Tropes: The Tangled Threads of Series Building

Earlier this year, Work Friend talked me into attending her book club in a desperate attempt to get me away from a computer screen for a few minutes and around people other than the software engineers I'm otherwise almost completely surrounded by. The experience has been fun, but not quite what I was expecting, due to the eclectic nature of the group; the last book club I was in was composed entirely of English-majoring college students, whereas this book club represents quite a large spectrum of "casual" and "serious" readers (here defined purely by "number of books read for pleasure per year", and no other connotation implied).

The eclectic nature of the participants leads to some delightful and entertaining conversations, but it does mean that we end up with a very eclectic reading list, some of which is composed of genres that I'm almost guaranteed not to like, but I've tried to keep an open mind. This month, for instance, we read The Long Fall by Walter Mosley - but it would be more truthful for me to say that the others read The Long Fall by Walter Mosley, whereas I barely managed to get through nine chapters before rage quitting because the mere idea that I might spend more of my time on this book made me seriously question what I was doing with my life. 

And the thing is, by detective-novel-noir standards, "The Long Fall" probably isn't a terribly bad read. The main character, Leonid, is a middle-aged detective with a long history of being willing to take any dirty job and frame up whomever was necessary in order to pay the bills and make ends meet, but by the time we meet him in his shiny new novel, he's determined to turn over a new leaf and be a slightly better person. Not, you know, by giving up the fruits of his labor like his illegally-gained high-rise office. And not by putting himself in any danger of police investigation by coming forward to clear the names of the innocent people he's framed. And not even really by bothering to drop an anonymous note and maybe some exonerating evidence in the mail so that the police can do the hard work of clearing those innocent people for him. No, no, by "turning over a new leaf", he means that from here on out, he won't frame anyone unless they really deserve it. Or if he really has to in order to make ends meet. But not for kicks and giggles.

This is apparently what they call "gritty realism", but which I call "irritating authorial masturbation".

Perhaps it's unfair of me, but I can't help but dislike the heavy-handedness with which the reader seems absolutely ordered to like and trust Leonid. It's not that I have a problem with unlikable main characters - in fact, I think a good, solid, unlikable or unreliable narrator is a true joy to read - but I have an incredibly large bucket of problems with an unlikable character that we're supposed to like - or at least which all the other characters inexplicably love. Women - incredibly beautiful, accomplished, sexy women - fling themselves at Leonid at every possible opportunity, despite the fact that he barely gives them the time of day and he's incessantly rude and emotionally unavailable. Leonid's "children" (most of whom are not his biological children, since he has a habit of sleeping at his office and rarely coming home, so his wife tomcats around looking for love and for her lost youth, and Leonid will remind you once per chapter how So Very Tragic it is that he has to put up with that) absolutely adore him despite the fact that they rarely see him and when he does manage to drag himself home, he barely speaks more than a few sentences to his teenagers. (Everyone knows teenagers idolize fathers who are never there and won't speak to them when they are!) Even the manager of his gym - "one of New York's unsung master trainers" - absolutely fawns over him, telling him that he should have been a boxer, that he would have been great, that with his indisputable raw talent and iron jaw he "coulda cleaned the clock of every light heavy in 1989". Puh-leaze.

As a reader, it's tiresome to keep having new characters drop in - sexy, exciting, interesting, accomplished characters - solely for the purpose of talking up how incredibly awesome our main character is - especially when the main character is a schlumpy middle-aged detective whose mental narrative is a constant stream of whining and self-congratulatory moping and who can only make ends meet as a bottom-feeding detective. Wishing no disrespect to Mr. Mosley, having Jesus Christ and the Buddha pop up in text to gush over your character isn't going to make him automatically awesome. Period.

Or... maybe not. What was interesting to me was that I was actually the only one in my book club to hate Leonid as viscerally as I did - everyone else thought he was an interesting, if fallible, character. They were all terribly nice about it, but everything I didn't like - his aura that instantly caused all women, regardless of established personality, to fling themselves sexually at him; his frequent habit of stereotyping people immediately upon meeting them and then instantly being correct because he's a detective and that apparently makes him a psychic; his wall-banging disconnect between his "repentant" thoughts and his actual actions - they didn't really mind. It's not that they didn't see it, but that they didn't dislike it. (As I said, it's an interesting group with a lot of good discussions.)

