I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel it bears saying again, “Why would you need more than one book?” For whatever reason people are generally okay with trilogies. Truth to tell I have an immediate dislike for books that need a series of any duration greater than one to tell their story. Having said that three is my limit, perhaps this is because it is such a standard, but even at three I hesitate. It’s the reason I haven’t gotten around to Patrick Rothfuss, and I the same reason I’m just now buying Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. I’m sure the writing is good, and in Sanderson’s case I’ve read some of his other works, and I know the writing is good; but so was The Historian, and so was Anna Karenina. Furthermore both of the former books only took one volume to complete their story, granted both are incredibly long but one book nonetheless.
I just got out of a writers club meeting where Steve Berry--a very humble and extremely likable ‘I’ve sold eight million books in as many years’ Steve Berry--was talking, and someone asked if he would ever consider writing a series which he replied that he was currently on book four of seven in a series. Earlier this week I was reading something about Sanderson’s proposed ten book series when he picks up the pieces left/inherited from Robert Jordan and can go back to his own work. Also earlier this week I read a financial piece about video game developers putting there foot in the mouth prematurely by announcing a trilogy of games--development of which cost tens of millions of dollars, spanning years and possibly even multiple consoles--only to have the first installment of three come out and flop at retail. The trend in that industry is to kinda say “why don’t you prove to me that you can be successful with one project before you start announce your sequels.”
Now to this end, I understand that my examples of Berry and Sanderson are bad ones: they are both extremely successful both critically and at retail. But it pains me to think that Sanderson is one of my favorite living authors yet I have no interest and probably never will in a ten book arc. How much is padding, how much is fluff? Perhaps none and all ten books clocking in at God-knows-how-many-hundreds-of-pages-plus will be of astonishing quality. But I know me--as a reader. I will get bored. The story I want to read about all of sudden won’t be present in volume four and all I’m left with is a place holder for my interest that last the duration of one entire book. That’s why I put down Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and why I have no interest in Berry’s curent seven book thing. I’m sure I’m missing out, but there is so much stuff out there that is complete within it’s covers that I’m always left to wonder why anyone would need more than one book to tell a single story.
I’m all about doing things differently and perhaps that’s why Sanderson and Berry need ten or seven books, just to get away from the standard trilogy; hats off to Stephanie Meyer for taking the “Twilight Saga” to four. I know it’s shallow on my part but this series idea actually affects my reading and buying trends. The list of stuff I want to read is long and I love crossing things off the list. I guess it also bears saying that not all series are the same. James Clavell’s series of five are all connected yes; but they are also all independent of each other. I actually heard of Clavell from a friend that had read King Rat--the last in the series--first and raved to me about it at which point I read Shogun--the first in the series. That’s different, and to their credit perhaps, Sanderdon’s, Berry’s and Meyer’s series are just like this; as of writing this I haven’t read those works.
Imagine for a moment that Lolita was the first book in a series of fourteen and our beloved, though eternally creepy, “Humbert Humbert” reflects on other ‘girl-childs’ he loved “in a princedom by the sea.” Do you think that the writing would be as effective? As poignant, or clear; would that story still have the same power if Lolita were only book one of fourteen? Would all that followed book one tarnish all that was good in in the first? Would things grow convoluted or perhaps even commonplace: “Oh, there’s Humbert again sleeping with another fourteen year old… when is something new gonna happen?”
I can acknowledge the positive side of a series for the sake of publishers and authors. Take a big name like Stephen King, Clive Cussler, or Nora Roberts and announce a series of eight and watch said big name top the bestseller list every year they release a book. You get a built in reader base, comprehensive marketing and many other positives. But like Too Human by Silicon Knights, what if the first entry sucks? No marketing guru in the world can help you then. But here is where you’re really screwed, you have to follow through, with all the rest of your soon-to-flop-entries in the series. You can’t bail. You have to finish dedicating your time and effort into a loosing endeavor. And if the price of entry includes having to go back and experience something that sucked, then I’ll pass. Berry, Roberts and Sanderson are all phenomenal writers but for as many readers as they get with their proposed series of “too god damn many” I know of others--me and my ilk--that are instantly turned off by them.
Now I know that someone out there is just waiting to point out to me that The Book of the New Sun doesn’t stand alone; that even when you finish reading book four you sit and speculate on what happens next. To them I would say you’re right, but we would be arguing the exception (at least in my mind) and not the rule.
I so desperately want to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Cause I love the idea behind, ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came,’ but seven books? The series started in 1982 and ended sometime in 2004. People died before the end! How is that fair to your readers? Thanks but I can find less sadistic, and more concise literary satisfaction elsewhere.