September 2007: Fantastic Finales By Hilary Williamson
This summer, a trio of renowned authors in the speculative fiction genre satisfied readers' decade(s) of anticipation and patience with fantastic finales. From a grown up Harry Potter waging all out war on You-Know-Who to Kralizec, the end of many things in the Dune epic, readers got to see authors tie it all together in several universes.
Many young readers grew up along with Harry, going to Muggles schools instead of the enchanted Hogwarts. Each summer, they read about a trio of squabbling heroes solving challenging riddles and fighting against odds that seemed insurmountable. The lessons about hope, teamwork, loss, and focus on the task in hand, are pretty good ones to carry on into life (Harry's and our own). And, as Heinlein reminded us in TANSTAAFL - 'There're ain't no such thing as a free lunch' - so does J. K. Rowling remind us in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows of the cost of fighting for a free society, in loss of those who fall in the battle. Thankfully, though the series steadily darkened over its seven years of schooling, its survivors were allowed to live happily ever after, and dispatch their own offspring to Hogwarts for a magical education.
While not as well known to the younger crowd, Kage Baker's Company series has entertained speculative fiction readers for what seems like eons - though nothing near the spread of time that Company operatives have manipulated events in this searingly satirical series. After ten books, Baker has just closed down shop, and tied up all her loose ends in a big, messy knot, in The Sons of Heaven. As many believe of modern multinationals, Baker's Dr. Zeus Incorporated 'manipulated nations and events in order to guarantee profits, with a complete disregard for the human suffering it might cause.' Her leads have evolved through time and the timestream from what seemed like regular humans to immortal time traveling cyborgs, finally morphing into supermen and women who make their own paradise.
The conclusion of Frank Herbert's Dune series was celebrated this year, not only with the publication of a final episode, but in an excellent new audiobook version, narrated in multiple voices. The series continued after Herbert's death in 1986 via sequels and prequels written by his son, Brian Herbert, and by Kevin J. Anderson. That duo have now published a grand finale, Sandworms of Dune. Taking place thousands of years after the first Atreides landing on Arrakis, it's based on the original author's extensive written notes and outline, and true to the spirit of the early books. But there's no time travel involved in this one. Rather, the original cast are back in the limelight via technology-induced reincarnation. And they're fighting for humanity's very survival against its own invention - an onslaught of self-replicating intelligent machines.
Though these are the three biggies so far this year in speculative fiction finales, others are imminent. I remember being enthralled in the 70s by Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, in which a leper fought as a prophesied (though self doubting) savior for the health of a diseased alternate world. After two trilogies and a two decades long hiatus, Donaldson is writing a final quartet - its second book, Fatal Revenant, comes out this Fall. And, remember Arthur C. Clarke's classic 2001 (that once seemed so far in the future)? Look out for Clarke and Stephen Baxter's Firstborn in December. In this conclusion to the Time Odyssey, the mysterious race who built the black monolith have sent a quantum bomb speeding towards Earth.
Whether you're a recent fan of speculative fiction or - like me - have been reading it since its early days, even before any of these series started - you really must not miss these fantastic finales, or the excellent books that led up to them.
Editor's Note: Just as I finished writing this, I looked up Robert Jordan, author of the extraordinary Wheel of Time epic - whose fans have anxiously followed his gallant struggle with a rare blood disease for some time - and was very saddened to learn that he has lost that battle, and died on Sunday, September 16th. As this remarkable human being and author himself wrote, 'The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend ... There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of time.'
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