One thing stood out at me, though: When I mentioned how frustrated I was with Leonid's unwillingness to revisit and resolve his past frame-up cases, one of the club members pointed out that surely the author was going to do that in another book. Indeed, this became the answer to many, many unresolved plot threads. Why was his relationship with his wife brought up over and over again but never dealt with in any meaningful way? That'll be in another book. Why were fifty or sixty characters introduced in this novel, half of which were never actually used? That'll be in another book. What was up with that one extremely pivotal life event that was mentioned once and then never again? That'll be in another book.

Without irony, several times in the book club meeting, someone would say, Did you notice how X was mentioned but never really went anywhere? I'm betting that will show up in a later book! This was usually said with excitement for what was to come - whereas all I felt was annoyance that it hadn't been dealt with properly in the current book.

Now, I've known for years and years that I don't much like long novel series, but I've never really been able to say why I don't like them. I like Galenorn's Sisters of the Moon (9 books and counting), and I'm a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey, whose Valdemar novels are basically a long series of trilogies. And even as a child, I loved Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, a series of something like 30+ novels (with only the first 17 or so being particularly good to my admittedly pun-hating mind). So it would seem that when I say "I don't like series", I actually mean, "I don't like some series" - and yet I've not before been able to put my finger on precisely why that is.

And yet, it was at this moment that I remembered some of the fan comments that bugged me most on my review of Jim Butcher's Storm Front (as well as the accompanying TV Trope page, although it's been cleaned up quite a bit recently) was the concept that you really couldn't and shouldn't criticize a series until it had completely ended, because any criticism you dealt with might be fixed in a later book. Didn't like the ridiculous and insulting Tsundere characterization of Murphy such that she frequently alternates between trusting Harry completely one moment and cuffing him over ridiculously circumstantial evidence the next? Don't you realize that is dealt with in Book 13 when Butcher finally reveals why Murphy is characterized that way? Didn't like the confusing and whiplash -causing "have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too" world building where the citizens of Chicago blatantly see magic happening in front of them and just 'forget' that it exists five minutes later? Can't you see that is a build-up to Book 47 when the Somebody Else's Problem field will be revealed? Felt like the lesbian-drug-addicted-vampire-prostitute scene added nothing whatsoever to advance the plot and was just a lame attempt at titillation? If you don't realize that's laying the foundation for Book 137, then there's no help for you.

And, you know, maybe these are valid points. Who am I to say how a series should unfold? Maybe it is perfectly valid writing to set up what I personally consider to be insultingly stereotyped characters, unrealistic relationships, and scenes that don't advance or compel the plot in order to have something to talk about in later books. And maybe it's not valid for me to come along behind the author carping about realism and characterization and conservation of detail when I'm basically criticizing a house builder for putting up a frame and a foundation when what I really want is four walls and a roof. But all I know is that I don't like it.

You take a series like Xanth or Sisters of the Moon - neither of which, I freely admit, is highbrow literature - and you won't see that level of delayed gratification within the narrative: almost nothing is introduced in the first book to be hastily dropped until six or seven books later. Each book in the series is almost a stand-alone book that builds off of the characters and situations established in the overall world in general and the previous book in particular. Xanth starts off with the adventures of Bink, before moving to follow his son Dor, then Dor's friend Smash, then Dor's daughter Ivy, and so forth - the series is multi-generational and while each new book generally sets the frame for the next book, they don't set a frame for a book eight or nine books later. In the same vein, Sisters of the Moon introduces a lot of concepts and characters early on who will become important later in the series, but they are introduced in a conservative fashion - if a character doesn't have a point in the existing book, they won't be brought up. Period.

I'll admit that a lot of this "it comes up later" edifying sounds to me like a cover-up for poor writing and sloppy world-building in the early novels before a series really takes off. I suppose it's possible that back when Jim Butcher was a struggling no-name author he deliberately introduced Harry Dresden as a raging misogynist in Book 1 on the off-chance that the series might get picked up and the character could overcome his open disdain for women in a planned Book 19, but it seems more likely to me that Harry was written in a misogynist fashion because Butcher was going for a "traditional" gritty detective noir feel and just plain didn't realize that to modern audiences his female characters would come off as insultingly characterized and his male main character needed some solid diversity training if he was going to be kept on the police force as a regular consultant. To my jaded mind, any later major growth in the character seems more like fixing what had been pointed out as broken rather than some grand chessmaster plan all along.

