Sometimes I get the impression the universe is messing with me. A couple months ago, I was invited to a group which has as its mandate reading serialized novels - like Dickens or wait, holy cats, Madame Bovary was serialized? (so sayeth wiki) - in the manner they were originally published and consumed. I did my thing where I joined, lurked a bit, thought about serial fiction for a while, and then decided the whole thing was too much like work for me. Now, I'm not calling you weird, Serial Reading Cats, I just lack the patience to read a million page Dickens novel, let alone to take 4987 weeks to get through one. (I know. I am a total philistine when it comes to Dickens, and I'm very sorry for it.) (And I know you're reading other stuff too.)
But I think the exercise of trying to experience a completed
work of art as originally experienced is worthy, if maybe a little doomed. My main experience with serial fiction is television, of course. (Comics are another heavily serialized contemporary form, but I almost always come at them well after the serial arc has been completed.) Though this is changing as the Internets and on-demand media fracture viewerships and toss a barrage of media at us so we're always bound to miss a continuing series as it unfolds, some of my funnest watching experiences have happened in ongoing serial television. The X-Files was a Friday night destination for me, as was Star Trek, Buffy, BSG, and a bunch of other stuff that will only make me look even more nerdy than I have already freely admitted to. Half of the joy was the addictive buzz of turning down the lights, watching like a maniac, and then squealing like an idiot when the drama was enacted and then set up for the next week. There's no cheating there. I've certainly gulped down series after the fact - Deadwood, Carnivale, even re-watches of Buffy or Firefly (whose on-air experience was seriously screwed in the first place, airing out of order) - but there's something very different about consuming something that is understood to be finished (if not completed) as it happens versus after the fact. That the wait isn't really enforced, that the conversation doesn't have the same unknowing...
Dangit, it sounds like I'm totally bagging this group, and I'm not - I'm just bloviating out loud. The joys of consuming serial art while it's being produced are social, on another level - these were fictions being consumed by other people too, and the week before the next fix would be punctuated by conversations with other viewers, chopping it up, predicting, nerding out, complaining. That group could function that way for those involved, and that is the beauty of the Internet. (The AVClub's TV Club does some interesting articles as its critics re-watch series television.) My main serial television right now is Walking Dead, and it's almost a sport for me to bitch about everyone and everything on that show - good lawd, the dialogue! the "characters"! - only to tune in the next week to see if Walking Dead can pull off another sublime action sequence in among all the godamn stupid whining. And then they do! And then I bitch and praise to everyone who will listen. I didn't even watch much Sopranos, but I've gone to the homes of the HBO'd to eat junk food and watch along with the screaming fans, because it was totally fun.
So, anyway, how the world is messing with me: Scott S. Phillips - who is a friend, in interests of full disclosure - sent me this opening bit of a serial novel he's just put out. I spent some time checking for cameras, because, seriously, that's creepy that I'd been thinking about the serial format in contemporary media, and then bang! Here it is. And, based on somewhat limited research by moi, it seems like the serial novel is having a comeback in teh age of teh Internet. It makes sense: bit-sized bits that are easily and cheaply downloadable, which can function as their own advertisement, or let you know without a full commitment that you don't want any more of that. Instead of putting all your eggs in one basket, and then watching that basket
, the writer can sell some eggs and keep laying. And then you can scramble them and...forget it, this metaphor officially does not work. You dig what I'm saying though, right? Pete, Drinker of Blood
begins the story of the titular Pete, a sad-sack vampire who is schlubbing his way through a less than glamorous LA. The principles are established: Pete, the bartender he's smitten with, and the badass vamp who is likely the antagonist of this story. The pace is good: bang! slowly revealing character and world-building, then bang! I'm admittedly biased, but I love the way Phillips tells stories, the way he turns idiom halfway so it's surprising, the tragicomic defeatism of his main character. Pete's obviously not in with the cool crowd, the Anne Riceian dudes in leather pants, who frequent a bar call the Emoglobin (hee!). He's like a rat-eating Angel, before he got cool again and found Buffy, only he's never ever been cool in the first place. There's uneaten hamburgers and classic rock, and an interlude with a tiny model windshield. I guess I don't want to say more for fear of spoilers, which is a little silly because it's not like I can spoil something that isn't even completed. But, you know.
And now the long wait until next month...(Next installment)