The Danger of Sequels….

As many of you know, I have a profile on Goodreads. These days, when I talk about books, I usually do it over there.

Here’s a link to my profile if you’re interested.

I don’t really review books so much as I share my thoughts about books that I’ve read. Sometimes what I talk about reading with my kids. Sometimes I talk about story structure or the craft of writing.

It’s really all over the place.

Recently, I re-read a book that I read more than 20 years ago. Rendezvous with Rama.

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I liked it, even though it’s outside the style and genre I normally read. And so I wrote a little bit about it on goodreads. Then did something I didn’t do the first time I read it, even though I’d wanted to: I sought out the sequel so I could find out what happened next in the story.

The sequel book itself was perfectly well-written. But it irritated and angered me more than any book has in years.

The experience was… odd. It was troubling and confusing. I think about multi-volume stories a lot (for obvious reasons) but this brought some of my thoughts about sequels and follow-up works into focus. So I ended up writing those thoughts out. Partly for people who might be considering picking up the book, so they can be forewarned. But also just so I could get my own thoughts straight in my head….

Here’s the beginning of the review, if you’re interested.

So. Two stars. That’s a really low rating for me. Normally, if I really don’t like a book, I just move on with my life. But this one had elements that hit close to home for me.

Sorry, I realize that I was just speaking Midwestern Understatement. What I meant to say was that this book is a tangible manifestation of my nightmares.

Is this an awful book? No.

Did I enjoy it? No. It frustrated me from the first page. From *before* the first page, actually. More than that, even. This book made me angry.

But is it a bad book in itself? No. Which is why I’m writing a review of it. To explain this strange situation and to talk about the danger of sequels.

The rest of the review is over here if you’re interested. Be warned, there’s some strong language in there…

pat

This entry was posted in Goodreads, holding forth. By Pat26 Responses

26 Comments

  1. I_Am_Kvothe
    Posted January 23, 2016 at 7:10 PM | Permalink

    I’ve already posted on Goodreads, but I couldn’t resist this virgin comments section thing. I have the nagging feeling that I’m going to finally go back and read all of the reviews I’ve missed. My grades have gone down considerably due to arguments with teachers over name pronunciation. And, of course, the omnipresent blogs and family and reading vs. book 3 issue. Ah, It feels good to get that out.

  2. Mary Kate
    Posted January 23, 2016 at 9:08 PM | Permalink

    Your reviews are really thoughtful and interesting, and I enjoy reading them. Plus, “Patrick Rothfuss recommends…” has become the golden phrase in my house when trying to persuade my brothers to read something. Thanks for sharing! (And I’m sure there’s about a million of us out here happy to wait as long as it takes for a sequel if it means it’s good and you’re pleased with it.)

  3. kjc2323
    Posted January 23, 2016 at 10:20 PM | Permalink

    Sequels can be as bad as prequels.

    I have read a few books that reconfigure the original in a really interesting way. While I disagree with Orson Scott Card’s politics, I really did enjoy Ender’s Shadow and that changed Ender’s Game for me. So I guess there is a chance for a sequel to save or improve an original too.

  4. brotheroflogan
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 8:32 AM | Permalink

    Pat, let me tell you something that I think might bring you comfort.

    A couple weeks ago I lent “Name of the Wind” to my sister who isn’t much of a reader. Yesterday I got a text from her, “Do you have the sequel?”

    I’m happy to recommend it to her. And Slow Regard.

  5. Hahentamashii
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 9:07 AM | Permalink

    I agree with kjc2323, Card’s politics are… incongruous with the themes of Ender’s Game. It’s close to my heart, and Shadow only served to make it a better book.

    This might be a bit off topic, but this post brought it back to me. What I find strangely interesting is reading levels. I am an avid re-reader of beloved books, but (as I have gotten older and my reading level has increased) I find that books I used to love have lost a lot of their appeal. Some, like Harry Potter, are finely crafted lower level reading, which is why they have been so prolific. I still enjoy them, but other authors, I feel bad, it’s like I’ve abandoned them.

    The other side of the problem is that it gets harder to find books worth reading. I’ve found several through Mr. Rothfuss and other authors who have a media presence and there by share their own recommendations. So thanks for that guys.

  6. wintermute
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 1:12 PM | Permalink

    Do your work, Pat. Do your work.

  7. Liam
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 9:38 PM | Permalink

    I absolutely echo your sentiment about stories *without* answers feeling like utter bullshit. The story that most pissed me off in this respect was Inception. When the movie came out I remember people poring over the minutiae of the story, trying to find explanations for all the questions it left unanswered. But there *were* no answers…that was the whole point. The story was purposely constructed to be vague and ambiguous. That’s a cool conceit when you’re trying to create a sense of depth and complexity, hinting that the world shown is in fact much larger than what you’ve created. But when the central drive of the entire story is towards a non-existent conclusion that….just feels rather completely bullshit to me.

