Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Gods of Risk, Novellas, and Science Fiction as Mode (not Genre)

by Daniel Abraham

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.

Mars-based crime novel space opera.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.


23 Responses »

  1. Really looking forward to this one! (I really hope you’ll release all the Expanse stories under the same covers one day too.)

    I think Delany means that science fiction is more a general way of experiencing the world and engaging with stories then it is a semi-fixed set of strange motifs and tropes. You could read something remotely strange “as” science fiction and the text would be transformed into something… ah, better in your mind, while on the other hand it would be tough (or simply less productive) to try to read some random other story “as” a rom-com or murder mystery.

    …Or maybe not.

  2. Great news!! Only, when will this be available in other regions? Trying to get this from Amazon and it’s not available for purchase. I’m from Sweden by the way. Would really appreciate an update for this. Oh, really looking forward to both the next Expanse and the next Dagger & Coin. Fantastic work!!

  3. You know what science fiction is? Science fiction is me going from me finding out you’ve published a book to reading it without leaving my chair.

    Less intentionally obtuse, your thoughts on sci fi as a mode rather than a genre mirror somewhat vague notions I’ve been throwing around about the Steampunk community (of which I do not identify as a member but apparently date within often) which is a weird inversion; it was an aesthetic that spawned genres (within literature, visual art, music, etc) rather than the more usual genre that develops an aesthetic over time. Thus I’ve been thinking of Steampunk as a mode more than a genre, but I hadn’t expanded the notion to sci-fi in general. I think you and Juhan in the first comment are absolutely right, and it’s a useful model to play with.

  4. Is this available in a “hard” format anywhere? I’m just about done with Leviathan Wakes, and though Railsea is after it, Caliban’s War is after that. and I guess I’ve got 8 months til Abaddon’s Gate.
    It would be nice if there were a way for your non-kindling readers to check it out.
    Maybe there is, and if so I’d love to be pointed in its direction.

  5. I really enjoyed this novella, but I was a little disappointed that there seemed to be an error by Orbit — There’s supposed to be an excerpt from Abaddon’s Gate at the end, but it’s the first chapter of Caliban’s War. 🙁

    • Yeah, Orbit is aware of this problem. They’re in the process of fixing it.

      However, if you own Caliban’s War, I believe the excerpt they were planning to attack to the story is the same one that’s at the end of CW.

  6. I am still unable to buy the novella from Germany. Is there hope?

  7. Science fiction as a mode, that’s an interesting idea. It seems pretty close to reality; how does one really nail down a more correct or more exact definition, else? Fantasy writing might embody the same idea, a little different but quite similar.

    I found “Caliban’s War” in the local library, my first exposure to “James Carey”. Good book, thanks ever so much for writing it. It’s a page-turner with some interesting, very interesting, ideas.

    Somehow the high point for me was the haiku. Hit me in a soft spot. Good poetry, whoever did that.

  8. Just finished Gods. Good story. Read LW and CW recently. More like devoured them! Am anxiously awaiting A.G. Thanks so much for creating such an entertaining and believable unreality…and characters.

  9. Hi,

    I was wondering if you had any news about Gods of Risk being purchasable for us Euros yet? (More specifically in Sweden). I still get “Purchase information not Available” when I log on with my Amazon account.


  10. Hi Guys.

    It is now April 2013, and this ebook is *still* not available overseas. What’s going on? When will the publisher tick the boxes so I can give them my money?

    Daniel, Ty, I’ll give you $20 if you email me a copy of the book – just between us. 🙂

    I imagine that potential international revenue is reducing for every day it is unavailable, as people source it from “elsewhere”.

    Any information on international availability would be appreciated.


    • It’s frustrating for us too. Unfortunately, there’s actually only so much that we *can* do. They asked world English rights to the story, and we took the money.

      Let me at least follow up with them and see if I can get a sense of where things stand.

  11. I am sorry having to bother you again – the ebook is still not available here in Germany. Is there still hope?

  12. Hi Daniel,

    I tried to buy Gods of Risk immediately after finishing Caliban’s War (great book!), but Amazon refused to sell it to me.

    This thread already gave me an answer as to why, but thought I’d just let you know that another potential buyer is waiting for it to become internationally available.

  13. Norwegian chiming in here, also very bummed out about not being allowe to purchase Gods of Risk 🙁