A Road With No End: Endless Fantasy Book Series

I am an avid reader of many genres, but one genre in particular has

The End of The Series Is At The End of The Road...Somewhere
The End of The Series Is At The End of The Road...Somewhere

my ire up and I feel the need to rant.   Recently I am disturbed by a trend toward fantasy novel series instead of stand-alone novels.

I am not at all opposed to series per se, but I think they should only come about when the first novel is successful enough to justify a follow-up story.  Far too much of the average book store’s fantasy section  is filled  with titles like “Star Slayer: Book 1 of the Star Warrior Series” or ” Mammon: Book 1 of the Publisher’s Greed Series.”

When I was younger, I believed that a sequel was a sort of  reward for the author producing a quality product that sold well. Now, authors I have never heard of magically appear on book store’s shelves with a “Book 1” of a series. It is clear that publishers are trying to create a new franchise with long-term, consistent returns.

Which is a bit sad, because in their pursuit of franchises I am certain that really high-quality one-shot novels go by the wayside or receive little to no marketing. Which in turn makes them even less attractive to book sellers. It is a vicious cycle.

Even worse, great one-shot novels now face editorial mutilation to make them stretch into a three book series, degrading their quality.

I would not mind as much if these series books were of high quality, but sadly many are little more than quickie pulp products. Light and fluffy literature is fine, but it will not sustain you over the long-term. I need some meat on my fantasy novel’s bones.

Personally, I find series intimidating. You just know that the first book will have some cliff-hanger that demands you purchase the next novel. I cannot stand cliff-hangers, the not knowing kills me. So, I gleefully buy the next book in the series. It is like signing on to a literary death march with no end in sight.

My fears have a very real source that I can sum up in three words:

Wheel of Time.”

First book great, second book really good, third book still ok and then it goes downhill like an avalanche, but you cannot stop reading because the story is so engrossing. There are so many open plot points that you refer to websites to keep track of the characters. You even forgive the author when an entire book comes out and nothing really significant happens and is clearly written to stretch the series out. Stretching it out so far that the author dies before it is finished!   I have stuck with this series for 12+ years and the final novel is out at the end of this year…finally!

Sorry! I was mistaken, the “Wheel of Time” series will now end in 2011, after only three more books.  It is almost enough to make me cry…

The time and energy investment for starting a new series is significant and I vow not to start another series without the following conditions being met:

1. The series is complete. No waiting years for the next novel or worse, never

2. Someone I trust recommends it after they completed the series.

I have no solution, other than personally not buying into these series. Am I alone in my feelings or are there others out there with the same concerns?

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

10 thoughts on “A Road With No End: Endless Fantasy Book Series

  • July 9, 2009 at 5:08 pm
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    Preach brother, preach.

    I followed WoT for four books, then stopped buying.

    Song of Fire and Ice, bought the first book. Stopped. My friends were baffled. “But it’s such a good series.” It was a good book, for sure, but not good enough to invest the kind of time these series seem to want one to invest.

  • July 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm
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    I’m with you. I was never a big fan of Robert Jordan, but the trend towards mega-ultra-super-serials in fantasy literature is out of hand. I had high hopes for Song of Ice and Fire, but now it looks like just another never-ending story.

  • July 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm
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    Preaching to the converted here and WoT was my catalyst too. Gave all my copies away around book 6 or 7 and decided not to read any unfinished series ever again, by any author.

  • July 9, 2009 at 7:20 pm
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    Agreed, but publishers tend to go for formulas that work and right now series are it.

    For comparision, it is interesting to pick up SF/F from the 70s or earlier and how much plot is packed into a small number of pages.

  • July 9, 2009 at 8:51 pm
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    “Epic” series of books are somewhat annoying. Not because I can’t stop reading (I can, and I can resume it after years and still catch on quickly), but because I forget what book I was reading and then the local library won’t have them in the shelf and all the complications.

    Also, shorter stories are better inspiration for roleplaying and often better fiction.

  • July 10, 2009 at 12:15 am
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    I totaly agree with you.

    I also see some solution in between. Dragonlance runs as a long series fro some years now and the books always come out in three parts (helpful for the publisher) but each of them is somewhere closed in it’s story and you don’t need to read everything.

  • July 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm
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    How do you see things like Discworld? They’re all in the same universe, and a few of the books are ‘sequels’ to other books, but every book is it’s own story and often with a different set of characters. No Discworld book could really be called “Book 2 of 7” or anything like that

    • July 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm
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      As long as I can jump in and out of the series without feeling like I missed something, then “shared universe” series are fine. I am rather fond of the 1632 series that is setup in this fashion.

      Trask

  • July 13, 2009 at 7:34 am
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    I don’t entirely agree with you. The Wheel of Time has been rife with disappointments, true. The last five or so books have had little to nothing happen (though book 11 is much more like the early books. So much so that it should have come along earlier. Book 9 covered four days! FOUR DAYS!)

    Song of Ice and Fire, however, hasn’t had that pacing problem. Things are happening and the plot moves along quickly. I don’t think that GRRM will have the same issue. Still, the current book is years late, the previous book was also years late… I love ’em, but wish they’d come out faster. (no pressure to GRRM though… just a fanboy reader’s eager desire to read in one sitting what took him years to write)

    All that said, though, it takes a series for a story to be long enough to engross me. I blaze through WoT books in a day or weekend, depending on how thick the book is and how busy I am. The sheer epic length of the story is one of the draws for me. A trilogy is a solid read, like the Mistborn series by Sanderson, or Stackpole’s fantasy series. I’d hate to see them go away or be condensed smaller than they need to be.

    I have hopes for the last three books of the Wheel of Time. Brandon Sanderson has proven that he has a better head for story pacing than Jordan did, and his Mistborn series was a great trilogy that moved along and came to a satisfying end. Same with the standalone novel Warbreaker. Great writing, excellent pacing, and he writes FAST.

    So even if he says the Wheel of Time will take three books to finish, he’ll have all three done faster than Jordan would have done one (and Jordan was no slouch in the speed department early on) I’m betting he’ll have all three out long before GRRM is finished with the book after Dance with Dragons. (maybe even before Dance is done… we’ll see.) I know he got the entirety of Gathering Storm done while Martin was still working on one Daenarys chapter.

    I can understand the frustration, but have some faith. They’ll come out fantastic.

    • July 13, 2009 at 6:10 pm
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      I agree with many of your points, but I still have this nagging feeling I am going to read the last page of the last “Wheel of Time” book and feel like I wasted a great deal of time.

      Trask

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