This rant on SF/F Book series got me thinking, which in and of itself is a formidable feat. I have mixed feelings about book series and wanted to hear what others have to say…

The Perception Conflict

On the one hand, if a book is good, the reader can’t help but want more. I read Gene Brewer’s K-PAX and loved it. (This is really a poor genre example since I would not classify K-PAX as SF, but anyway?) The story was well told and completed by book’s end. And yet there was a sequel. And then another sequel. I read the second book and found it considerably weaker. The thing that drew me to K-PAX was simply missing in the sequel.

So then, on the other hand, having told a story the author set out to tell, what more needs to be said? The apparent publishers’ mandate that <godvoice>90% of new SFF shall formeth a series</godvoice> annoys me. It always carries the aroma of “milking it for all it’s worth”, usually to the effect of ruining a good thing or otherwise marring a perfectly respectable piece of work. It can be argued that, having built a new world, there is merit in exploring that world. There’s no logical reason why an author’s work cannot be leveraged for future novels. And, of course, as a reader, you can always stop reading the stories. For all the dislike the original ranter had about Jordan and Goodkind, he still bought and read all the volumes.

So, are series good or bad ideas? I suppose it depends on the series. I though the Sten series had a strong start, but petered out after the third or fourth book. I Klausnered through books five through seven and then, with the realization that I was no longer enjoying the series, skipped the eighth and final book altogether. I enjoyed Peter F. Hamilton’s Nights Dawn Trilogy and wanted more, but the story had been told. Thankfully, the collection Second Chance at Eden provided more by way of short stories set in the same universe.

Perhaps what matters is what attracts you to a particular book in the first place. If it’s the story line, then the series will be attractive for as long as the story line is held up. If it is the world building, you might be a bit more tolerant of weaker plotlines.

The Startup Problem

Then there’s always daunting task of approaching an as-yet-unread multi-volume series. At the cost of my own SFF enjoyment, I’ve been shying away from starting many a series because either (A) the commitment involved, or (B) the author is still churning out books and I don’t want to wait 18 memory-draining months (cough-cough, George R. R. Martin, cough-cough) to read a next installment. OK, admittedly these are anal-retentive reasons. I don’t have to read every book in a series and there are summaries of previous books to alleviate the forgetfulness that literary dry-spells induce. But still…

The Quality Issue

It is generally accepted that series tend to decline in quality. For trilogies, there is the “middle book syndrome” that cites the second installment as the weakest of the three. Do you agree? I’m hard-pressed to name any series that maintains top-notch quality throughout.

To be fair, there are some book series that I haven’t read that, I am told, maintain a relatively high level of quality: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (30 books), The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson (currently 6 books with, according the aforementioned rant, another 4 books in the works).

Open-Mike Night

So what do people think?

  • Are most series justified? Or is the author/publisher just milking the audience?
  • What are your favorites SF series?
  • What are your favorites Fantasy series?
  • Are sf series different than fantasy series? How?

Filed under: Books

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