But even if something like "Harry is a misogynist" was a secret grand chessmaster plan all along, should that shield a series from criticism? I think not! I have hundreds of new books on my shelves just waiting to be read, and perhaps some of those books won't expect me to swallow hatred and intolerance until the author finally decides that his character can officially grow up in a Kirsten Learns A Lesson installation. I don't want to stick with a deliberately homophobic character just so that eighteen books down the line he can learn about tolerance from Tim-from-down-the-hall-who-always-dresses-so-nice-and-holds-the-door-open-when-Harry-brings-home-groceries. I don't want to stay for the long haul with a racist character so that twenty-seven books later he can learn the sad truth about white privilege. I don't want to wade through a series with an openly misogynist character in the hopes that he and his oh-isn't-it-cute-when-she-beats-him-up adorable "strong woman" sidekick can hopefully pull themselves out of the fifties and gain some actual depth and characterization.

To me, personally, authors don't get a pass just because they've announced an intention to milk a series for as long as they possibly can. If an author can't write a good first book to grab a my attention, they (and their fans) can't demand that I withhold judgment and continue to buy and read the series for as long as it's churned out on the off chance that the author might get around to fixing things... someday... if I'm patient and wait quietly. If Harry is going to openly declare that "Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain MEANER than wizards," and not get called on it, heck not even reflect on it later when he turns out to be wrong, then I get to call him out for being someone I don't care to read more about, and the fact that he comes around in Book 19 doesn't matter because I am not going to wait around that long to find out.

And yet... and yet... some people do. Wait around to find out, I mean. And that's okay too - I'm not in the business of judging readers and why they read what they do. But I do find it interesting that I can read a book and be so infuriated by dangling plot threads and incomplete characterization and scenes that fail to advance either the plot or the world building narrative, and yet a completely different person can read the same book and see those same things and be excited at all the opportunities available to write more books and tidy it all up. (And presumably when everything from the first book is finally tidied up, the series will end, so the messier the first book, the better!)

So, honestly, I'm curious: Where do you, as a reader, fall on that spectrum? Do you like the "tangled thread" method of series-building where a messy first book fills you with anticipation at all the fun tidying to be done in the future, or do you prefer an orderly progression where details and characters are largely conserved until actually needed?


Charleen Merced said...

Recently, I read and reviewed the book Angelfire by Courtney Allison Mounton and my biggest issue with the book was exactly what you mention Ana. The fact that she would mention something and drop it, not to be discussed again until, presumably, the next book. It drove me nuts. By the end of the book, I felt as though there were a million loose end, too many for the author to actually remember and address them again. So, if you mention something, at least make it so it has a purpose, discuss it again and address it in the immediate next book not, 354 books from now.

The character was also very unlikable in that book, btw.

If you want to read a book with depressing an unlikable characters but, still a good book, read Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. 

Varina Jones said...

I think it is okay to introduce something and not fully flesh it out until the next book.  If it is a true throw-away scene then it must be addressed no later than the next book, but if the scene basically works in the first book, it can wait until later to be fully addressed.  Forgive me but the best examples I can think of are from Buffy.  When the character Dawn is dropped in, the viewer spends a whole episode thinking "what, WHAT, did they really just Bill Cosby in a new adorable sibling and expect us all to go with it" until you are given a satisfactory explanation.  Any longer would have been ridiculous, horrible, awful, bad writing and the audience would have been justified in thinking that just maybe they tried to slip in a cute little sister and just fixed it after being called out, but leaving you in suspense for an episode is acceptable.  Alternatively, in a throw-away line, Anya mentions that her last boyfriend was a troll.  It's funny and very Anya-like so, fine.  The next season you meet her troll ex-boyfriend and find out that she became a vengeance demon after turning her unfaithful boyfriend into a troll.  The fact that they fleshed out that detail, however, doesn't mean it wasn't originally written as a throw-away line, but it was an acceptable one that advanced the character.  So, I think if you are going to create some huge hole, very annoying quality, or similar in your plot or character in a series, you are allowed a very narrow window to fix it, beyond that and I think the author is just retconing

Maartje said...

