MIND MELD: Which SF/F Series Are Too Good To End?
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Recently I was talking to a friend who had just finished reading Patrick Lee’s Deep Sky. He commented that the series was so good, it was a shame it had to end. That’s an intriguing statement, which I totally stold and repackaged for this Mind Meld! Here’s what we asked this week’s panelists:
Here’s what they said:
I’m most often happy to finish a series or book; there are so many wonderful authors I want to read, it’s a blessing that good books actually do end so I can move on to the next one. Thank you, great, established authors, for giving newer authors a chance to captivate an audience by not dragging your series out to thirty-plus titles.
That said, if perhaps some lucky soul, while digging through an old and mysterious steam trunk, found the manuscripts to six more Chronicles of Amber books by Roger Zelazny — well, no earthly force could stop me from acquiring them and devouring their contents. As it is, I battle constant temptation to reread the existing 10 books in the giant omnibus collection I picked up in college as a graduation present to myself.
(Heading into spoilers territory here!), I always felt like the second Amber series ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. As a young teen in the 90s reading the books for the first time, the biggest question remaining for me was, what lies on the other side of Corwin’s Pattern? As a writer, this series has influenced me more than anything else, at least in terms of what I want to accomplish. If I can have the effect on some 13 year old kid the way Zelazny did me, then I’ll consider my work a success.
As much as I wish Zelazny had written another sub-series of titles before his death, I have never been tempted to read the prequels. It’s clear from accounts by authors such as George R.R. Martin that Zelazny intended Amber to end with him. But, perhaps, in another Shadow…alas, I have not walked the Pattern, and the way is closed to me.
My immediate thought on seeing the question was “That’s scarcity thinking. In a world with only a very few good books, the end of any of them is a sad moment. But we don’t live in that world; there are more good books than any of us could ever finish, and more every year.” So, while I understand the thought, I don’t entirely agree with it: every good story has to end, and the ending is one of the things that makes it a good story. And we want to move on to the next good story, with its own good beginning, middle, and end.
If Frodo kept wandering around Middle-Earth, having adventures and whining about the burden of the Ring, for another dozen books, would that have made Lord of the Rings better? (And now I hope no one else in this Mind Meld is going to seriously make that case, because that would be so sad for them.)
Sure, there are open-ended series — where the building block of the series is an individual story — that I’d like to see continue as long as possible, like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books. Or, to be honest, even longer than is possible: I wish I could keep getting Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, even though Fritz Leiber has been dead for two decades.
But surely none of us finish a book and say, “Gosh, I wish there was a lot more padding in the middle of that! Golly, I wish J. Random Author had spun it out to trilogy length instead, so I wouldn’t have to face the awful task of scrounging another book!”
So I have to insist that only a defective book, or individual story, could be improved, or even kept at the same level of quality, by substantially expanding it. Any particular story good enough to be particularly enjoyable couldn’t be much longer than it is and still be good.
More stuff along the same lines, though, is always welcome! There’s always room for new good stories!
It doesn’t happen often that a world an author has created is so vivid and engrossing that I want to revisit it over and over. Sometimes it’s the set of characters, or the way a world is drawn, or maybe it’s the situation that captures my imagination. Dune, I think, maybe should have ended with the first book. The Foundation series from what I remember, ended in a way that left me satisfied. The Lord of the Rings series in a way still hasn’t ended, as every so often a new book seems to come out, for instance The Children of Turin (which was a bit too morose for my taste). I almost want that series to stop. But another adventure on Winter, the world of The Left Hand of Darkness, another visit with the asexual (bisexual? hermaphroditic?) people who become one or the other sex in that “special time of the month,” would be most welcome. There have been loose stories here and there but a full visit on this planet would be extremely cool!
Then there is Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series, which ended too soon because she passed away. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to read Parable of the Trickster, the third and possibly last book in the series, but alas, I think I never will. I don’t think it’s the world that I would like to revisit as much as the ideas. Butler had a way of reaching into the long-ago past and stretching into the faraway future, as she did in the Wild Seed/Patternmaster series. And she did so with deft and ease. Who knows what wonders she had in store for us in the future? The world she built in the Parable series was harsh and terrifying. Yet, I still would love to know how it all turned out.
