Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why I Need That HEA

Mission: Success
Laurie's Journal

Continuing the discussion of HEA/HFN vs. tragic endings in SF...

Putting on my reader's cap, I have expectations that stories will end on a good note. I don't want characters I identify with and root for have to suffer through myriad trials and tribulations only to meet a bleak and morbid end.

What's the point? All that for nothing?

Some argue that that's just how life is. I don't agree. Yes, granted, we'll all die someday and it will be a tragedy, but it's how we live that really counts, que no?

For me, stories are about conflict and struggle, both internal and external, and how the characters  overcome, conquer and resolve those struggles in a positive, satisfying, and especially in a surprising (provided it's a happy surprise) way.

As a writer, I have similar thoughts. I don't want to expend my creative energies on a story that's going to come crashing down on the readers head--and heart--like some rock that fell from the sky. I want the characters to soar. I want readers to soar with them. (Right after that final boot off the proverbial cliff, of course. I also like my endings crafted with high drama.)

So, yeah, I like an "All is lost!" that comes with a "But wait..."

But all that said, I think there are exceptions for when a non-HEA/HFN can work, and that's in the case of a series with a much larger story arch. When the story is building toward an epic climax via multiple books, I think there is room in my universe for a tragic conclusion, provided the series itself ends on a happy note.

Think Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Not exactly an upper of a wrap, was it? Han has been encased in carbonite and taken away by bounty hunters. Luke is re-learning how to use a bionic hand after having his own severed in a battle with Darth Vader and learning about his dubious heritage. The rebellion is losing. Things definitely ended on a big downward spike.

Quite a contrast to the medals being awarded at the conclusion of A New Hope or the big celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi. And it works. Because it leaves the reader wanting to know how all of this woe will be overcome, and still giving them a glimmer of hope that they just might still salvage an HEA.

So when the question is posed, Should non-HEA stories be included under the SFR umbrella, my answer is: Sometimes, yes. The next logical question would be: What's the final outcome?

I think Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series has a couple of novels that fall short of the HEA in the overall story arc. Can you think of others? Do you think it's possible to end every book of a series on an HEA/HFN. (Or a HUS--Happy Until Sequel.)

SFR Under Glass?

There's a new SF miniseries coming to CBS titled Under the Dome. The concept is based on a Stephen King SF novel (or possibly a couple of them) and is reportedly set to premier at 10PM (assuming Eastern?) on June 24th.

From Wikipedia, here's the premise:

Set in the near future, Under the Dome tells the story of the residents of the small town of Chester's Mill, who suddenly find themselves cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious, impenetrable barrier that surrounds the town. As the town begins to tear itself apart through panic, a small group of people attempt to maintain peace and order while also trying to uncover the truth behind the barrier and how to escape from it.

I love the concept of Near Future, Earth-based SF that doesn't involve zombies or alien invasions. It's a "What would happen if..." kind of story, that makes people start thinking, "What if this happened to me? My family? My town?"

Curious? Here's a clip:

Judging from the preview scenes, there's a good chance some SFR elements will come into play in the story lines (again--depending on the final outcome). It also looks to offer some strong female characters among the cast. (We can only hope.)

I'm intrigued by the previews and plan to tune in. How about you?


  1. The second and third Chanur books by C J Cherryh have cliffhanger endings, and the original print publisher effected I Dare by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ending the book with a new character showing up with an "It's kind of complicated" problem. For that matter, several of Lee and Miller's books are "middle" books with unresolved stuff going on.... Local Custom and the book which immediately follow it definitely fit in the SFR category. Each of them has a romance between the two lead characters as key plot elements....for Local Custom the romance is the primary plot. For Scout's Progress (the name belatedly occuring to me) the romance plotand the other plots closely intertwine--Aelliana Caylon is a math professor teaching Liaden Scouts. She is also a victim of domestic abuse, bullied and battered by her brother in a clan structure with the brother the designated clan heir.

    Meanwhile, Daav yos'Phelium needs a wife to bear an heir. The contract wife he chooses, a key member of his clan disapproves of....The main plot of the book is Aelliana escaping from the abuse and starting to build a new life. Mouse and Dragon picks up where Scout's Progress leaves off. The former the ending is somewhere between HEA and HFN - - the two leads are natural mates but Aelliana's been very badly damaged. Mouse and Dragon has a bittersweet ending. It is and isn't a romance....

  2. Thanks, PaulaL. I've received several recommendations for the Lee/Miller Liaden Universe books (as great SFR), but haven't gotten around to reading them yet. I'll have to bump them higher up my Leaning Tower of TBR. Do you think they need to be read in order?

  3. The case of a HEA in the books of a series is one I've been giving some thought to lately. I have a fantasy series (so a little different to SFR) that while it has an overall HEA, has a few novels that end on not so happy notes. I'm debating whether I'll attach a 'romance' tag to the novels, considering the HEA takes at least three books to appear, or not.

  4. is the authors' website for their Liaden books and stories....

    From my perspective: The Lee and Miller books have multiple entry points. I read them in order of publication, but that's very different from the chronological order within their Liaden books. (They're taking a bit of break from them, Sharon Lee's working solo on sequels to her novel Carousel Tide, set in a paranormal Maine (they live in Maine). I don't know what Steve Miller's currently working on--they tuned in the sequel to Balance of Trade some weeks back, due for November publication.)

