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Half the size, twice the price

“The first I learned of the new practice of splitting novels to satisfy chain store strictures was when I read Peter Watts’ introduction to ‘Behemoth: B-Max’, which turns out to have been the first half of the final novel in his ‘Starfish’ trilogy. He says in the introduction to this novel — and later confirmed in an interview for this site — that it is merely half the novel he wanted to call ‘Behemoth’. However, the chain stores supposedly don’t like big novels by non-big-name writers, though I would argue with two well-regarded hardcover novels, Watts was certainly well-known. Still, his publisher, Tor, told him that he had to either cut the novel down to an acceptable word count — somewhere around 75,000 to 100,000 words — or split the novel. So, he split the novel at a natural spot, and now readers can line up both hardcovers as I have on my rolling shelves.”
— Rick Kleffel, http://trashotron.com/agony/columns/2005/02-23-05.htm

I’m torn.

Frankly, I’m not someone who’s attracted to fat books. Too impatient. Too outcome-oriented. I read books & I keep a count of the number of pages remaining — even if I LOVE a book, I still do that.

‘Hmm, I’m on page 250, & there are 480 pages in total, so I only have 230 pages left.’

I don’t know why. Terrible attention span. Easily bored. Doesn’t make friends with the other children.

Or maybe I figure smaller books are more likely to be carefully edited, that more time will be spent checking the words than producing the words. More energy will be put into crafting than building. It’s some kind of subconscious bigotry on my part, impossible to justify, really.

Anyhow, I am a fan of style, as I’ve mentioned. I can forgive a lot of things about a tale if it’s beautifully told. I am happier with that than I am with a book which has a great story, but which bored me line by long, drawn-out line until I gave up & threw it away. I gaze across the vastness of a fat book’s spine & often see myself turning into an old woman before I can manage to finish it.

So, unless a big book is really, really highly recommended — I mean, really — then I tend to skip it in favour of some faster, smaller hit. The fattest book I’ve ever read was probably Mary Gentle’s ASH: A SECRET HISTORY. Yes, it came highly recommended, & yay, thank all that is holy that it did. It’s one of my absolute favourite books. I love that book. It has smarts & style & epic action & it has emotion & wow, it feels like a real place, a REAL happening. I still miss Ash herself, that crazy, mercenary bitch.

In Australia we followed the British model of publishing ASH as one large book. In the US it was split into no less than four. The funny thing is that I loved the fact it was a fat book with a cover like a sand-covered chest. It made me feel like it was a magic box. It made the story even more potent to have it there as one huge, courageous thing, one massively assertive object.

‘Here I am, I’m gutsy enough to be THIS BIG.’

The fatness of it gave it a solid presence when I held it. It made me feel taller. To have split it up — even though there were logical places to do that — must, surely, have damaged the momentum & lessened the effect. Reducing the object must have made the story feel less serious. (Americans are now welcome to correct me, of course — please!)

But if ASH hadn’t come so very highly recommended, would I have picked up such a big book & paid money for it?

Probably not.

So if you’re asking me if I wish they’d published Peter Watts’ BEHEMOTH as one glorious, weighty, thick tome, then yes, I do. And not just because it would mean I wouldn’t have to pay the purchase price twice. More importanly, because the author believes it is one story. And because I trust Watts, I love Watts, & his first book, STARFISH, is one of my other absolute all-time favourites, & favourites are rare. Rare enough to be taken seriously & to be given their space & to be applauded for their bravery.

And when I get around to purchasing & reading BEHEMOTH (I can’t believe I’ve let it go so long), I will probably buy both books at once & glue them together & read them as one large, healthy story the way God & Watts intended.

You can consider this — sight unseen — a very high recommendation to do the same. ;)