Tananarive Due’s Immortals series begins with My Soul to Keep and continues with the fourth and latest installment, My Soul to Take. I like to dip in every so often to find out how that living/healing blood is affecting the world of some of my favorite characters.
The world of China Mieville’s The City & The City is one place I would like to visit again with another adventure. There have got to be more mysteries to solve and adventures to have in the bisected cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. When I have enough money I should visit because I’m sure they exist somewhere in Europe. There I would try my best to see only what I’m supposed to see and unsee the rest. Then maybe go for a tour in the in-between spaces. Living in a city like NYC should give me lots of practice because I unsee and unsmell things every day.
The only other series that is too good to end is the Sandman series. I was thrilled when Neal Gaiman revisited the world of Death, Dream, Destruction, Destiny, etc. with The Sandman: Endless Nights back in 2003. I worry about Delirium and wonder what new books have arrived in Lucian’s library. I miss these guys and wouldn’t mind an update or two just to see how they are getting on. Maybe another visit sometime, huh? Pleeeeeaaazzzze…
Long series of books irk me immensely. Off the top of my head I can only think of three series that I really loved: William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (the number of plots was cranked up each book), Ken MacLeod’s Fall series (with different and then conflicting ideologies) and Iain M Banks’s Culture series (mainly due to an irrational hope that he will write something as good as Use Of Weapons). Generally though, trilogies contain one novel’s worth of good content, one novel’s worth of padding and one novel’s worth of stuff that would have been edited out if it was for a single novel. All for economic reasons.
I’d rather see new ideas and new stories. Hence I forgive the trilogy where each story is new and only the theme binds the stories, for example Kim Stanley Robinson’s Orange County trilogy. But if it’s one big story, not so good, I’d much rather have three individual books, three new worlds, three sets of new ideas.
Another reason I dislike series is that I think endings are important. This is in direct contrast to television series. Take Lost for example. I loved it. Loved. It. I had zero complaints, every episode was a joy, an exploration of the characters I loved. It was all about the journey, not the destination. I was never that bothered about finding the answers, because that wasn’t the point. It was bonkers, fine. Enjoy the ride. The same goes for any other long running series, and of course soap operas take it to the extreme, with an ending unimaginable.
Novels however, I feel, are quite often defined by how they end. The end itself allows you to reflect on the story, to frame it, to complete it. And often those endings linger like a beautiful memory. Not every novel, but some. I can’t remember the end scenes of Neuromancer or Snow Crash despite counting them as two of my favourite novels. I can however remember the endings to Pacific Edge and Blue Mars, both by Kim Stanley Robinson, and both providing wonderful framing images.
A novel can transcend itself with a great ending.
Spinning the ending out just to sell some more books depresses me. Yes it may be a fact of life, but economics trumping art is always a downer.
Of course there are books that I’ve loved reading so much that the thought has entered my head ‘I don’t want it to end’ but it’s a mere reflex, I know that the ending makes it something more. The last novel like this for me was The Dervish House. I slowed down, savoured every word, and tried to resist the driving plot that fabulously pulled me through, because it was so great. But eventually it did end, and because of that I can look back and reflect on how much I enjoyed it. The ending completes it. And now I can look forward to reading another book by Ian McDonald. I have no urge to read a sequel, I’ll have something new please.
The first SF series I ever read where I wished there were more books was Jack Chalker’s Saga of the Well World series. #$# fantastic. I read most of it under the desk in high school while I was supposed to be listening to….to….well, I don’t know, I wasn’t listening.I was just engrossed in this crazy hexagon-covered world, where each hexagon had its own environment, tech level, and species, all of it just the gameboard for a far larger struggle that involved reality itself. Blew my mind, and I never went back.
In my mind, there’s two types of cancellations in television: There’s the shows that were fantastic right off the bat, but fail to gain an audience and are pretty quickly cancelled. They’re fantastic, and they never have a chance to hit that inevitable season where everyone loses interest. Everybody’s first jump will be to Firefly in this category, but there’s others, like Farscape, Kings, Daybreak, etc.
