Not Saying It's Good PKD Died Just In Time

Extollager

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Having just finished my seventh (I think) PKD novel, I'm struck by a fact about them obvious enough to be overlooked: all seven are relatively short novels by comparison with what seems to be normal in science fiction these days.

From about 45 years of experience as a reader of sf, I have come to agree with those who hold that, as a rule, the best sf is in the short story to short-mid-length novel range. Outstanding sf novels, from Wells' Time Machine (if that is even a novel and not a novella) and War of the Worlds to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, are usually not long. I'd say that anything as long as George R. Stewart's good novel Earth Abides could be considered a "long novel." Dune is long (too long ago since I read it for me to say whether it's good!). So that's my major thesis. Sf fans/critics seem often to think that because sf tends to be idea-driven (even where it is also character-driven), it's generally best when authors work in relatively modest page-count ranges.

As far as I have seen so far, PKD never wrote a long sf novel. It seems that the relatively short-to-medium-length range suited his imagination as well as the requirements of the publishers to whom he urgently needed to sell manuscripts.

I don't think any of PKD's novels that I have read would be improved by being spun out the way (to judge from the walloping big new sf novels I see in bookstores and public libraries) sf is these days. I suspect there are two things that push this swollen-ness. (1) Thanks to word processors, it is (take it from one who knows!) much easier to write than it was in the days of yellow legal pads and typewriters. How easy it is, for example, to spin out pages of dialogue. I would confidently predict that the proportion of an sf book devoted to dialogue has soared in the past 25 years. (2) I think many of the younger sf readers may be coming from the games world. They are attracted to highly elaborate, endlessly spun-out, sprawling, protracted, one-level immersive experience for its own sake rather than carefully-wrought, multilevel, artistically purposive and controlled experience. Not to make too many assumptions, but I wonder if they wouldn't find a 900-page first novel of a quintet about galactic empires, fairies, apocalyptic prophecy, cyber warfare, etc. easier going or anyway more to their liking than, say, Martian Time-Slip.

But PKD never, so far as I know, faced editorial demands to spin out any of his books to gargantuan length.
 

Fried Egg

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Yes, I can just imagine VALIS being spun out into a 500 page novel...what a joy to read that would be. :rolleyes:
 

Connavar

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Its not about PKD its just SF books was 200 pages long then for every writer of those days. They had to follow that rule.

I dont think pages has anything to do with his imagination,quality as a writer. It would depend on if he had an idea that was fit for 500 pages. Some writers today who are popular,acclaimed dont write more than 200-250 pages. Maybe not in SF but in crime,non-genre etc

The long SF novels today are because people want more fun to read its not about quality. Usually those SF that are huge in bookstores are book series. Look at the ones that win awards they are the avreage lenght today of 300-400 pages.
 

Diggler

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Yes, I would think the pulp publishers wanted novels that were not only easy to carry around, but also relatively quick to read as well.

I personally prefer shorter novels. I find large novels (300+ pages) just bore me over time, and I stop reading them. While PKD's novels are relatively short (usually less than 200 pages), they are generally very elaborate pieces of fiction.

I can read a 300 page piece of fluff and whizz through it like a hot knife through butter. Though I read something from PKD, and I find myself having to read at a slower pace, so as to take it all in.

I would like to say that I am winding up on "A Maze of Death", and contrary to most other peoples views on this one, I liked it! :D
 

gully_foyle

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In general I agree with Extollager's sentiments. I love a story that is both complex and compact. PKD had complex characters populate his books, often reusing the basic personalities, but they gave depth to what otherwise may have been simple (but out there) plot lines.

The 200 page format was a standard of the day, but some novels were just plain epic in their scope. Dune was an epic and whilst the style didn't appeal to some, there wasn't much padding in it. And let's not forget Lord of the Rings, though most will be quick to point out that it was 6 smaller books in a row.

When a story is spun out or padded to make for a nice fat book, I generally resent it and get bored with the consequent waffle. I tend not to resent it if it is done well. Surface Detail by Iain M Banks was originally touted as a slim volume, and I was pleased to here that, but we ended up with something quite large (my copy was destroyed so I can't give a precise page count). It was still pretty good, but sometimes I wish he would drop some of the detailed build ups.

If Dick was alive today how big would his novels be? Hard call. If he had started in the 70's or 80's instead of the 50's I'd say he would produce both little and large. If he was still continuing on, one would hope he would not be doing big volumes co-authored with Gentry Lee.
 

woodsman

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Seeing that his books have been reprinted and are on sale at many bookstore's I'd suggest length does not appear to impact popularity too much.
Whether he would face pressure from editors I can't really comment. Do publishers look for long stories or are most authors caught up in thee current trend?
 

Connavar

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I read tons of popular writers who has no more than 300 pages, i dotn think publishers demand 600 epics. Its just some genres like fantasy you are expected too.

Seeing he is one of the most mainstream SF authors i dont think publishers would care about his page number if he was active today. There are authors of his age alive writing whatever they like like Elmore Leonard,Michael Moorcock and co.
 

Vertigo

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I do thoroughly enjoy PKD's books and find them really thought provoking and he certainly achieves a lot in (by today's standards) very short novels. However I must confess I do like long books; I like to get immersed in a book and almost feel cheated when it ends too soon. I'm not saying I want books that are padded out with fluff just to get a high page count but I do like something I can get my teeth into.
 

Dozmonic

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People these days like to have a substantial book to read. What they read isn't filler, but it is expanded subplot in comparison to what they used to read. There's the same pacing and structure applied, but the tapestry is expanded with more threads interweaving.
 

Extollager

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I've read eight of PKD's novels, and don't think any of them should be longer than it is. The short- to medium-length custom for sf during the time when PKD did most of his writing was well suited to his talents.
 

Luc Valentine

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Yes, it's likely Phil Dick was constrained by a lifetime of strict word counts both for the magazines and the trade paperbacks, and might have simply become accustomed to terse, brisk writing. Don't know if a word processer would have spun him out. He typed extremely fast, faster than most, and interestingly typed using only the forefingers of each hand.

Dick did write at least one long work, if something like a journal counts. His Exegesis, an exploration of his mystical experience of 1974, runs to a thousand pages. A paperback excerpt of it was published a while back, but later this year a two volume set of excerpts is due out.
 

JoanDrake

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It's somewhat ironic that you should bring this up about PKD, as he is still among the most thematically consistent of all SF writers. Almost everything he wrote was largely about what constitutes reality. He examined that same question from nearly every aspect there is and his biography makes it pretty clear that it was really the central mystery of life to him. One might say he wrote one story, not several, and just published it in 200 page segments
 

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