- Jon & Lobo (#1-2, plus two short stories)
- Published by Baen
- Omnibus edition published in 2010
- Space Opera
- 720 pages
Jon is an engineered superhuman. Lobo is a sentient warship. Together they get into a lot of trouble. Whether it’s rescuing kidnapped girls or getting entangled with con artists, it seems there’s no way they’re getting out in one piece . . .
The last book from my August Hay-on-Wye haul (don’t worry though, I’ve resupplied since) this is another one of those books that I knew nothing about going in. I had never heard of the author. The series was unknown to me. Nothing about it rang any bells – no sense that I had heard or read about Jon and/or Lobo in the past. But it was cheap, especially for such a chunky book, and it sounded like my sort of thing, so here we are.
What I find most interesting about Jump Gate Twist is the level of commentary contained within. There are two novels and two short stories. That’s what most people are here for. But there’s also an introduction by Van Name. You get that quite a bit with omnibus or anniversary editions. Jump Gate Twist doesn’t stop there though. Each story has several pages from Van Name explaining the genesis of the novel, or the circumstances in which the story fits into the larger history of the series from a writer’s perspective.
One thing mentioned in the commentary is that Van Name intends for this to be a long running series. Perhaps eighteen novels in total. I admire a writer with ambition, but this strikes me as an improbably large number. Especially when you consider that the first short story was written in 1984, the first novel published in 2007, and the most recent (fifth) novel in 2012. Sadly it seems that energy on the series has stalled.
Balancing that is Van Name’s desire to write standalone novels within a larger series. Each of the two books in this collection could easily be read without knowledge of the other. For me, this slightly undermines the intention of there being a continuous future history, but it makes for an easier read. Van Name’s writing is strong on action, and zips along merrily through shootouts, chases, and double dealings. There’s an odd early insistence on sexual metaphors, but I suppose everyone has their flaws.
Overall, I feel there is a disconnect between how the author planned these books, and how they ended up being. The commentary made me expect something along the lines of H. Beam Piper’s Terro-Human Future History, or the expanded Dune universe. What I read was more like the Jack Reacher series. A stranger comes to town, gets into some scrapes, and walks off into the sunset. There are some fun ideas and sci-fi concepts in here, but ultimately it’s just a lighter fare than I was expecting. Part of that is on me, but I also think there’s a marketing problem at work here. If you’re thinking about reading Jump Gate Twist, you should know what you’re getting into.
Deeper Dive: Whatever Happened to the Omnibus?
I was in Hay-on-Wye last week (more on that tomorrow) and I cam across a shelf of Ace Doubles. These books gather together two (sometimes unrelated) short novels in one paperback volume. A vestige of the time when books were still at magazine length, and bundling them together was an easier way getting them onto the shelves. I didn’t buy any, but it did get me thinking about omnibuses.
I’ve got a fair few omnibuses on my shelves. There’s the Helliconia trilogy from Gollancz, who have also bundled together some of R. A. Lafferty’s work and Keith Laumer’s novels. I have complete collections of H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft. But these are all older works, gathered together for the sake of collectors, for the most part. The only omnibuses of modern work I have are from Black Library, who generally gather their trilogies together a few years after initial release. Clearly, we have the ability to make an omnibus. So where are they all?
I think there are two factors at play. The first is that books are much longer than they used to be. Look at novels from sixty years ago, and they’ll be 200-400 pages long. Look at a modern book, and they can easily be 600+ pages. Hard to bind multiple books of that length in one volume. The spill over from epic fantasy has led to vastly inflated page counts. Not necessarily for the worse, but if you compare books on your shelf, you’ll probably see the change.
The other factor is, as always, marketing. If a reader is interested in a series, they’re likely to buy individual volumes as they go. Not many new readers are willing to buy the whole series in one go. So you end up with one group of people who are unsure if a series is worth the investment, and another who already own all the books. neither group is likely to chase down an omnibus before an individual book.
As with limited editions, signed editions, and all manner of exclusives, it seems to me that modern omnibuses are destined be be largely the domain of collectors and completionists.
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