Monday, December 18, 2006

Standing Alone

Over on the Cybils fantasy and scifi panel we've done some talking about the issue of "stand alone" books, meaning books that can be read without first having read an earlier book in a series. The bulk of the members of the panel are patient with series books within the fantasy genre. The feeling seems to be that a fantasy world has been created, and the different books within a particular series are all part of the story that's going on within that world. My impression is that, if anything, being able to extend the experience to more than one book is a plus for many of them.

Guess who's the hardass holdout in the bunch?

Hey, I believe every book is a complete world, a complete experience, and if I don't get my complete experience within each book, I feel as if I've been had.

I may also have a bias on this subject because I am a writer, and this writer has a particular attitude toward what writing is or should be. I believe writing is a form of communication, and a book is a message, a piece of communication. According to the model of communication I learned (according to a young relative who is a communication major, there is more than one), in order for communication to take place, there must be a transmitter and a receiver. Meaning, in our case, that the writer creates and sends out her message (piece of writing) and the reader receives it (reads and comprehends).

Many kinds of interference that the author can't control can wreck the communication process and make it difficult for the reader to receive her message. People who speak a different language aren't going to be able to read her book. People who don't care for her genre, her subject, her style aren't going to get her message.

But to intentionally write a book (create a message) that a segment of the reading public (receivers) won't understand (receive) because they haven't read your previous books, makes no sense to me. Why would anyone knowingly write a book readers won't get? What's the point of writing a book like that?

To me this contradicts the very reason people write--to communicate with others.

My co-panelists are heroic readers and in many cases have read not only the nominated series books but the earlier books in said series. I am merely a reading warrior and have only read the nominees. To date, I've had no problem with any of the books. The series books have been able to stand alone or I happened to have read the earlier books in the series, anyway. According to my fellow readers, I'm coming up to two books now that will definitely test my wits because I'm not familiar with the earlier books.

Stay tuned.


Unknown said...

Well, every group needs a hardass to keep them grounded. Your knowledge and experience as a writer has been a big help to the group, even if we don't always agree. I think the results will be better for the differences of opinion. I've enjoyed our discussions and learned a lot from you.

My mother tried to convince me when I was younger that I didn't need to read books in order, but I've never been able to do it. It just feels wrong to me to read a book when I haven't read the books before it. I guess it's an OCD thing.

I'll be interested to see your reaction to these two books and whether you think they stand alone. Your wits are pretty sharp, and I think it takes a lot to test them, so maybe you'll be fine without having read the earlier books.

Anonymous said...

I guess if you've grown up reading series - I started out on C S Lewis' Narnia Chronicles and Mary Norton's Borrowers series - then there is no problem with the concept of a continuing serial of books that are all related but allow the characters to develop - and the author to expand on various aspects of their created world (something that's especially appealing to SF and Fantasy authors who've spent a lot of time and effort in creating a believable secondary world)...

Don't get me wrong - I enjoy a lot of "stand alone" novels too - and I'm gradually going off most of the "epic fantasy for adults" series than run to 1800+ pages over 3 or more books, but I love the feeling of stepping into a world I already know with characters who are not all unfamiliar, but who still have room to grow and surprise me...