Stewart Sternberg is talking about what is happening to the short story over on his blog and that inspired a few thoughts. He believes the short story as a form is dying, and I tend to agree with him. But I will mourn that death until my own last breath.
I like short stories. I like to read them and I like to write them. Along with poetry, I consider them a different kind of art form from novels, and sometimes they are the "perfect" art form. No novel could express so perfectly the ideas behind Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” or Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God.” No novel could equal the absolute horror of “Hangover” by John D. Macdonald. There are reasons why “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes and “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov were better as short stories than when they were expanded to novels.
We humans live our lives as moments. Just as novels are made up of scenes, so too are our lives. Even if our lives are epic, we don’t experience them that way, we don’t know they were epic until--usually after we are dead--someone writes about us. And none of us are ever going to be trilogies. The short story is really more like the way we actually exist. We lose it at the risk of losing ourselves.
And at the risk of sounding a little harsh, those of you who never read poetry or short stories should remember a little quote, which I’ll paraphrase here:
First they came for the poets, but I wasn’t a poet so I did nothing. Then they came for writers of short stories, but I never read or wrote stories and so I did nothing. Then they came for the novelists and the readers of novels, and I was one of those. But by that time there wasn’t anyone else left to help us.