(I’m hearing Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element when I read the subject there. Yes, I probably could have found a sound clip and included it, but I’m counting on your imaginations and memories here.)
Well, I finally got around to reading the rest of Fledgling, the Liaden Universe novel published by serially by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in 2007 using the storyteller’s bowl concept.1 Sam has recorded the final chapters for podcasting and is editing the recording this week.
Just to be clear: I have been a completely immoderate fan of Lee & Miller’s work since the early 90s. I was totally hooked when my friend Ed loaned me the original three books in this universe (Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, and Carpe Diem), and I searched in vain for years and years trying to lay my hands on my own copies of them. When I found them republished as Partners in Necessity, you better believe I bought the very first copy I laid eyes on, even though I really couldn’t afford it at the time. Then there was the long wait for Plan B, then I Dare, to finally finish the main plot lines from the original books (I can’t call them a trilogy, because they don’t stand alone).
That wait was one of the reasons I stopped reading any series that hadn’t been fully published. I am not a patient woman. My name is Cynthia, and I am a story addict. I want my next fix now, right now, and it’s rare for any author to get past my reluctance to commit to an unfinished story2
I don’t normally re-read fiction. There aren’t many movies I’m willing to see twice, either. It says a great deal that Partners in Necessity is comfort reading for me, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read that collection.
I read almost all the other Liaden material available, including the chapbooks. Scout’s Progress and Pilot’s Choice (published together as Local Custom) didn’t trip my trigger quite like the other stuff, but they were decent reading. I read Crystal Soldier as soon as it came out, but haven’t yet had a chance to read Crystal Dragon. I know that I read Balance of Trade, but for some reason it didn’t stick in my mind as well as the other tales did. I read The Tomorrow Log, which isn’t even a Liaden book. I read Sharon’s Barnburner, which isn’t even science fiction or fantasy. I sought out their short stories in anthologies like as Such a Pretty Face, even knowing that they’d probably be available in chapbooks that I’d end up buying again later.
But really, I was waiting for the story that was supposed to be told in Fledgling. Who was this Theo person who showed up at the very end of I Dare with “a kind of complicated problem” to lay before the head of Clan Korval?
I was going to wait ’til Fledgling was finished to read it, but got caught up because Sam was podcasting each chapter as it was released, and with the material right there I just couldn’t resist it. I accepted the fact that Fledgling, as published online, would be a first draft. No problem. I have no complaints there.
As I got into chapter 30, I really had to wonder if they were going to pull a Heinlein-esque “pull something out of the authors’ posteriors and wrap it up with some heretofore unknown-to-the-reader secret power/force/weapon/group.” To their credit, they didn’t. But it’s not okay.
I am terribly, terribly disappointed that the authors hit chapter 31 and just…stopped. Um, what happened to chapters 32–36? That’s it. They hit their word count, they say. 3
None of the plot threads were tied off! Not one! They never even got to the questions raised at the end of I Dare! The whole enterprise just raised new questions!
Yes, I am, in essence, yelling. Because I really feel cheated. If I’d been told at some point, in the notes or their mailing list or whatever, “Hey, we’ve realized that we’ve got a lot more story here than we’d realize, so it’s going to be longer and we need more donations,” or even, “Hey guys, we’ve got to split this novel into several volumes,” I wouldn’t feel this way.
Look, I would have bought a book two even if they did clear up at least some plots in volume one. Didn’t I (and many other fans) prove my loyalty by talking up their out-of-print books for years and years, without even knowing if we’d ever get more? Why on earth would any author do this to his fans? Is it a matter of just not “budgeting words” properly, or what? I know that there’s a practical limit to the number of words that go into a single paperback volume, but plenty of other authors manage to stick to such limits and create very good, standalone books! Even books that are part of a series with a larger story arc!4
Do Lee and Miller care what I think? Probably not. It’s completely possible that I’m in the minority among their readership. I am on their discussion list, and while I do not read every word of every single message, I would have noticed if there’d been an outcry on this subject. No, I don’t read their LiveJournals these days, as I don’t honestly manage to keep up with those of real-life friends any more (and I get email reminders now when some of them post). Maybe there was a hoorah there, or in the Fledgling discussion forum.
But do I think I have a right to feel cheated? Yes. I’m big on setting appropriate expectations, and I really don’t think they did that. I stopped reading Anne McCaffrey because of that kind of thing.5
Am I likely to read the finished version of Fledgling? I don’t know. We’re supposed to receive a copy at some point. I’m unlikely to read Fledgling II (Saltation), Sword of Orion or Duainefey now. If Web of the Trident (sequel to The Tomorrow Log) is ever published, yeah, I’d sorta like to know what happens next—but again, I’ll read it from the library, or find a used copy.
What I won’t be doing in the future is to rush right out and buy whatever they publish right away, as I’ve done with most of their books, because I don’t trust them as much any more. I won’t be recommending them to all and sundry without reservation, either. And I’m very sad about that.
2 Finished but not yet published doesn’t count, I’m afraid. I’m still waiting for Diane Duane to finish the Doors series, too, dangit!
3 They do note that they have to leave room to expand some things in the editing process. But four missing chapters doesn’t really seem right.
5 Ridiculous fantasy claiming to be science fiction, crappy books “coauthored” with every Jane, Jill and Sally her publisher wanted to promote that might have been in her universes, but showed no signs whatsoever of being touched by an experienced writer, etc.