Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Asymptotic Quest

I have an idea for a story. Well, maybe not so much an idea, but a seed... just a scene, or maybe not even a complete scene, just a setup and a line. I think that maybe I'll drop it into the Cesspool of Knowledge for this year's National Novel Writing Month, and see what sticks to it.

The scene involves a Protagonist--I can't say Hero or Heroine, because I don't yet know whether this person is male or female. It could be a Soldier, a Sorcerer, a Secretary, a Servant... no idea yet. Don't know if the genre is Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Historical or maybe just Here and Now. What I have is a few lines of dialog:

The Protagonist marched into the presence (tent, office, cave, throne room, whatever) of the Mentor (commander, CEO, high mage, king, whatever) and yelled, "You son of a bitch!"

The Mentor looked up, unperturbed by this outburst, and said, "Yes? Is something the matter?"

"I'll say," the Protagonist roared. "You bastard, you sent me on a stinkin' Asymptotic Quest!"

The Asymptotic Quest is something I first recognized over the weekend, when a friend handed me a huge door-stop of a fantasy book and asked if I'd read it. The cover proclaimed it had been written by a New York Times Bestselling Author, and while I hadn't read this book I had (unfortunately) seen the truly awful TV series it supposedly inspired. I read the back-cover synopsis, which described how the Protagonist was sent on a Quest that would ultimately save the world (or something like it); I read the page facing the title, which listed the dozen or so volumes (so far) in the series; I flipped to the end and found (after several hundred pages of small type and narrow margins) that the Protagonist had achieved a Small Victory over the Forces Of Evil, but in the next volume would have to move on to another Strange Land controlled by the Bad Guy.

And at that point, it hit me: this series is never going to end. The Protagonist is never going to slay the dragon, rescue the princess, defuse the bomb, relieve the curse, or whatever the hell was the point of the original Quest. Nope. Each book (and each episode of the TV series, no doubt) will move the Protagonist a little bit further along, but as long as people are buying the books and tuning in to the show, the Quest will not be resolved. It can't be, since resolving the Quest would mean the series is then over and the money train would stop running. But if people stop buying books or watching the show, the author and publisher (for whom time and paper equal money) will have no reason to finish a series that nobody cares about anymore.

The Asymptotic Quest is fundamentally different from the Multi-Volume Quest (for instance, "Lord of the Rings"), in which the story plays out over some number of books and then ends. It's also different from the Open Ended Series (think "The Dick van Dyke Show"), in which the same characters, settings and situations go through a number of pretty much complete and independent stories (think about it--if you watched the episodes of "Star Trek" in random order, most of the time it wouldn't matter. Each story has its own beginning, middle and end).

It seems to me that it must really suck to be a character in an Asymptotic Quest, especially once that character realizes the situation. So I'm now thinking, what would a character do after discovering he/she's stuck in a Quest that can't end? Especially if he/she can identify the author (or the author's agents) inside the story?

Well, NaNoWriMo is almost two months away. Maybe I'll have some ideas by then...

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