The most important thing for me is that the books are solid by themselves. It's OK if a book gets better if you've read the previous ones, but I don't want to have to borrow from the future. I can handle wholly horrible main characters as long as the story is good without an eventual redemption. I can handle information that's not needed right now (I LOVE Steven Erikson's Malazan series, and that's 87% information you don't need right now (or even at all), and as twisty and foreshadowy as they come), as long as there is enough to grip me on each page.

That's one thing I love about Erikson - even the throwaway scenes that are just for setup and exposition are solid, real and gripping.  

I also liked the way J.K. Rowling tossed in little tidbits about certain types of magic that would get important later on. They gave a sense of depth to the book they were first mentioned in, and prevented the 'where the heck did THIS come from' idea later on.I'm used to complicated, and I don't mind it. But I don't want to have to slog through book after boring book to get the pay-off from all the setup.

Kit Whitfield said...

I almost never read series, so I'm probably in the 'standalone' camp by default. When I have encountered series, yep, I agree with you that 'it'll be fixed later' isn't a good justification for bad writing - and in fact, it's very possible that if it won't be fixed later, people will let it slide because some part of their brain assumes that the problem in Work 4 must have been fixed in Work 3. Not great.


This is apparently what they call "gritty realism", but which I call "irritating authorial masturbation".

I'm glad someone else is cynical about cheap cynicism. There's a definite style that's adolescent and heavy-handed that pretends it's adult and realistic, and it wore out my patience very fast. 

Marie Brennan said...

Heh.  I'm about to embark on my first series that is intended from the start to *be* a series (the previous two were stand-alones that ended up growing new installments), so I have questions like this on the brain.

For me, a lot depends on what *type* of series it is.  There's a big difference between the Dresden-style episodic string, and the Harry Potter-style episode arc, and the Lord of the Rings-style single tale told over multiple volumes.  (That one's a bit of a cheat as an example, since it was written as a single volume, but it's more widely known then some of the others I could name.)

The more episodic a narrative is, the more important it is to me that each episode stand alone.  You *can* throw out bait for later books, but that can't be allowed to detract from the current one: if Dresden is a misogynist and you intend him to reform as the story goes along, that's fine, but I need to see in-story signals that the misogyny is *his* and not the *author's* -- e.g. the women around him need to not play along with his assumptions.  And if you want to lay the seeds of future plots, then it needs to be more in the vein of Anya's "troll ex-boyfriend" line, entertaining me but not undermining the current story if I don't learn more right away.

The more arc-y a narrative is, the more willing I am to grant that stuff is being left for later books, and the more I feel certain *kinds* of judgment have to wait until you can evaluate the whole.  You'd be annoyed if somebody undertook to review a book based on the first hundred pages out of three hundred; a lot of their criticisms might easily be answered by the remaining two thirds of the book.  But not *all*: it's still perfectly valid to say "in a hundred pages, the author didn't give me one single reason to care what happens to his protagonist."  Even if the book ends with said protagonist undergoing a change of heart and becoming a great person, if it fails to entice you into going along for that ride, then it isn't working like it should.  But it *isn't* fair to say "the protagonist is this horrible person who never changes at all."

There definitely are a lot of moments, though -- and here I'm speaking from the experience of my previous series -- where you look back at what you've written and think "ooh!  I could use that!" or "what the HELL was I thinking?"  And then you try to use or patch it in a later book.  Readers may generously give you credit for having set that thing up way back in book one, with the cunning plan of having it pay off three books later, but that ain't always the way it really went . . . .

Julie McGalliard said...

Two things. One, is that "fixed" in the next book is never an option. It doesn't matter where the author is going with it, if you don't like the act of getting there, you don't like the book.

Two, is that I was struck by how this:

I have an incredibly large bucket of problems with an unlikable character that we're supposed to like - or at least which all the other characters inexplicably love.

his frequent habit of stereotyping people immediately upon meeting them and then instantly being correct because he's ... psychic; his wall-banging disconnect between his ... thoughts and his actual actions

is so similar to things you have observed about our favorite deconstructable heroine Bella Swan.

Will Wildman said...

