Monday, February 08, 2016

Series Evolution

Last week, I read Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, the latest book in Lois McMaster Bujold's long-running Vorkosigan Saga. The series started thirty years ago and includes not just novels, but novellas and short stories. Most of the works revolve around the Vorkosigan family, in particular, Miles Vorkosigan. I wasn't sure at first I would like this series, since I don't read much military science fiction. However, Bujold not only mixes in a lot of humor, but she also incorporates other genres such as mystery and even romance. Although many of the stories feature Miles, other relatives (and even people with no link to him) are also point-of-view characters and even protagonists.

The characters in this series are neither ageless or changeless. The series starts long before Miles is even born, and in the latest book, he is in his mid-forties. The type of story he stars in has also evolved with the series. Some of his early stories were fast-paced and madcap, but various events have forced him to slow down. While I do miss the plots of the earlier works, it does make sense for his career to have changed over time. (I suppose I could always reread the series, but it's not the same when you already know what will happen.)

The latest book in the series is an autumnal romance, featuring Miles' mother as one of the protagonists. Some fans feel that Bujold has retconned a major character in this book, while others (myself included) feel that nothing happens plot-wise. (There are setups for conflict, but they fizzle out, IMO.) I have no idea if she intends this to be the last book. I think it does make sense for the themes and even the style to evolve as the series progresses. The difficult part is exploring new directions while giving fans what they want in these books. If Bujold does write more books in this world, I'd like to see her use POV characters from the latest generation. However, thirty years is a long time to work in a world, and if she has no more she wants to say about it, we have to respect that.

Speaking of series, I'm planning on releasing Chaos Season, Book Three of the Season Avatars series, this June. I'm targeting the summer solstice, since that is my main character's birthday, but of course I first have to finish revising the story before I focus on cover art, formatting, and all the publishing details.

What's the longest series you've read? Do you think it was uniformly good from start to finish? If so, why not?


Pat Dilloway said...

That would have to be the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, which was about 40 books. But most were only tangentially connected so it didn't have the problems of having to constantly build on plots and characters. That's a good way to keep a series fresh because while they're in the same world, you can keep inventing new characters, locations, and so forth so it's hard to get stale.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't start slowing down until I was fifty. Miles is a wimp.
Tried reading the Wheel of Time series. Finally gave up because it looked like it would never end. I've read all of Preston and Child's Agent Pendergast stories but they aren't really a series, just the same character.

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

I think the longest series I've ever read was... maybe... fifteen books.
A lot of series don't play with genre, characters, etc. like the books you speak of. In a way, I understand why they don't; readers expect certain things and writers don't want to alienate people. But there's also a chance an author will tire of the series or the readers will feel like things have gone stale.

Sandra Almazan said...

Good example, Pat. Piers Anthony does something similar in his Xanth series.

Alex, if you read the series, you know Miles endures far more than we ever will.

Good point, Jennifer. Even if the series never changes, the readers will.

Maria Zannini said...

Frank Herbert's DUNE series. I felt the story started to suffer after the fourth one. After the sixth one, it was passed on to other authors to finish the series.

While I've read many other series, I almost always stop at book 3 unless the series switches to a new character or starts a very different journey so that it can almost be read as a stand-alone.

Sandra Almazan said...

My fantasy series switches to a new character with every book, Maria, so that definitely switches it up!

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