I really didn’t like The Empire Strikes Back, originally the second (ultimately fifth) in the Star Wars series. In fact, it pretty much put me off the rest of the movies and though I doggedly attended each and every one, the shine went off at number two.
Because the story left me hanging.
Yep, that’s basically it. The fact that we had to — nay, were forced to — come back for number three to find out what became of Han Solo, who was frozen in carbonite and being rocketed toward certain doom at the end of Empire, sucked the life out of the entire experience for me. Darth Vader’s evil pales in comparison to a cheap trick like an unfinished storyline.
Now before you start peppering me with email and comments about how George Lucas is a national treasure and “how dare I” and all that, please hear me out.
I know a lot of you will say that being left in suspense is part of the fun, and that if a tale is too rich to be told in under three hours it deserves to be broken up into segments. In the case of an HBO series or daytime soap operas I completely agree; waiting to see what happens tomorrow or next week is indeed the hook that keeps the viewers coming back, me included (i.e. True Blood).
The big difference is, the individual segments were never conceived or written to stand alone. And perhaps this is the argument one could make about George Lucas and his intentions when he wrote the entire Star Wars epic. However, a little cynical part of me can’t help but wonder if it had something to do with money, and that’s the bit that ever so slightly gets under my skin.
Let’s get off Star Wars as the example, before someone crawls into their computer monitor and virtually slaps me. I’m not selective in my dislike for this tactic. It irritates me in books as well.
This week I finally got around to picking up a book that has caught my eye on the shelf off and on for some time. Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein immediately piqued my interest with the title alone and though it was originally published in 2005, I just wasn’t sure I wanted someone messing around with one of my most beloved horror stories.
Finally, after handling a copy for about the twentieth time at my local bookseller, I gave in and brought it home.
I must say I was immediately intrigued by the new twist on the well-known tale. “The Monster,” known as Deucalion has lived over two-hundred years and resides peacefully in the present day, in a Himalayan monetary. That is until a letter arrives from New Orleans (this just gets better and better) bearing a newspaper clipping proving that his creator, Victor Frankenstein, is also still alive.
Victor is a filthy rich philanthropist who heads up a massive medical research company credited with amazing breakthroughs, including we learn, prolonging his own life.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, police detective Carson is dealing with a serial killer who seems to be collecting body parts and she’s also just stumbled across a corpse with two hearts. There’s just no way this is going to lead anywhere good.
The deeper I went into the story, the more invested I became in Deucalion as the tragic hero, and Carson as method by which the puzzle began to unravel. The tale paid attention to detail, was tightly woven, and made interesting and thoughtful references to the morality tale that was Mary Shelly’s original work. I happily followed Dean Koontz where he was leading.
With main characters left in perilous scenarios, a killer still running amok in New Orleans and Victor Frankenstein still maneuvering the human race toward its final destruction, I turned the last page of the book. There I saw:
Read Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein, City of Night – Coming Soon!
Are you kidding me?
Granted, I knew Frankenstein was a series when I picked it up. The cover clearly said “Book One,” which would normally cause me to immediately opt out.
However Dean Koontz had proven he knows better than to irritate me by giving me several fun and completely standalone stories featuring his recurring hero Odd Thomas.
What I was hoping for here was something similar; self-contained stories built on common characters. And what better character to follow than a nearly immortal monster?
What I didn’t expect, but probably should have, was a “stay tuned next week” dead stop that left every question unanswered and every situation unresolved.
To me that’s a cheesy thing to do to someone who has just followed you around for 496 pages.
I feel Dean Koontz is prodding me in the small of the back with a sharp stick toward his shelf in the bookstore, attempting to use my need for closure to force me into purchasing the next book; the stick I think he borrowed from George Lucas.
There are now five books in the Frankenstein series, which has also been turned into a comic. This is a much more fitting format from which to be asked to hang around for the next installment and from what I’ve seen, they look very interesting. The comics are where I’ll go next, but not back to the books.
And before you call me a hypocrite, yes, I did rush out to see the “first installment” of the final Harry Potter movie and loved every second of it.
The difference is that nearly everyone who waded into the crowds on opening weekend knows full well what’s going to happen since we’ve all read the books (which, by the way, all stood very well on their own as complete stories while still connecting to one another).
Not to mention that we’ve known for months that this last book would be made into two movies. So thankfully I didn’t leave the theater with a “WTF?” feeling… not much, anyway.
I am a storyteller’s most willing and eager audience member, who will follow unquestioningly into hundreds of pages or hours of film. Tell me a good tale and I’ll go with you wherever you lead.
Just please, whatever you do, don’t take advantage of my lemming-like loyalty and lead me over the edge of a cliff.
So what do you think? Do you like a “to be continued” ending or does it make you want to do violence? Post a comment or drop me a line at Sue@blackgate.com.