Fiction Trilogies and other Good Deeds – Comments
Mr Mercedes, Gallery Book, Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 1476754475*
Finders Keepers, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 1501100123*
End of Watch, SCRIBNER, ISBN: 501129742
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Quirk Books, ISBN: 1594746031
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children – Hollow City, Quirk Books, ISBN: 1594747359
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children – Library of Souls
The Passage, Ballatine Books, Random House, Penguin Books, ISBN: 0345528174
The Twelve, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, ISBN: 0345504984
The City of Mirrors, Ballantine Books, Random House, ISBN: 0345505002
A. G. Riddle
The Atlantis Gene, AGRiddel.com, ISBN: 1940026016
The Atlantis Plague, AGRiddel.com, ISBN: 1940026032
The Atlantis World, AGRiddel.com, ISBN: 1940026067
Summary: Story telling is always about the human condition. Fiction bundled into a trilogy should be just an extension of an examination of the human condition. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is merely mediocrity padded into boredom. Sometimes however, it is really great stuff.
A series in fictional literature is when an author has found the goose laying the golden egg and continues to twirl it around until it becomes powder blowing in the wind. (Yeah, you have to think about that one). A sequel in literature is when an author has uncovered an errant thought deemed worthy of fitting into the straight jacket of a previous story. A trilogy is born when an author has an idea so expansive that it cannot fit into any reasonably legible typesetting requiring less than five hundred pages. In short, this is the attitude that most forms of extended fiction is simply a waste of time. There are exceptions. Which brings us to King, Riggs, Cronin and Riddle. We could add to this the rather exceptional Dennis Koontz who is in a class by himself.
The basics of fiction writing is that you have a protagonist who much undergo a challenge. The challenge must result in the protagonist being changed in some substantial way. An adjunct to the basics is that the story must be interesting; it must engage the reader. The four trilogies mentioned here cover the basics, blow through the adjunct and offer a really enjoyable experience of imagination.
Two quick points. All four trilogies discussed here have good writing as a common denominator. It is a rather trite observation. Some readers want to be immersed in the atmosphere of the story they’re reading. What’s the weather like? What smells are whiffing through the surroundings? What color is the grass? While all of these elements can have a direct bearing on the story being told, in most instances the minutia is simply padding. The more padding, the less story. For me, good writing is writing that stays on point. Nothing extraneous pops up. (And speaking of popping, I have yet to read a story in which some character pops something or gulps something into their mouths. There seems to be a convention among fiction writers preventing the act of eating as simply eating–but I digress).
Dennis Koontz is the absolute master at setting an atmosphere with the fewest number of words. Stephen King is second. Riggs, Cronin and Riddle are in the same class. Whether the ability to telegraph the atmospherics of a story–of a scene in a story–is a skill masquerading as a style or a style developed through rigorous application of skill is gist for argument. Regardless of the how, the resulting effect is a display of enormous respect for the reader. All four of the trilogies discussed here are engaging because of this one attribute: they tell a story without constant asides to inform the reader what a tree, which has no relevance to the story, looks like. (Of course there are some writers who go to an opposite extreme. One of my favorite writers in the detective genre has recently co-authored some spreadsheets that are supposed to pass as detective story).
In my comments below, I cite what I consider the best book in each of the four trilogies. Is the test of a good book in a trilogy whether any one of the three can be read without reading all three? There may or may not be an answer to that question. With the exception of one of the trilogies being discussed, any one of the books makes for very good reading without reading all three.
The Best of the Three for the Four
Stephen King’s MR MERCEDES trilogy examines some of the consequences of an act of mass murder perpetrated by the villain, in this instance a mentally deranged man with biologically enhanced mental powers (the customary Stephen King supernatural element), driving a car into a crowd of job-seekers awaiting the opening of a job fare in 1978. Three distinct stories, fast forward to the current day, are anchored and whirling around this one incident. We get to see not only the protagonist, retired detective Bill Hodges who has health issues, challenged and changed, but so too his two associates–Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson.
The best book in the trilogy is FINDERS KEEPERS. It tells the story of young Pete Saubers. Saubers is sucked into the consequences of the mass murder because his father, Tom, was one of the victims who survives. When reading this one, the reader should devote specific attention to how and why Pete is part of this trilogy. It is an amazing, deeply occult piece of work.
