I’m thinking of adding a new page to the site. I used to have a lending library next to the door of my apartment, full of the best assortment of paperbacks that I could give out.
I’m thinking of posting the list on a separate page, and incorporating a great point I heard from Jim Butcher in an interview. His basic point was that you have to filter your fiction. “There is one Matrix movie.” That’s true for a lot of fiction, where the original story was excellent but market-driven sequels, or the author’s failure to maintain performance levels, ruins the rest. Frank Herbert’s Dune is perhaps the greatest example of all time. The first book, and only the first book, should be required reading by freshman year of college. The rest… compost.
In television this principle shows up best with Babylon 5 and Supernatural.
B-5 thought they were being cancelled in season 4 so they crammed all of the critical final plot into the last few episodes (it shows, but it’s still worth it. I would really have enjoyed watching Boxleightner spend 4 or 5 episodes as a POW it would have been very powerful.) When season 5 renewed they had no original plot left, so the act of introducing new threats never bore real fruit. The end result was season 4’s triumphal ending. Season 5 basically just showed that the triumph was empty and the ending went to hell as everything good and golden rotted before your eyes, and up yours, viewers…
Similarly the TV show Supernatural was invented and produced as a 5-season story arc. I stand it utter awe of creator Eric Kripke. He envisioned a unique (frequently blasphemous, perpetually innovative) mythology for urban fantasy, threw “Luke and Han Solo on a road trip” into the mix, and told a solid and coherent story for five years. Characterization, rising levels of power and tension, the reasoning behind all motives and plot from episode one to the season five finale, they all work together as well as anything I’ve ever seen. SPOILER: If you’re really quick, he even answers the final two season’s question, “The apocalypse is coming, where is God?!” in the final episode. I won’t say where or how.
When the series was to be continued, Kripke walked off the project. He basically said, I have told the story. My story is done. Folks, if you are ever in the same room with the man, shake his hand because very, very few people in California have that sort of intestinal fortitude and integrity.
The show was still bringing in the ratings, but with a new producer, the ending must be un-made, and the characterizations and mythology quickly disappear under the tires of the mercantile bus, sacrificing story for sales in seasons 6 and 7 (seasons 8-10 are all right if you relax and accept that this is a parallel, slightly crappier universe with less coherent logic and no God). The pro-family, hunting-values character has to have conflict with his new family, so suddenly he goes from eternally grateful for his training and knowledge to hiding and ashamed of it, refusing to teach his son how to survive the supernatural world (which, go figure, ultimately leads many times to his near death and helplessness in scenes were pre-teen Sam and Dean would have simply shot the monster and had McDonalds), the mechanisms behind humanity and demons is destroyed so a character can have no soul, but not be a demon, though that was how demons were made in the mythology… Every single character’s path had to get shredded.
As a perk, in the 200th episode, when the final 5 seasons were summed up, the writers put in the line from a character, “That’s the crappiest fan fiction I’ve ever heard.”
Amen. Preach it.
This has happened for most every continuing series that I know, and most that I love. (Macross is a fantastic story, Southern Cross ruins Robotech…)
I’m a writer and a monk. In American terms, I have no life outside of fiction. So I am planning on starting a page to highlight what’s great, and where to avoid the pitfalls that can ruin the best stories I know of in our age.
Sound off with requests and comments.