I typically don’t write about writing because speculative fiction is a virtue-signaling, twitter-sphere-dominated, politically correct, cancel-culture shit-show of epic proportions at the moment. However, with the recent revelation that King Killer Chronicles author Patrick Rothfuss most likely hasn’t even started writing the long-awaited third novel in the trilogy, the usual chorus that “authors don’t owe you books” has emerged–and it’s wrong.
The problem with the argument that authors don’t owe their readers new reading experiences is generally true–provided the author writes stand-alone stories. That is, if an author writes a novel that concludes without need for a sequel (the story is self-contained) then the author must recognize their obligation to the reader; the reader deserves resolution to the story and the author is obligated to make that happen.
“But George R. R. Martin isn’t your bitch!” Nobody said he was, but he started a series and now he needs to finish it.
“But that’s just selfish on your part!” Nope, not quite. Selfish is not respecting the time and money a reader puts into a series. Beyond the cost of the book, readers invest hours in books. Readers spend time reading, and they do so operating under the premise that the story will come to an end at some point. Leaving hundreds to hundreds of thousands of readers hanging for a decade or more is negligent at best, cruel at worst, and potentially career-ending in general. (Seriously, who wants to hire a writer with a word count of one per week?)
In the case of Rothfuss, 10 million copies of his debut novel, The Name of the Wind, have been sold. If just one-tenth of those copies were actually read, and if the average reader can finish the book in 2 days (it’s huge–800 pages or so), then that’s 2 million days of human endeavor spent reading the book. For those of you who are curious, 2 millions days is almost 5,500 years which is about how long writing itself has been around.
Think about that for a moment: A decent low-ball aggregate estimate of time spent reading a single novel by Patrick Rothfuss spans the duration of human history. Millions of readers have invested millions of hours and millions of days in his first novel alone–forget the second one, forget the crappy short story he released a few years back–one novel alone has consumed more individual man-hours than the lifespans of all of the great empires of antiquity.
Without resolution, that’s thousands of years of effort by millions of readers wasted.
Thousands. Of. Years. Wasted.
Now, imagine what it means for a million people to wait 10 years for another novel. The math is easier here: collectively, we’ve been waiting almost 10 million years for The Doors of Stone to come out.
Yes, authors owe their readers. Yes, authors need to finish what they begin in a timely manner. Why? Because readers don’t owe authors our time and effort if they aren’t going to deliver.
George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss may not be our “bitches,” but that road isn’t one-way: we’re not their chumps to be robbed of our precious time.
An argument from a different angle would be that a series unfinished is a small kind of tragedy. I’m thinking of The Parable duology which was never finished https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Sower_(novel)#Proposed_third_Parable_novel before Butler died.
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