    Entry points to the Liaden universe book include the Crystal duology (currently packaged up in print into an omnibus trade paperback volume with Balance of Trade). The Crystal books have a romance between the soldier Jela who's hauling a Tree around, and Cantra yos'Phelium who surprised the writers when they were writing the books (Cantra's diaries lied about some things! (Books up the timeline have material from them....). They also have the romance between Rool Tiazan and his Lady. But both involve sacrifice and tragedy, so those who require the partners in the romances alive or at least physically present when the story resolves and ends, are likely to be disappointed. (The happy ending of Crystal books is the safe arrival of the evacuees from "the old world" at their new home planet, Liad. (The Crystal book also have a series duology name of The Great Migration, I think it is).

    Balance of Trade takes place a millennium or two later, and is not a romance. It's more a coming of age story. Jethri, a Terran born into and raised as one of the family on a small trade ship, gets some major changes in his life including a change of domicile, meeting relatives he never know he had (some of whom are not necessarily people one wants to be related to), and learning about viticulture on a planet in a Liaden Clan, and meets a pair of red-headed twins whose paranormal talents are not convenient to their family. There's a possible hint of a romance for the future--I'll find out come November the correctness or incorrectness of my suspicion.

  5. Local Custom takes place a couple hundred years or so after Balance of Trade. The two leads are Er Thom yos'Galan, Liaden and a descendant of Cantra yos'Phelium, and Anne Davis, a Terran scholar. Scout's Progress is something of sequel to Local Custom, Anne and Er Thom are characters in it. Er Thom is the foster brother and first cousin of protagonist Daav yos'Phelium, who is also a descendant of Cantra. There are deliberate echoes of Georgette Heyer--Aelliana Caylon wins a ship in a game of "piket" in a gambling establishment outplaying a cardsharp, and there's the establishent "Teydor's" redolent of "Manton's" shooting gallery in Heyer. Also, Liaden culture has lots of echoes of Heyer's ton....

    Agent of Change and A Conflict of Honor, respectively have romances in them, and have the son of Daav and Aelliana, and the son of Er Thom as the male leads. The viewpoint of A Conflict of Honor almost entirely that of the female lead, Priscilla Mendoza, and most of the viewpoint Agent of Change, is from the female lead Miri whose last name I can't exactly recall, a retired mercenary from the down and out planet Surebleak.

    Hmm, for romance readers, the best entry point and order is probably Local Custom then Scout's Progress. After that there are choices--Mouse and Dragon leads into a sequence of two non-romances 20 years or so later contemporaneous with Agent of Change and the sequels to it and Local Custom.

  6. The direct sequel to Agent of Change (which seems to occur a ew years after A Conflict of Honor) is Carpe Diem. Then came a ten year gap, as the editor at Ballantine del Rey and the authors had disagreed about direction of books, and no other publisher was interested in print rights until Meisha Merlin showed up. Meisha Merlin reissued the three books Plan B the direct sequel to Carpe Diem, Local Custom and Scout's Progress, the Crystal books, Balance of Trade, and I Dare (the sequel to Plan B), and then went bankrupt and out of business....

    Meanwhile, the publishing world was changing. Embiid for a while was epublishing Lee/Miller books, until Embiid became part of "the roadkill on the information highway." Lee and Miller were running their own small press operation publishing chapbooks but it was a small time operation.

    By the time Meisha Merlin failed, epublishing was starting to head into mainstream. Baen Books picked up the electronic rights to the Liaden books and was selling ebundles. However, Ace which had been reprinting Lee/Miller books which were published in hardcover and trade paper by Meisha Merlin, had dropped them.

    The authors let their readers know that they couldn't go forward with the character who showed up at the end of I Dare unless they could get income; they started serializing the backstory for the character with the requirement that X amount of dollars be contributed per chapter, with a news chapter appearing at the start of most weeks. Eough contributors materialized that the authors promised that if the book got published, each person contributing at least $25 would get a copy... It turned out that there was material for -two- books, which eventually got published by Baen, which went from epublication to print publication of Lee/Miller books, as Fledgling and Saltation--which pick up twenty-something years after the end of Mouse and Dragon, and as noted above, are contemporary to Agent of Change/Carpe Diem.

    Ghost Ship is direct sequel to Saltation. It is also a direct sequel to I Dare--the two different sequences merge together in it. For that matter, there are elements from the Crystal books and Balance of Trade which go into Ghost Ship, too.... Dragon Ship follows Ghost Ship. After writing the Fledgling/Saltation/Ghost Ship/Dragon Ship sequences, the authors wanted/want/needed/need some downtime from writing about Theo Waitely, essentially the sole point of view in the first two books in that sequence, and one of the leads in the second two.

    Necessity's Child is an alternate entry point to the Liaden universe, it takes place on a planet around the same time as Ghost Ship. It's not a romance, it's more a heading into coming of age story and cultural contact story. The protagonist is a young male relative of the male leads of Agent of Change and A Conflict of Honor.

    Oh, I forgot, either Plan B or I Dare has a romance in it, however, both books have large ensemble casts, so the romance is very much less central there than in Local Custom, Scout's Progress, or even A Conflict of Honor, and Agent of Change.

  7. The only problem with Happy Until Sequel is that you have to sell the first book first. Rarely do we get to sell a series in its entirety. (Though, lord!, would I like to do that!) Romance-oriented agents and editors will frown at that outcome and likely ask for at least a Happy For Now to take you into the next book. Not saying it wouldn't work or it hasn't been done (and well). Just saying it's a hard sell.

    Having read UNDER THE DOME, I'm looking forward to the mini-series, despite King's poor record of screen adaptation. He does have some romantic elements in this one, as usual, though they take a backseat to plot and other elements of character development. (Unless the adaptation plays them up.)


Thank you for chiming in! We love to see your comments. (All comments are moderated so spam can be terminated!)