Ranson Riggs’ MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN trilogy has been turned into a movie and is being compared to J. K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER stories. Having never read a Harry Potter book nor seen a Harry Potter movie, I have no idea whether the comparison is pertinent. Having read all three books in this trilogy, I think it can stand pretty much on its own as a unique work of fiction. What solidifies this conclusion is the first and best book of the three.
The very title of the first book, MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN sets off all kinds of intriguing questions. The resulting story answers them all. Jacob Portman, the teenage protagonist, plows through the emotional storm of finding his grandfather dead. He ends up in the aforementioned Home for Peculiar Children. The power of this story is that it addresses the child in everyone in a very real and direct way.
Part of moving through childhood is the feeling of being the outsider. This is the feeling Rigg’s trilogy captures and explores in a novel and entertaining way. The second book in the trilogy, HOLLOW CITY, continues Jacob’s adventures in a world divorced from day-to-day reality. Reality intrudes however. He discovers love. He feels pangs of regret for absconding from his real-world family. By the time we get to LIBRARY OF SOULS, reality has become the dominate driver of events in the story. It is a perfect allegory for life in general.
Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE trilogy follows the life of Amy Harper Bellafonte, the girl from Iowa. We learn this in the first sentence of the book. We immediately asks ourselves what could a girl from Iowa possibly do to warrant an eight-hundred plus page book. We don’t have to answer that because Cronin’s writing takes over. If judging these four trilogies on writing alone, Cronin’s THE PASSAGE would easily come out on top. His writing pulls you into an apocalyptic tale of human survival.
THE PASSAGE trilogy could very well have been another mundane, pathetic humans-versus zombies genre currently polluting science fiction. Luckily it is not. Cronin’s work starts out following the usual pattern. But he veers off radically. For the better. Cronin expertly provides an engrossing portrait of not only Amy and her struggling mother, Jeanette, but also full portraits of those who become villains later in the story. The villains could very well be zombies. They are not. At one point in the novel, the villains are compared to insects. They drop down from the trees. The do not bite and propagate. They bite and kill. This first book in the trilogy sets up an epic story that pulls the reader into it because of the characters and the incredibly effective writing.
The story answers the question of what happens when ego and science race ahead of common sense. In this instance it is a military-industrial complex project called NOAH, which is not an acronym for anything. Instead, it is the cure for cancer with the side benefit of creating the perfect soldier.
The second book in the trilogy, THE TWELVE maintains the tautness of an apocalyptic tale in which humans are fighting for survival while at the same time trying to rebuild a semblance of civilization. The pace of the story slows as we explore the lives of other characters in the story. By the time we crack open THE CITY OF MIRRORS, we have a set of new but familiar characters and seeds planted in the first and second books blossoming into new situations around the original conflict. The villains are again brought into sharp focus, especially the main villain. Cronin’s narrative of the life of this villain soars to the lyrical in explaining the plague unleashed upon humanity by an ostentatious act of failed love and compassion.
ATLANTIS starts out not as engaging as the other three trilogies we examine here. In addition, the first of the three books, ATLANTIS GENE, moves along at such a fast pace that by the time we get to chapter four, we feel as if we missed something. No need to worry however. If you are familiar with Zecharia Sitchin’s THE EARTH CHRONICLES, the entire ATLANTIS trilogy reads like a fictionalized expansion of history. Author Riggs weaves this speculative history around the customary evil villains–in this case, a private para-military security agency with an ancient history–and appropriate heroes.
Dr. Kate Warner, the heroine of the trilogy, is conducting research to cure autism. The research is funded by Immari Jakarta. Immari is just one arm of an organization with roots in a group specifically engineering viral plagues affecting humanity. Retroviruses and genetics are pivotal in the story and are “ripped” from today’s headlines–or something like that. Warner’s search for a cure for autism leads smoothly into unraveling a conspiracy of biological war against humanity that turns into a territorial war over safe havens and a medicine that counteracts the latest plague. To say that the premise of the story is “out there” is an understatement. But it holds together nicely.
What keeps the reader plowing through the improbables of this story is that it is good science fiction. From genetic manipulation to quantum physics, ATLANTIS has it all. The final book in the trilogy, THE ATLANTIS WORLD, the best of the three, it all comes together as feasible speculation.
These four trilogies make good summer reading. Unless it’s winter, then they make for good winter reading. You get the point.