coverI finally broke down and bought the very latest e-ARC of the Honor Harrington series, A Rising Thunder. And while it’s still a dozen or so posts down the road in my series of Honorverse e-book reviews, I will note that while I quite liked the book overall, the ending was…annoying. It didn’t so much end as it just stopped. There wasn’t a build to a climax, then a denouement. There was building toward a climax, and then…finis. It was as if the book had been cut off halfway through.

As it turns out, that is exactly what did happen. When Weber turned in his manuscript for A Rising Thunder, it was even longer than his last book, Mission of Honor—so long that Baen decided to split it into two books. The next one will be published later—though it’s not clear exactly when, I’d guess in a few months or so. And so we end up getting only half the story now.

(Though, to be fair, this may not be entirely the reason. Rumor has it that rather than splitting the book in the middle, Weber chose to pull out all the parts of it that took place in one particular subsection of the setting to build a thematically separate novel around. It still feels to me more like the book abruptly stops than ends.)

This isn’t the first time Weber has turned in a book that was too long for individual publication. His and Linda Evan’s Hell’s Gate books were another such, and one of his Honorverse books (which I haven’t reviewed yet) had to have a significant chunk carved out of it to make a novella in a short story collection. Nor is it the first time it’s happened to books in general. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was always conceived to be a single novel, for all that it had to be published as three. Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion was another such book, as were the first books in Charlie Stross’s Merchant Princes series.

Speaking of Stross, last year, I covered his essay on why most mass-market hardcover books in the USA are capped at 424 pages (except for a few special exceptions that have to be sent to more expensive specialty binderies). Undoubtedly that cap had a lot to do with the reason A Rising Thunder was split. But there’s no reason at all to split a book like that if you’re publishing it electronically.

The first e-book I ever bought was a “doorstop”, as it happens. Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep weighed in at over 500K—fully 25% of the total storage space on the Palm IIIe that was my first e-reader. Adobe Digital Editions enumerates the EPUB edition at 541 pages. (According to Amazon, the paperback is 432 pages, and the hardcover is 534—making it one of the special exceptions to the 424 page rule) But the annotated version of Fire is even thicker—700+K, 712 Adobe Digital pages. (Mission of Honor was 586 ADE pages and A Rising Thunder is 434.)

The interesting thing is that the annotated version has never seen paper publication—it came out on a CD-ROM first, then much later as an eReader e-book. I imagine it would be hard even to think about publishing it in print—apart from the expense of binding it, who would want to have such a massive thing on their lap? And undoubtedly a lot fewer people would really have been interested in the annotations than just wanted to read the story, so it wouldn’t have been worth the overall expense.

So that does suggest that in the future, when e-books are the dominant form of publication, there might be less reason to split up these doorstop books. But will there really? If the book is going to be published in print at all, it still makes sense to keep it shorter to save that printing money—not to mention ding people’s wallets twice instead of once for the same content no matter which format they buy it in.

I still hope that we’ll see size limitations matter less the more common e-books become—I like reading a long story as much as the next guy, whether it’s published as a single book or several.


  1. How many people really buy hardback books anyway? The real mass market is paperback, and increasingly, ebook. Paperbacks are getting bigger in actual size all the time: many of them would make excellent doorstops. Just looking at them stacked on shelves, it’s hard to imagine they can only hold 424pp.

    Many years ago, I had an all-in-one paperback copy of Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t noticeably bulky or heavy. I really don’t buy the paper-book limits: they’re more about convenience for publishers than for readers.

    As you say, there’s no reason to restrict the size of ebooks. I’ve been delighted to see short stories and novellas appearing more in ebook. A story has its own length. I’ve often read frustrated comments by authors who were told to expand or cut their novel to fit a certain size. It’s like slashing sections off a picture, or putting in extra bits to fit a certain frame. No, Leonardo, you can’t include Lisa’s hands. They’re not really important. Vincent, that’s enough daisies.

  2. Zelazny.
    The first Amber “series” was really a single mega-novel (by the standards of the day) delivered in chunks that just…stopped…
    To his credit, you could walk into any of the volumes and sort-of figure out what was going on (I walked in on GUNS OF AVALONE. Nowhere on the cover was it clear that it was deep inside an ongoing saga. It was in looking for the “sequels” that I found the earlier volumes. (The “joy” of buying SF from newstands in the last century.)

    As the industry transitions from print-first to digital-first, the absurd obsession with page counts will end. It has to.
    Anyway, thanks for the tip on the (lack of) ending. I was getting ready to get the “Thunder” eARC today but I’ll wait now. (I’m still re-reading the Vorkosigan Saga, anyway.)
    Besides, Mission of Honor’s cliffhanger was enough for me.
    And I’m still waiting for the third volume of HELL’S GATE. 🙁

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