Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Longest SFF Novels of All Time

With the recent news that Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer is going to be very big indeed, I thought it'd be interesting to look at the longest SFF novels and series.


These lists are not exhaustive and consistency of reporting these figures can be quite variable. I have opted for word counts as the most accurate way of estimating length, as page counts can vary immensely based on page margins and font sizes.


Longest Novels

1. Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest
667,000 words • 1845-47

This long novel was serialised in "penny dreadfuls" of the mid-19th Century and chronicles the adventures of Sir Francis Varney, a vampire. This book's genre credentials have been disputed (with the suggestion that Varney is actually a madman rather than a real vampire), but there seems to be a general acceptance that the book is a genuine work of the fantastic, and the longest SFF work ever published in one volume (which it was in 1847). The book was also influential on Bram Stoker's later Dracula (1897) and introduced many of the tropes of vampire fiction, including the "sympathetic vampire" protagonist.


2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
645,000 words • 1957

Highly debatable as a genre work rather than a political novel, although the story is partially set against a dystopian background and genre historian John Clute identifies the novel as SF (plus it inspired the very SF Bioshock video game series and fantasy Sword of Truth series), so okay, we'll count it.


3. Jerusalem by Alan Moore
615,000 words • 2016

Alan Moore's prose magnum opus is a massive, dizzying and baffling journey into the surreal. It's so huge that it is available in a two-volume edition in a nice slipcase.


4. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
545,000 words • 1996

Infinite Jest has primarily literary allusions, although the book's setting - a North American superstate consisting of a unified Canada, USA and Mexico - is a futuristic dystopia. The book could have even been bigger, with 250 manuscript pages trimmed for length by the publishers.




5. To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams
520,000 words • 1993

The concluding volume of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is bigger than the first two novels in the series (The Dragonbone Chair and Stone of Farewell) combined. A titanic, shelf-destroying novel, it is only available in mass-market paperback in two volumes, subtitled Siege and Storm.


6. The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
502,000 words • 2001

The fifth volume of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander historical romance series, spiced up by a time-spanning culture clash, is absolutely gigantic.


7. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
501,000 words • 2005

The sixth volume of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander historical romance series doesn't quite match its predecessor.


8. Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
500,000 words • 2000

Mary Gentle's novel is a dazzling mix of SF, historical drama, fantasy, alternate history and generaly bizarrity. The novel was published in one volume in the UK, but the American publishers released it as four in the USA.


9. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (estimated)
495,000 words (estimated) • 2017

The final word count could go up or down, but Brandon Sanderson has estimated that the third volume of The Stormlight Archive will be 25% longer than the already-huge second volume.

10. The Stand by Stephen King
472,376 words • 1978

Stephen King's biggest novel in a single volume, notable for also foreshadowing The Dark Tower series. The above word count is for the expanded and revised edition.



11. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
470,000 words • 1954-55

This book needs no introduction. The most influential fantasy novel ever written, often incorrectly cited as the biggest genre novel of all time. Due to paper shortages after the Second World War, the book was released in three volumes, inadvertently creating the classic fantasy trilogy at the same time.


12. The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton
469,000 words • 1999

The biggest space opera ever written, even more remarkable because it was the concluding volume of an even bigger trilogy, The Night's Dawn.


13. It by Stephen King
445,134 words  1986

Arguably Stephen King's most famous single novel.


14. Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams
443,000 words • 2001

This is the concluding volume of Tad Williams's fantasy/cyberpunk mash-up Otherland. Williams likes to end big.


15. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
422,000 words • 2000

George R.R. Martin started his Song of Ice and Fire series being somewhat concerned about the word count and went to great lengths to keep the first two books down to a friendly 300,000 words or so apiece, dropping chapters back into the next volume if necessary. However, with Martin planning a five year time-jump after this book, he had no choice but to write the story to its natural conclusion. The result was a book that pushed the UK publishers to the limits of what they could publish in one volume. The paperback version, in fact, was released in two volumes.


16. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
420,000 words • 2011

The difficult-to-write fifth volume in A Song of Ice and Fire ended up being somewhat longer than A Storm of Swords, but Martin cut it down to slightly shorter in the final sweat and edit.


17. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
415,000 words • 1999

Neal Stephenson's first gigantic book, but not his last (although this remains his longest book) is an interesting romp through WWII history, cryptography and weirdness. A stand-alone, but it also acts as a thematic prequel (and actual sequel) to his later Baroque Cycle.



18. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
402,000 words • 2009

The seventh Outlander novel is huge, but feels quite modest compared to the longest books in the series mentioned above.


19. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
401,000 words • 1996

The fourth Outlander novel. Given the several books in the series that are just under 400,000 words, I can only assume that the author gets through a lot of keyboards.


20. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
400,000 words • 2011

Patrick Rothfuss's sequel to The Name of the Wind is considerably larger. It remains to be seen if the final volume of The Kingkiller Chronicle, The Doors of Stone, will be bigger still.


21. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
400,000 words • 2014

The second volume of The Stormlight Archive is about to lose its record-setting status as Sanderson's biggest novel and the biggest novel in the series to Oathbringer. But it's still pretty big.



Below 400,000 words, the number of fantasy and SF novels in that size bracket shoots up massively. So rather than try to come up with an exhaustive list, here's some notable SFF novels with their word counts:

  • Lord of Chaos is the sixth and longest Wheel of Time novel, clocking in at 395,000 words.
  • Toll the Hounds is the eighth and longest Malazan Book of the Fallen novel, reaching 389,000 words.
  • Maia, by the late Richard Adams, is 379,130 words.
  • Magician, by Raymond E. Feist, is a relatively breezy 313,410 words (about 330,000 words in the 1992 extended edition). Which makes the decision to publish the novel in two volumes in the United States (as Apprentice and Master) all the weirder.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is 309,000 words.
  • Temple of the Winds, the longest Sword of Truth novel, is a modest 307,520 words in length.
  • The Order of the Phoenix, the longest Harry Potter novel, is 257,045 words in length. That's over three times the length of the shortest novel in the series, The Philosopher's Stone
  • The Sword of Shannara, the novel that gave birth of the modern fantasy genre, is a relatively modest 228,160 words. It's also still Terry Brooks's biggest novel, by far; none of the other Shannara novels top 200,000 words and only three top 150,000 words.
  • SF is generally a lot shorter than fantasy, but the fact that Frank Herbert's seminal Dune is only 188,000 words - shorter than three of the Harry Potter books! - might be surprising.



The Longest SFF Series

This is a much more debatable list, since some series are more diffuse than others. The Riftwar books, for example, form nine distinct series, but also have narrative elements spanning all twenty-nine books in the series. The same is true of the Shannara series. The Discworld books I haven't even attempted to fit on here for this reason. This list is therefore a bit more speculative.

  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (15 volumes): 4,360,000 words.
  • The Shannara Series by Terry Brooks (28 volumes, incomplete): 3,865,000 words.
  • The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist (29 volumes): 3,831,670 words.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (10 volumes): 3,274,000 words (5.5 million including all related works by Erikson and Ian Esslemont).
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (8 volumes, incomplete): 3,227,000 words.
  • The Cosmere by Brandon Sanderson (11 novels/1 anthology, incomplete): 2,971,940 words.
  • The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind (11 volumes): 2,761,170 words (3,643,650 including the sequels).
  • The Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts (9 volumes, incomplete): 2,600,000 words.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson (10 volumes): 2,062,000 words.
  • The Belgariad/Malloreon by David & Leigh Eddings (12 volumes): 1,861,000 words.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (5 volumes, incomplete): 1,749,000 words.
  • Worm by John McCrae (30 "arcs"): 1,680,000 words.
  • Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott (7 volumes): 1,622,720 words.
  • The Solar Cycle by Gene Wolfe (11 volumes): 1,368,000 words.
  • The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson (3 volumes, incomplete): 1,275,000 words.
  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King (8 volumes): 1,256,000 words.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton (3 volumes): 1,247,000 words.
  • Otherland by Tad Williams (4 volumes): 1,189,000 words.
  • The Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker (7 volumes, incomplete): 1,172,000 words.
  • Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams (3 volumes): 1,126,000 words (1,542,440 including The Heart of What Was Lost and The Witchwood Crown).
  • The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson (3 volumes): 1,125,000 words (1,540,000 including Cryptonomicon).
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (7 volumes): 1,084,170 words (1,183,370 including The Cursed Child).
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (6 volumes, incomplete): 1,077,560 words.
  • The Elenium/Tamuli by David Eddings (6 volumes): 1,006,000 words.
  • The Sword of Shadows by J.V. Jones (4 volumes, incomplete): 945,047 words.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (6 volumes): 839,000 words.
  • The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (6 volumes, incomplete): 834,000 words.
  • The Acts of Caine by Matt Stover (4 volumes): 768,000 words.
  • The First Law by Joe Abercrombie (3 volumes): 618,000 words (1,216,000 including the stand-alone sequels).


