I am a big fan of standalone novels. I love being able to read a self-contained story, where I don’t have to know or remember events that happened previously or characters who I met in passing several books ago. But more and more, it’s getting harder to find good standalones, especially in genre fiction like fantasy (my usual go-to for pleasure reading). For awhile it was always trilogies, which aren’t so bad when I hoard them until the last volume comes out. Then there was a time when quadrilogies (if that’s even the word) were coming out all the time. These were stories like the Eragon series, or Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles where the stories were too big for volume three, so book three got split into two to make a four-part story. But more and more, I keep finding stories with no end-point in sight. Or the end is somewhat in sight, but still years and years away. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with a large story told over many books. If the characters are interesting, the world is intriguing, and the plots aren’t stale, why not stick with a massive story?
For me, the problems are multiple. For one thing, my reading time has been severely limited over the last few years. I used to routinely read over 50 books a year. For the last few, I’ve been lucky to hit 50. Sure, I’ve wanted to start Stephen King’s The Gunslinger; I hear it’s an amazing book. But it’s also part one of his Dark Tower series. Which means that if I like it, there are SEVEN other volumes in the series, which all get progressively longer. And that’s something I not only do not want to commit to, but really CAN’T commit to right now. I know what you’re saying: just read the first one and go back to the others later. Well, that’s not how I usually roll when it comes to books; if I like a series, I am going to read it right through to the end, if possible.
Which brings me to my second issue with big long series: I tend to stop reading them once I catch up to the most recently published one. That’s because I’ve had issues with trilogies, where I’ve dutifully read every book as it came out, only to realize that I didn’t remember most of what had happened in the previous book. And really, why would I remember more than the basics? I read the book over a year ago. And read many books between then and now. So now I tend to hoard all the books in a trilogy until they’re all published. Then I can read them all in a row without having to worry about forgetting characters or plot points.
I’ve been attempting this same thing with Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series, which I absolutely loved when I read. I read voraciously through the first three books, going out to buy books two and three immediately after reading book one because I loved it that much and needed to know what happened next RIGHT NOW! But I haven’t touched the series since finishing book three. Book four wasn’t published yet, so I had to stop. I do have books four and five in the series now (I’ve had them since they came out in paperback). But my logic is that so much time has passed since reading them (I finished Blood Bound in 2009). So of course I’m not going to remember what happened in book 10, which is forthcoming in 2017. And that one isn’t the last one in the series, so at this point there’s no reason not to just wait until they’re all out. I’ll have to reread the first three anyway; why make it so I have to reread more than that by the time the final book is out, especially since my reading time is limited?
That’s basically the same thing that happened with Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. I read voraciously through the first six books because they were out, but I haven’t looked at the series since catching up to the publishing schedule. Sure, there’s only supposed to be three more. But by the time book nine comes out, am I really going to remember the major things? Probably not.
So while I do like the idea of big long stories in theory, especially when I can read through them in their entirety, in practice I am not a fan. I currently don’t have a lot of time to throw at reading through a multi-volume epic. And even if I did, if the entire thing isn’t published, I’m going to lose interest once I catch up to the most recently-published book. So to all those authors and publishers out there: please, please, please write and publish some smaller (genre) stories. Trilogies are alright if you must, but good standalones are what I would honestly prefer.
This Tuesday’s Talk topic came from the Tuesday Talks Goodreads group.