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What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

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What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Old 02-24-12, 04:01 AM
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What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

We've had some discussions before touching on the general topic of "series that went bad". Actually, I should probably differentiate straight away between simple series and "multibook epics"!

In the Fire & Ice thread very recently the contention was again raised and it struck me that it might prove more useful to focus on it here rather than take that other thread further from its original topic:
Originally Posted by Josh-da-man
[....]There aren't a lot of multi-book epics that are actually great. Most of the time it seems like the stories start to spin out of the writer's control and turn into a big mess. Also, most writers change over time, and they're not the same writer they were ten years ago, so book four/five/six/seven will be a completely different animal than book one.

Really, are there any four-plus book series that maintain their quality over a decade? Not Dune. Not Hyperion. Not Moorcock's endless "eternal champion" bullshit. Anne Rice's vampire chronicles turned to shit. Asimov's revisited robot/foundation universe wasn't the same as the originals.
I suppose we could focus purely on fantasy and the like but it might also be interesting to hear what knowledgeable folk think in this regard about what they have encountered in other genres.

One might first like to throw into the ring Gene Wolfe's four part "Book of The New Sun" which some thought maintained its pace throughout. And then to consider its coda, "The Urth of the New Sun".

And maybe David Wingrove's Chung Kuo sequence (which is currently being expanded and republished - and which I may finish, second time around!). It is documented that, after seven reasonably-acclaimed volumes, his publishing deal was cancelled and he had to truncate the sequence, so producing one unsatisfactory final volume instead of volumes eight and nine simply in order to give his readership some closure even though the final deal meant that he didn't actually get paid after volum seven.
Old 02-24-12, 02:04 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Originally Posted by benedict
Actually, I should probably differentiate straight away between simple series and "multibook epics"
There are tons of series in all different genres ... where the characters and settings continue on, some plot threads carry over, but where the whole thing isn't designed to tell a gigantic story. And most of these eventually decline at a point for a number of reasons. I get the sense that after a point the authors are almost cranking these things out as "product" ... easy to write and safe sales, but with later books lacking what the initial releases had.

By "multi-volume epics", I assume you're talking about the cases where all the books form a massive single story (with beginning, middle, and end). Series where you have to start at the beginning, and will feel massively let down if there's never an end. Fire and Ice and Chung Kuo are examples of this. Rice's vampire series, Dune, Foundation, Hyperion are not. For me, they're all cases of shorter series that just got added onto at a later date. For example, you're just fine if you stop after the first vampire book. And if you press on after that, you can stop after "Queen of the Damned". Same thing with Dune and the others.

Harry Potter is an obvious recent example of a longer epic that many were happy with. While I haven't finished it, many also seem happy with Stephen Erickson's "Malazan" series (10 books).

But for the most part, I think these multi-volume epics just come with too many pitfalls (for both author and reader). Three or four books seems like a good number to tell an epic story (and I can think of many examples). But when things bloat more than that it gets troublesome. When the total publishing time stretches past 10 years, you just can't expect consistency in the product. And since it's building to only a single big "ending", for the reader they're almost destined to disappoint (after so much time invested in the thing). Like the cases with Wheel of Time and Dark Tower.
Old 02-24-12, 02:28 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Yes, Harry Potter is an excellent example of a multi-volume epic that kept the quality up.

As far as "series" books go (continuing characters, but stand-alone stories for the most part), I think James Patterson's Alex Cross novels hardly ever disappoint.
Old 02-24-12, 02:38 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Brandon Sandersons Mistborn trilogy held up really well.

Abercrombies First Law Trilogy was spectacular in all 3 books.


I think that when we get the final WOT book next year, people will look back on it as holding up better than they do now
Old 02-24-12, 03:39 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Nice post, brainee.

I haven't read many 4+book epics, and Potter is the only one that really worked, in fact, like most good epics it only got stronger as it approached the end.

Dark Tower fell apart after King was nearly killed then rushed out the last few books, which were a mess.

I bailed on The Black Company after the fifth book, although that was more of a solid trilogy that was extended upon.

After reading Locke Lamora I was excited to learn it was part of a planed seven part epic. The second book diminished my enthusiasm and I now await the long delayed third installment with more hope than confidence.

One of my favorite series, The Dresden Files, may end up being epic-like. It's definitely taken that turn the last couple of books and there were hints of a greater storyline sprinkled in the earlier books.
Old 02-25-12, 10:40 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Originally Posted by benedict
... maybe David Wingrove's Chung Kuo sequence (which is currently being expanded and republished - and which I may finish, second time around!). It is documented that, after seven reasonably-acclaimed volumes, his publishing deal was cancelled and he had to truncate the sequence, so producing one unsatisfactory final volume instead of volumes eight and nine simply in order to give his readership some closure even though the final deal meant that he didn't actually get paid after volum seven.
My heart literally leaped when I saw mention of this. My all-time favorite series of any genre and I've yet to meet anyone who's read it. If these are indeed being re-released, I CANNOT WAIT. I've dumped most of the books I've bought over the years, but still have my Chung Kuo hardcovers.

