Mullets and more

The good folks over at fortykey books asked Geoff to write a guest blog post about novellas and novelettes. Here’s the post:

You’ve seen them. Men and occasionally women with their hair cut short on top and the sides, but at the back there’s a surprise: long, gorgeous hair falling from the back of the skull. Mullets, the most redneck of all hair styles, also known as short longs. They’re not pretty, but a good short long can be a thing of mystery and strange compulsion, just like novellas and novelettes.

The short longs of the fiction world, novelettes (long stories) and novellas (short novels) are making a comeback thanks to e-reading. Short longs differ from short stories in that they have deep, twisting plots, but they aren’t cluttered by subplots like their bloated older cousin, the novel. They are page turners, or button pushers for the e-readers out there.

Here are a few classic short longs no one should miss. Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, tells the story of Charlie, a mentally handicapped man who receives a treatment that gradually increases his intelligence to that of a genius. Avid Simpsons fans will remember the episode where Homer sticks the crayon up his nose. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, a collection of three novellas, Miller chronicles the lives of a group of Catholic monks who preserve the technology they rescue from the ashes of the nuclear wasteland. Asimov’s short long “Nightfall” (audio here), voted the best science fiction story written before 1965, is about an astronomer living on a world where six suns constantly light the sky. Once every 2049 years, all six sun sets, night arrives, and the world burns.

Of course, people kept writing short longs after the 1960s. Spider Robinson’s By Any Other Name collects several short stories, fact articles, and novellas, but the title story is a great short long about a post-apocalyptic world caused not by nuclear war or an asteroid impact, but by something quiet different: every human on the planet has their sense of smell increase a thousandfold. Most people go catatonic, overwhelmed by the massive increase in sensory input. Those who survive develop good nose plugs, but not before they are attacked by creatures who’d been living invisibly and unsmellably beside mankind for thousands of years.

For those of you who like Asimov, check out Cory Doctorow’s short long “I, Row-Boat”, about the theological war between a sentient rowboat who worships Asimov and a spontaneously self-aware coral reef. The Onion did their own hilarious version of here.

If you haven’t yet read Spin, Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo award winning novel about the world being encased in a slow-time bubble, go read it right now. Want more Wilson? Check out Julian: A Christmas Story. In the twenty-second century, oil is gone and North America has returned to a feudal theocratic society. In a rural village, Julian and his best friend are drafted to fight in the War in Labrador, where America is fighting the Dutch. To survive, the young men must discover the truth about the past.

Still craving more short longs? David Mitchell’s spectacular novel Cloud Atlas is actually six novellas that nest one within the other, Russian-doll style. I can’t recommend Mitchell’s book enough; it is one of my favourites. And for those who love novellas in their novels, the king of this form has to be The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio, by Boccaccio, which collects one hundred novellas between its massive covers.

And while you’re on a short-long kick, why not take a read of my short long “Lo’ihi Rising”, a novelette about lovers reunited, in-demand real estate, and a sentient venereal disease, available as an ebook here.

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