The other category is when the show just outdoes its own welcome: long, overdone, and with nothing new to say, only continuing onwards because that’s what it’s done: The X-Files, Stargate SG-1 / Atlantis, various Star Treks, Babylon 5 (this is a bit of a special case, though), Star Wars (including the books).
The shows that I’m really sad to see go under are the ones that have a lot of un-tapped potential: stories that were building, but never quite reached that level of great conclusion that makes everything that the characters have gone through worth the trip. Three shows come to mind for me: Stargate Universe, which ends with a bit of closure, but with just enough lose storylines that I’m angry that we’ll never be able to see where it was headed. The BBC’s Outcasts was the same way: fantastic, but with an ending that felt like it was just short of some major revelations for the Colonists on Carpathia. Preemptively, I’ll say that Fringe is another one that will fall into this boat: there’s a lot going on in the show, and any ending that they put together, I think, would fall just short of what the show deserves.
Books are slightly different, because when they’re done well, the series really comes to a definitive end, with not a whole lot to say: for the most part, when I’m finished with a series, I’m pretty happy with it. Philip Pullman’s The Dark Materials Trilogy is one that I really wish that we’d have another volume, as well as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, although fortunately, we have another book coming at some point.
Frederik Pohl hinted at so many tantalizing plot points in his Gateway books, from things that dwell in the depths of space to the creeping dystopia starting to grip human culture, that the series could have continued for a bit. That’s not to say I wanted Pohl to abandon all the magnificent books he has published in the last thirty years, I just wanted more of that particular universe. Elizabeth A. Hull’s anthology Gateways from a couple years ago certainly sated some of that desire, but many mysteries of the Heechee endure.
Similarly, watching Michael Poole partake in the end of history did not abate my want for more of Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence by one iota. Those dense volumes of freakishly big concepts are masterpieces, though it seems inexcusably hubristic to moan about a near-twenty billion year narrative timeline coming to an end.
I’d also mention David Brin’s Uplift Saga (which didn’t officially end as much as the author hasn’t resumed the story), Melinda Snodgrass’ Circuit series, Jeffrey A. Carver’s Starstream books, Nancy Kress’ Beggars, Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels/Slant, A. A. Attanasio’s Radix Tetrad, The Hanan Rebellion portion of C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, Charles Sheffield’s Heritage universe, and Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center. I am tempted to list Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin/Axis/Vortex Trilogy, John C. Wright’s Golden Age, Robert Reed’s Sister Alice, and Walter John William’s Dread Empire’s Fall, but these stories had endings so elegant and perfect that I prefer to revisit them as finished pieces. Inversely, I still harbor a wish that Saberhagen had written a definitive end to the Berserker stories.
Then there are stories where it isn’t so much a shame they ended, but that they the ended where they did. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn leaps to mind, as does James Hogan’s Giants series and Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos. Each series dialed it down for the denouement, when more profound and impacting finales were warranted.
Lastly, I need to veer into comics for a bit and mourn the loss of Marvel’s cosmic titles. Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (known as DnA) had a spectacular run on the Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy titles, as well as the mini-series Annihilation: Conquest and War of Kings, before bringing it all to a climax in The Thanos Imperative. The canvas was big, the dramatic momentum was intense, and these books showed evidence of SF comics actually trying to keep up with what the modern genre is doing. It gave us a big scary universe and characters with the moral cojones to confront it. It had empires, insane machine-gods, epic betrayals, ancient religions, shattered alliances, and even pitted Galactus against an analog of Cthulhu. The cosmos literally cracked under the strain. And then it was over, with character arcs unresolved and the fate of entire races still in question. Yes, we’ve had two Annihilators mini-series in the aftermath, and some story threads have been picked up in other comics, but that particular branch of the Marvel Universe needs to be revisited sooner rather than later. Too many characters went through brutal tribulations for us to not know what happens next. But with Marvel throwing its marketing machine behind The Avengers I doubt it will happen, which is too bad. For six years DnA nailed multi-tiered high stakes space opera at a level not seen in comics before, and it is a shame to see it abandoned.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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