I watched Whiplash the other day and I absolutely loved it. In my opinion, it should have won best picture. Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are fantastic and Damien Chazelle’s storytelling is superb. In many ways, it’s a fantastic example of the perfect story. It didn’t have thirty minutes of slow character introduction and back story like so many of the superhero movies leading the box office these days. It didn’t have a long drawn out ending that wrapped everything up in a nice little package. It was succinct. It was sharp. It was alive. It left a lot to the imagination. It was beautiful.
Whiplash is a great example for what I am about to dive into. You see, several times at recent conventions, during discussions of favorite books, I have had people tell me that they only read books in a series. That is unfortunate. There are a lot of great books out there, and many of them are standalone novels. But I’ve heard this sentiment many times, and I think this kind of thinking tends to prevail within the speculative fiction market. Many novels get thrust into a series when they would have been better off remaining a single work. Sci-fi and fantasy publishers tend to be looks for writers who want to work on a series, especially in the YA market. Take a look at this list of the purported “Top 25 Fantasy Novels” only three are stand alone books (Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Robert Jackson Bennet’s City Of Stairs, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.)
Some of this is a reaction to the marketplace. Publishers want to sell a bunch of books and people clearly love supporting a series. They love the long story. They enjoy following characters from one book to the next. The odds are high that someone who loves the first book will come back to the second. As a reader, author, and a publisher, I completely understand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the series as a concept. I love reading them. Hell, I’m writing one. But, I think as fans of speculative fiction we need to be willing to embrace the standalone novel as quickly as we embrace the series. Not every sci-fi and fantasy story should be three, six, or twelve novels long to catch our interest. Like Whiplash we should have vibrant stories that are told in one succinct volume. We should allow for stories that leave us wondering and send our imagination spinning. We should be eager to support those books as quickly as we support a series. Think back to some of the classics speculative fiction authors: Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler, Philip K. Dick, and the likes of Alfred Bester. Some of their best work was standalone novels. There’s a beauty in the standalone. And as fans of sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to remember that.
How about you? What is your favorite standalone sci-fi or fantasy novel? Why not leave a reply and let us know in the comments!