Adrienne Martini has some not-so-nice things to say about trilogies in her article Bad Things Come in Threes (Careful, the BookSlut name and logo may be considered not work-safe).
I agree with her on many counts. Rarely today is a trilogy about the story. Instead, it seems to be about the almighty dollar. (Heck, publishers are even forcing writers to break single books into multiple volumes to up the cost of the complete story. See Westerfeld’s The Risen Empire and John C. Wright’s The Golden Age and its sequels) This week’s poll (still in progress) indicates three readers who have never read a sf/f book that was part of a series. That’s got to hard to do when it seems like every released book is #X in a series. (OK, Adrienne’s article distinguishes between a single-story trilogy and a series of independent books. But still…) The standalone feature of Tad Williams The War of the Flowers is part of what drew me to the book. I could get a sample of the author’s writing without committing to a trilogy.
Of course, there is still the sf geek in me (Help! Let me out!) who gets excited about an unread trilogy or a series, even if the idea of committing to one is sometimes daunting.
Sigh. I am torn.
[Three sequential thank-yous to Locus Magazine for the link.]