Odd Shelf: Legion

A year ago, I took a fiction workshop from Brandon Sanderson–a fantasy writer I’d heard of, but not really read–because his workshop was one of the only offered at my university that not only allowed but encouraged speculative fiction. After the first day, I thought (with a grimace), This isn’t a writing class, this is a Sanderson-groupie class. Every student grovelled at his greatness, hung on his every word as if it was scripture, waiting with baited breath for his pronouncement over their 1000 word fiction blurb. And as I read the first Mistborn book and found myself yawning, struggling to get through the middle, I thought: I don’t get it.

That being said, as the class progressed, some of the wisdom about the publishing business has proved invaluable in coming years, and even though his students considered him larger than life, he clearly didn’t view himself through the same awe-inspiring lens.

And then, after the class, I sat down and read Warbreaker and was forced to admit I was in danger of becoming a groupie myself. I loved that book. I still struggle with his chunkier fantasies–but it’s not really my favorite genre to read, so that’s not really a criticism on his skill as (probably) one of the leading world-builders in fantastical fiction.

So, I recently purchased his cheap e-book Legion, an 18,000 word novella.

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Can I just say, I don’t get novellas.

The length, I mean. Short stories are powerful in what Edgar Allan Poe termed the “single effect.” He believed that work of quality should be brief and focus on a specific single effect. You have an idea, in other words, and a short story, in its brevity, has the power to blast you with it and then go on its merry way. I see the artistry in short fiction, but a novella is long enough to lose this “effect” if you will.

Any novella I’ve read has always had the potential to expand into a novel that would be, almost by default, richer, deeper and further able to express the writer’s intended ideas.

Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society.

It’s a really cool idea–and Sanderson handles the complexities well–but I kept thinking, this could be so much more.

Sanderson’s excuse?

“The thing is,” he says, “it wasn’t long enough for me to do as a full Tor release, and I didn’t have time (while working on A MEMORY OF LIGHT) to expand it to something longer.”

So, he was busy. But that didn’t stop  him from getting a Hollywood option on it shortly after giving it to his agent. When I thought about this novella as a first episode of a speculative action series I was like, “Ah, yes. Perfect.”

If you’re going to do a novella, at least make more than one, like an episodic series. Otherwise, shorten it or expand it, that’s my advice. But this was a pretty good one, so I’d pick it up so you can say you’ve read it before it becomes a Thursday night “after Idol” special on Fox.

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