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Old 03-11-2010, 11:56 AM   #16
bill_mchale
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I like Asimov for the cleverness of his construction. His characterization was weak, and few of his people came across as real, but that was the norm rather than the exception during his earlier days of writing SF.
I think when we look at Asimov, or indeed many of the Golden Ager's characters, we need to keep in mind that much of their output was short stories. While short stories can be character studies, in SF shorts, you tend not to have much time for character development. Even many of Asimov's novels, written in the early 50s, are rather short by today's standards. I always tended to be more swept up by the power of Asimov's ideas than his characters.

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Old 03-11-2010, 12:02 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by bill_mchale View Post
I think when we look at Asimov, or indeed many of the Golden Ager's characters, we need to keep in mind that much of their output was short stories. While short stories can be character studies, in SF shorts, you tend not to have much time for character development. Even many of Asimov's novels, written in the early 50s, are rather short by today's standards. I always tended to be more swept up by the power of Asimov's ideas than his characters.

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Definitely, but it's interesting to compare Asimov's novels of the 1950s with, say, Heinlein's "juveniles". Asimov had the big ideas, yes, but for me, at least, Heinlein is by far the better writer in terms of "story telling". I still find Heinlein's juvenile novels gripping even today.
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Old 03-14-2010, 04:04 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by bill_mchale View Post
I think when we look at Asimov, or indeed many of the Golden Ager's characters, we need to keep in mind that much of their output was short stories. While short stories can be character studies, in SF shorts, you tend not to have much time for character development. Even many of Asimov's novels, written in the early 50s, are rather short by today's standards. I always tended to be more swept up by the power of Asimov's ideas than his characters.
Asimov wrote memorable short stories, like "Nightfall" or "The Ugly Little Boy", but what made him considered a master was his novels. The foundation series is a classic for sheer scope, and things like _The Caves of Steel_ and _The Naked Sun_ do reasonably well on characterization.

In fact, most of the Golden Agers are primarily remembered for novels, even though they wrote short fiction. The main one I can think of offhand primarily known for short work is Frederic Brown, considered the master of the "short-short" story. I only recall one actual SF novel by Brown, though he did an assortment of mysteries in long form.

I think our perspective may be a bit skewed now simply because there has been more emphasis on characterization in recent years. Part of this is probably attributable to the increase of women writers in SF. Women tend to write more character driven fiction, and are keener observers of the things that make up character. We notice characterization more, and are more demanding in our expectations.
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Old 03-16-2010, 06:46 PM   #19
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In terms of building a coherent universe extended across several novels (as Asimov did with the Foundation series), I'll give a plug to Iain M. Banks' Culture series.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iain_Ba..._Iain_M._Banks

Seven novels, some short stories and still counting.
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Old 03-18-2010, 01:15 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by DMcCunney View Post
Asimov wrote memorable short stories, like "Nightfall" or "The Ugly Little Boy", but what made him considered a master was his novels. The foundation series is a classic for sheer scope, and things like _The Caves of Steel_ and _The Naked Sun_ do reasonably well on characterization.
I think we are going to have to agree to disagree here. That being said, I am going to make my argument .

1. The first three published novels in the Foundation Series were in fact not novels at all, but collections of short fiction that had originally appeared in pulps (With an exception of the first story which was written specifically to start Foundation).

2. If we look at Asimov's science fiction output, and discount fix-up novels like the original Foundation Trilogy and his juvenile novels, he actually wrote most of his science fiction novels in the last decade of his life; long after his reputation as a Science Fiction Author had been assured.

3. Prior to 1982, there were more collections of Asimov's short fiction than there Asimov novels published. In addition, some of these stories, including the ones you mentioned as well as others are some of the best known stores in Science Fiction. His robot short stories, especially those collected in I Robot not only redefined how SF looked at robots but also inspired many of the pioneers of real industrial robots.