I was not the most critical reader for a long time, and since shifting in that direction I've had a tendency towards standalone novels, but in general (as often found in TV series) I have many issues - whole subscriptions, really - with 'seeding' concepts and doing it badly.  I'm particularly wary when I hear writers talk about throwing a concept into a story on the assumption that they'll figure out something interesting to do with it later, and throwing in something purely for the sake of being mysterious and promising answers later is an instant klaxon for me.
Generally speaking, if someone has clearly already got a long arc in mind and they seed stuff early to use later, I think that's reflected in the story itself, and when they're just throwing stuff in and saying "I swear this is going somewhere", the flailing is visible even if they try to hide it.
So, as with the example above of Dresden, yeah, if he's acting like a misogynist and no narrative presence is suggesting he might be wrong, I have little faith that this is a setup for a great revelation later, and I'm not interested in seeing more.  (This is actually the first time I've heard such criticisms of the Dresden books; every other reference or review seems focused wholly on memorable events and cleverness, rather than anyone's personalities.)  I am not nearly generous enough to stories to assume that such a glaring issue is just a setup for a future payoff.  There's nothing I like better in a story than those moments of payoff, when a long arc comes to a glorious conclusion, but it's got to be an arc, and a misogynist 'hero' who appears to be doing fine is not moving in an arc.  That's a straight line.  I demand parabolic curvature.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

I have an incredibly large bucket of problems with an unlikable character that we're supposed to like - or at least which all the other characters inexplicably love.

This, of course, describes every LeHaye and Jenkins protagonist ever

As for the main question, partly for me it depends on if I know it's a series and how long a series it is. If I know the book is book one of a short series (say, 5 books) with a well-defined ending, then I'm willing to put up with loose threads, because I know there's an overall story arc that *will* end in a reasonable length of time.

If it's book one of some long series which is stretching out without any end in sight (like many detective series), I'm much less forgiving. In my mind, long series need to be more episodic, with each novel capable of standing independently. You can't stretch out story arcs too far, or it just becomes willful padding. (i.e. Wheel of Time, or Left Behind).

If it's not advertised as part of a series (and a lot of the first novels of those long series are not), then it *has* to stand independently. Because chances are the second and later books will never be written.

Silver Adept said...

Series books that work and are well-written appear to be conceived as one story with book-length chapters. Or, as in the case of television series, are set up such that there is a definite arc in the beginning, which will resolve at the end of the season, and then a new arc begins.

As a similar fan of the Galenorn series (working my way through Blood Wyne before getting to the next one when it arrives), they're the former style - one overarching story with several book-length chapters. Yasmine writes complete episodes spanning a book - some of them don't resolve their major arc completely, but they stand nicely by themselves as complete stores. (It's much, much better to start from the beginning, though.)

In comparison, however, I present Glee, which has an overarching narrative arc that moves along, but is entirely rubbish in the way it treats its characters - they get set up to have potentially complex relationships befitting their status as complex people, only for the writers to knock things all the way back down to simple things that don't fit the characters. Bullies stay bullies, insecurities stay or re-flare up, and single man-woman pairings are the order of the day, excepting for the (sometimes) token gay couple. These are high school students, and relatively brilliant ones - they can do better, if the writers would only let them.

So, I guess this was a long-winded way of me saying "I agree - I do not suffer fools lightly in series books, nor do I appreciate patchwork fixes being applied after a series has gone on too long." On the original question - messy first books are bad. First books that are "Wow, I really botched that badly, but now I understand how deep the rabbit hole goes" are acceptable foreshadowing of the arc. Best, however, are those books that are complete in their own right and also open up the possibility of the bigger arc.

Matt Smyczynski said...

Kurt Vonnegut's fourth rule for writing is "Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action."


I thought your house illustration was perfect: I'm basically criticizing a house builder for putting up a frame and a foundation when what I really want is four walls and a roof.

If I were to take the plunge and buy a house, you damn well better believe I want walls and a roof. If that means I have to go with a smaller house, well, that's how this works. If all I get is a frame and a foundation, that is a sucky house.

I think about it like this: A good house has windows. Those windows let you see the world outside the house -- including other houses on the street. This goes with "revealing character" in that non-plot moments need to reveal something about the people in the story or the world they inhabit. The key word is "reveal", not "hint at" or "tease".

