“Academy” Isaac Asimov
The small form is a special kind of literary art. In order to paint a large-scale plot into several volumes, and in order to express an idea succinctly and accurately, the authors require different skills. Nevertheless, it happens that whole cycles “grow” out of stories and novellas. In small form, there is a gradual acquaintance with the world, individual characters and stories. And then the writer builds an already epic plot on this foundation. Here are a few cycles of fiction and fantasy that started out small.
“Academy” is one of the most famous cycles of Isaac Asimov and science fiction of the 20th century in general. With comparatively little action and a lot of conversation, the books tell the story of how civilizations collapse and are created. Other authors, philosophers, businessmen, politicians studied on them. The main trilogy was released in 1951-1953, and in the 1980s the author added several novels, backstories and epilogues to them. Ideas became more complicated, replaced each other, intertwined with other Asimov’s space … And how did it all begin?
The short stories that make up the Academy itself – the book that opens the cycle – were written and published in Astounding Science Fiction in the mid-40s. More precisely, four out of five stories, one author added later: the one in which the story of Seldon originates (and his “exile” takes place) – the great scientist who predicted the decline of the galactic empire of mankind and developed a Plan to shorten the period of anarchy and lawlessness, following behind this decline. The plots of the rest of the stories are built around the followers of Seldon after 50, 80, 135 and 155 years from the moment of moving to the Academy. They are trying with all their might to maintain the inviolable order of the Plan.
The next two parts of the original trilogy also consist of novellas collected under one cover. All of them were published back in the 40s, but eventually became part of the cycle. Asimov switched to full-fledged novels, publishing “The Academy on the Edge of Death” already in 1982. The novel received the Hugo and Locus awards, was nominated for Nebula, and was included in the New York Times bestseller list (the first in Azimov’s work). The action takes place 500 years after the creation of the first Academy by Seldon and his supporters. And according to the real chronology, the story continued to develop for another 11 years – and three full-fledged novels.
“The Witcher” Andrzej Sapkowski
The saga that gamers around the world and, more recently, Netflix fans know today, once began with collections of short stories. The first short story about the famous hero Sapkowski created in 1986, it was published in several anthologies and was simply called Wiedźmin. Namely, the cycle began to form in 1992-1993, when the collections “Sword of Destiny” and “The Last Wish” were released.
Here, for the first time, readers get acquainted with the witcher way of life, tools, work and a sense of humor. “The Last Wish” is dedicated to Geralt’s scattered adventures, the principle of “lesser evil” and uneasy relationships with ordinary people (and sorceresses, of course). Here the geopolitics of Sapkowski’s world and the basic laws by which he lives are outlined. But in “Sword of Destiny” Ciri first appears, so this can be considered a neatly prepared backstory for the subsequent saga.
Then, from 1994 to 1999, five main novels were published, where the extraordinary talents of Ciri were revealed, Geralt had to embark on a long journey to find the girl, and a large-scale military-political conflict became the background for these events. I must say that this is a rather unusual solution for the fantasy of the late 90s: to make the Special and Chosen not the main character directly, but a character close and dear to him. And in general, the cycle about the Witcher is full of original literary finds, which brought him well-deserved fame and popularity.
“I, the Inquisitor” Jacek Pekar
The books about Mordimer Madderdin were not only collections of small form – they remain so. The first stories – dark, cruel, but not devoid of black humor – introduce us to a world where Jesus was not crucified, instead he descended from the cross and interrupted his offenders. And now, many centuries later, the Inquisition follows his precepts, defending the faith with fire and sword. And there is someone to protect from: monsters, werewolves, insidious magicians and heretics have not died out in this world. It is about the fight against them that Pekara tells, although sometimes Mordimer simply takes orders to earn money – after all, you will not be full of faith. And it rarely turns out what it seems at first glance.
The first such collection was released relatively recently, in 2003. However, over time, the author decided to introduce a cross-cutting plot into his books, but did not change the format for presenting stories. Thus, a common thread will subsequently pass through several different stories, each of which acts as a kind of episode of the series. The world created by Pekara turned out to be very voluminous, and in an interview the writer says that he would like to tell many more stories related to him.
Fortunately, Mordimer Madderdin has become an excellent central figure who can grab attention for a long time. A cynical inquisitor who is ready for anything in the name of faith, accompanying his adventures with quotes from holy scripture. With him in the lead role, both the provincial mystical detective and the search for enemies in the heart of the Holy Vatican look equally dynamic.
“The Killerbot Diaries” by Martha Wells
Having created the very first story about Killerbot, Martha Wells, who previously wrote mainly fantasy, confidently won the hearts of readers of adventure fiction. And at the same time – the awards “Locus”, “Hugo” and “Nebula”. All Systems Failure was released in 2017, followed by the next three in 2018. The first stories are just a tough detective story with space expeditions, evil corporations, action scenes and excellent supporting characters. But they had a serious trump card – a very charming and memorable protagonist.
The Killerbot is the standard android autoguard that the Company supplies to all expeditions to distant planets. Having hacked his control module, he gained independence, was able to give himself this “frightening” name as a cruel joke and watch TV shows avidly. All this, of course, is a secret from people. Fortunately, most of the time, the work of the autoguard does not require much involvement in their affairs. But when the expedition is exposed to a serious and mysterious danger, it is necessary to move on to decisive action.
After the deafening success of the stories, it was obvious that readers were not ready to part with Killerbot. So in 2020, the first full-fledged novel about the adventures of the hero was released in the original (and most recently it was also released in Russian). The Network Effect also received Locus and Nebula. And then Martha Wells made a big deal with Tor, according to which the series will be replenished with at least three more novels.
New stories work according to the same formula – a lot of trouble and a malicious protagonist who does not seek to succumb to friendly impulses and just wants to be left alone. Only now the scale of the troubles has become even more impressive, gradually tying together the scattered threads of the previously formed universe.
Jinn Masters F. Geli Clarke
The history of F. Geli Clarke’s “Cairo Cycle” is only gaining momentum. In 2016, the novel “The Dead Genie in Cairo” was published, where readers for the first time were able to plunge into the enchanting alternative reality of the world, where magic returned. The idea is not new in itself, but the author used an unexpected approach: to talk not about the moment when the world is changing, but about a situation established over decades, when alchemy and magical creatures already have their own Ministry, and in general, magic has become a part of everyday life. In addition, the author added steampunk elements and chose an unusual location: not America, not Britain, but Cairo at the beginning of the 20th century, in itself mysterious and alluring.
Following in 2019, the author released the story “Spirit of the Tram 015”, which was nominated for “Hugo”, “Locus” and “Nebula”. The first novel, Masters of the Genies, was released in 2021 and is now preparing to be released in Russian (the small form will also be included in the Russian edition).
The protagonist of Clark’s stories is Fatima el-Sha’arawi, a special investigator from the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Spells and Supernatural Entities. Fatima is somewhat reminiscent of Geralt – she is engaged in trying to maintain a balance between people and supernatural beings. Clark, judging by Western reviews, turned out to be an atmospheric and exciting story with an original world, detective intrigue and a complete plot, but at the same time with a groundwork for continuation.
The material was prepared by the editors of the fanzon intellectual fiction publishing house.