Thoughtful Thursday: Multiple authors, same world

This week for Thoughtful Thursday I am going to go to our reader mailbag for the topic. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed in this space, please contact us. Liam Nolosco asked how I felt about authors who pick up dead writers’ series. He referenced both Robert Jordan and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

When it comes to Robert Jordan, many years ago I was dating a young man who thought the Wheel of Time series was the best thing ever written. I read the first book and started the second, and then broke up with him rather than read any more. My main exposure to Marion Zimmer Bradley was through her editing the Sword and Sorceress series, which was a great series. (If you find old copies at used book stores, you should pick them up.  Some of today’s top authors had their big break by getting a story published in those anthologies.) The other book that I read, and one of the series to which I think Liam is wondering about, is the Mists of Avalon series. I have read that, but my attention puttered out before Diana L. Paxson took it over. Generally, I stop reading series before the author dies. However, there are series that the author stopped writing that I would pay to have someone else take it over so I could find out what happened. (Melanie Rawn, I’m looking at you.) If we open the topic a little bit more, to authors who co-write with other authors in worlds they originated, then my experience with those books is that they generally are not up to the quality of the original books.

Now it’s your turn: let’s talk about multiple authors for the same series, whether it be the original author dying, co-writing in the same series, or the old-style shared world anthologies. When does it work, when does it flop, and are you going to buy Brandon Sanderson’s conclusion to the Wheel of Time?

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. The author that first comes to mind is Anne McCaffrey. I’ve read and enjoyed her Brainship series – her world/concept many different authors. I haven’t read any of her son’s Dragonrider books, so I can’t say much. But that is mostly because I’d pretty much quit reading that series before he started writing any. I know she shares other world/storylines. I think the brainship ones work because it was a concept and each author sort of went their own way with it rather than being confined to a specific world and set of characters. I think it is much harder to write another author’s characters. Each author sees/feels/interprets them differently.

  2. I’ve had bad luck with collaborations. Steven Brust and Robin Hobb are two of my favorite authors, but their joint effort “The Gypsy” didn’t work for me at all. Likewise for William Gibson and “The Difference Engine”, together with Bruce Sterling. I did enjoy Good Omens, on the other hand.
    As for shared worlds, I read three Thieves World books and thought they worked out okay, in terms of different writers working in one environment – but I wouldn’t call them favorites. Same with the Wild Cards series.
    I probably won’t read Sanderson’s Wheel of Time finale. I never made it through the original series, and while I think Sanderson is an okay writer, I don’t like him enough to slog through the rest of WoT.

  3. I think one example of it working well is Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. I think one of the reasons that it worked so well is because they worked on alternating chapters. The structure of the book is letters from the two main characters to each other, and with one author in charge of each character, you don’t have to worry about two distinctive writing styles trying to meld. They deliberately turned what could have been a problem into an asset.

    But then I think of long term partnerships when it comes to writing (though for some reason they seem to do better in science fiction than fantasy) like Lee and Miller’s Liaden books, or Doyle and MacDonald with Mageworlds, and those are some fun books to read, too. Is it because they don’t write independently from each other that I don’t have something else to compare them to and cast their joint efforts in a lesser light.

    Sarah, I know you love the Dune series. Have you read the books written by Herbert’s son, and how do they compare?

  4. I’ve never actually gotten up the nerve to read anything by Herbert’s son. I need to try one just to see. Partly because I think the series reached a natural conclusion. It should be left alone.

    I have to say after thinking about it that the collaborations that I’ve liked have almost all been in the Space Opera genre rather than fantasy. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve read any collaborative works in fantasy other than Wrede/Stevermer. Time to go stare at my bookshelves.

  5. I will read Sanderson’s WOT. Partly I’m curious about Jordan’s plans, but mostly I’m curious about how Brandon Sanderson will approach this — how it will be different and how it will be similar to Jordan. Mostly it’s just academic interest, I suppose. I won’t buy the hardback — I’ll download from Audible.

  6. I stopped reading WOT at book 6, when I realized the author was going to take at least three books to resolve a certain subplot. I think entire plots should resolve in three books, not subplots.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that someone else finished for the dead author. And I guess that’s my answer.

    I’m thinking of Alexandra Ripley’s continuation of Gone with the Wind. Wasn’t it a huge flop? And she got a HUGE advance for it, if memory serves.

  7. I read that GWTW sequel (Scarlet, I think it was called). It was awful.

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