I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, genres filled with long running book series. Until the last couple of years, I mostly avoided any series that wasn’t already complete. First, I don’t like truly “epic” sci-fi fantasy. On-going series without an end in sight, or series that go beyond roughly 3,000 to 4,000 pages never end well for me1. I simply lose interest. Second, I worry that series won’t actually reach completion, either because the books are not successful enough or the author gets writer’s block2, or even just getting caught up in waiting way too long between books3. Third, I like to actually remember what happened, especially in the kind of complex stories I like to read.

Some series do really well with sequels. I recently read through Kelly McCullough’s Fallen Blade series, and although it is complete and I did read the books in succession, they always made a clear attempt to reintroduce everything about the novel and the necessary bits of past events. In fact, McCullough was so good at this , it was almost obnoxious to read the series all in one go4.

But other books seem to provide no help at all. And I am now deeply invested in several series that have not yet completed. Right now I’m finally reading Poseidon’s Wake, the third and final novel in Alastair Reynolds’ Poseidon’s Children trilogy. Because it had been so long, I had forgotten critical parts of the earlier two novels that I enjoyed so much. Now, nearly 40% through the book and thoroughly engrossed, most of the key information has miraculously come back to me. But I found it difficult to get through the first 5% or so of the novel if for no other reason than I was trying to remember what was in Blue Remembered Earthand what was in Kim Stanley Robinson’s 23125.

I must admit, I am often impressed with my own ability to recall details of a story I read years earlier when encountering a sequel, because I seem to remember far more of it than expected. But I wonder, what must the editing process on a sequel be like? How do authors and editors decide what can be assumed and what cannot?

  1. See Wizard’s First Rule, Dune, and A Song of Ice and Fire↩︎

  2. See Patrick Rothfuss. ↩︎

  3. I think I really learned this waiting for the conclusion of His Dark Materials, which felt like it took a goddamn life time. ↩︎

  4. I assume these books must be geared toward young adults and that this impacted the “hand holding” involved in moving from book to book. I’m not sure if they’re considered YA fiction, but the writing certainly had that feel. Still, they were wonderfully fun quick reads. I read all six books from November 23rd through December 14th. ↩︎

  5. A novel I did not enjoy nearly as much, but which seemed to have very similar themes and setting and which I read three months prior to Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze↩︎