Let’s talk a little bit about series. I have a predilection for long works. I’m not sure what this says about me, but if you’ve written an 1,500 page novel, I kinda want to know it exists. If it’s some weird literary nonsense, I probably want to read it. But it doesn’t have to be literary nonsense. It can be another kind of nonsense all together. You’d think that book series would be ideal for me– I get a nice long read, and something I can dip in and out of in between reading depressed Norwegians writing about painting. But they rarely work out.
The series I have enjoyed the greatest is probably “The Expanse” series of novels. They were tightly plotted, episodic things with a background story that could be brought to the foreground as and when needed to keep you moving through it as a whole. I didn’t think it quite stuck the landing, but I question what kind of ending is going to be truly satisfying after 5000 pages. But I didn’t feel cheated.
The other thing to note is that while there was a continuous story (a number of them, really), each book had a beginning, middle and end. There was a big enough cast as well to allow the authors to mix up the focus; switching POV and keeping you invested in the story, both within the individual book and the series .
When I take a long trip, and I’m going to be stuck on planes and airports, a series is an ideal read– a world to get lost in, and something I’m unlikely to burn through five hours into the trip and then being forced (O, the burden) to pick something else out. So this time, I chose Tad William’s “Otherland”. I’m not even entirely sure why. And I only got about halfway through the first volume during the trip itself. As I write the first draft of this little essay, I just finished wrapping it up.
Not finishing it on the plane was not really Williams’ fault. I was not feeling all that great on the ride home, and so my reading was curtailed by constant trips to the toilet.
But some of it was the book itself. Volume 1 of Otherland “City of Golden Shadow” feels more like a long prologue than a novel. We’re introduced to the book’s central concepts of VR, the players on the board, the notion that there are large and powerful forces at work. Only toward the very end of the book is anything “revealed”, though almost any reader will be able to figure a fair percentage of it out before you get there.
It’s ok to know more than the characters, but there’s a danger inherent there in the pacing– it can become frustrating over time if your characters aren’t ‘getting it’ fast enough. Williams is creating a fairly dense, knotty world, but there’s a lot of explaining. A whole lot. Williams tries to avoid the horrible “as you know, Bob” conversations by introducing student/teacher relationships, and the occasional thing beyond the comprehension of the characters which they come to understand, and mostly succeeds, but the world building takes over the story on multiple occasions, and the pacing just drags.
To its credit, I do want to know what comes next. The plot threads are interesting, and the book seems assured about how it’s going to unfold. I just don’t know how much time I want to spend on it.
Now that I have returned, and finished “Otherland, Vol. 1”, I have resumed my normal insanity. Right now, I am reading “Go Home, Ricky!” by Gene Kwak, which is a pleasant, mostly fun novel about an amateur wrestler who suffers an injury.
Stuff I need to/plan to resume:
Jon Fosse “I is Another: Septology III-V”. I was surprised, for some reason, that these are very direct continuations of the preceding volumes. Fosses’ work requires paying fairly strict attention to it, something I was unable to do while galavanting around.
“Moby Dick”— we left the wretched sea behind in September. It’s time to pick that back up and finish it.
I have a few things planned as well for the site. A look at “Milkman”, possibly “Goliath”, and a little more chat about process, including my thoughts about the Kindle Scribe, which I used exclusively during my vacation.