Why Page Counts Vary

It's remarkable what difference shifting a margin over by a few millimetres can make. One-volume editions of The Lord of the Rings, for example, can vary from 750 pages (for tiny-font editions on onion paper) to the better part of 2,000 (for large-print versions for readers with bad eyesight). Back in 2001 Pan Macmillan were able to squeeze thepaperback of The Naked God (469,000 words) into almost the exact same page count as its predecessor novel, The Reality Dysfunction (385,000 words) despite being significantly longer, just by manipulating font sizes and margins.

This is why page count is a poor guide to working out a novel's true length, and word count is more reliable indicator.

Word counts can also differ, depending on the programme used (most modern word counts come from the ebook editions) and how they count punctuation. Some counters will also include cast lists, footnotes and appendices, others will disregard them. The publishers may even give differing word counts because they did a count before the last edits were finalised, or they forgot that the new edition has more stuff in it.


Sources

SFF blogger Abalieno has been keeping tabs on book lengths over on Looping World for many years and some of these figures come directly from there. Excellent work from him there.

Reading Length is a great site which extracts book lengths from multiple sources and then works out how long it will take to read the book. It tends to the conservative, so some of the above figures may actually be less than what is actually the case. However, it does make mistakes: its word count for Dune, for example, is for the 50th anniversary edition which includes several hundred pages of bonus material which isn't part of the novel.

Novel Word Count doesn't seem to be as exhaustive as it was planned to be, but its Stephen King page is pretty good.



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17 comments:

vacuouswastrel said...

Any idea what the word cound is for Fool's Fate? Physically, the UK hardback is only marginally smaller than ADWD, although of course that can be misleading.

And in terms of series, I think that the 8 (so far) Fitz novels would make an interesting comparison, with or without the Liveship/Rain Wilds books...

[The next (/last?) Fitz novel, incidentally, is said to be going to be even bigger. The publishers originally had it larger than ADWD in page counts, if you don't count the appendices... lastest estimate seem to have taken 200 pages off that, but I don't know if that's genuine editing or just them decreasing the margin sizes.]

(how great, incidentally, to see major international publishers adopt the same approach to document length management as I employed in secondary school (though I usually tried to make my homework look longer, not shorter...))

Rob Holland said...

I actually have a copy of "To Green Angel Tower" in one volume, though it is a trade paperback and not a regular paperback. I bought it in Australia in 1993.

All these large volumes makes me very pleased with the creation of eBook readers. It was a major hassle to read Anathem in hardcover - the binding I was given it in. Not sure how many times I fell asleep while reading that only to have it fall on me. :-)

Adam Whitehead said...

287,680, according to Word Count Tracker, for the paperback of 900 pages. Compare that to AGoT being 297,000 words at 850 pages. With some messing around of margins and fonts, that's possible.

As I said, WCT is pretty conservative though, so it could be over 300,000 words. It does feel odd that none of Robin Hobb's books are over 300,000 words on the basis of WCT. Assassin's Quest is listed as only 234,000 words. I'm pretty sure that book is not shorter than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Anonymous said...

