I was moving some things around in my house recently, and I came across a box of pulp magazines.  It included issues of Analog, Asimov, and Fantasy & Science Fiction from the early 2000s.  These magazines are generally filled with short stories from both famous and up-and-coming authors, and they give the reader the opportunity to experience a variety of writing styles and genres on a regular basis.

To be clear, these probably weren’t technically “pulp magazines” in the strictest sense; apparently those haven’t been published since the 1950s.  This is probably for the best, given that the old style pulp fiction was known for being excessively exploitative and campy. In contrast, the quality of the stories in the modern short sci-fi magazines is generally pretty high.

Looking through these old magazines made me think about the nature of short stories and their place in literature.  Sometimes a great story or idea doesn’t need to be expressed over an entire novel.  When trying to distill a message into its essence, sometimes less is more. Short stories are  also great because they allow the reader to fit the story into the reader’s own time. This allows one to keep reading without necessarily committing to a long story.

I think a large part of my attraction to short stories comes from my experience in the Navy and in a variety of engineering fields.  It seems that a lot of my favorite short science fiction authors were also military men.  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and L. Sprague De Camp were all military men, but they also had a deep understanding of the technologies and scientific ideas about which they wrote.  They didn’t just write that something happened; they explained how it happened, and showed why understanding how it happened mattered to understanding the story.

I am particularly fond of Heinlein’s short story collections, like Expanded Universe and The Past Through Tomorrow.  I could understand, to some degree, the stress from constant government oversight described in “Blowups Happen.”  At the time that I completed my own service and was re-integrating into the non-military world, I could appreciate the concerns expressed by the couple in “It’s Great to be Back!” And I still weep when I read “Searchlight,” though I won’t say anything more about that one; you’ll have to read it yourself to find out why.

We see short fiction in a variety of mediums.  As a child, I loved watching the Looney Tunes, Terrytoons, and Hanna Barbara shorts.  Today, we see Disney Pixar shorts at the beginning of most full-length Pixar films.  Sometime, as in the case of 9, we see an independently developed short evolve into a full-length film.

I wonder, however, what would be the gaming equivalent to the short story.  Is it the length of the story, the time it takes to complete, or something else that would make it a “short?”

What do you think?