Readers seem to spend a fair amount of time complaining about ongoing, unfinished series—perhaps they’ve always done so, but when they do it online, we all hear the kvetching. Grumbling about books seems an odd way to spend one’s spring (if one is in the northern hemisphere of Earth), but no doubt winter is coming. Allow me to offer these words of comfort: if you read widely, eventually you will discover yourself midway through a series as yet unfinished, with no clear idea when or if the next book will come out. (Unless you are one of those stalwarts who absolutely refuse to start reading a series unless it is finished. Poor souls.) Here are some of my favourite unfinished series…
Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series. Set in what initially appears to be a stock fantasy realm, the books focus on Steerswoman Rowan’s efforts to turn a vast body of collected facts into a single coherent model with predictive value. She is, in other words, a scientist.
What seemed a secondary fantasy world eventually becomes the setting for a hard-SF story. The self-proclaimed wizards are knowledge-hoarding engineers who conceal rather than reveal the truth about the world. Kirstein has a rather deliberate writing pace (two books every generation or so), but I am optimistic she will provide further volumes.
Of course, if one is of a certain vintage, one will have lived through Alexei Panshin’s annus mirabilis. In 1968, Panshin published three novels, two of which (Star Well and The Thurb Revolution) focused on wandering interstellar remittance man Anthony Villiers, who righted wrongs with wit and panache. 1969 saw the release of the third volume, Masque World, which raised what seemed at the time reasonable expectation of a new Villiers book every year or so. As it turns out, it has been (counts on fingers) half a century since the third book was published. Hope springs eternal.
John D. MacDonald wrote a few science fiction novels, but none in a series (correct me if I’m wrong). The series of his that I did follow was the Travis McGee series, which focused on the eponymous itinerant problem-solver (“salvage consultant”). As one does, I began the series with its least typical entry, The Green Ripper (in which Travis’ best friend is very morose about the world to come and Travis kills an astounding number of terrorists). On the whole, other Travis McGee books tend to be genial rather than bloodthirsty.
MacDonald crafted his books so that they could be read as standalones. Series written along those lines may come to an abrupt halt without giving the reader the sense that closure has been denied. MacDonald makes this list because he made an interesting decision in the mid-1980s to introduce McGee’s illegitimate daughter in The Lonely Silver Rain. It would have been intriguing to see how a comfortably lone-wolf character would have adapted to finding himself a father in middle-age. Alas, MacDonald died before writing any further volumes.
In Steven R. Boyett’s 1986 Architect of Sleep, protagonist Jim Bentley sets out for the neighborhood 7-Eleven convenience store, only to wander into a fascinating alternate world in which raccoons (and not primates) are the intelligent, tool-using species. Architect of Sleep served to introduce the setting, and to nudge an ongoing plot in motion. Closure was left to later volumes…volumes that have as yet to appear. My understanding is that having published the first book, the author was unhappy with it; sequels would require a rewrite that has as yet to happen.
Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic secondary-universe fantasy series began as so many do, with the invasion of one region by the inhabitants of another. The series is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least of which is its rejection of war crimes as a legitimate tactic (they have a corrosive effect on the nation that commits them). The series also makes clear that peace is not the absence of war; even with good intentions, co-existence between former bitter enemies takes hard work.
The Elemental Logic series shares with some of the others on this list an initial publishing rate that led to what turned out to be unrealistic expectations in readers; Fire Logic came out in 2002, Earth Logic in 2004, and Water Logic in 2007. Air Logic, the final book in the series, might therefore have been released in 2009 or 2010. As someone who has fallen nine stories past a ten-story building will discover, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future performance. It has been twelve years since the most recent Elemental Logic book. Ah well. I am told patience is a virtue.
Not that I need to be patient for much longer: Air Logic is finished and will be available to readers on June 4, 2019.
Of course, these few standouts aren’t intended as anything approaching a complete list of series interruptus. Which series (other than the obvious, much-discussed unreleased epics by Martin, Rothfuss, the Dangerous Visions series, and the like, which already take up far too much online real estate) have left you hoping for future volumes?
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.