No, today's entry is not brought to you by Linkin Park. Unless you really want it to be.
Many years ago, I read a book that didn't end. I don't mean that literally - it had a last page, there was a place where the story stopped. But that's the problem. The story didn't actually end, it just stopped.
I don't remember the book's title, but it started with this surreal dreamscape, and that's what drew me in. Most of the story was the tale of one man's life, the man who lived in the surreal place, as told to the person who'd come to kill him. (Why the assassin didn't just kill him, I don't remember.) And most of that life story? Sucked. Seriously, this guy had a horrible life. But it was interesting enough to keep reading, right up until the last page.
Because the last page cut things off without warning, without any closure, with nothing but an author's aside saying that the main character's story would continue in the next volume.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don't believe the author owes the reader anything but the best damn story they can tell. The reader is not entitled to have the story go their way, to see their favorite couple get together, to dictate the course of any sequels, to have any influence on the writing process at all. To paraphrase Mr. Gaiman, the writer is not your bitch.
BUT. I feel the writer owes it to their readers to not leave them hanging completely.
This is especially important when it's the first book of a series. The first book's ending needs to bring things to a close. It can promise all kinds of future stories, any number of adventures to come, any amount of trouble still remaining for the cast to get into. But I don't think it's at all fair to leave the reader completely hanging, to not end (even temporarily) what was begun.
There's also the fact that sequels aren't guaranteed. I read an anecdote from when Robert Jordan was writing the first book of what would become the Wheel of Time series, and his wife commented that one of the characters wasn't doing anything important. When Mr. Jordan said that character would be important in the second book, she reminded him that there might not be a second book. He removed the character. I think this is the biggest problem with a first book not having a true ending - there's no way to know if the payoff will ever come, if there will ever be a conclusion. Cliffhangers in an established series are fine, just not right from the beginning.
It's just not fair to actively refuse to finish what you start. The reader has invested their time and money. You don't owe them an ending they like. But you do owe them an ending.
Next entry: IWSG, wherein I'll talk about getting all flustered over just some minor critique and how big of a fool I feel like because of it. Yeesh.