Anyway, I've developed a reputation for this sort of good-hearted mischievousness, particularly among my fellow authors, or so it would seem. But little considering this, I agreed to read the first draft of sci-fi author Mary Fan's VIRTUAL SHADOWS, the conclusion to her JANE COLT Series.
For those of you who haven't read the books yet, the second one, SYNTHETIC ILLUSIONS, ends on a bit of a downer. I mean, it was an upper and a downer. Pretty classically for science fiction, it had a similar ending to "The Empires Strikes Back" like, "Gee, everything sucks, but we've still got hope."
|The downer book in question|
One of the reasons I and Mary's other friends had been so insistent that she make it a trilogy was to give her characters a genuinely happy ending and not just a "I've got you, babe" Sonny and Cher ending. So, I'm reading VIRTUAL SHADOWS, and I reach the end only to find this:
Jane didn’t have time to think about how she’d screwed up, though. She yanked at the controls, trying to avoid a second hit, but the ship barely responded to her commands. Ahead, Venovi’s infamous rock formations filled the viewscreen.
She realized with alarm that if she continued going straight, the ship would crash. But no matter how she tried, the steering wouldn’t listen to her. Fear flooded her. Unable to change course, she tried slowing and landing instead. Another blast hit the ship, tearing through the hull. The howl of rushing air filled her ears. Beneath it, she caught the hint of someone’s voice.
“Hang on, Adam!” she yelled. When he didn’t respond, she glanced at him.
A spike protruded from his chest, and his lifeless eyes stared at the ground. She barely had a chance to scream in horror before the Dragonet barreled into the mountain. The impact sent an explosion of pain through her entire body. Rocks came tumbling down, and eternal darkness descended.
I flipped back a few pages to make sure I hadn't missed something. Was this a virtual reality fake-out and I had missed it? I spent almost a day fretting about it. Had she really gone the Douglas Adams MOSTLY HARMLESS route and said, "Fuck it, no mo' sequels 'cuz no mo' characters!"
And the more I thought about it, the more sense it made! She had been talking recently about things like, "It's time to end Jane" and "Sometimes I just want to kill off all my characters" and things that, at the time had just seemed like ordinary author whining, but in light of this super downer ending seemed more and more genuine.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS doesn't have the happiest ending, and THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO is only marginally better, a long-time complaint of Mary's. And I had been the one insisting that Jane deserved a happier ending than she had gotten in SI.
Instead, I had been pranked, and been given a Kozeniewski ending. I had, in fact, thought it strange that my file said "for SK" but not so strange that I had mentioned it. But, yeah, this was the "for SK" ending. It turns out the real book goes on for another almost 200 pages after that scene, which had been mocked up strictly to cause me distress.
Well played, Ms. Fan. Well played. But just remember, the thing about pranks is, they only beget other pranks. So, fairly warned. Game on.