You're welcome to introduce a character who isn't important until book 37, but only if that character reveals something important about another character. Ginny Weasley was in HP1 so we would know "Ron has many siblings." She reveals things about Ron's personality and back story. She's also there to show us how big of a celebrity Harry is. She was a minor character, but the book is better for having her. And obviously she's pretty important by the end of the series

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

@Ana:disqus  Reading your opening description of "The Long Fall", it's eerily reminiscent of all the bad traits which plague the "Left Behind" series.

@google-5d25eec9147b703de86ca17765b4c1e9:disqus  It's funny that you mention Buffy -- I've been watching that again recently. Going back over it, there's actually references to Dawn in earlier series (such as the dream sequence with Faith); in fact, IIRC, the BIG BAD from Season 7 even gets a passing mention in Season 1. Apparently Joss Whedon often has the whole story arc at least planned. Which leads me to...
 @e80456e7153d13a6f612b45ec9034bf1:disqus  I think this is the same reason Erikson's stories work so well (I've only read the first MBotF, about to embark on the second) -- his world and story arc were clearly planned from the outset.

I think ultimately it's about how well Vonnegut's rules are followed: every sentence should build character or advance plot. I always had a problem with the last of these rules -- "Give the reader as much information as early as possible" -- although I think that falls under how it is implemented. A great writer will do it without you even realising it. But then again, a great writer uses only those sentences which are absolutely necessary.

Charleen Merced said...

I think we can all agree, whether we like him or not, that Whedon was simply a master storyteller. he did everything on purpose. As viewers, we were fine with that because we knew there was a deeper purpose, arc, or other mention somewhere. 

I think Ana's frustrations are maybe related to the book feeling sloppy and leaving way too many loose ends. Yes? No?

Ana Mardoll said...

I think Ana's frustrations are maybe related to the book feeling sloppy and leaving way too many loose ends. Yes? No?

Well... I think it's partly that, but also I just sort of hate the smug I-planned-this-all-along when I'm sitting there as a reader thinking, No, no, you didn't. :D

Also chiming in to add that I am LOVING these comments. You guys brighten my day - have I mentioned that? I get little subscription emails any time someone comments and I'm all, ho hum boring day OMG AWESOME COMMENT THAT STIMULATES MY BRAIN BITS. Thank you all! *internet hugs*

Karen Nilsen said...

I think reading a good series should be like putting a jigsaw puzzle together without the picture on the box to guide you.  Each piece is a chapter in a book--when you put a bunch of chapters together, you should have a clear picture of at least one section of the puzzle (if the author has done his or her job properly.)  Then the next book in the series will provide a clear picture of another section, until finally, when you've read all the books in the series, the puzzle is complete and you can see the whole picture.  It's the most satisfying feeling in the world, that feeling of completeness when you finally see the whole picture.  However, if even one of the pieces is missing, it ruins that satisfaction a small degree.  And if a lot of pieces are missing, it's very frustrating.   In a sloppily done series, it feels like the author left a lot of pieces out of the box and maybe even put in some pieces that don't belong in this particular puzzle at all.

Dav said...

Handled gracefully, I'm okay with future stuff showing up, but will only tolerate a paragraph or two if the future stuff doesn't have some purpose to this book's plot or characterization.

[I cannot express how much I loathe series of romances in which the dimpled MacKenzie brothers all get pages of mention so that the reader will understand that Mustang MacKenzie, although not the hero in this book, will be the hero in the next one.  And then in the next one, there has to be a recap of the first book, and OMG it kills me, even when I like the author.  (This is why we have a list of "Other books by X" - so we don't have to read through this stuff.)]

DarthYan said...

and fun fact: james marsters (aka spike from buffy) is the one who reads the audio books

Ana Mardoll said...

Butcher admitted in an interview that he was just throwing stuff
together to show his teacher how awful such a book would be. When she
told him it could actually be published he decided to give it a go.

1. I can believe this whole-heartedly, but...

2. won't find the more rabid fans admitting such and...

3. I don't really respect an author who thinks it's a cute idea to charge money for his take on "the worst novel EVAH". If he wanted to release Book 1 as free and then charge for the rest of a series as a sort of "let's start with something crappy and see if I can make it better" experiment, that might be kind of cute, but $7.99 or whatever new paper-backs went for at the time for a book that he KNEW would suck? I want the hours back that I spent reading that piece of trash.

I kid, but not by much. :)

MaryKaye said...

An author gets *at most* one book to make me happy I'm reading it.  If I get to the end of the book and I am not happy, I don't buy the rest of the series.

