Natasha Pulley, writing for THE GUARDIAN, maintains, "Fantasy cannot build its imaginary worlds in short fiction." Huge novels in multi-volume series, according to this blogger, aren't a cynical marketing ploy but a necessity of the genre. When satisfying high fantasy short works exist, in her opinion, they tend to be spinoffs from established fictional universes.Imaginary Worlds
She makes a valid point in proposing that the "mega-novel" is "the natural format for anything so sprawling as a fantasy universe." I don't dispute that fully developing a secondary world (in Tolkien's terminology) requires time, space, and many thousands of words. However, the claim that a satisfactory imaginary world can't be built in a short story—that "If you write real high fantasy in 4,000 words, details and all, it tends to be a snippet, not a story"—goes too far, in my opinion.
While that task might be an insurmountable challenge in 4,000 words (and I don't necessarily accept that to be the case), a short story can go up to 10,000 words or so, a novelette or novella considerably longer. Surely the realms of fantasy and SF offer plenty of counter-examples to disprove Pulley's claim. Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild" immediately leaps to mind. This classic short story gives the reader a vivid, three-dimensional picture of an alien planet, its dominant intelligent species, and the role of the human colonists in that world. No doubt a novel would tell us much more about that world, but we know all we need to know for the purposes of the story, which is complete in itself, not a "snippet." In high fantasy, Marion Zimmer Bradley's SWORD AND SORCERESS anthology series offers dozens of stand-alone tales to refute Pulley.
I can't help wondering whether she deliberately exaggerates for effect in her defense of multi-volume sagas, in order to provoke just such a discussion.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt