Unfinished Serials

Serial fiction plays an central role in narrative today. The serialized novel started in the 19th century, driven in part by the cost of books: people who could not afford to purchase an expensive novel instead bought one piecemeal, in weekly or monthly installments. Recurrent characters in short stories also proved a reliable source of readers, and then radio and television series preserved the tradition of the serial. Whether we’re talking about television episodes, webisodes, or the fact that every film and video game blockbuster seems determined to have a sequel before opening day, serialization has certainly crept into our lives in a very powerful way.

Jo Walton examines the joy of an unfinished series , arguing that an unfinished series leaves us wondering, speculating, and (in my opinion most-importantly) talking about what might come.

If you come face to face with James Clavell in the afterlife, my advice is to tell him first how much you like his books, before asking if he’s had time up there to finish Hag Struan.

Of course, many of us read hypertext narratives serially. Hypertext naturally lends itself to open-ended narrative, and the joy of an unfinished series is relevant whether we’re talking about a hypertext series or just an exceptionally long hypertext. And with the immediacy of Web publishing and hypertext’s ability to be constantly changing and expanding, there’s very little real difference between the two anymore.