When Should World-Builder Authors Quit?

Extollager

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Over at the thread on Le Guin's Tehanu, this topic came up:

An author may invest a great deal of creative energy in the writing of a fantasy (or sf) novel or perhaps even a series that is not expected or intended to go on. And the initial work(s) may exhibit a high degree of integration of elements because the author's imagination was deeply involved and this promoted a unity of plot, setting, the style(s) used, the whole not seeming to be just a compilation of parts.

In my opinion, Tolkien's Middle-earth books, Lewis's Narnian books and his cosmic trilogy, the first three Earthsea books by Le Guin, and the first two Titus books by Peake seem to exhibit this kind of wholeness as well as richness of detail. Tolkien and Lewis, it seems to me, quit adding to their books in time. (Tolkien did write various essays and pieces on his imagined languages and so on, which could be considered additional Appendices.)

Here at Chrons there seems to be some difference about the Earthsea books, as to whether the second three books Le Guin wrote were worthy of the first three, etc.

Anyway, I wondered if, supposing an author has written such imaginary world works, it might be hard for some not to indulge in afterthoughts, further adventures, and so on because he or she loved that world. (I'm ignoring the factor that an author might simply write more because he or she had a financial sure thing.)

Are there books of fantasy or sf that kept being added to when it would have been better if the author had stopped earlier? Namely...?

Conversely, are there imaginary worlds about which it seems there's no reason an author couldn't have gone on adding, indefinitely, thus creating an abussology? (Abussology is a series that goes on and on, from the Greek abussos, meaning boundless or bottomless.) For example, so far as anyone can tell, could Burroughs have kept writing Barsoom books, if his creativity was able to sustain the enterprise?
 

Swank

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Culture. Dune. Both could go on because the authors were free from a particular era or social paradigm.
 
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Extollager

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Swank, I'm not sure what you mean to say about those two imagined worlds.
 

Swank

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Swank, I'm not sure what you mean to say about those two imagined worlds.
I forgot to save my edit.

But in round terms, authors whose "world" is greatly amenable to change or different protagonists are not chained to a larger narrative the way even something like Middle Earth is. The Culture or Dune are historic timelines with particular elements, but that's all. Middle Earth is about the rise and fall of Sauron, and who else rose and fell in that period. It isn't an invitation to see what the people of the East were up to or visit with the missing wizards.

I am implicitly distrustful of something like the Honorverse, where a particular kind of character remains front and center, book after book. I grew to dislike the X-Men as they changed from a revolving band of mysterious outcasts to the mutant genealogy show.
 

Extollager

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So the Dune world and the Culture lend themselves to abussologies?
 

Swank

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So the Dune world and the Culture lend themselves to abussologies?
Sure. Human mortality is the biggest limiting factor. I don't buy the idea that other authors can understand the implicit kernel of an author's created world to add to it with fidelity.
 
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Extollager

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After L. Frank Baum stopped writing Oz books, one or more others kept up the abussology.

Perry Rhodan.

Conan.

But I don’t think anyone makes very high claims for their quality.
 

hitmouse

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Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood has diminishing returns after the first book. The second book has some merits, but is not in the same class, and thereafter things are unsatisfying.
 

HareBrain

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More an abuseology.

I think Erikson/Esselmont's Malazan books are the closest to a genuine abussology I can think of, because even with Erikson's main ten-book series finished, both authors continue to explore other parts of their world -- and it is huge, both in terms of geography and time. From what I've heard, the quality is variable, but isn't necessarily diminishing.

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series comes to mind too. I haven't read any, but it sounds like they could have gone on for ever in theory.

I think the main problem with the concept is the antagonist. Either they are never beaten, giving the feel of an episodic children's TV series like Battle of the Planets, or one is defeated only for another to arise -- but that subsequent one would have to be stronger, or there wouldn't be any point. And then you eventually get to universe-threatening baddies beyond which you cannot go.
 

Toby Frost

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Really interesting thread. I agree about Tolkien, Lewis and Peake, but I've not read enough LeGuin to be sure.

