Today's a big day in the sci-fi/fantasy world. After years of waiting and several false alarms, volume five of George R.R. Martin’s dark epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, arrives in stores today (I’m downloading my copy from Audible right now). A Dance With Dragons drops nearly six years after volume four, A Feast for Crows, even though in an afterward Martin promised that the next volume was practically already written.
Obviously, it wasn't that easy. The ensuing delay left a lot of fans pissed, both due to the teasing nature of updates about the next volume, but also out of a fear that Martin might go the way of Robert Jordan and never actually finish the series in his lifetime. A Song of Ice and Fire is only scheduled to be seven books (compared to the sprawl of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series - 14 books and still carrying on posthumously), but still, with so many years in between, who can be sure? The level of disgruntledness got so high that Neil Gaiman stepped in to inform everyone that "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."
That’s part of the problems with books that are part of a series, particularly these days. Although I'm enthralled by Martin's work, my one gripe is that the first four books in the series aren’t really self-contained units. It’s more like the story progresses along until it reaches book length, find a stopping point, and that's it. Sort of like a TV series that just keeps going without any rigid idea of where it’s going from season to season.
I got the same feeling during the book I just finished, Robert J. Sawyer's Wake. First of a trilogy (naturally), it’s a pretty disappointing execution of a really neat idea (once blind girl becomes a mentor to a nascent consciousness that’s developed on the Web). But more than that, part of the frustration was that Wake is really only interested in setting up the pieces to play around in the next two volumes.
As a reader, I find that very frustrating, particularly for something like Wake. It's easier to overlook in something you really enjoyed and know you’ll continue on to the next volume. But if the first book doesn't hook you but doesn't tell a complete story in its own right, it feels like a colossal waste of time.
As a writer, I hope I can do a little bit better. The Water Road, my 2009 NaNoWriMo project (revision of which will be my big job for 2012), is designed as the first part of a trilogy. But I hope it tells a story in its own right, while pointing the direction in which the second book will go. If nothing else, when the movie rights get picked up but only the first version gets made because the box office sucks (a fantasy world with no humans in which one of the heroines beats her mentor’s skull in – it’s box office gold, Jerry!) I’d like to think it was "complete." At least to a point.
But, anyway, I'm hardly one to talk from a position to authority. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I've got some dragons dancing over here . . ..