My love of anime and manga first hit me when I attended a Japanese high school as an exchange student. The school’s library overflowed with manga titles. I watched the pioneering anime Akira and was astounded by the story and ideas and characters bursting in unworldly colors before my eyes.
When I returned to the United States I discovered, to my excitement, that Marvel Comics was translating and publishing an English language edition of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga version of Akira. Every month I stopped by the comic book store and bought a new issue. If you love the animated Akira then know the manga is far more epic, twisting through a storyline which counts among the best post-apocalyptic stories ever created in a visual storytelling medium.
So imagine my irritation when the delay between issues began to grow.
Akira was, in some ways, a victim of its own success. The manga’s English translation was the first major comic to be colorized using computers (a practice which is now an industry standard). But while the colors in the print editions blew the minds of readers like myself, the colors were also labor intensive. In addition, Otomo kept reworking the original artwork of the collected Japanese editions of Akira, which the translations were based on. Marvel also engaged in the now-discredited practice of flipping the manga, meaning the art wasn’t read on pages from right to left as is the practice in Japan but instead left to right as with Western-style comics.
All of these concerns slowed the release of each issue. Instead of being coming out monthly, the last eight issues of Akira stretched across three years. Every time I stopped by the comic book store, the response to my queries devolved to a single word: Patience.
Which is something all lovers of science fiction and fantasy must continually learn and relearn. Because rest assured, no matter if you’re waiting for the next volume of a beloved fantasy series or a sequel to that SF blockbuster movie which ended on an unbelievable cliffhanger, patience is all we fans have.
The posterchild for delays between volumes of a bestselling fantasy series is, of course, George R. R. Martin, whose A Song of Ice and Fire has been a worldwide phenomenon and the inspiration for the Game of Thrones TV series.
But with popularity comes pressure from fans and publishers to release new volumes in the series. Martin has long been known as a methodical author, which means years go by between the volumes in his series. There was a six-year gap between the fourth and fifth volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the sixth volume is still unpublished. The most recent season of Game of Thrones and the upcoming seasons are now covering stories not based on Martin’s published works.
Another popular series fans complain about delays around is The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. Four years went by between the first volume, The Name of the Wind, and volume two, The Wise Man's Fear. Volume three remains unpublished, although Rothfuss has released two novellas set in the series’ world in recent years.
A few authors in our genre are able to crank out new volumes in series in very short order, with new books appearing every year or so. But most authors can’t do this. Some create more detailed worlds and stories, a situation in which I’d place both Martin and Rothfuss. Other authors simply need more time for their storytelling. And others simply follow their own rhythms in life and writing.
However, our social media infused world often ignores these distinctions as fans complain loudly when they can’t immediately read the next volume of a story. Add in a growing impatience among consumers of media content around the world — fueled, perhaps, by on-demand technologies such as Netflix, which encourages viewers to binge-watch TV series and movies — and it’s easy to understand why fans appear to be losing patience at waiting years to continue their favorite series.
One way to solve this problem would be for authors to complete an entire series before it is published, instead of only individual volumes. Jeff VanderMeer did this with his Southern Reach trilogy and the publisher released the three volumes in less than a single year. The trilogy was a massive success, with the first volume winning the Nebula Award and media outlets highlighting and praising the rapid publication of the bestselling series.
The success of VanderMeer’s series may convince other authors and publishers to do the same.
However, the biggest hurdle to doing this is that the creative process varies so differently between authors.
For example, Samuel R. Delany, whose Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is one of the most famous works in SF, has stated that the novel’s second part will likely never be finished. Delany says the novel resulted from both a relationship he was in at the time and a specific cultural period in US history. When both ended, he found himself unable to continue writing the story.
Which brings us to what everyone should remember about the stories we love: They’re created by human beings, not machines.
Or as Neil Gaiman said in 2009, "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch."
Gaiman’s comment was in response to complaints about Martin not cranking out the latest volume in A Song of Ice and Fire. After confirming that authors are indeed human and not machines, Gaiman added that “It seems to me that the biggest problem with series books is that either readers complain that the books used to be good but that somewhere in the effort to get out a book every year the quality has fallen off, or they complain that the books, although maintaining quality, aren't coming out on time.”
In Gaiman’s view, authors are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
My suggest to people waiting for the next volume in a beloved series: Be patient. And remember that, at least with SF/F stories, good things do eventually come to those who wait.