Edited by Brian M. Thomsen



510pp/$24.95/July 1998

Novel Ideas: Science Fiction

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Science fiction writers have long taken ideas which initially sought to explore in short stories and expanded them into either series or novels.  In Novel Ideas: Science Fiction, editor Brian M. Thomsen collects seven stories which have been expanded into longer works.  These range from works which form a part of a longer work, such as Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" to works with a setting that inspired other works, like Connie Willis's "Fire Watch."

One of the nice things about a collection like this is that often once a story has been expanded, the original story, which may hold ideas which were not included in the latter work, seems to disappear.  Brin's "The Postman," for instance, which was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1983, does not appear to have been reprinted until now.  Anne McCaffrey's "Lady in the Tower" has only made one other appearance since it was originally published.

As noted, Brin's novella was nominated for a major award (the novel based on it was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and won the Campbell).  The other stories also have an honored past, with Varley and Card's stories received major nominations, while Willis, Bear and Kress all won major awards for their represented stories.  Of the seven stories in Novel Ideas: Science Fiction, only Anne McCaffrey's, originally published in 1959, was not nominated for any awards.

The evidence would tend to point to the nomination for awards as a catalyst for authors to expand their stories.  While this may be a good idea, evidenced by the strength of the novels written by Card or Brin, other times the original story packs more punch than its expanded version.  Although many love Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, "Fire Watch," which introduced the world remains a much stronger piece of writing.  It didn't necessitate the addition of screwball comedy which infused much of the later novel.

Thomsen had each of his authors include a short, sometimes too short, introduction to their stories which discuss the origins of the short stories and the process of expanding them to novel length.  These introductions add insight into the stories themselves, particularly when, as Nancy Kress explains, the stories wound up going through several different iterations before reaching their original publication form.

Given science fiction's long history of expanding stories into novels and beyond, Novel Ideas: Science Fiction is an interesting book for its idea, as well as for the actual stories which are included in it.  Thomsen's selection of stories is demonstrative of the breadth of science fiction and provides a good look at the different paths ideas can take to reach novel length as these stories present, in some cases, very different tales than the novels, and in others, simply portions of the longer works.

Orson Scott Card Ender's Game
Connie Willis Fire Watch (Doomsday Book, etc.)
John Varley Air Raid (Millennium)
Anne McCaffrey Lady in the Tower (Rowan, etc.)
David Brin The Postman
Greg Bear Blood Music
Nancy Kress Beggars in Spain

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