I just finished a book that I was really enjoying, Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey. It had main characters I really liked and could relate to, who weren’t perfect but were competent and just plain good folks. It wasn’t very well edited — some of the grammar was atrocious, with sentences that looked as though the author wrote them, then rewrote one half without doing the other. I honestly thought McCaffrey’s publisher could afford better, but what do I know?
The book was placed as science fiction, but if anyone who has read it attempts to put it in that category I will laugh in their faces. Loudly. With vigor. I’m supposed to believe that a group of mixed-species slaves tossed down onto a (supposed to be) virgin planet with nothing but some knives and blankets, with no knowledge of the planet and no training in colonizing anything, manage to pull together, restart civilization, and have mining operations going in 16 days? That’s without considering the hostile robotic caretakers they discover, as the world isn’t quite so virgin as their slavers thought (they call the robots Daleks — appropriate, I suppose). No. This one is definitely fantasy. No unicorns, magic, elves, witches, etc. — but that’s fantasy, kids.
Anyway, I suspended my disbelief enough to be enjoying the story and interested in the characters fates — and the book ended. Just ended. On a cliffhanger. With no indication on the cover or on the verbiage inside the cover to indicate that it’s part of a series. I hate that!
Why is it that so few authors write books that stand alone any more? Is it pressure from publishers to create series? Is it a lack of discipline in getting all those unruly plot threads tied up in just 300 to 500 pages? Half the books I read now have absolutely no reason to be published as separate volumes instead of sticking the entire trilogy in one cover — except for the sheer unwieldiness that would result. Nothing is wrapped up in the first book or two. More and more characters are brought in, with more and more subplots, until you get a whizbang ending in the last quarter of the third or fourth book to swing it all together.
And if they’re going to do that, why not practice a little truth in advertising? Say, clearly, obviously, where it cannot be missed, “Freedom’s Landing, first book of a new series by Anne McCaffrey!” or something similar? Perhaps all her big fans knew that it was a new universe she was just starting to develop, but I don’t read any fan magazines or even web sites and I don’t attend cons much, so how was I to know? By the time the next book is out I’ll probably have forgotten half the details of this one, and the sense of urgency to find out what happened next will certainly be gone. I’ll remember the sense of annoyance at being gypped out of a complete tale far better than I’ll remember all the plot twists and such. In short, I will not be a particularly motivated buyer. Have publishers not figured that out yet? (Actually, I was just informed that the sequel, Freedom’s Choice, is out now — have I gone out to get it? No, I figure this will be at least a trilogy, and probably more depending on how many suckers buy it.)
Oh well. I may read the other books in the series some day, but I’m certainly not going to buy them in hardback, and I may not buy them in paperback. I’ll check the books out of the library after the series is more or less complete — in short, the author and publisher won’t get any of my money, as I feel very much cheated this time.
Originally written August 31, 1997