I struck out three times at the library this week. One was a Ben Bova novel about two brothers on opposite sides of the stem cell/cloning/immortality issue. It started pretty well, but then kept switching between first person protagonists in the first three chapters. I like the first person perspective, but I guess I don’t like to get into a new head with every chapter. I might give this one another try because Bova is a fine writer whose work I have enjoyed in the past.
The other two looked like good stories too, and the one I began reading started well. However, what I had missed in both cases, and what was not advertised anywhere on the books’ jackets, was that both were buried in the middle of an -ilogy. One was a second book, and the other a third. This fact was not made clear in the frontispieces or title pages either. You really couldn’t figure it out until you read the back cover testimonials carefully. I took both back to the library and made a desultory effort to find the beginnings of each story in the catalog, but our small library either never had the earlier novels, or doesn’t have them anymore. Perhaps the buyers for the library were deceived as easily as I was.
I don’t like to jump into the middle of a multivolume story. In fact, I’m almost to the point where I just disdain -ilogies alltogether. I was introduced to them by Tolkien at the age of 10 or 11, and ruined for them by Jordan at the age of 45, when, after fifteen years of rambling through eleven increasingly incoherent and plodding volumes in the Wheel of Time series, the author departed the mortal plane without finishing it. I think WoT would have made a really great trilogy.
These days it seems more than half the new volumes at the library are part of a series. If I see “Fifth Volume in the Dreams of Balthazar Chronicles” I just put the damn thing back on the shelf, only slightly more quickly than I would if it were the first volume. My aversion is selective. I’ve been known to go out of my way to get complete sets of O’Brien, Gemmell, and Cornwell, not to mention Mary Stewart. In O’Brien’s case the Aubrey-Maturin books actually stand pretty well on their own, and as for Gemmell, Cornwell, and Stewart they are just worth it, and how. But my weariness of the -ilogy marketing approach just makes it a lot harder to win me over. I’d like to see more really good single volume stories. I’ll be fifty years old in a year and a half or so; I can’t even be sure of living through another Robert Jordan.
And while I am on the subject of books it would be remiss of me not to mention the most lamentable trend of all, which is neatly encapsulated by the title of a book I was looking at in the library last night: “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Sanction by Eric van Lustbader.” Robert Ludlum cannot write any more Bourne novels, because he is dead, and van Lustbader shouldn’t be writing them either. “Tom Clancy” is another one. He’s still alive as far as I know, but 95% of the stuff I see with his name on it was written by someone else. Hopefully, the publishing industry has been learning along with the rest of us that pursuit of money for it’s own sake isn’t the point. I’d just like to see good books. The rest of the business will take care of itself.