Got call from agent this morning, who's 1/4 of the way through the ms. He doesn't see any cuts so far, and in fact thinks it could use more fleshing out of things for new readers in the universe and those, like him, who haven't re-read the Paks books in 20 years.
In other words, it could be longer. The book itself agrees. While it's reassuring to find that a professional agrees that there aren't any easy cuts in at least that much of the book, it's depressing, too. If I'd just missed something, that would be fixable much more easily.
The possibilities for cutting, that preserve *some* of the present qualities, are "start later" and "end sooner." Neither is a good choice for plot reasons.
Starting later makes very important plot-driving events into hearsay, violating "show, don't tell" and/or causing a double chronological transition (backwards, to tell/show them, and then forwards again.) As well, telling often takes more words than showing. And leaving out the important plot-drivers at the front end entirely won't work either: bunches of stuff won't make sense from then on.
Ending sooner blows the volume plot arc. I already cut the original planned ending; as it is, it's as early as I can go and preserve the intended shape. There are sub-resolutions at a couple of places earlier, but they're really not strong enough to carry a book of the size it would be at those points. IMO, there's too much suspense still at those points. Besides, readers are already expecting one particular piece of information in volume one, and it cannot happen (for very sound plot reasons, and also character reasons) until where it happens...at the moment, the very end of the book.
In other words, this thing is stuck at the size it is, at a minimum, unless publisher fiat makes a chop. If it has to be chopped (looking increasingly likely) I think I'd favor the early ending to the late start, as including more of the important plot bits that will continue to drive later volumes, and then I'll have to try to make that minor resolution more satisfying.