22 June 2007

Calling All Science Fiction Oulipians!

John Holbo at The Valve has taken a look at Hugo Award category definitions and said:
...science fiction lacks anyone with an Oulipo-streak. Imagine a collection of short stories each 7,499 words. By definition, they would not be novelettes; but what if they were paced like novelettes? What if two of them were interconnected—same characters, different times—would they now be a 14,998-word novelette? Would three be a 22,497-word novella? Six a 44,994-word novel?
We here at Mumpsimus Central are fans of many different sorts of streaks, including any Oulipian ones, and I'm sure we're not alone. Perhaps some of you out there will take John's statement as a fun challenge...

11 comments:

  1. funnily enough, i'm planning out a 75,000-word project for a creative writing thesis, and arbitrarily decided to divide it into ten stories. the pieces will be part of a shared world, but i'm not sure yet what the links between them will be. i like the idea of the 7,499 constraint.

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  2. Actually, it's not nearly as cut-and-dried as some people looking at the 7,500-word boundary between Short Story and Novelette seem to think it is. You're overlooking the WSFS Constitution rule about the wiggle room in the written fiction categories:

    3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

    So in fact anything up to 9000 words could be a short story, and works as short as 6000 words could be considered novelettes.

    This wiggle room is intentional, and generally deals with the difficulty of defining a "word" and also with the fact that works on the boundaries can be considered to be either type, with the difference mainly being one of taste, or where the author or publisher said it belonged.

    And if the voters were to mostly nominate a 7499-word work as a novelette, I expect the Hugo Administrator would treat it as one.

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  3. Not that Geoff Ryman's 253 is sf, but surely it deserves a mention in this context?

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  4. I will accept this challenge, though it may take me a few years to get there. Working on one novel, and got another planned, but I also have an idea for a story-suite/mosaic novel type of thing, and this would fit perfectly.

    One flaw in Holbo's logic other than the 20% rule cited above, is that the Hugo people (as well as editors and publishers) will round up. 7499 words technically is still a short story, but with all the ways that words can be counted in a ms., "about 7500 words" is probably as accurate as you can get.

    And even though Geoff wasn't (I think) going for OULIPO gaminess with 253, I'd agree with Johan that it certain fits in the category; he restricted himself wordwise, pagewise, and characterwise, all using the number 253, which I think the OULIPOists would have dug.

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  5. Novelette? Not come across this term before. Ah, so much to learn...

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  6. not enough people have read 26LIES, obviously.

    :)

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  7. Another "technical" issue: who the hell cares about the Hugo rules?

    I wasn't aware that Worldcon is now a sub-division of the Department of Weights and Measures.

    Under My Roof is 39,000 words and change, and it's a novel, dammit. You all can blow me till the propellers on your beanies spin!

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  8. nm said:

    Another "technical" issue: who the hell cares about the Hugo rules?

    Hugo Award administrators and people whose works are candidates for Hugo Awards. I'm surprised someone would have to point that out to you.

    I wasn't aware that Worldcon is now a sub-division of the Department of Weights and Measures.

    It's not. Neither are you. But the Worldcon isn't trying to define "novel" for all places and all times and all conditions. It's trying to define them for the purpose of presenting the Hugo Award for Best Novel, which is a much narrower scope.

    The Hugo Award is presented by the World Science Fiction Society. WSFS is allowed to set its own rules for its own awards. You of course can participate by joining WSFS and campaigning for such changes as you think appropriate. (Anyone can join WSFS by joining the current Worldcon.)

    Under My Roof is 39,000 words and change, and it's a novel, dammit. You all can blow me till the propellers on your beanies spin!

    Well, works like that are why WSFS includes the wiggle-room provision. If the voters consider something to be a novel and it's more than 35,000 words long, and enough people nominate it, then it's a novel.

    Actually, you seem to be the one doing the hair-splitting. WSFS is aware that the boundaries are fuzzy between works. Therefore, there's sufficiently leeway that a work that sits on a boundary can go either way.

    Let's put it another way: By your tone -- I admit that I may be misreading it -- you seem to consider your own definitions to be particularly privileged. How would you define a "novel" in a technical way for the purpose of defining an award category?

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  9. Sorry Kevin, I'm going to have to insist that you communicate with me as a human being, not as a Defender of the Faith.

    I was responding to a post, which quoted another post, which read, in part:

    ...science fiction lacks anyone with an Oulipo-streak. Imagine a collection of short stories each 7,499 words. By definition, they would not be novelettes; but what if they were paced like novelettes?

    The point I made, and which you quoted, is that Worldcon does not provide any "definition" of, say, the word novelette.

    Go to a doctor at your nervous twitch. The frantic knee-jerking can't be healthy.

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  10. Sorry Kevin, I'm going to have to insist that you communicate with me as a human being, not as a Defender of the Faith.

    So should I take it that the distinction is that as a "human being," I would automatically agree with you, but as a mere "Defender of the Faith," I would not?

    I answered your questions. Pity you couldn't be troubled to answer mine.

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  11. actually, aren't some science fiction and fantasy writers already producing works according to what could be construed as an OuLiPo-ian constraint? i'm thinking of the shared world novels that so many commentators like to put down. think about it: from what i've read, the constraints imposed by lucas industries (or whatever it's called) on writers who produce the star wars stories and novels can be pretty brutal, as brutal as the mathematical, musical, onomastic, and other constraints OuLiPo members impose on themselves. of course, it might be that last statement which highlights the difference: OuLiPo writers take the constraints as a (self-imposed) challenge, rather than as part of a contract. nor are they sure they'll get any money for what they produce. some have been luckier than others (roubaud comes immediately to mind). others produce curious texts, but is it really literature? does anyone really want to read it? i'd also add that some stories by jack vance (to mention the first writer that comes to mind), as enjoyable as they are (whoops, self-contradiction?) read as if they were obeying some kind of OuLiPo-ian constraint.

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