You can sometimes get trapped by curiosity, if the plot has forward movement even though the book is bad.  I subscribe to a video-game place that gives one-hour free trials.  If I am in the middle of solving a hard puzzle when the time runs out, I am deeply tempted to buy the game even if it's not very good.  My strategy to avoid this is that unless I love the game, I won't buy it till the next day.  If by the next day I can't imagine why I wanted it, I was only considering it due to puzzle-momentum and can safely give it a pass.

The same can happen with books.  As a teenager I found a cure for this.  I ask myself, "Sure, I want the next book in this series.  If I were to find out that I missed one earlier, would I want a *previous* book in this series?"  If the writing is good and fun, an earlier book should appeal.  If all I am reading for is plot movement, I won't be interested in backing up--and probably shouldn't go forward.

I read one of the Wheel of Time books and was really displeased by it.  Fans of the series hassled me by saying "You can't just judge it on the first book!  It gets so much better!"  What they didn't know was that I had read the *second* book.  I don't think it was going to get enough better for me.  (If every man were One Man and every woman were One Woman...I wouldn't want to be around either of them for the length of a novel, much less a series.  And that was essentially my take on Jordan's characterizations.)

BaseDeltaZero said...

Storm Front isn't really that good compared to the other books - largely because it's a very early book, and he wasn't quite as experienced.  I think it's still pretty decent - sure, it's a little weird, and yeah, Harry is a bit of an asshole, but... it's more of a characterization thing than bad writing (although not, of course, as good as the writing eventually gets).

Fool Moon, meanwhile, is just... weird, and begins the wolf-worship that will continue through the series (although it isn't quite as severe later on.)

I hadn't heard that story about the book being a 'joke'.  Are you sure that's not the short story in Side Jobs?

Also: Spoilers, Darth Yan.

DarthYan said...

fair enough, but he did grow into it by all accounts. the general consensous amongst reviewers (and the overwhelming majority of the fan base, including the more rabid part) that book 3 or 4 was when he really started to hit the stride, and when the series truly started to excel. He implied that by the time he published it he had started to believe in it (I think he mentioned editing it once or twice.) My point is that even the most die hard fans usually conceed that the first two are the weaker ones.

And if it's any consolation Harry has largely overcome his sexism by book 4-5 (even when it does manifest it's an emotional impulse that even he admits is backwards and uncool. There's also a really awesome scene in the latest book where his papa wolf instincts help him overcome the red king (a psychotic bastard who feeds on children, retards the economic growth of central and south america to use them as his playground, pretty much ran mayan civilization into the ground and tries to sacrifice a little girl in a blood sacrifice) by setting his eyes on fire and destroying his right forearm before hijacking the ritual with a different sacrifice and annihalating him and his followers.

But by and large the later books only really have one "tell you later" plot and that's the implication that a secret group  is manipulating things from behind the scenes (and maybe that harry's dad died an unnatural death, which honestly i can get since it might have been forced if adressed now and is just not that important so far). all the other unanswered things were pretty much concluded in book 6.

DarthYan said...

I can understand your point of view but I am not entirely sure you are being fair to the Dresden series. Butcher admitted in an interview that he was just throwing stuff together to show his teacher how awful such a book would be. When she told him it could actually be published he decided to give it a go.

In essence it was a first effort by an authour who didn't really expect it to be great. 

The character do grow and evolve quite nicely. By book 3 the harry murphy relationship has become a lot more stable and based on trust. It is hinted that the reason she's angry is because she's under pressure to do well (due to a combination of being on the department that no one takes seriously and from being forced to experience institutionalized sexism.) Harry's secrecy is one of the few reasons she hasn't been booted so his attitude could very easily cost her the job (explained in book 2). Once he stops being secretive (after his secrecy results in a lot of people dying in book 2, wheras his being open ultimately results in Murphy living) the relationship becomes more stable and amiable.and will: harry actually does get far better. After his attitude causes people to die in book 2 he becomes more open, and after forming a relationship he drops the "women are less stable then men". His chivalry is also shown to be a bad thing by the narrative text (he gets into trouble.)I do have one question: one of the elements of the series is that a shadowy group called the circle is manipulating things, and as each book passes there is more that is revealed. Would that be an element you approved of?

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