One thing that annoys me to no end is the literary trick known as the cheap-ass cliffhanger. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good cliffhanger as much as the next guy–will Batman and Robin be able to get out of the sushi grinder before the bomb goes off and floods the room with laughing gas? Find out next episode! Okay, sure, I’ll wait for the next episode. What I don’t like is when the author clearly doesn’t trust his audience with secrets, and with holds them in a desperate bid to maintain interest and suspense.
For example, consider the Da Vinci Code. I don’t know how many times something along the following lines took place:
Joey finally unlocked the treasure chest. Opening it slowly, screaming with terrified expectancy, he reached in and pulled out the thing. He continued to scream steadily as he marveled at it. It changed everything. Everything was different now, and he understood at last what his childhood had meant, what the villains were up to, and how to win the heart of Gertrude Stein. Still screaming, he closed the treasure chest, pocketed the thing, and left.
And that’s it. That’s all you get till the author grudgingly reveals what the ‘thing’ was some eight chapters later. And you, the reader (more like the chump), have to read along with the now-in-the-know characters, trying vainly to guess as to what’s going on, what everybody knows but you.
It’s like walking up to a group of strangers who are riffing on an inside joke, shooting lines back and forth, laughing and guffawing while you stand there with a hopeful smile on your face, just waiting for somebody to cut you into what’s so funny.
Dear authors out there (including Alastair Reynold’s, who’s Revelation Space I am nearly finished with), don’t do this. It indicates either contempt for your audience, or an inability to manage your own plot so that it develops at the pace you want it to. At the very least, it indicates a profound fear that the reader, upon learning the ‘truth’, won’t be impressed and will throw the book down in disgust. That’s what I did with the Da Vinci Code, and if Revelation Space indulged in this more often, I might have given up on it as well. It’s only now, at the end of the 500 page book that Reynolds is beginning to make egregious offenses of this kind. I’ll finish the book, but probably won’t pick up the sequel. I don’t like being so crudely manipulated and condescended to.