Friday, May 29, 2009

Third Book-itis.

So, output has been sketchy of late because I discovered a good used book store while house-sitting for a friend a few weeks back, and I've had my nose in two trilogies.

What is it with trilogies in SF/Fantasy genre fiction? Is it some unspoken law, ever since Tolkien's monster epic had to be split into three separate volumes to avoid giving buyers a hernia, that any story has to be split into a three-book-long arc? Anyhow...

Don't let Elizabeth Moon's Heris Serrano fool you; it's really a trilogy, just available as a single volume trade paperback. The concept is an interesting one: According to the author, it was set into motion by a friend suggesting "Why not fox hunting and space ships?"

And so we get the tale of young Heris, scion of an illustrious naval family, who has resigned her commission due to a scandal and gets a job skippering a private yacht for a wealthy dowager who is absolutely gaga over hunting and jumping and the whole horsey social scene. So not only do you get enjoyable space opera, you also get family and navy politics (as well as regular old politics politics) and a quick and dirty education on what people find so fascinating about getting muddy while chasing critters across fields while clinging to the backs of big ungulates.

This trilogy's Third Book-itis comes from Moon getting fairly ambitious with the number of viewpoint characters and plot lines in the last book and then getting a little rushed in wrapping it all up. Still, it was a very enjoyable read.

The second trilogy was by Michael Flynn: Firestar, Rogue Star, and Lodestar. These were going to have a hard time living up to their hype, what with cover blurbs from multiple reviewers that compared Flynn's writing favorably to Heinlein. Plus, when my roommate saw the books, she said "Oh, I envy you! You get to read those for the first time!" The icing on the cake was the Amazon reviewer who said that they were the best books in their (admittedly small) genre; better even than my favorite, Kings of the High Frontier.

Well, it worked. The first book sucked me in so hard that I didn't come up for air for over a day. It's a near-future story that is largely set around one woman, the wealthy heiress to a commercial empire, who is absolutely phobic over the idea of a large asteroid striking Earth and who sets out to do something about it.

What gives the story its depth, however, is that she doesn't just wave her dollar wand and *poof* there's a spaceship and everybody rockets off into the future, happily ever after. Instead we have a sprawling, Clavell-esque tale, with multiple viewpoint characters spread across aerospace companies and educators, test pilots and poets, as our main protagonist subtly uses her influences to nudge humanity into space, save the world, and still show a good Return-On-Investment to keep the board of directors and her trust fund cousins happy.

Third Book-itis in this case comes from the fact that Flynn's first book in the series was released in '94 and the third in '00 and I'm reading them in '09. The danger of writing near-future is that it might be history by the time it gets read. If the story and characters are stand-alone, that's no problem; William Gibson's Neuromancer is just as much raw, seminal cyberpunk today as it was in 1984 and Heinlein's '50s juveniles sell out every time they're reprinted.

Flynn's first two books, being largely character-driven, hold up amazingly well. The third one, however, takes place almost twenty years after the first, and to emphasize the passage of time, he has to play up the slang, the styles, and the technology differences between 1999 and 2017, and doesn't pull it off as well as he could have. The "new" slang sounds forced and the "future" computer jargon seems a little dated and it obscures characters that we want to see more of. It's still worth the read, but it leaves you feeling like Flynn was punching far above his weight class in the first two books; I'll need to read more by him to find out.

Anyhow, it might be a couple days before I'm writing really productively again. Why? Two words: Diamond. Age.

34 comments:

Turk Turon said...

Sounds like the used bookshop that Carteach and I found while shopping for guns. The shop with a huge house cat that sleeps by the cash register?

West, By God said...

Oooh. Loved Diamond Age.

Brigid said...

That cat has its own zip code. Glad you found it.

theirritablearchitect said...

Ya know, speaking of a book aging well, not looking dated, being prescient with the technology thing; when I read The Probability Broach for the first time almost ten years ago, there was a part where Win Bear does some dusting for prints,when he goes to lift them with tape, his counterpart steps up with a tablet-style computer, unhooks a stylus scanner from it and scans in the print to the tablet.

To say that I was amazed that El Neil could have gotten that bit just as spot-on as he did still amazes me. How the Hell did he see that coming?

Adrian K said...

Oh, sweet Jesus. Stephenson.

