Door Jam Novels in Fantasy/Sci-fi

In a recent email conversation with fellow author David Drazul, I mentioned that I’d grown tired of large fantasy/sci-fi “door jam” novels (books so big they could prop open a heavy door) due mainly to their emphasis on minutiae world-building over fast pacing.

When I think back to what I’ve read over the last year, books three and four of Steven Erikson’s Malazan series are the only door jam novels I finished. Erikson is a brilliant writer, but by the time I reached the middle of each book, even his work had me antsy for the end.

I’d love to read Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, as I’ve heard good things about it, but at a thousand freakin’ pages, I can’t help but think of all the slimmer books I could read in the time it would take to finish that one.

The only door jam fantasy I want to read is the last Wheel of Time book. I started the series back in the ’90s because I heard it would be three books. Then three turned into six, which turned into nine, then twelve…until it’s now at the fifteenth and final(!) book due for release in January. I’m invested at this point. But I’d never start the series right now considering its length.

I gave up on George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series because it felt like he was heading into Wheel of Time territory (and partly because I have the luxury of watching the DVDs).

It took my discovery of Glen Cook’s Dread Empire series for me to see that a fantasy/sci-fi novel doesn’t need to be a door jam to have quality world-building. Colin McComb’s debut Oathbreaker, Book 1: The Knight’s Tale (which I reviewed) is another example. Both Cook and McComb present their complex worlds and characters with visceral, compact prose that keeps their books under 250 pages without making them feel “thin.”

What are your favorite fantasy/sci-fi novels, with quality world-building, that are relatively short (e.g., under 300 pages)?

Or do you love the door jam novel? If so, why?


  1. If a story keeps moving, I don’t mind it being long. There are issues of the book being physically awkward to hold or carry, but I could deal with that if the story is good. I recently read Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini, and at 850-odd pages it was definitely a door-stop novel. The problem was, it was slow and over-written. It finally got good about 600 pages in. If a book is like that, I definitely won’t last through it all.

    So I would generally be fine with a huge novel, as long as the story stays interesting and I don’t have aong list of other books to read and I’m not planning on any road trips in small spaces.

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