Much of the classic sword and sorcery, the stuff written by the likes of Leiber, Howard, Moorcock, and to a lesser degree Kuttner, Wellman, Anderson, Saunders,Wagner, etc. was in the form of short fiction: short stories, novellettes, and some novellas. Novels were rare in the early days. By the 1980s, though, when I began reading S&S, it was the other way around.
I realize that was in large part driven by the market. When pulps were the primary, if not only, source for S&S, then short fiction was what was written. As the market changed over time, and paperback novels replaced pulps and digests, of course writers would switch to novels. Some of the authors listed in the previous paragraph wrote equally well at all lengths.
What I’m interested in is the question of which fans of S&S prefer. It should come as no surprise that Robert E. Howard is my go-to guy for S&S. He was the first author I read who wrote the stuff. I’d been reading science fiction for a number of years before I read Howard and was familiar with Kuttner, but his S&S wasn’t available at the time. At least not to a teenager in semi-rural Texas. (I started reading Anderson about the same time.) With the exception of The Hour of the Dragon, Howard’s S&S was of the short variety. As a result, I tend to prefer S&S novelettes and novellas to novels.
There are a couple of other reasons as well. One, I can read a story in one sitting, two at the most if it’s a novella. This means if I have a block of time free, I can often read more than one. Novelettes and novellas are, in my not so humble opinion, the ideal form for fiction in general. They allow for character development, multiple plots, and detail in world building without much of the padding that often accompanies novels. Given my time constraints these days, there’s another reason I like shorter works. When it takes me a while to finish something, I tend to get frustrated with it, especially if the delay is due to interruptions or an uncooperative schedule. That rarely happens with novellas and novelettes.
So, just to satisfy my own curiosity, and to hopefully gather some very unscientific data for a future post, do most of you prefer S&S at the shorter lengths or novels? Or do you even care?