The Malazan word counts are a little weird. I pulled out my paperbacks (word counts per Loopingworld):

- Toll the Hounds is 1295 pages, listed at 389k words, spine is 5.0 mm wide

- Reaper's Gale is 1280 pages, listed as 382k words, spine is 4.9 mm wide

- The Bonehunters is 1229 pages, listed at 358k words, spine is 4.7 mm wide

- Memories of Ice is 925 pages, listed at 355k words, spine is 3.6 mm wide

MOI is using smaller font and noticeably narrower margins than the others. I wonder why they expanded the page counts so much for later books and didn't keep the more compact style used on MOI?

Ghost said...

I personally don't get why people are so hung up on word count and the size of the books. Big doesn't mean better and sometime beings too long hurts the book. Like they say; quality over quantity.

Paul Arnold said...

What about the David Wingrove series Chung Kuo, that's pretty huge, even the original format.

Mike Bonsiero said...

Re: Rob Holland's point above: The single-volume version of the To Green Angel Tower paperback is in the US now too. I just noticed it about a month ago for the first time, but I don't know how long it has been here. I took a picture of it. It's literally bigger than the bible.

Galen Strickland said...

Re: Gene Wolfe's Solar Cycle. Shouldn't that be 12 volumes? It would be interesting to see the word counts for the various series within that cycle. How many words for the Book of the New Sun in comparison to Long Sun and Short Sun?

vacuouswastrel said...

Adam: wow! I'm actually shocked it's so short. It certainly doesn't feel it!
I can't easily compare across her series, because I've only got Tawny Man and the last two in hardback. But I'm surprised that Fool's Fate would be as physically big as it is, if it's that short - because putting that series back to back, you can see them getting bigger, until FF is seemingly near the limit of what they can physically make a book. It's not exactly falling apart, but you get the feeling that if it were much longer it would do. So I'm surprised they didn't just compress it a little, if it's low-density to begin with.

It does look like you're right, though. Looking at FF and ADWD side by side (in hardback), ADWD is obviously denser. The margins are clearly smaller on all sides - it's quite a cluttered page, whereas FF is quite roomy. FF has 37 lines per page, and from a quick scan seems to have 10-14 words per line, whereas ADWD looks like having 12-16. That's 110 words per page difference, which over ~900 pages would be about 100,000 words. Add in that Hobb has roomier chapter headings and that ADWD has a few more pages... I'm skeptical it's actually under 300,000, but yeah, the difference may be much less than I was assuming!

About AQ vs HPatOotP... I think maybe AQ just SEEMED longer than it was to you!

Adam Whitehead said...

The Solar Cycle is listed on Loopingworld: http://loopingworld.com/2009/03/06/wordcount/

I'm starting to think that Word Count website is much more inaccurate than I thought, after comparing known word counts with their system (TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER is 20,000 words shorter than in reality, for example). I suspect what they have is an algorithm that measures page counts on Amazon and compares to the length of the audio version and extracts a word count from there (since the site links to both Amazon and Audible). Which might get you a ballpark figure but it'd be rough as hell.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, HPMOR is 661,619 words.

George Phillies said...

David Weber's Honor Harrington series probably fits in that list someplace. Ditto his Safehold series, which actually ended after only nine books. Modesitt's Recluce series might fit, depending on what you count as being part of the series. Your mileages are all different. They come that way.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the Perry Rhodan series of books doesn't quite fit in with your definition of Longest Series category?

Joe said...

I have the Malazan audiobooks. The shortest is Gardens of the Moon, at 26.04. The longest is Reaper's Gale, 47.28. I was kind of hoping that one would crack the two-day mark, but no joy. All ten together are 397.39.

But frankly, I prefer smaller books. Somewhere in the vein of a large Pratchett paperback. Larger than that gets hard to hold and heavy to carry. On the other hand, I like stories to be exactly the length they need to be, no padding and no butchery.

Firs said...

Adam,

I've done some page counting and revisions at https://ostenard.com/2016/10/21/tad-williams-announces-the-completion-of-the-witchwood-crown/ . According to my word counts, the word counts at the word counting site you used are very far from accurate (sorry).

Tad Williams' Shadowmarch series clocks in at just over 1 million words, and should be added to your list of long series. See above link for specific word counts of each volume.

SerArnys said...

He wrote on reddit that the third draft has 514,000 words!

Anonymous said...

I figured that Pern or Xanth might have shown up in the total series section.