Ben Cantrick (mackys) wrote,
Ben Cantrick

Charlie Stross on why sci-fi/fantasy novels are bloated.

Until the early 1990s, mass market SF/F paperbacks in the US were primarily sold via grocery store racks, supplied by local distributors (400+ of them). The standard wire rack held books face-out, either against a wall or on a rotating stand. And that's where the short form factor novel became established. Thinner books meant you could shove more of them into a rack that was, say, three inches deep. Go over half an inch thick, and you could no longer fit six paperbacks in a 3" rack. And there was only so much rack space to go around.

During the inflationary 1970s and early 1980s, prices of just about everything soared. The publishers needed to increase their cover prices to compensate. But the grocery wholesalers who sold the books insisted "the product's gotta weigh more if you want to charge more". They weren't in the book business, after all, so just as buffalo tomatoes got bigger, so did paperbacks. (Even though this meant there was less room to go round in the wire racks.) You can only get so much mileage by using thicker paper and a bigger typeface; so they began looking for longer novels.

In the 1960s, an SF novel was 60-80,000 words, with 80K being considered overblown and long. By 1990 they'd grown to 90-100,000 words.

The industry standard $60 price of a video game is causing a similar problem. Every game "has to be" 25+ hours long, to justify that kind of price. Which means lots of irrelevant filler gets throw into them, reducing overall quality and creativity. I'd rather have an absolutely great 5-10 hour game for $30 than a mediocre one for $60. Then I could have two great games for the same money. And neither one would wear out its welcome and get boring, or be full of useless filler.

But do you think game publishers are ever going wake up and start giving us more Portal and Bioshock and Metroid Prime 1, and less Madden 2083: The Same Damn Football Game Again and Call Of Duty 17: Two Kids Shooting Rubber Bands At Each Other In Homeroom? With the possible exception of Valve and the Half Life episodes, I can't see any publisher who I think would be willing to do it. Sequels and remakes and general lack of originality will be the way of the video world for a very long time to come, just as Shigeru Miyamoto predicted.
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