunity to throw our technosocial microcosms into a tizzy whenever allegiances are declared. In the piece, published on April 14th, McEwan states:
There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you.
McEwan later clarified his remarks and said he would be honoured for his latest work to be counted as science fiction, citing genre influences such as Blade Runner and Ursula K. Le Guin. But that initial quote has stuck with me, because even his apology made it sound like he is still working to overcome his perception of the borders between science fiction and traditional literary forms such as “the moral dilemma novel.”
In reality, those borders, if there are any left at all, are so fuzzy and permeable as to matter very little.
You want moral dilemmas and faster-than-light travel? Let’s talk about one of my favourite books in my personal pantheon of sci-fi legends: McIntyre’s Superluminal.
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