Hanging off the Cliff

It seems only appropriate that this post was delayed a week, because today I’m talking about cliffhangers. In some ways, they’re the opposite of spoilers. The author has laid out a big secret, i.e. what happens next, and then refuses to tell you. I’m sorry, please deposit another $8.99. What’s worse than that, really, is when that next book/movie is not even out there yet. Then you’re waiting on them to work their craft, sometimes for years.

So, instead of trying to avoid spoilers, we find ourselves salivating for details, rumors, even conjecture. Still, we tend to draw the line at outright spoilers. If someone has read an advance copy or seen an early screening, we don’t want any details. But everything else is fair game. How is Picard going to escape the Borg? Or do we find out that assimilation is a good thing? Will Q show up to save the day? Is Picard really Wesley’s father? Or is Riker the Half-Blood Prince after all?

This kind of speculation can be both fun and maddening, but it certainly helps pass the time. Usually we’re all quite wrong. In truth, we can be quite bummed when our guesses are too close to the long-awaited reveal. I can remember being more than a little disappointed in Star Trek III because I had pretty much guessed what the movie would be about and how it would flow.

It’s not that we want our guesses to be wrong. It’s that we want the final product to be better than our guesses. I had done a fair amount of guessing for what the most recent Harry Dresden novel (Ghost Story) would be like, and while I was close on a few things, the execution was vastly better than I’d imagined. Contrast that with Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, where my guesses were pretty much on the mark, but done much more poorly than I had envisioned them. In cases like that, you want to reject the sequel and say “Well, here’s how I would have written it…”

But again, the wait can be maddening. I frequently avoid this, particularly in television, by waiting for the series to end and then watching them on DVD. To an extent you can avoid this in books by discovering series that are already several books long. Resolving those cliffhangers is just a matter of grabbing the next book or disc.

You can also try to plan for it in ongoing series. For example, I had heard that the previous Dresden book (Changes) ended on something of a cliffhanger, so I decided to not read it until a few weeks before the next novel (Ghost Story) was scheduled to be released. But it backfired. After racing through Changes, I discovered that Ghost Story had been delayed six months. Aigh!! Six months of guessing, wondering, and alternately thanking and cursing Jim Butcher for making me wait for what I was sure would be an excellent tale.

At least I hadn’t gotten into George R. R. Martin’s Fire and Ice series (a.k.a. Game of Thrones). Those fans were waiting for years, and I just don’t think I can take that. Hence, despite all the good things I’ve heard about that series, I’m going to wait until it’s finished before I start. Really. Not going to start word one. Except, well, maybe I have the sample chapters of the first book on my Kindle. I’m not looking at it, but you know, it might be there.

So what am I waiting for these days? In truth, very little. Compared to other times in my life, I’m in the middle of very few things. However, here are a few that would delight me if they showed up in my mailbox today:

  • The next Harry Dresden book
  • The next Ateva book by C.J. Cherryh
  • The next Alex Benedict book by Jack McDevitt (now out in hardcover, so I might Kindle it)
  • The next three books of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell
  • The rest of the 7th Son trilogy by J.C. Hutchins
  • The rest of Californication and Family Business to be released on DVD

I’ve got a few other book and TV series that I’m working my way through. Some of them have already been completed, so I can take them to the end without fear of a cliffhanger.  Others are still going, so I’m taking those at a more measured pace. After what Mr. Butcher put me through this spring, I’m not eager for a repeat.

So what about you? What was your worst wait? Are you still waiting on it now?