Actually discovered those at the same time I started Jordan's Wheel of Time series. THAT'S a series that went terribly astray around volume five. Loved the first few then gave up in frustration/boredom.
Old 02-26-12, 11:16 AM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

I agree that Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy help up great! Although he meant it to be a trilogy and wrote it all back to back to back.

Harry Potter was another one that held up well because again, it was always designed to be 7 books, one for each school year.

I think the problems begin when authors set out to do something...realize its a big seller and then try to stretch it out. Wheel of Time wasn't supposed to be 14 books (8,9,10 were pretty slow!). Song of Fire and Ice was supposed to be fewer books than now projected too....and that one only gets more popular as it goes along thanks to the tv series.
Old 02-26-12, 03:34 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Even Harry Potter has its ups and downs. Order of the Phoenix is unbelievably bloated. Half-Blood Prince felt like it was just killing time until the end.

As for multi-book stories that actually do work, the pinnacle is probably Balzac's Comedie Humaine.

Also based on the praise for the Chung Kuo series I went ahead and purchased Son of Heaven for my Kindle.

Last edited by Supermallet; 02-26-12 at 03:39 PM.
Old 02-26-12, 04:53 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

I know of more trilogies than multi-book series beyond the magic number 3 which seem to me to work very well: The 3 books of the original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy (McCaffrey), the 3 books of the original Chronicles of Amber trilogy (Zelazny), the 3 books of the original Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy (Weis & Hickman), the Psychomech/Psychosphere/Psychamok trilogy (Lumley), even the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One series I have 4 of 6 books is from the Nightworld series (F. Paul Wilson): The Keep, The Tomb, The Touch, Reborn, Reprisal, and Nightworld. I'm missing The Tomb and The Touch, but the characters that were created in those 2 books were reintroduced and incorporated into the final book: Nightworld which still puts goosebumps on my arms just thinking about it. It seems to me that when most (not all, mind you) authors opt to extend an originally planned trilogy into a multi-book series, things start to fall apart, authors get lazy in their attempt to push them out to the public. It would have to be an extraordinary series indeed to keep me mesmerized enough to faithfully read a multi-book series to the end. -kd5-
Old 02-26-12, 06:57 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

The Nightwatch series (Night Watch, Day Watch, Twilight Watch, Last Watch) is consistently excellent. Not sure if I'd call it an epic.
Old 02-26-12, 07:57 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Originally Posted by kd5
I know of more trilogies than multi-book series beyond the magic number 3 which seem to me to work very well: The 3 books of the original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy (McCaffrey), the 3 books of the original Chronicles of Amber trilogy (Zelazny), the 3 books of the original Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy (Weis & Hickman), the Psychomech/Psychosphere/Psychamok trilogy (Lumley), even the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One series I have 4 of 6 books is from the Nightworld series (F. Paul Wilson): The Keep, The Tomb, The Touch, Reborn, Reprisal, and Nightworld. I'm missing The Tomb and The Touch, but the characters that were created in those 2 books were reintroduced and incorporated into the final book: Nightworld which still puts goosebumps on my arms just thinking about it. It seems to me that when most (not all, mind you) authors opt to extend an originally planned trilogy into a multi-book series, things start to fall apart, authors get lazy in their attempt to push them out to the public. It would have to be an extraordinary series indeed to keep me mesmerized enough to faithfully read a multi-book series to the end. -kd5-
Not to be nitpicky, but can Lord of the Rings be considered a trilogy? I was always under the assumption that it was a book with 6 parts split into 3 by the publisher.

Last edited by Rex Power Colt-Robot Man; 02-26-12 at 07:57 PM. Reason: spelling is for wusses
Old 02-26-12, 09:10 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

I thought Tolkein wrote 3 books for The Lord Of The Rings and that the movies were written in accordance with the books. I could be wrong though. -kd5-
Old 02-26-12, 09:13 PM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Technically you're correct, but it looks like it was still considered a trilogy:
The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set, with the other being The Silmarillion, but this idea was dismissed by his publisher.[4][5] It was decided for economic reasons to publish The Lord of the Rings as three volumes, each consisting of two books, over the course of a year from 21 July 1954 to October 1955, thus creating the now familiar Lord of the Rings trilogy.[4][6] The three volumes were entitled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Structurally, the novel is divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material included at the end of the third volume. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into many languages.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_the_Rings -kd5-
Old 02-29-12, 12:25 AM
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Re: What epics actually work in multi-volume form? And which don't?

Originally Posted by benedict
One might first like to throw into the ring Gene Wolfe's four part "Book of The New Sun" which some thought maintained its pace throughout. And then to consider its coda, "The Urth of the New Sun".
I've wondered if I was the only one on this forum who'd ever read Book of the New Sun. It was amazing and maintained it's pace throughout... but it never had all that exciting a pace to begin with either. I haven't been able to locate a copy of Urth yet, but eventually I'll get to it.

Another series I'd mention is the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. The scope, attention to detail and outright genius displayed throughout the books have quickly pushed them towards the top of my favorite series' list.

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