I’ve recently come to the realization that I want to read stand-alone novels or series limited to 10 or so books that have definitive resolutions.
I’m tired of series that refuse to end and tired of authors recycling the same material repeatedly. Sometimes the material gets packaged into a new saga, but it’s still an extension of the same series.
It. Just. Won’t. End.
The only way these series will “end” is if/when:
A.) I die, or
B.) the author dies.
Neither of these options appeal to me.
Serial Problem #1: The Daytime Soap Opera Syndrome.
This is the scenario in which the melodramatic action is a loop of the same thing over and over again with different characters (or even the same characters) until people finally catch on and stop paying attention.
I’ve been a fantasy reader for years. I discovered my older brother’s collection of fantasy novels when I was 11. My brother was away at college, and I was grounded and bored (which were perpetual states of being for me until I left for college years later). So I dug in and started reading.
The bookshelves were chock-full of Piers Anthony. I started with the first novel in Anthony’s pun-filled, Greek mythology based Xanth series, A Spell for Chameleon. Xanth is a parallel dimension of Florida where magic and puns abound, while real-world Florida is known as “Mundania.” My brother owned fourteen Xanth books twenty years ago. Today, the series is still chugging along with 35 books published and two more in production. I stopped reading around #21, Faun and Games.
For the first ten books or so, each book had an original, intricate plot and vivid character development. The characters had their one to three adventures, then as they aged and settled into their domestic bliss, were cast aside for new characters who had their own one to three adventures. And so on.
I haven’t read a Xanth novel in years, but I bet anything that this is the plot of the next novel in the series:
A mythological being with a magical conundrum. A trip to the castle wherein an all-knowing magician resides. Three crazy challenges to prove answer-worthiness. An answer in the form of a quest. Crazy quest through Xanth, sometimes detouring to Mundania to make fun of cars and that crazy human technology. Quest ends successfully.
It got boring and stagnant after the first 15 books, but I loyally kept reading. And then! Instead of introducing new characters, Piers Anthony gave old characters youth potion and started over again!
I was done with Xanth after that.
Serial Problem #2: The Melrose Place Syndrome
This is the case in which the initial appeal and logical storyline completely degenerate into WTFery that in no way resembles the original except for the location.
Case in Point: Author Raymond Feist. My brother owned four of his books, collectively known as the Riftwar Saga. The first two books, Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master, centering on the magical education of the character Pug in the midst of a war between two worlds, are particularly outstanding. Culture clashes! Coming of age! Political Intrigue! Royal succession debates! Originally published in 1982 as one book, the Magician books were published separately in the United States in 1986.
Fast forward to 2012. Feist’s book count (including two planned but not yet published novels) stands at 31 books. Of those 31, one—one!—takes place outside of the Riftwar realm. The other thirty consist of 10 sagas that span six (at least) generations of characters. Half of each new book that comes out is taken up by references to events in previous books. And Pug, Pug is… Still. Alive. The books currently have less to do with character development and a lot more to do with cannibalistic demons who have tenuous spiritual connections to Pug.
Like I said, WTFery.
Serial Problem #3: The Killing Syndrome
This is the situation in which very patient readers are never rewarded with an appropriate explanation or resolution due to numerous red herrings and endless, mind-numbing exposition.
I have been reading S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse series, a saga of alternate history and regression, for four years. The first three books deal with the aftermath of an unexplained event that causes technology as we know it to stop working. No electricity. No cars. No guns or explosives. No steam power, even. The result is a harrowing, brutal tale as three groups emerge in the struggle for power in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. These groups, the MacKenzies, the Bearkillers, and the Portland Protective Association, must find a way to wrest order and provide food and shelter in a world where everything now must be done by hand. There is cannibalism. There is desperate hunger. There are epidemics for which medicine no longer exists. And there is war, as the Portland Protective Association seeks to take over the entire valley, while others resist.
Sounds cool, right? It is.
But in each installment, there’s always that nagging question: What exactly caused this New World Order?
Rudi Mackenzie—son of Juniper, leader of the Mackenzie clan, and Mike Havel, leader of the Bearkillers—is key to solving the mystery for the readers. The fourth book, The Sunrise Lands, picks up 22 years after what has become known as “The Change.” Relative peace reigns through the Willamette Valley. Rudi and his assorted crew begin a journey towards Nantucket, which is also key to solving the mystery. They are relentlessly pursued by a fanatic cult known as The Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT).
They make it to Twin Falls Idaho.
They keep traveling eastward.
They get to Nantucket, where Rudi picks up a super sword that talks to him.
They leave Nantucket.
Back in Oregon (Montival), they make itemized preparations for war against the CUT.
The previous five sentences are the synopses for books four through eight.
There are still two yet to be published books in the series.
And readers still have absolutely no idea what caused The Change.
Serial Problem #4: The Unfortunate Recast of Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Syndrome
This is the circumstance in which a departure results in an unfortunately necessary re-cast in order to finish production.
The first book of author Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990. I’m actually lucky because I didn’t begin reading the series until 2002, by which time nine books in the epic fantasy series were already published. But I was hooked and caught up by 2003, when the tenth book, Crossroads of Twilight, was published. At that point, Jordan decided to break from continuing the saga by publishing a prequel in 2004. He returned to the series’ “real-time” with the publication of Knife of Dreams in 2005.
While writing what was to be the twelfth and final book of the series in 2006, Robert Jordan was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis and passed away in 2007.
Luckily for Wheel of Time fans, Jordan had written portions of the last novel, outlined many others, and shared the main plot details with his wife.
His wife selected noted fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to finish the last book of the series.
In 2007, the publisher, Tor Books, decided to split the highly anticipated last book—for which readers had already been waiting for two years—into three volumes. The final volume of the final book will be released in 2013.
Like I said before, I’m lucky because I’m not one of the people who began reading the series in 1990. Those people have been waiting far longer than I for a resolution, and are probably more disappointed than I am that Robert Jordan’s voice is not the one that will finish the series. Now, of course Robert Jordan intended to finish the series. And the novels completed by Brandon Sanderson thus far have been well-received. But the differences in tone and writing style are apparent. For some people, that will always be a negative, no matter how well written the novels are.
So, authors, editors, and publishers, I beg of you: Please limit series to trilogies. Or Quintets. Okay, octets, max. And do not cheat by tacking on a “new saga” that takes place five years later. Please.
Following a journey because I always have or simply because I want to know how—or often if—it ends is no longer how I want to read.