I've been thinking about this (bear with me) in the course of my own writing. I sometimes wonder about writing more books about Space Captain Smith, but many of the comments above would suggest that I shouldn't (and I'd generally agree). First, the characters are fairly set, and I'm not going to kill off main ones or introduce new ones. To do so would be to drastically change the setting, to the extent of the books no longer being what they're about. Second, the main villains have been defeated. The space war is over, which means (a) the main plot arc is finished and (b) the parody of a British WW2 comic has to end. Third, I suspect that the series is about these particular characters fighting these particular villains in this particular style, and anything else might just be a different story altogether.

(When I was little, I used to read books about a schoolboy called Jennings. One of the books was about Jennings in his holidays. I didn't like it, because the school itself and the other pupils were vital to the series. Similarly, Titus Alone loses a lot from not having the castle and the supporting cast - although for other reasons it's severely flawed anyhow.)

So does this mean that a series ought to exist to tell a specific story? I wonder. Perhaps there's a distinction to be made between books like The Lord of the Rings, where one story runs through the lot, and the Culture, which is a setting explored in linked, separate stories.

Books set in space have the advantage that space is infinite, and they could just go and talk about what's happening on, say, Planet Grumman while the main events of Dune are occurring. There's no limit to the potential width. But as you get further away from the crux of the main story, you start to lose that sense of what makes the series itself.
 

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Unfortunately most authors are in need of cash and this may make it difficult not to add further volumes to their sagas.
 

HareBrain

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When I was little, I used to read books about a schoolboy called Jennings.
Me too! I still remember all the characters, plus the tortuous logic by which Temple's nickname became Bod. (But not that Bod.)

That series could have gone on forever, as far as I was concerned at the time. I guess the same in theory is true of Doctor Who, for which there have been many novels published that aren't based on adventures in the TV show. (As far as the TV show goes, recent writers seem to have been intent on inflating everything -- stakes, the nature of the Doctor etc -- which is a route you can't really row back on, but which cannot be extended for ever.)
 

Christine Wheelwright

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Yes, interesting thread. I would make a distinction between the world building and the characters/narratives that inhabit the world. I think endless books about a single hero can become tiresome. But it is also possible to utilize the built world as host to a great variety of stories. Think. for example, of The Horse and His Boy. It takes place in the reign of Caspian but is quite separate from the other stories. I like that.
 

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Yes, interesting thread. I would make a distinction between the world building and the characters/narratives that inhabit the world. I think endless books about a single hero can become tiresome. But it is also possible to utilize the built world as host to a great variety of stories. Think. for example, of The Horse and His Boy. It takes place in the reign of Caspian but is quite separate from the other stories. I like that.
Yes I think that's what I like about Banks' Culture books as each one is a stand alone with only a couple sharing a character or two and then in a manner that doesn't require that knowledge. As you say too many books about the same character(s) can become tedious.
 

Swank

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I liked Pratchett's world building style where, with his earlier books, the main character was different in each book but the background characters repeated.
Which is exactly how William Gibson writes his worlds.

Yes, interesting thread. I would make a distinction between the world building and the characters/narratives that inhabit the world. I think endless books about a single hero can become tiresome. But it is also possible to utilize the built world as host to a great variety of stories. Think. for example, of The Horse and His Boy. It takes place in the reign of Caspian but is quite separate from the other stories. I like that.
I think the difficulty is when the author's works in a particular world are synonymous with a major quest or enemy. You can certainly write other stories into that world, but they may be overshadowed by not not quite connecting to the big story.

Alastair Reynolds has gotten this right and horribly wrong. Star Wars has done it so poorly.
 
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tinkerdan

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This seems to be the underlying reason that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock.
That worked so well for him and the rest of the world. :sneaky:

I think that as long as the author enjoys writing the stories that there really is no limit to how long and how far he might take the story.
As a reader; when ever I get tired of the character and his world I just move on.
Then when I look back and see five more books; well, that's just a bonus set of books to put on my to read list.
I did this with Weber and his Harrington series.

I recall reading a number of one off works and thinking at the end that I really could spend more time with that character; yet there have never been any attempts to make more. I think that it again devolves down to what the author can bear to write and what the market can bear and what the readers might demand.

As far as the world building; the story is only as good as the characters peopling it and though a fantastically built world might carry a single story; it often fails to carry into more books because there are no real people inside the world.
 

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