  8. Nick
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 11:06 PM | Permalink

    I personally have not experienced this in books because I tend to reread books that I like. But I have experienced this with video games. I know that it is different, but still the story evolves into something that leaves an awful taste in my mouth… A lot like eating beets.

  9. Posted January 25, 2016 at 4:57 AM | Permalink

    Hi, Pat!
    In my experience as a reader, you’re absolutely right: most sequels brings more harm than good. Sometimes it can really work: John Le Carré and Barbara Taylor Bradford are my favorites! One of her books, “Woman of Substance”, was meant to be stand alone, but ended the first of a serie with seven books. But the truth is, this are the exception, not the rule.
    I read your review and I totally understand your feelings. I feel used too!
    I hope you find better books to read and that you never feel this way again.

  10. Jsherry
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

    The best part of your review? All of it.

    The worst part? Now I can’t see this face without imagining that it’s smirking about having just given a half dry hand job byy a dumpster behind gas station:
    http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s0d8qhgoksfgc2ydpgdp.jpg

  11. rlukow
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 1:14 PM | Permalink

    While I can certainly understand your sentiments about books(/stories) that don’t give you answers, one of my personal favorites is a story that intentionally leaves its readers (or listeners) without answers. It’s a story about a boy that was born with a golden screw in his belly button.

  12. Cam121
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 5:37 PM | Permalink

    I think what you’ve said about the changes in style and tone goes beyond sequels – anytime someone’s work is interpreted by another it’s open to a new matrix of thought being applied, and if the interpreter has the opportunity to create a new work in within the same ‘world’, then they can drastically alter further interpretations of the original.

    I’m deeply concerned that this might happen with the KKC TV show, but my hope is that your influence will lead to something that is as beautiful as the books and totally in line with the world you’ve crafted.

    Also, I totally played a Rama PC game when I was about 10. I had no idea it was a book series, makes total sense. It was a fairly decent game, if I recall, in the style of Myst.

  13. Mrhegel
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 6:18 PM | Permalink

    I kind of feel the same way about Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris. Originally it was supposed to be stand alone, and it works wonderfully as that. I read a little while ago that he’s changed it from a one-off to a trilogy at least. I love Sanderson and think that he’ll do a great job with the books, but there is a nagging feeling that it should not be done.

    • Dan G.
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 1:49 PM | Permalink

      I believe his trilogy is intended to be more stories in the same world rather than a direct continuation on the original story. “The Emperor’s Soul” takes place in the same world, as an example. All part of the Cosmere…

  14. roryok
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 6:50 PM | Permalink

    I think your danger of sequels is actually part of a Grand Unified Problem that I call the Danger of Answers.

    Some mysteries are better left unsolved. Just because the reader wants to know something, doesn’t mean they should.

    Rendezvous was intended as a standalone book which never answered the mysteries therein. The betrayal is not that Clarke never planned to write a sequel. The betrayal is that he DID write a sequel, and didn’t even do it himself. In Rendezvous, he left mysteries for our imaginations to fill, and then he allowed some other author to step in and fill them with his own ideas, for a quick buck. That’s the betrayal.

    I’ve gone a written a whole counterpoint blog entry [http://roryok.com/blog/2016/01/the-danger-of-answers/] on this because I am supposed to be writing and am a terrible procrastinator.

  15. tajones42
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 10:29 PM | Permalink

    Pat, you are so lucky to have veered off into a ditch rather than collide with any further Rama books. It’s been 20 years since I blew through the entire series, but it wasn’t until the final book, and the big reveal, that I was truly filled with rage towards the entire enterprise. I felt like I’d been monstrously and irretrievably tricked. Avoid at all costs, unless you need grist for a series of university lectures on literary handjobs that turn into muggings.

  16. Gregg
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

    Pat,

    Pseudo-related to sequels: I would love to hear your opinion of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Specifically, what is your opinion on how the HBO series has now passed the books and now the HBO series plays spoiler to the book series. I am personally very disappointed since I know how hard it is to go dark on the internet with regards to spoilers. I want to scream and stomp my feet, but in the end I am well aware that this series is his through and through and he can do with it what he chooses. Do you think an author has any type of an obligation to his fans in this specific instance? I am NOT talking about your book 3!

