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Trilogies vs. Standalones

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.]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on Trilogies vs. Standalones

  1. Hmm, well, two points here about the article.

    1. She uses Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle as an example of a good trilogy. Wow, well, I know some people here hated Quicksilver. Personally, I thought it wasn’t too bad. But, it is a huge set of books, literally. But, in terms of publishing time, I think Stephenson has it down. Write them all sequentially then release them in a short period of time.

    2. If I remember correctly, The Algebraist is not in the Culture universe at all. Its truly a standalone novel. And I’ve seen reviews that say it could have used some ‘red pen’ deletions. But that’s Banks. I like his stuff anyway and will read this one as soon as a I can. And his Culture series is consistently good.

    As far as series in general, there are two I can remember right off that I couldn’t finish: The Wheel of Time by Jordan and The Sword of Truth by Goodkind. Another that springs to mind is the Shanara series by Brooks. I did read the original three, but just can’t seem to read the newer 200 books he’s written. Interestingly, all fantasy. I can’t seem to remember any SF series I didn’t finish. Maybe I’m more lenient of SF series.

  2. Stephenson wrote “Baroque” as one book. It just kept growing and growing and growing. So far, I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

    What I don’t like is when a series has passed its prime and the author keeps on going and going and going, oblivious to anything but that check. Take a look at the “Pern” tales for example. That series should have been retired a long time ago. Now Anne McC. is passing the series on to her son, for crying out loud!

    There are signs of restraint out there. Westerfeld did cut back his trilogy and made it a twosome.

    I’ll buy a trilogy, series, whatever, as long as the quality is there. I don’t mind giving the author my dollar, as long as I’m entertained.

  3. It’s hard to for me to fault the author (say Piers Anthony or the aforementioned McCaffrey) when the public wants to read the books. Why not keep writing? Is it fine literature that rivals Ender’s Game or even Lord of the Rings? No. Is it entertaining to a good portion of the public? Apparently so, or the books wouldn’t be written.

    I read Anthony’s books when I was a kid – I’d like to think that’s who is reading these books now. I never read the Pern series because I thought they were ‘girl books’ – that ought to give you some idea of my age when they were popular with my peer group – about 13.

    I suppose you could lament that the marketplace is taken up by this mind candy when good, new authors don’t even get published, but then that’s the way it is – and the way it will be. I started reading a book titled Preternatural3 by Margaret Wander Bonanno and find she’s commenting on the facts of the publishing industry (even slamming her publishers in the book – odd that.) In fact, the facts about publishing warrant a new topic here – I’ll post something soon.

  4. Found this site when googling for reviews on Alistair Reynolds (who, as you know, tries really hard to make his books as standalone as possible). Anyone going to give his latest “Century Rain” a go? It seems to be a stand-alone.



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