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Friday, May 10, 2013

Long Fantasy Series… Are They Dying Out?

The long trend in the Fantasy genre is the multi-book series; mostly consisting of trilogies, but sometimes a couple of books more. However, over the past couple of decades or so, we’ve seen the “masters of fantasy” dish out these long-drawn-out stories, seeming to stretch their worlds to no end. These long series have fed fans for decades, giving them more and more of the worlds and characters they’ve grown to love. However, these long series have also brought disappointment to the fans; many complaining about the authors' decline in storytelling; plots going nowhere; characters loosing their flavor; etc. Despite these complaints, loyal fans continue to follow the series, in hopes that the authors will be able to pull themselves out of their creative decay, and return to the glory days (back when their story was in its prime). The fans that are not so loyal just give up and choose not to waste any more time on the series. I tend to fall into this category, because I have yet to be captivated by a long series where I can continue past the first three books (apart from Star Wars).

Let’s name just a few authors who’ve stretched their worlds through numerous volumes of books:

  • Raymond E. Feist produced 30 books in his Midkemia world in multiple series, known as the Riftwar Cycle. The last book, Magician’s End, is due to release in the U.S. on May 14TH. Mr. Feist had been writing these books for over 30 years.
  • Terry Brooks has been writing in his Shannara series for decades (the first book, The Sword of Shannara, was released in 1977). He is still writing in this series today; with Bloodfire Quest released in March of this year, and Witch Wraith due for release this July. I have lost count of the Shannara books, but I believe that there are over 20 so far.
  • Katharine Kerr gave us 15 books in her Deverry series, concluding with The Silver Mage (released in 2009). 
  • Robert Jordan originally intended to write his Wheel of Time series in 6 books, but the story grew too big. He was only able to fully write up to 11 books in the series before his passing in 2007. Brandon Sanderson completed the last 3 books in the series, working with Jordan’s wife and the notes that remained. A Memory of Light, the 14TH and final book of the series, was released at the beginning of this year.
  • Terry Goodkind released his 12TH Sword of Truth novel last year, with the 13TH book, The Third Kingdom, supposedly due out later this year. I say “supposedly” because the book is rumored as coming out in August, but there’s no mention of it on the publisher’s website. 
  • David Eddings wrote The Belgariad series in 5 books, and then wrote The Malloreon series as a sequel, also in 5 books. There was another 3 books that Eddings co-wrote with his wife, Leigh, that were related to the same world.
  • After 13 books, Robin Hobb released her book, The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince, in February this year, continuing her Realm of the Elderlings series. 
  • Stephen R. Donaldson has his book, The Last Dark, due to release in the Fall of this year, to conclude his long-running The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series. Altogether, this would make for 10 books.
  • Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series ended with the publication of The Crippled God in 2011. Erikson completed the series in 10 books, but these books were ridiculously thick, with the shortest book consisting of 768 pages, and the longest clocking in at just under 1300 pages. That’s really more like over 20 books, if you put it altogether, based on the average book size. 
  • I do not consider George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire to be a large volume series, since it is Mr. Martin’s intention to write 7 books to complete the series (5 released; 2 more to go). But he is taking such a long time to complete each book; and a lot of readers are nervous that he may not be able to finish. He’s not getting any younger, and, as we’ve seen, he is not the fittest man in America; and his books are getting above 1,000 pages. I know it takes time to write a really good book, but there was a five-year wait between book 4 and 5; and there’s no telling when book 6 will be released.  
The above list is not exhaustive. I could’ve included Terry Pratchett, considering his Discworld novels, which I believe may have reached 40 books. But those novels are different stories set in the same world; not an ongoing epic story. Also, Pratchett’s Discworld is more like Comic Fantasy (humorous and fun to read). Mr. Pratchett has been dealing with Alzheimer's for a few years now, so it’s not real certain how much longer the Discworld series will continue. I could also mention the Dragonlance series, which is mostly collaborated by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. It’s a progressing world of many books, read by faithful followers, and continuing to stay true to the High Fantasy bloodline.

The series listed above are stories spanning from the late 1970’s on up to today. Most of these authors are well over 60 years old; and their long line of novels, of worlds and characters loved (and hated) by a multitude of readers over many years, are coming to an end. After these authors’ long running series are truly said and done, can we expect publishers to continue such lengthy cycles with the newer authors of today? Trilogies and tetralogies are the norm with today’s “younger” authors, and it’s difficult to tell who among them will be the next producer of a long, successful fantasy series. I have no doubt that there will be more long series, but will there be as much as we’ve seen from past to present? Will readers of today want to continue on with long drawn-out stories that span over decades?

As I’ve mentioned above, a lot of readers are growing weary with some of these series where the authors are not producing quality books in their created worlds. There’s nothing fresh coming forth in these long series; just the authors making their word counts. Can an author truly devote him/herself to a long, epic story for years and years and continue to produce quality? Has it been done, and can it be done? I’m sure we could get mixed answers on that question.

The industry is changing. With the successful rise of e-books, indie publishers, and self-published authors, a lot of books are becoming available to a wide array of readers. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance continue to fill up the publishers’ yearly rosters and the bookstore shelves (including online bookshelves). These sub-genres have their own collection of series, but they are still modern and riding the waves of today’s trends. Publishers and authors will continue to spit out what they deem will sell; and we will still see a large collection of books that will not live on to be legendary.

I believe the Fantasy genre is evolving, but it’s tough to say whether or not long series will be able to remain in this young evolution. Like I said, there will continue to be long series, but how many, and for how much longer? Only time will tell.

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