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Round Robin

Entry updated 4 December 2023. Tagged: Theme.

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Round-robin stories, in which multiple authors take turns to write sections or chapters of a continuous narrative, generally tend to be games played for the writers' own amusement rather than serious fictional enterprises. Such playful collaborations date back to the nineteenth century. One non-sf instance which had some modest commercial success was the very British mystery novel The Floating Admiral (1931) by "Certain Members of the Detection Club"; there were thirteen contributors, those with entries in this encyclopedia being G K Chesterton (with a tantalizing Prologue), Agatha Christie, Clemence Dane and Ronald A Knox; the introduction by another of the authors, Dorothy L Sayers (1893-1957), describes the arduous writing process whereby "each contributor tackled the mystery presented to him in the preceding chapters without having the slightest idea what solution or solutions the previous authors had in mind."

Notorious examples in the realm of Fantastika include the eighteen-part "Cosmos" which ran from July 1933 to December 1934 in the Amateur Magazine Science Fiction Digest, with story contributors including Edmond Hamilton, David H Keller, Abraham Merritt and E E Smith; the Cthulhu Mythos tale The Challenge from Beyond (September 1935 Fantasy Magazine; 1954 chap; exp as anth 1990) by Robert E Howard, Frank Belknap Long, H P Lovecraft, A Merritt and C L Moore; and in the same issue, the identically titled sf "The Challenge from Beyond" (September 1935 Fantasy Magazine) by Murray Leinster, E E Smith, Harl Vincent, Donald Wandrei and Stanley Weinbaum.

Black Trillium (1990) by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton was created by a kind of variation on the round-robin process, each author independently writing chapters about "their" heroine (there are three) which were then assembled and edited into a novel. Ellen Datlow published what seems to have been the first online round-robin tale, "Making Good Time" (25 November 1996-29 January 1997 Omni Online) by Rachel Pollack, Pat Cadigan, Nancy Kress and James Patrick Kelly; this was followed by two others in Omni Online. Datlow's subsequent Online Magazine, Event Horizon (1998-1999), also featured round-robin tales by teams of (usually) four writers in its regular "Superstrings" department.

Further examples of the form include the Libertarian SF "The Prometheus Meltdown" (1990 New Libertarian #187) whose principal authors were Victor Koman (whom see for the full contributor list) and Brad Linaweaver; the deliberately incoherent – in order to make a point about vanity publishing – Atlanta Nights (2005) as by Travis Tea (which see for details); In Storage (2007), a ten-author tale edited anonymously by Ian Whates; and The Omega Egg (2007 ebook), whose seventeen parts by different authors – Mike Resnick writing the first and Tobias S Buckell the last – were also issued as individual ebooks. [DRL]

see also: Rafael Acevedo; Kathleen Ann Goonan.

further reading

  • Cosmos (Jamaica, New York: Conrad H Ruppert, 1935) [Round Robin story: first appeared July 1933-Dec 1934 Science Fiction Digest: all 18 parts bound together: hb/]


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