April 27th, 2012

promise tea

Swords and Thrones and Series, Oh My!

I've been joking about slogging through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, spraining my wrist reading it, it's the series about bad things happening to all people, don't get too attached to anyone, etc., but yesterday I finished the third book and immediately went to the library for the fourth book. And then I realized why there was so much fan ugliness a few years ago.

I was doing my usual thing of flipping through to see what was happening to the characters I most cared about, and was surprised that most of the viewpoints were people I'd never heard of, and some of the previous major characters whose fates had been left hanging at the end of the previous book never showed up at all. Then I got to the end and found the author's note that said something to the effect of "oops, this was too big a story to fit into one book, so here's part of it, and we'll pick up on those major storylines from all the other characters we've been following in the other part, which is coming next year." Except it turned out to be something like five years. As an author, I'd been fully on the author's side because I agree with Neil Gaiman that all we owe you is the story you've already paid for, but on the other hand, leaving cliffhangers, not dealing with the main characters in the next book, promising to get back to the main characters in the following book and promising that book in a year but then taking five years isn't really being fair to the readers. It's all a matter of spin. Don't promise unless you're sure you can deliver. If the next book isn't at least completely drafted by the time you're writing that author's note, don't promise that it will be coming next year. I bet readers would have been much less upset if that one line had been left off that note.

Now I have my name on the request list for the fifth book, so I don't have to wait five years. But I do have to wonder how many years after this one I'll have to wait. I tend to lose interest in the middle of epic fantasy series where it's a very complicated story with lots of characters and I have to wait too long between books because by the time the next one comes out, I no longer remember or care what's going on.

At dinner the other night someone was asking me if I'd read The Hunger Games and I gave my usual "I don't do dystopia" response, but then it occurred to me that this could count as a dystopia, since it's a pretty difficult world where the society doesn't work and everyone suffers. But I seem to be able to deal better with historical-like dystopias. I know that real history includes eras that were awful, and we got better. I just don't like to read about our potential future as a dystopia.

I have figured out that this series contains a lot of the tropes that tend to appeal to me, which could explain how I got caught up in it despite some misgivings. We've got a number of cases of unlikely heroes rising to the occasion. There are characters I'm forced to change my opinion about because of their actions -- not necessarily redeeming an evil character, but being able to see some shades of grey and seeing the character start to wrestle with these issues and then take actions that might be considered good. I love it when an author can make me change my mind about someone. There are also hints that some of these characters may end up better off in some ways than they would have been if none of these terrible things had happened to them -- the lives they would have led might have been safer or more comfortable, but they'd have never realized their true potential. That's one of my favorite character arc types.

Of course, in this series, there's also the chance that they'll end up dying anyway before fully achieving that potential.