Fixer-Upper (Needs a little work!)

by limebirddennis

No, the Limebird site hasn’t moved into real estate; today I am going to be talking about that venerable article the ’fix-up’ novel. The subject came up on Neeks’ recent post ‘Short Story Writing‘ in relation to “The Martian Chronicles” and I wanted to expand upon it here.

A fix-up novel is one where a series of short stories are linked together by some device – that could be a framing story, or sections of narration between the main stories. The term itself was first coined by A. E. van Vogt; in 1980 van Vogt was interviewed by Robert Weinberg and was asked about the series of events that led to his putting together a fix-up novel; to which van Vogt responded, “Let’s put it very simply: a novel would sell whereas the individual stories seldom did. Hence, the great thought came; and the fix-up novels began. It was a strictly commercial idea in a period when incomes were tiny, and pulp writers all across the land were starving. It was only later that I learned the fix-ups had their critics. I could only shake my head over these people; to me, they were obviously dilettantes who didn’t understand the economics of writing science fiction.”

Fix-up novels had been around for quite a while prior to van Vogt (for example “The Big Four” by Agatha Christie, which began life as a series of stories in The Sketch Magazine; and “Go Down, Moses” by William Faulkner which was originally considered by the public as a collection of short stories, but Faulkner later insisted that the book was actually a novel.) However, as van Vogt stated, it was with the ending of the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’ (which is usually taken to run from 1938 to 1946) and the switch away from the pulp magazines to the book format; that meant that many classic stories became available to be ‘fixed-up’.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a number of fix-up novels that are regarded as classics within the science fiction genre:

The “Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury (1950) is the episodic tale of the colonisation of Mars and the conflict between the Martians and the colonists. It is made up of stories that appeared in a range of pulp magazines in the late 1940s, alongside a number of stories written specifically for the collection.

The Voyage of the Space Beagle” by A E van Vogt (1950) is a collection of four previously published pulp stories (including one that had a great impact on me as a child, “Black Destroyer”) which tells the tale of a huge spaceship on a voyage of scientific discovery (which was the inspiration for a number of similar tales and creatures in TV, film and video games).

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov: “Foundation” (1951) which contained four stories that appeared in Astounding Magazine along with a new story; “Foundation and Empire” (1952) which was originally two separate novellas; and “Second Foundation” (1953) which contained two novellas that had been serialised in Astounding Magazine. In a parallel to Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, the trilogy as a whole tells the story of a group of scientists who seek to preserve knowledge as the galactic civilization begins to fall apart.

A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M Miller Jr. (1960) which is based upon three stories that were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story chronicles the rebuilding of human society following a nuclear war.

Hothouse” by Brian Aldiss (1962) made up of 5 novelettes that had appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; it tells the tale a far-future Earth where the planet no longer turns and where plants have taken over almost all ecological niches.

Pavane”  by Keith Roberts (1968) which was made up primarily of stories that had featured in Science Fantasy, with the addition of one extra story. It is an alternate history set in the modern day where Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in the 16th century and the Roman Catholic Church still reigns supreme.

There are many more that I could have mentioned, for example, in the subsequent decades; “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” by Philip Jose Farmer (1971), “The Postman” by David Brin (1985), “Crashlander” by Larry Niven (1994), and “Coyote” by Allen Steele (2002).

For any writer that enjoys writing in the short form, the fix-up novel is a wonderful way of having your cake and eating it. The short stories are there in their own right, and can be marketed as such, but you also have the possibility of presenting your work to a different, and potentially wider, audience, by collecting them into novel form.

What fix-up novels have you enjoyed?

Have you considered collecting your stories into a fix-up novel?


19 Responses to “Fixer-Upper (Needs a little work!)”

  1. Reblogged this on dmlbooks – and commented:
    Here is my post over at Limebird Writers, on the tradition of ‘fix-up’ novels within science fiction.

  2. Interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a fix-up novel! None are springing to mind anyway. Is it something more prevalent in the sci-fi arena?

    • They are far more prevalent in the science fiction genre (95% or more). Also, the science fiction writers of today were brought up on the classic novels above, and so the fix-up is in their blood. Finally, there is a reasonable market for short science fiction at the moment, which means that writers can still sell their stories in both formats!

  3. I echo limebirdvanessa’s comment. I don’t think I have ever read a fix-up novel either. I used to read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was a teen, but I don’t recall the Big Four. I kind of like the idea though, and I bet with a strong link between the various stories it could be an original enough manuscript that might stand out above the rest. (Of course, it needs to be written well, too 🙂 )

    • As a science fiction fan since I was a pup and a tickie high I was brought up on them! The best fix-ups are so well constructed that it is only when it’s pointed out that the fact that it is a fix-up is apparent.

  4. I’ve never heard of them either, but I’m going to get every one of these and check them out if I can. Love sci-fi 🙂
    What an interesting article, I think I may have to look into the concept of a “Fix-up” book – I want some cake too!

  5. Well I’ve learned something new today! I haven’t heard this term before but that sounds like something interesting to do. I have a pretty bad attention span when I’m working on anything (story, script, crocheting… lol) So the shorter something is the better chance I have of actually finishing.

    • I know what you mean Laura! The beauty of the fix-up is that you can read one story and then do your own work and, when you come back to the next story, you don’t feel like you stopped in the middle of something…

  6. For those who may be interested, I found an online source of the story that I mentioned above A E van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer” which was his first published story (Astounding – July 1939). It is an interesting piece, looking back on it from a distance of 73 years!

    It is at Baen Books

    They also have a brilliant free library which I would highly recommend Try some of the free books (and donate!)


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