Like any good drug offering a temporary escape from the banality of life, serial fiction can quickly become addictive. I speak from the experience of a user. I'll be clean for months, dutifully reading beautifully depressing lit fiction or contemplative memoirs. But then I'll slip up with a binge on a young adult trilogy, and damn it feels good.
I first picked up the book Outlander in advance of interviewing the author, Diana Gabaldon, for a magazine article in Arizona. This was in 2009, and Gabaldon was about to publish the seventh book in her best-selling series. But I figured I should start at the beginning to see what I was getting into. I swiftly tumbled down a serial-fiction rabbit hole that made the subsequent months pass in a blur of kilted Scotsmen, time travel and ripped bodices.
For 7,923 pages, I have faithfully followed the lives of time-traveler Claire and her strapping Scottish husband. Gabaldon's novels defy easy categorization, with strong elements of historical fiction, sci-fi, adventure and romance. Yes, there is plenty of sex, and it's quite satisfying. The books are told from the perspective of Claire Randall, an ex-combat nurse on vacation with her husband in the Scottish Highlands in 1946. While exploring a circle of standing stones, she accidentally travels back in time to 1743 and a Scotland on the brink of the second Jacobite rising. Here she meets 20-something Scotsman Jamie Fraser, and through a series of perfectly logical events ends up marrying him. The next six books chart their lives together and (despite a few leaps back and forth in time) bring us mostly chronologically up to the Revolutionary War, where Jamie and Claire, now in America, currently find themselves.
Gabaldon's eighth installation in the series, Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Delacorte Press, 814 pages, $35), just debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list, both in hardback fiction and e-book sales. In fact, every book in the series has enjoyed a slot on the list, as well as several of her spinoff books that follow secondary character Lord John Grey, and the graphic novel interpretation of Outlander, The Exile. Her books have been published in 24 languages across 27 countries. And in place of the long-pined-for movie adaptation, Starz will debut Outlander the series in August. Fans, begin your frothing.
And while I still eagerly awaited my review copy, it was with less enthusiasm than for previous installments. After five years, I am no longer feeling the drug's euphoria, merely its dull craving. I have forgotten certain plot points amid the endless battles and political upheavals, and with so many characters and familial ties to keep track of, it makes Game of Thrones look like The Brady Bunch. In fact, Gabaldon even includes a helpful—and sprawling—family tree on the inside cover for assistance.
The eighth book was supposed to be the final in the series. Gabaldon told me as much when I interviewed her, saying she already knew how it was going to end. I was ready for closure. But her publisher informed me that there would be "at least one more." After all, any experienced dealer knows when she has a good product. It would be foolish to discontinue it now.
GO: Diana Gabaldon appears at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 248-4335, on Wednesday, July 2. 7:30 pm. Sold out.