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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dangerous Reading-

I have been a book club member from time to time. In the 1980's I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. For a time I allowed the default books to ship. I received a novel from an established author, and a second choice from an up-and-coming author. Our economic situation was unable to continue the practice for very long, but during that time I received a number of pretty nice books.

One of those books was The Gunslinger, by Stephen King. It was quite different from any other King story I had read, but I found it intriguing. It ended as if beginning a series, yet the next several Stephen King books were not a continuation of the tale. The book faded into the past, and I only occasionally wondered when the tale would be taken up again.

I don't recall just how many years passed until I became aware of the thread being picked up, but I do recall awaiting the following entries with great anticipation. There seemed to be a lot of gaps, filled by other books by Stephen King, but only rarely a continuation of The Dark Tower.

By 1997 or so I was four books into the series, and still anticipating "the rest of the story." In 1999, Stephen King was struck by a moving vehicle while walking along a road. He nearly died that day, and the tale with him. I was concerned about the man, of course. He was badly damaged and his recovery was challenging. However, I was also concerned about the tale.

After all, I had many hours of reading invested, and many years of waiting.

Stephen King recovered. Though his injuries gave him some challenge, he returned to writing. The Dark Tower plodded onward, and the final novel was published in 2004. It had proved to be an emotional journey for me, and via his various other writings I must conclude that it was also emotional for him.

I was unable to read for recreation for six weeks following completing the series. I have read it all twice, since.

Robert Jordan began The Wheel of Time series in 1990. I do not recall just when I began reading the series, but I believe it was when the seventh book was released in paperback. I consumed all of the available novels in the series, and had to start buying them in hardback when they came out to get the next installment.

I met Robert Jordan at a book signing for the tenth volume, Crossroads of Twilight, of which I have a signed copy.

This series has been a huge investment in time for me. Once I was current on the books and awaiting the next release I would reread the prior novels. Thus, I have read the earlier novels a number of times. I am presently rereading the novel Knife of Dreams for only the second time. I am only pages away from finishing.

Robert Jordan died in 2007, without finishing the series. However, the series has a huge following, and the man heroically spent a lot of his last hours conveying the end of the story to his wife and editor Harriet McDougal, and selected follow-up author Brandon Sanderson.

I received the next volume of the series this last Christmas, and am just about ready to begin reading. It will be interesting to see if the tale can maintain the same flavor as Jordan's previous works. If Jordan and his wife had not made this great final effort the end of the tale would have only existed in fan fiction. Even if the flavor changes a bit, we can at least appreciate that Jordan did, indeed, tell the end of the tale.

Some writers are able to generate series fiction that does not leave the various volumes dependent upon reading everything in order. Terry Goodkind does rather well in this in his Sword of Truth series. Generally he tells the requisite back story well without too much plot exposition by characters in the books. The first five novels are able to stand alone, which is not the case in either The Gunslinger or The Wheel of Time.

Reading series fiction can be rewarding. The epic scope of such works can provide the literary equivalent of the vistas of the Grand Canyon. Huge, beautiful and overwhelming. However, there are dangers. Writers are mortal creatures.

So are readers. I am nearly as old as Jordan was when he died. Something to keep in mind.

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