The new Expanse novella is out today ( Amazon | B&N ). Gods of Risk is set shortly after Caliban’s War, and includes one of the major characters from Caliban. It’s also actually a novella (as opposed to Butcher of Anderson Station which was a short story), and so has about as much plot and action as a two-hour movie. I think it’s a good story, it’s less than half of what a movie ticket costs anymore, and it’s available now. Follow your conscience.
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but one of the interesting things that ebooks have done is change the status of the novella. When I started up my writing career, the common wisdom was that novellas — that is to say stories between aout 17,500 and 40,000 words — were the things to write if you wanted to win awards. There were a coule reasons for that. First off, that’s a gorgeous length for a lot of stories. Long enough that you get to stretch out and really explore a character or an idea, not so long that it feels padded out. And, as I said, it’s about the same amount of plot as a movie, so modern readers like myself are already very familiar with the size of the story. You’ve probably seen films that were based on novels where the filmmaker had to gut the book to make it fit. You’ve probably also seen movies based on a short story where they had to make stuff up and vamp for a while to till out the time. Novellas are the sweet spot in between.
And the other reason they were the way to win awards was that nobody published them. They’re too short to really justify a print run, when for just a little more money you can print a novel and sell it for considerably more. Or, if you’re a magazine, you’d be devoting almost your whole issue to a single story. And so, come awards time, there were always a lot fewer novellas to pick from.
But the world has moved on, and good that it has, I say. Now we can publish ebook novellas at decent price, and get all the advantages of this length of story with pretty nearly none of the drawbacks (apart from it being only in ebook format).
The other thing that I’ve been thinking about this particular story is that — like the rest of the Expanse books — it borrows from a lot of genres. Samuel Delany was the first person in my reading who talked about science fiction as a mode. Because he is much smarter than I am, I didn’t know what he was on about at the time. As I’ve thought about it, the best sense I’ve made is that science fiction doesn’t have a single ur-plot. When I pick up a romance, I’m pretty clear that there’s going to be a man and a woman, and they’re going to overcome obstacles and fall in love at the end. I pick up a mystery, and I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a crime, and by the end of the book, we’ll figure out who did it. With science fiction, on the other hand, you can’t tell. Maybe it’s political and personal intrigue mixed with the high science of terraforming or a coming of age story set in a culture that isn’t Earth or a first contact story or an ecological collapse story. When Delany calls science fiction a mode rather than a genre, I think he means that when you pick up a science fiction story, you could be picking up *anything*.
That’s part of why I love these projects.