November 01, 2008

Just Stop, Already!

by Alan Beatts

A few months ago I was chatting with some friends about those series where one should just stop part-way through.  It's not surprising that this happens to some sequences of novels.  Most fiction work is subject to "Jumping the Shark," whether it be novel series, television programs, or movie franchises.  (As an aside, that term was coined about the old TV show, "Happy Days," about which there is almost universal agreement that the point when the show became unwatchable was when one of the major characters actually jumped a shark . . . while on water skies . . . wearing, fer' gods' sake, a leather jacket and shorts).

What surprised me was the almost universal agreement among those present (which included two editors, two publishers, three booksellers, and several readers).  For your amusement let me present some of our conclusions.
The Dune series by Frank Herbert - Stop at the first book, Dune.  If you really loved it, you may read the second, Dune Messiah.  But stop there.

The Amber books by Roger Zelazny - The first set, one through five (Nine Princes in Amber to The Courts of Chaos), are excellent.  Don't even bother reading the second five (The Trumps of Doom to The Prince of Chaos).

The Ender books by Orson Scott Card - Read the first one, Ender's Game.  Then, please, please, please do stop.  Skip wwaaayyy ahead and read Ender's Shadow.  Then stop for good.  And while you're at it, you might want to skip the rest of his work entirely.

The Anita Blake series by Laurel Hamilton - They continue to deliver all the way up to Obsidian Butterfly, which is volume 9.  After that, stop (unless, of course, you like porn, porn, porn, with a side of porn.  But in that case, my I suggest Penthouse's Forum magazine?  It's much cheaper and comes out every month.)

The Thomas Covenant trilogy of trilogies by Steven Donaldson.  Read the first three (Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves) then stop.  Not only are the later books inferior but they spoil your appreciation of the central character because they remove his only admirable trait.

The Xanth novels by Piers Anthony - Read the first three.  They're really quite clever and funny.  But then the jokes run out, the puns become onerous, and they just aren't _good_ anymore.  But, wow, have they gone on . . . and on . . . and on (Anthony is up to number 29 now . . . and people still buy them . . . wonders will _never_ cease).

In closing let me note two things.  First, the series on this list are notable because they start out really quite well (hell, Dune is one of the great classics of our field) and _then_ decline.  If I were listing series that started bad and got worse this article would go on forever.  Second, I'm being a bit mean for the sake of humor.  If you as a reader liked, oh, let's say, Xanth #25 -- good for you.  Believe me, I read some complete crap for fun and I love it.  Our genre is all about entertainment and, if you're being entertained by a book instead of the idiot-box, you're _way_ ahead of the majority of the population.

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