I'm writing "Distant Stars", a composite novel
It's a collection of interlinked science fiction short stories set in the distant future in a galaxy far, far away. Why I'm excited about this unique literary format.
Distant Stars is a collection of science fiction stories set in a universe where human beings have fled Earth a long, long time ago for reasons that have been buried in the ashes of the past. Humanity now thrives in a different part of the galaxy, but old habits die hard — the pursuit of power still reigns surpreme.
Distant Stars is what you call a “composite novel” or a “short story cycle”, a unique literary form that appeals to me as a non-linear writer because it allows me to be experimental and spontaneous. In fact, the more I read about it, the more excited I feel about putting it together!
I also think that it is better suited to Substack’s publishing model. Short stories seem to work better on this platform, and the short story cycle could be a comfortable middle ground between short story and novel.
What the heck is a “short story cycle” or “composite novel”?
This Book Riot article describes composite novels this way:
…a short story cycle can stand on its own, while the same cannot be said of the chapters in a novel. Each piece in a short story cycle has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but when the stories are read within a collection the reader learns about a larger world, gets more depth into the characters, etc.
Some famous composite novels include Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.
Authors interlink their short stories together by using a common theme like geography, setting, or a character.
David Mitchell uses a rather intriguing way to unite Cloud Atlas’ six novellas:
Literally all of the main characters, except one, are reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies throughout the novel identified by a birthmark…
In Cloud Atlas, characters are reincarnated over and over again in different eras. The author plays with different literary styles and genres in his six novellas.
Why a composite novel?
As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, my 2023 mission is to “finish unfinished things”. I recently unearthed about 26 stories that I want to finish.
Eleven of those will go into Distant Stars, though I will probably end up with more than 11 stories in the composite novel. For one, my already-published novella, Heretics of Thran, will be included in it.
Since watching the Cloud Atlas movie and finding out about The Martian Chronicles, I’ve wondered if I could pull off my very own composite novel, and I thought this was an excellent opportunity to do so.
In Ray Bradbury’s case, Martian Chronicles was a “fix-up” novel. When a publisher suggested that he wrote a novel, he realised that he may have already written one!
He decided to combine a few short fiction stories which had been published before into a novel. To make it more unified and interlinked, he edited some stories and wrote “bridging content”. Apparently, this was a common practice back then.
I’d say that Distant Stars is closer to a “fix-up” novel. Many of these stories were initially written without the intention to link them together. Some of them even began life as fanfiction, so I plan to file off the serial numbers, a practice you may be familiar with thanks to books like Fifty Shades of Grey and could be a tad controversial to some.
Distant Stars deets
Premise: Distant Stars will be divided into three sections. Stories that set in the three primary regions of the universe:
Mantora: A hyper-capitalistic society where efficiency and profits reign supreme. It is run by the corporate juggernaut called Mantora Corporation, though they give Mantorans the illusion that they can choose their own government.
Planetia: They were formerly a faction that rebelled and drove away Mantora Corporation from their planet. Planetians have a “neural chip” in their brains that allows them to control machines and their bodies at an unusual (and some say, inhuman) level. This gives them a unique and deadly advantage over Mantorans.
Outerworlds: These are descendants of people who broke away from Mantora Corporation at the founding of their civilisation thousands of years ago. They are made up of wildly different cultures and loosely governed by a Federation. They are often considered “backward” by the Planetians and Mantorans.
Publishing frequency: There will be at least one Distant Stars story a month.
Story length: Some stories will be 500 words, others 1200. There may even be novella-length stories.
When will the first story be published? You’d be surprised to know that I’ve already published a story:
Will it be paid-only and gated? No, the stories will be free to read, but the author’s commentary will only be for paid subscribers.
What do you plan to do after the final story is completed? The plan is to send it for editing, compile in an ebook and put it up for sale. I may create physical copies too.
I hope you will join me in my adventure to create Distant Stars. I’m pretty excited and can’t wait to share the second story I’ve nearly completed!
See you soon.
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Sounds like a cool premise. Excited to see how this turns out.
David Mitchell’s first novel was Ghostwritten (just finished it) which weaves together 9 different characters. It was very ambitious for a first novel and has a similar style of a complete story with each and bridging content.
Thanks for bringing this genre to my attention, Elizabeth! And I wish you every good success with your composite novel!