Try "more like a week", Tam.

It was 3 days after I finished the book before I was useful again, because all I could think about WAS the book.

Tam said...

The Probability Broach and The American Zone have aged pretty well, all right.

They're so much better from a technical standpoint than anything else he's written that I keep waiting for him to find that magic again...

Joel said...

Yeah, the talking dolphin thing never worked out, though.

Owen said...

oh man, Diamond Age. I still think about that book often, and its been...two years?

I thought the head cannon thing was weird, but I think the primer is probably the future of education

Anonymous said...

cryptonomicon, by far.

c'mon.

Tam said...

Read it already. And Snow Crash, too.

Anonymous said...

Stephenson's Anathem, his latest, is great. I need to read it again to understand it better. His Quicksilver trilogy about finance, economics and swashbuckling in the 16-1700s is a masterpiece.

Chris Bunch and Allen Cole broke the mold with their seven? eight? nine? volume, million word Sten series. Lawdog turned me onto these, and other SF books by Bunch, who unfortunately passed several years ago. Out of print, they're findable at used book stores or online.

Matt
St Paul

Alan said...

I love Kings of the High Frontier. I first bought it when it was sold online in HTML format and again in hard cover.

Varley's Red Thunder is a good one in that genre too.

Andy said...

By the time I read the third book in that series, I really got tired of Elizabeth's horse fetish. It extends to other examples of her work. The writing was fine, story pace was good... just got tired of the repetition of theme.

SargeLarry said...

There are four books in the Michael Flynn series. The one you apparently don't have yet is FALLING STAR (I'm not shouting; just using caps instead of the underline I can't find on my keyboard to show a book title.
Elizabeth Moon's VATTA series is excellent, too.

aczarnowski said...

Diamond Age was the book where I made a mental note to stop reading Stephenson's stuff about two chapters before the last page and do the wrap up in my own imagination. If author's had character stats, he definitely min'ed his "ending" stat to max his others.

I couldn't finish The Baroque Cycle, but Hiro Protagonist and the opening to Snow Crash were more than enough to keep me trying his work. Hiro is a top ten character of all time.

Noah D said...

For Flynn, try Eifelheim. Sorta-alternate history circa 1450 - churchmen, the black death, and aliens.

I'm going to read his January Dancer once I'm done with the summer reading project, War And Peace...

Jeff said...

I have to ask. What genre were you refering to when you "they were the best books in their (admittedly small) genre". (yeah, I know, the Amazon reviewer said it.)

Ian said...

I loves me some Stephenson, and Diamond Age sits at the top of the heap. The later books are a slog; and Snow Crash and Zodiac are not quite there yet.

/me curses having packed his books in prep of a move.

WV: Splach - the sound you hear after someone cannonballs into an empty pool?

Stranger said...

I know of three used book stores with a huge cat that sleeps by the cash radiator. Yellowed Pages in Lincoln, Ne has a selection that is almost strange enough for my taste. The one in University City was OK, and I didn't care for the one in Hollywood, down the street from the Magic Castle.

Unfortunately, my current trilogy is Samenow and Yochelson's "Inside the Criminal Mind." Unless someone knows of a comprehensive anthology of Kendall Foster Crossen's Stf works it appears I will be there a while.

Stranger

Rabbit said...

Reading the blurb for Firestar on Amaze-on.com immediately made me think "huh. Sounds like Atlas Shrugged in Space".

Guess I'll have to hit Half-Priced Books this weekend and look for the series.

Regards,
Rabbit.

the doctor said...

Since you mention Elizabeth Moon and Heris Serrano can I recommend the Ky Vatta books . As a male and sci-fi fan I wondered about a female spaceship captain ,I read the first Vatta War book and since have read every Vatta and Serrano book published . I believe that I will have to wait 18 months for Moon's next book .

Anonymous said...

The trilogy thing - from what I have been told - is because publishers generally don't want to publish a "one hit wonder". So they tell new writers to bring them synopsis for three books.

I suspect that writing three connected books is a slightly easier gig then coming up with three separate plot, characters, settings, etc.

