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Saturday, March 19, 2005

How To End Stories

On the ASIMOV'S Message Board are two interesting threads about endings in science fiction books and stories:
-Why are endings in science fiction so often disappointing?
-Why these interminable "series" and "sagas" instead of complete novels with definite endings?

In the threads, I offered these possible explanations for disappointing endings:
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"Why do SF novels so often have weak endings?"

Answer 1: Because SF, with its emphasis on possibilities and new opportunities, tends to undercut or completely subvert many "traditional" endings. Resolutions don't come as easily as they do in, say, romance or detective stories.

Answer 2: The kind of SF that tends toward wish-fulfilment is dreamlike. And dreams don't have "real" endings... you just wake up from them.

Answer 3: SF writers often create imaginary worlds so complex and large, they create more loose ends than can be tied up in a single novel.

Answer 4: The fans are nitpicky. ;-)
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As for the "sequel plague" in the genre, I wrote:
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A series, for a writer, is like a trust fund. It ensures him a reasonably steady income. (And steady income is the Holy Grail of writers everywhere. I stand accused.)

Sure, a series becomes derivative sooner or later. But also, fans perpetuate them. If you personally don't like a series, you have my sympathy... but market forces keep them around.

(They will probably continue to crank out new "Foundation" and "Dune" sequels fifty years from now. Such is life.)
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Gardner Dozois, longtime editor of ASIMOV'S, weighed in:
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The bad part of the emphasis on series, for both science fiction and mystery, is that when series books don't earn up to expectations, the publishers drop the series without bringing out the rest of the books, so the landscape is left littered with broken series where you never are going to find out what happens next to the characters, no matter how much you might want to know.

Be nice if publishers would give the authors one last book to wrap all the loose ends up in once they've decided to drop the series--the fans would certainly be happier that way--but publishing isn't a business that can afford that sort of luxury.
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Many more good points are made on these discussion threads - by readers and writers - so check them out, if you want to learn more about readers and writers.

Isn't it great that readers and writers can meet and discuss like equals on message boards? Personally, I love it!

1 comment:

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