Double Double

I’ve just purchased these two “Ace Double” paperbacks, containing stories written from 1958 to 1962.

double 1b

double 2b

Those cover images aren’t upside-down by mistake — with a “double”, you read one story which ends in the middle of the book, then flip the book over and start reading inward from the other direction.

The individual stories are 120-140 pages long, at about 250 words/page, so today they’d be called novellas.  Using the prices on the covers and an online inflation calculator, the books sold for $3.29 and $3.04 in today’s dollars.

I’m not terribly familiar with most of the authors.  A Bertram Chandler‘s “Rim of Space” eventually got expanded into a series, so there’s more to read if I like it.  John Brunner‘s most famous work is Stand on Zanzibar, but I can’t remember if I’ve read it.  I need to get hold of a copy and see if it looks familiar.  Calvin Knox was a pen name of Robert Silverberg.  I’ve read at least one of his short story collections, possibly several of them.  I don’t think I’ve read anything by Milton Lesser.

Why did I suddenly decide to pick these up?  Probably because I’m a fan of shorter works, but I’ve been having bad luck with short stories recently (see the star ratings I gave to the stories in 49 magazines, my first side quest, and my second side quest).  I’m being extremely unscientific by choosing these doubles, as I’ve changed two variables simultaneously:  the length of story and the time period when it was written.  If I detect a change in quality, I won’t know which factor is responsible.

I may go back and do some more comprehensive reading of older sci-fi short stories, but I’ve had mixed results lately.  It seems like the smart thing to do would be to search out some modern novellas.  I might do so in the future, but it’s going to take some effort.

A number of indie authors put out novella-length stories, but too often, they are serial-style cliffhangers leading into the next novella.  I have no problem reading twenty books in a series, but I want each story to come to a conclusion.  I drop a series when I realize the author can’t conclude.

On the traditional-publishing side, Tor tried to push novellas a little while ago, but it’s likely they’ve scaled back their efforts since.  My problem with Tor is that they usually tout the social/political correctness of their offerings, rather than their value as entertainment.  I was inclined to say maybe that’s just marketing, maybe the stories are good, but then I remembered this.

I’d love to hear back from you guys about whether you have any interest in reading novella-length stories.  Drop me a comment below if you have an opinion, or if you’ve ever read one of these paperback doubles.

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18 comments

  1. The funny thing is, I liked every other Tor.com novella I read. But the other ones I read were, for the most part, not the ones getting the awards buzz. Award buzz is, frankly, a bug not a feature. (The other Tor.com novellas I read were: the first Binti novella, The Drowning Eyes, The Builders, and Sunset Mantle.)

    1. I’ll look into some of those, then.

  2. I got really excited the first time I found a shelf of Ace Doubles at a used bookstore. But always having one title upside down on my bookshelf absolutely drives me insane.

    1. I guess I haven’t had them long enough to think about that. Unless I really love them, these will probably get dropped in the donation slot at the goodwill bookstore when I’m through reading them.

  3. I think novellas are a solid form that have been neglected by modern publishing. Stephen King has a humorous discussion of the problems of selling novellas in his introduction to “Different Seasons”.

    But the “100,000 words or go home” attitude of traditional genre publishers has resulted in a lot of otherwise good stories being padded out with chapter-length chunks of filler. I’ve read a lot of posts from young writers asking for advice because their novel is only 40k to 50k words and they think they need to make it longer to sell it.

    I tend to do a lot of work in the wasteland of long stories, novelettes, and novellas, myself. I find it hard to say anything in under 10k words, but around 40k I usually am ready to wrap it up and move on.

    I remember a lot of those double novels as a kid, and I’ve got a fond affection for them. In fact, I offered to figure out how to do that “flip over and read from the back” trick in PDF to produce a POD version for a friend of mine who has two long novellas about the same character that he wants to publish as one book.

    John Brunner, BTW, has three dystopian novels that are often considered an unofficial trilogy–“Stand On Zanzibar” is one, and “The Sheep Look Up” and “Shockwave Rider” are the others. They are all pretty grim, dealing with overpopulation, pollution, and despotic control of information respectively.

    1. I just glanced at Amazon’s kindle version of “Different Seasons”, and it seems that they’ve cut that intro out.

      I’ve also seen a lot of those author posts where people are trying to make their works longer, not better. Maybe authors need to start color-coding their writing, so if you don’t want the filler, you can skip over the green text.

      Was it an easy fix to flip over the text for the double novella?

      “The Sheep Look Up” sounds very familiar, but I’ll have to look up “Shockwave Rider”, thanks.

      1. King’s piece on novellas may have been an afterward, now that I think about it. It’s not worth buying the collection for in any case, I just mention it because he’s a major A-list author and even he had trouble selling stories in the 30-40k range.

        I haven’t actually tried making a double novel in PDF, but I think it’s doable. I just need to sit down and fiddle with it.

        “Shockwave Rider” is an interesting novel in that it has become more realistic over time. When I first read it in the mid-1970s it seemed really far fetched, but in terms of the social impact of things like cell phones and social media he was uncannily prescient. In particular he seems to have foreseen a lot of the potential for fraud when so many daily transactions are automated.

  4. I’m currently reading the SF Hall of Fame short story collection. They also have 2 volumes of novellas. Have you thought about checking those out?

    amazon.com/Science-Fiction-Hall-Fame-Two/dp/0765305356

    That is volume 1 of the novellas….

    1. I’ve seen that collection, but was leery of it because the contents were chosen by the SFWA, the same people who do the Nebula Awards, which are usually full of garbage.

      I’ll wait for your review of the short story collection before I make a decision.

      1. It will be a while, as I’m reading it on lunch breaks at work.
        Danielle at Books, Vertigo and Tea reviewed it awhile ago.

        It’s a who’s who of foundational SF. I’ve read about half the stories before this so I know I’ve got some good ones ahead of me.

  5. I remember when there were books like that. I read a few myself, but that was decades ago. I have to step in for the pro novella crowd. I wrote one with the idea the world wants shorter reads. It was an experiment, but it was my best received book to date. It won’t stop me from releasing more novels, but it’s a valid format.

    1. That’s “The Hat”, I’m guessing? If it’s selling better than your novels and your short story collections, then maybe there is something to novellas in today’s market.

      1. It is in both cases. I think there is something to the novella form. Sure other things could make a difference too, but it looks like an under served market.

  6. I have a few scifi collection books i have to get into, ive been putting it of for a long time.

    1. It may be a while before I read these, since I’m still finishing up some short-story reading projects.

  7. My problem with Tor is that they usually tout the social/political correctness of their offerings, rather than their value as entertainment.

    Ugh! To be fair though, there used to be a lot of science fiction that went heavy on the science and light on the fiction. It was equally as bad.

    1. I don’t know if I can remember back that far. I’m wondering if 1 in 50, or 1 in 100, of “science fiction” stories I’ve been reading have any science at all.

      People like to deride “Hard Sci-Fi” as being dull and full of calculations (which does sound boring) but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen an example.

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