Ringo's "Posteen" series was originally a "quad", but like Topsy appears to just keep growing.
emdfl

BryanP said...

publishers generally don't want to publish a "one hit wonder". So they tell new writers to bring them synopsis for three books.From what I've been told by one SF writer, in order to get a single book published he had to sign a contract stating that if it was successful he was bound to write at least one sequel. This was back in the early 90's.

The book he was writing was standalone, with no plans for a sequel. He signed the contract, and when it sold enough to justify the "sequel" he wrote a completely unrelated novel. He set it in the same universe and had one of the secondary characters from the first book make a half-chapter cameo.

Ian said...

The posleen series was a trilogy - the third book just came out too big. Both by author's admittance and also plainly obvious in the text.

Ky Vatta is some good old-fashioned space opera. Likewise David Weber's Ashes of Empire series.

Christina LMT said...

Firestar...requested from my local library...thanks, Tam!

I read Diamond Age back when it first came out. It didn't make that much of an impression on me, for some reason. Ditto the Moon books. I used to own them all, now they grace the shelves of some branch of our local library, or maybe they were sold in the library's used book store. I donated a TON of books to the library when I first moved here to Vegas. I had no room for them all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I stupidly had never read Flynn.

wolfwalker said...

About trilogies: first, the trilogy virus goes back further than Tolkien. It goes back at least as far as Shakespeare -- not for naught are three of his plays called "Henry VI, Part 1, 2, and 3."

As for why they're so common nowadays: in the aftermath of the success of LOTR, many fantasy authors dreamed of being the next Tolkien, and worked up outlines for trilogies where before they might have stuck with single books. Enough of them managed to sell successful trilogies that publishers figured out if book 1 does well, then book 2 is a near-guaranteed sale.

On top of that, the typical story of any kind has a three-part structure: intro, development/ complication, and conclusion -- so it fits into a trilogy format a lot more naturally than a two- or four-book format. And if someone gets as far as the end of book 2, the inevitable cliffhanger almost guarantees a sale of book 3.

Sonja said...

For hard SF, try Jack Campbell's "Lost Fleet" series. He actually includes relativistic effects into the strategies used for his space battles.
Mycroft.VI

Jason said...

Thanks for the tip on the Flynn trilogy. I am liking the cut of his jib too, based on his entries on his LiveJournal site.

Brad K. said...

Tam, Andy,

I enjoyed the third book, somewhat, but it got old.

Do read the first trilogy of Moon's that I read - a fantasy, nearly LOTR type world but done quite differently. And seriously, abidingly well told.

Deed of Paksennarian (Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Divided Allegiance, Oath of Gold) - follows a girl promised to wed the neighbor pig-famer's son - but runs off to join a mercenary sword company for adventure - and to do good. Her world gradually widens, and she finds herself discovering great goods and great evils. Excellent story - but do *not* start the second book, without having the third in hand (unless you buy the combined trilogy in one book) - the ending of the second cries for the healing of the third story.

Like Heris Serrano, this trilogy was followed by a handful of others, that were OK reads, but gradually longer get-through-this parts between great writings. I found this pattern in the Vatta's War series, too. And, like the Vatta's War series, Deed of Paksennarian is worth reading and re-reading.

C. J. Cherryh wrote the Chanur's Pride series (four, I think, with the Chanur's Legacy follow-up). Excellent sci-fi.

And Elizabeth Moon found an answer to the weak trailing off of Heris Serrano - do treat yourself to "Once a Hero", about a minor character from the climactic battle in Heris S. This launches a series of novels that eventually will tie back into the families and characters of the Heris story, but until then is really good reading.

Tam said...

Brad K.,

I liked the Deed of Paksennarion a lot, although I found it had a bit of Third Book-itis in that I found young mercenary Paks a whole lot more plausible and likable than superhero paladin Paks.

wrm said...

Diamond Age rocks. So does Snow Crash. So does ELO :-)))

I had to be stranded in a small town with a buggered Land Rover before I managed to get halfway through the Baroque cycle, and now there's Anathem *sigh*

Cybrludite said...

My only problem with Moon's Herris series if the bad guys. Horribly Cliched Mafia... In Spaaaaaace! Or Conan-esque Barbarians... In Spaaaaaace! It's a pity, since the characters and the setting is really quite enjoyable.

Tam said...

Yes, but the villains are actually just set dressing, since the real meat of the series is the interaction between the various members of the Familias Regnant.