I read Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear in elementary school at a friend’s house during a sleep over. It was next to the bedside, and I decided to pick it up. I’d thought it was a human evolution book from the cover. I read 2/3 of the book by dawn, took a few hours to catch up on sleep, and then finished the rest before the afternoon. I read almost no fiction outside of what was assigned in school as a child, but this was the exception (I also read a lot of Greek mythology, though I’m not sure that counts). The three sequels I finished in middle school when I noticed there were sequels! By the time book 5, Shelter of the Stones, came out in the early aughts I’d lost interest. I’ve moved on, but many have not. The last book, The Land of Painted Caves, is now out. The Los Angeles Times has written a retrospective of the series.
Since Amazon has a 1 to 5 star rating system, I thought I’d plot the results for the first five books. On the y-axis you have the number who gave a particular star value to a given book (the order of the books goes from left to right, book 1 to book 5). I haven’t read Shelter of the Stones, but I agree with the median reviewers on Amazon that The Mammoth Hunters was the most uninteresting of the first four books.
I recall Harlan Ellison once stated that he avoided writing works which entailed sequels because if he couldn’t say it in one book he didn’t want to say it at all. This probably cost Ellison some money, but I think it will help his long term reputation. Sometimes I wonder if writers such as Auel have become trapped, drafted into finishing projects which long ago exhausted their creativity because of the pressure to finish the story. Brandon Sanderson’s successful resurrection of The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s death suggests one of either two things to solve this problem and rescue writers. One option is that authors with massive visions may wish to “outsource” the grunt work of writing after their first few epics to others who haven’t been burnt out by the demands of world-building and plot maintenance. Basically a tighter form of the “shared world” method (in this case, the initial author’s plot arc could serve as the superstructure for subsequent writers, who would flesh out the details and add texture). The second possibility is that all ambitious authors should have a young Mormon alternate in their back pocket!