    Thanks

  17. Theodore
    Posted January 27, 2016 at 8:39 PM | Permalink

    Hi Pat,

    I read your review in Goodreads and the 4th (and most important) point you make got my attention. I get what you mean when you say:

    “There’s an enormous difference between a story that doesn’t give you all the answers […] and a story that has no answers to give. The main difference is that the latter story is utter bullshit.”
    (That’s how I felt after the last episode of “Lost” by the way)

    However, this argument leads to a strange conundrum. If Arthur Clarke had died right after finishing the 1st book and no one knew whether he was planning to write a sequel or not, then according to your argument the 1st book would be trapped forever in a quantum superposition of a good and a bad book. Isn’t that weird?

    Cheers,
    Theo

    • Jsherry
      Posted January 28, 2016 at 11:20 AM | Permalink

      Schrödinger’s Sequel?

  18. klaxon12
    Posted January 28, 2016 at 4:27 PM | Permalink

    After reading your review of the first book, I think you’d really enjoy a series I just started (think 3 are out, I’m in #2). It’s the Man of War series, book 1 is titled To Honor You Call Us. It’s more war-oriented than it sounds like Rama is, but there are definite similarities in the storytelling and sci-fi emphasis to what you mentioned. A fair amount of technical science, each book seems to contain multiple small-to-medium sized arcs without a huge wait for the resolution. Very fun though, and it’s had me laughing a lot and crying a bit as well.

  19. knnn
    Posted January 29, 2016 at 10:24 AM | Permalink

    A little late to the party here so this might never be read, but I had exactly the same experience with Rama II when it came out (and even more with Rama III). Everything about the writing style and pacing was very much *not* Clarke (though as you say possibly more interesting). Clarke was really all about the science.

    I knew about Rama originally being a standalone novel, and it never really bothered me. It seemed that part of the lesson was that the universe doesn’t revolve around humanity, and for all the intra-solar-system politics that colored the edges of the story, the aliens simply *didn’t care*.

    Anyway.

    Incidentally, has anyone here ever read 2001 and its sequels (2010, 2061, 3001)? 2001 was a great book …until the last chapter when everything goes sideways, leaving you the mystery of what the monolith really is. Then 2010 starts explaining things, and again the last chapter is pure weirdness. Ditto 2061. Finally, 3001 supposedly lifts the final veils on everything and it’s …just plain bad. Disappointment all around.

    • Ethan
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 10:30 PM | Permalink

      Absolutely agree. 2061 left me craving 3001 and scared Clarke would never get to finish it because of his age. When I read 3001 it was a huge let-down.

      As far a GRRM goes, I didn’t mind Feast for Crows. It grew on me after a couple readings. What bothered me was the whole “splitting” the book thing, and claim that Dance would come quickly after Feast. Dance was
      Severely bloated with stuff added that could have been dealt with in asides. This is my opinion, of course, and I don’t believe an author owes his readers anything. I suspect his heart just isn’t in it anymore. That happens to great writers all the time. After the Feast split and the very delayed messes of Dance, his next book is not something g I will buy in Hardcover. I’m sure many will though, and it may be great!

  20. anemotis
    Posted January 30, 2016 at 11:37 PM | Permalink

    In the way of the internet I clicked on this review and then ended up reading a another you wrote in the “books not to read to your children” category. Thank-you for that! I am sure you get recommendations all the time, but if you are looking for a title for the small people in your life I would like to point you towards “Once Upon a Twice” by Denise Doyen. It is a real joy to look at, and even better to read aloud. I am not usually looking for depth in books for the under 6 crowd but this one has such wonderful language and imagery that it is one of the books I hand out indiscriminately to my parent friends and family.

  21. RH
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:04 PM | Permalink

    I searched through your “have read” list on goodreads and did not find Alan Garner’s pair of books, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. If you have read either of them I would love to know what you think of them. If these little gems of fantasy have escaped your notice I think you should fix that. Even better, I think you will find them suitable for reading to your son.

    For reasons that surpasseth all understanding, my very practical father picked up a paperback copy of Weirdstone; I appropriated it right away and still have that copy. (That was in the late 1960’s; I was in eighth grade and had not yet heard of Tolkien.) Now, as I look it up to make this recommendation, I see that there is a third book in the series, Boneland, which I will be ordering momentarily. I sure am glad I went to the trouble of writing this to you!

  22. Owen
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 2:57 AM | Permalink

    For some reason–after studying stories enough in my youth–I can always smell when a sequel wasn’t intended and rarely does anyone ever pull one off. I honestly have no examples, okay, maybe Home Alone II. However, The Two Towers, Empire Strikes Back; all great sequels aren’t really sequels, I guess. Just the second slice in the big pie that is the ultimate story. A good example of sequels sucking is X-men, it’s all over the place. Refer: Honest Movie Trailers on Youtube: X-men Days of Futures Past, if you want a laugh. Still, I applaud anyone who can pull off a sequel, whether its an intended one or not.

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