What’s the longest novel ever published?

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Of course, I’ve been aware for a long time that it takes different skills to write short stories than it does to write novels. If you work in stories of different length, you also find that writing a piece of flash fiction takes different skills than writing a fully developed short story. The issue with SFF short stories is how to do your world-building quickly, how to round out your characters in just a few words, how to present a plot and a theme and wind it up within the word limit of the magazine or anthology. If you move on to novelettes and novellas, then the requirements are loosened a bit. You have longer to develop your plot and theme and for readers to get to know the characters. You get to add subplots and subthemes.

When you move up to novel length, then you have even more opportunity for this, but you have to be more aware of pacing. There tends to be a slump in the middle of a novel-length work, for example, where you’ve introduced the characters and everything bogs down before action starts rising to the climax. Looking at the novels I’ve reviewed for the Nebulas/Hugos, I’m noticing there are different requirements for writing a short novel versus a long one. The issues of idea, plotting and pacing are definitely showing up here.

So what is the longest novel on record? According to Wikipedia, it’s not Moby-Dick (as many a weary high school lit student must think). It turns out to be Les Hommes de bonne volonté (Men of Goodwill) by Jules Romains, published in Paris by Calmann Lévy in 27 volumes, 1932-46. It comes in at a whopping 2,070,000 words. That’s about 8,280 pages.

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Review of “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao

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55327_girl-writing_md
Another Rabid Puppy recommendation. This story was published in Jerry Pournelle’s There Will Be War Vol. X

Chinese business manager Zhang Zedong is concerned that production in his African mining operation has fallen again this quarter, and that General Xu will think this is because of excessive greed on the part of management. Zhang blames the problem on the local crime rate, and he comes up with a plan to reduce the problem. Scott Berens of the CDC tracks an outbreak of a new virus in Zambia, and identifies it as an anomaly because of the pattern. He alerts co-worker Philip Thompson to check it out, and Thompson thinks the Chinese may have weaponized a polio vaccine. After notifying the military about this, Thompson infers the US has also weaponized viruses. At home, he is approached by a Chinese agent who has a deal to offer.

This is an interesting story line, and this should be a fully developed story, but the action doesn’t develop the way I expect it to. The characters are flat. The straight-forward narrative means there’s no rising action, no feel of conflict, no drama and no climax. On the positive side, it has high diversity, as it concerns Chinese business investment in Africa and features Chinese characters.

Two stars.

Review of “Invasive Species” by Alex Shvartsman

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Edward LearStill doing my bit for the short-shorts. This story was published by Daily Science Fiction.

Earth is engaged in a ten-year war with the Hauch’k. Samuel Kanu, a university researcher, braves the environmental degradation to present a proposal for biological warfare at the Department of Defense. He recommends seeding of the Hauch’k world with species that will cause damage and undermine their war effort. He is laughed out of the meeting, as the committee thinks the effort will take too long and have zero effect on the war.

This is a straightforward narrative, military SF, third person with a twist ending. The hook is weak and there’s no real point of rising action. Small climax as Kanu realizes his proposal won’t be accepted. Nice twist. This story includes diversity, as Kanu is not a European name. This implies he’s Asian or African.

The OCD Grammar Nazi checks in: Another misspelled word, Capitol vs. Capital. Capitol is the building, and capital is the city.

Review of “勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace)” by John Chu

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55327_girl-writing_md RSR rating: hard SF, 3 stars, published in Lightspeed.

Jake is one of a group of cyborgs, suddenly of questionable use since the war is over. They’re being held in a barracks within a prison compound, and a treaty says they have to be destroyed. The cyborgs have a plan to escape and pass as human.

This one is clearly hard SF, as the cyborgs will pass as clanking hardware. RSR has pointed out some disbelief issues where the author trots in imaginary science and slides over likely repercussions for human guards. The eventual escape plan also seems a bit over-contrived, when I really would have enjoyed more action.

I like the story. John Chu has got style. He also creates a great tension. We’re not sure whether we’re going to get sex here or a fight-to-the-death finish. As it happens, neither pans out for us, but at the end we’re still hanging on, sure one or the other is going to happen.

Drawbacks: For some reason, I had a hard time getting into the narrative here. Story structure maybe? There’s not much of a hook, and also, the story rambles along, just two guys doing things and getting to know each other, without the narrative having any sharply rising action. When we get down to the climax, still not much happens. I spite of this, I really like the humor and the flow of the story.
I’ll give it 4 stars.

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