Comments on 2011-08-16 Spending Time With Books

You are not far from my Two Rules of Fantasy:

  1. I do not read unfinished series.
  2. I do not read series longer than three books.

Mostly this was caused by the Wheel of Time. Of course, I have broken the rule twice recently, for A Song of Ice and Fire (which still intrigues me) and The Kingkiller Chronicle (which is supposedly going to be a trilogy).

Adrian 2011-08-17 03:46 UTC

Hm, what do you think of the other idea: perhaps you’re missing out if you don’t accept the new style of perpetual series. You read a few books of a particular series and if you like it, you keep buying it until either you or the author die.

Eventually this will reach a point where an awesome author will write his masterpiece in his twenties and he’ll keep publishing an awesome book every two years until his eighties. You’ll age as the author ages, as the protagonists age, and it’ll just be a part of your life. And if you have kids, they’ll be unable to catch up. Reading the entire series will turn out to be impossible unless you started reading. For a while it seemed that Harry Potter would be going this way.

It reminds me of Perry Rhodan. A German weekly science fiction series of fifty page pulp novellas published continuously for over forty years. Forty years, 52 weeks, fifty pagesâ... Catching up is hard. People just pop in and leave again as the years pass.

AlexSchroeder 2011-08-17 09:52 UTC

I suppose massive series can be good, and in all honesty I read all four David Eddings series (two were trilogies, two were five or so books), at least seven books in the Wheel of Time, and I have the fifth book of ASoIaF waiting on my Kindle. But I harken back to my grade school English classes and discussions of plot. A narrative has an intro, a rising action, some sort of climax or turning point, a falling action, and a denouement. The same thing is true for series, I think, if you consider them simply a book that was too long to fit (physically) into one book. You can’t continue to pull the reader along towards a climax without actually having one. It just becomes a drag – again, the Wheel of Time is a great example of this. I thought the end of Book 6 was the climax or turning point of the series, and ended up we were nowhere near a resolution.

The second thing I always remind myself is that authors have created truly monumental works of science fiction or fantasy literature in the past, and have done so within the confines of a single novel, or perhaps three novels. The Lord of the Rings, the Foundation trilogy, Dune...these were all epic in scope and yet did not require encyclopedia-length series. The Guy Gavriel Kay novels you introduced me too are also good examples.

My last thought just occurred to me. I know for reasons of economics that this is impractical...but with e-books, you can start to think about novels that would otherwise be too large (physically) to publish. In reality, I imagine that there are more pressing reasons why publishing houses do not want to put out 2,000-page tomes. But imagine if an entire series came out at once?

Adrian 2011-08-17 12:57 UTC

I remember reading that JRR Tolkien insisted the Lord of the Rings was “one book in three volumes”. It was just too physically big to put in one set of covers.

However, I agree with your general thrust here, that many series are getting too big to readily manage. I’ve started Malazan (Erikson) and it’s a lot of reading; Jordan and Martin are the same. I like stories with clear direction and closure.

Incidentally, there is a similar effect in anime. Some of the most popular series go one for literally hundreds of episodes and they might never end. The best series though, in my opinion, are generally the short ones – often about 13 or 26 episodes tops (one or two seasons of weekly episodes) – for exactly the same reason you describe. The story starts, has a middle, a climax, and a denouement. done.

Keith Davies 2011-08-17 15:27 UTC

This is a really great post, thanks! I’m not sure how I feel about the question of extended trilogies and ultra-long series. On the one hand if the author really has that much interesting stuff to say about their world and the characters that live in it, then ok, I can see it. But if the rational is more along the lines of the publisher saying the first book was successful, so keep adding to it because people will keep buying anything that has ’success’ tagged onto it, the way Hollywood does with movies, then I’m inclined to believe that after a while I’ll be dissatisfied with the results. The real questions is - is the author motivated by some Great Idea, or by money? In the former case, wow, awesome, cool, and great! In the latter case, I’m going to wind up saying ho-hum, whatever, and eventually, leave me alone already. I’m a curmudgeon that way.

As for RPG Campaigns I have a similar feeling. If the GM has truly great concepts I’ll keep coming back for me. But if the ideas grow stale, and the campaign is just going on and on without end because there is just no distinct stopping point, then after some time I will begin to lose interest.

I think it is simply the case that some people are brilliant, and come up with brilliant worlds that are worth investing the time to get to know, even if that happens to be years. Other people are really not that brilliant, or have a limited amount of brilliance to share. In those cases I prefer to get a short story, or a limited scope campaign. Hopefully authors and GMs are self aware enough to distinguish where they are at, and will provide material that is suitable to their capacity. I probably sound kind of harsh, but I think it’s better to be honest and provide feedback that will give authors and GMs a nugget of self-reflection on this topic. If you have brilliant concepts then by all means, lay them out for the public to experience. But if the motive is “my publisher wants me to keep writing xyz because the first one was successful and so I said, ok”, or “my players haven’t complained about this going on forever so I’ll keep going on even though I can’t really think of any good new material” then I respectfully suggest you maintain artistic integrity, and say no. Start something new, get fresh ideas, and prosper. I hope I don’t offend anyone with my comment.

vbwyrde 2011-08-17 18:43 UTC

I think it’s mainly bad writing and editing... and one of the reasons why I can’t read fantasy books anymore. Song of Ice and Fire was the exeption of the last 10 years, but after book 3 (book 6 in German), it definitively goes down the drain. GRR Martin gets totally lost in his world and the plot doesn’t move one inch over hundreds of pages. So I guess I am finished with the genre.

– Peter 2011-08-18 04:20 UTC

You cannot but feel like this with the Song of Ice and Fire, IIRC the Daenerys story still has 0 connection with the other stories at the end of the 3rd book after 3000 pages, it’s the kind of stories that are normally published after the success of the main series and labelled “in the same universe” or something like that. Martin forces you to read this at the same time, as if the other stories were unfolding too quickly....and it only seems to get worse.

– PierreGaston 2011-08-21 08:06 UTC

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