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In fact, most of the Golden Agers are primarily remembered for novels, even though they wrote short fiction. The main one I can think of offhand primarily known for short work is Frederic Brown, considered the master of the "short-short" story. I only recall one actual SF novel by Brown, though he did an assortment of mysteries in long form.
How about Tom Godwin, H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, A. E. van Vogt, Murray Leinster, C. M. Kornbluth? And lets not forget Ray Bradbury, yes he has published some novels, but he has published far more short fiction, and at least two of his novels (The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine) are essentially collections of short fiction.
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I think our perspective may be a bit skewed now simply because there has been more emphasis on characterization in recent years. Part of this is probably attributable to the increase of women writers in SF. Women tend to write more character driven fiction, and are keener observers of the things that make up character. We notice characterization more, and are more demanding in our expectations.
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I think our perspective might also be a bit skewed because the emphasis in literature in the past 20 years has skewed so strongly towards novels and series. Even in Science Fiction, where short fiction remains relatively healthy, it seems that many people read novels to the exclusion of short fiction. As a result we forget that short fiction all but dominated the science fiction market prior to the 1950s.
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Old 03-18-2010, 03:43 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by bill_mchale View Post
I think we are going to have to agree to disagree here. That being said, I am going to make my argument .

1. The first three published novels in the Foundation Series were in fact not novels at all, but collections of short fiction that had originally appeared in pulps (With an exception of the first story which was written specifically to start Foundation).

2. If we look at Asimov's science fiction output, and discount fix-up novels like the original Foundation Trilogy and his juvenile novels, he actually wrote most of his science fiction novels in the last decade of his life; long after his reputation as a Science Fiction Author had been assured.
I think you're forgetting _Pebble In the Sky_ (1950), _The Stars Like Dust_ (1951) and _The Currents of Space_ (1952), _The End of Eternity (1955), and _Double Planet_ (1960). I wouldn't discount the "Lucky Starr, Space Ranger" juveniles, either, though he did write those as "Paul French"

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3. Prior to 1982, there were more collections of Asimov's short fiction than there Asimov novels published. In addition, some of these stories, including the ones you mentioned as well as others are some of the best known stores in Science Fiction. His robot short stories, especially those collected in I Robot not only redefined how SF looked at robots but also inspired many of the pioneers of real industrial robots.
Granted, and I'll concede the point. Isaac's reputation was made on short stories.

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How about Tom Godwin, H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, A. E. van Vogt, Murray Leinster, C. M. Kornbluth? And lets not forget Ray Bradbury, yes he has published some novels, but he has published far more short fiction, and at least two of his novels (The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine) are essentially collections of short fiction.
Granted on Bradbury. Less so on the rest.

Piper is known as much for novels as for shorter work, I think, with the classic being _Little Fuzzy_, which was not a fixup of shorter works the way _Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen_ was. Godwin was known for one short story _ "The Cold Equations_" (which has emotional power but doesn't hold up under close reading), but probably wrote more long stuff, like _Prison Planet_. A.E. Van Vogt wrote shorter stuff, but is known for novels, with the classic being _Slan_. Smith wrote a mixture, though most of the Instrumentality of Mankind works were shorter pieces. Kornbluth alone wrote primarily short fiction (with the exception of _Not This August_), but worked in longer forms in collaboration with Fred Pohl and Judith Merrill (the latter written as "Cyril Judd").

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I think our perspective might also be a bit skewed because the emphasis in literature in the past 20 years has skewed so strongly towards novels and series. Even in Science Fiction, where short fiction remains relatively healthy, it seems that many people read novels to the exclusion of short fiction. As a result we forget that short fiction all but dominated the science fiction market prior to the 1950s.
Prior to the 1950's, there really wasn't a book market for SF. It was largely the magazines, so yes, that too will skew perspective.

(And in the various fixups, a probably unanswerable question is whether many of them were written as shorts and then assembled into a novel, or written as a novel with stand alone pieces lifted out of them because there was an additional paying market for them in the magazines as shorter works. I suspect more the former than the latter, but can't prove it either way offhand.)
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