There’s a certain purity in the art of the short story: Beginning, middle and end are never far apart, and ideas can be conveyed with more immediacy and impact than they ever could in longer forms. The Brian M. Thomsen-edited NOVEL IDEAS: SCIENCE FICTION illustrates this point swimmingly, taking original short works that inspired longer, more well-known (or infamous, as the case may be) siblings and letting the authors write introductions that set the stage for the stories’ beginnings.
Some of these stories are hints of later success (Anne McCaffrey’s “Lady in the Tower,” Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” Greg Bear’s “Blood Music” and Connie Willis’ “Fire Watch”). Others are known mostly by their celluloid accompaniments (John Varley’s “Air Raid,” which became the novel and movie MILLENNIUM, and unfortunately, David Brin’s “The Postman”). And at least one (Nancy Kress’ “Beggars in Spain”) provides a more recent testament to the survival of the short story.
Indeed, with the exception of Kress’ contribution, all of the works in NOVEL IDEAS are more than 20 years old, with McCaffrey’s story dating back to 1959. Yet all fit in today’s literary landscape, and not just through their pedigrees. NOVEL IDEAS provides an excellent, economical jumping-off point for These Kids Nowadays who think that science fiction started with NEUROMANCER and really hit its stride with SNOW CRASH.
• “Lady in the Tower” shows that McCaffrey is one hell of a writer, despite being bogged down in the machine that is the enormous popularity of the THE DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN.
• “Fire Watch” is a great introduction to Willis’ time-travel masterworks THE DOOMSDAY BOOK and TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG.
• While “Ender’s Game” and “Blood Music” serve as significant spoilers to seminal works of science fiction, there’s no doubting their power.
• A word about “The Postman.” This is a great short story, resulting in a great book that got turned into Amazonan abomination of a movie. Don’t hold it against Brin; he’s really a gifted writer, and “The Postman” works as sort of a kindler, gentler Max Max. Really! If society collapses, are we really going to ride around smashing each other over the heads all day? Not likely.
• “Air Raid” is the weak link of a world-beating bunch, but that may be because it and the resulting novel aren’t as well-known as the rest. Varley’s an extremely literate writer, and “Air Raid” is enough to make readers thirsty for the whole story.
• As for “Beggars of Spain,” it’s easy to see why this short story won both a Hugo and Nebula award. The less-well-known trilogy spawned by this story will hopefully get a well-deserved sales boost from this. Who can resist spooky kids genetically engineered to never sleep?
Readers familiar with the above books should at least give NOVEL IDEAS: SCIENCE FICTION – a companion to the current NOVEL IDEAS: FANTASY a look. The author-penned introductions are great windows into the creative process and provide some useful caveats. Top-shelf stuff. –Ryun Patterson