About books in a series...

1

All,
this was partly prompted by our chatter about Suldrun's Garden, but also ranges wider. Lots of people write books which are set in the same world, and there are several ways to do this:
1. The series has to be read in order - earlier books are essentially incomplete, and later books don't make any sense on their own
2. The books have a logical order, and probably reuse the same characters, but each is self-contained - you can pick up anywhere and not be totally baffled by who's who
3. The books inhabit the same world but they are independent of each other and it doesn't matter what you read first.

For #3, think Star Trek fan fiction - books share a common universe, and you can rapidly work out where a given book fits in the canon, but each book is independent of all the others.
For #2, think the Dune series, or the Horatio Hornblower books. Each episode is self-contained with a clear resolution. Later books may well pick up on lacunae in earlier ones, and assume some prior history, but you can read (for example) A Ship of the Line without ever having read Mr Midshipman Hornblower.
For #1, well, maybe Lord of the Rings - it's hard to imagine anyone being very happy with only reading The Fellowship of the Ring, or with jumping in at The Return of the King. I have come across extreme cases of this in some indie science fiction / fantasy (sadly) where the author was seemingly just writing to a word count, stopped at some rather insignificant event without even partial resolution, and then said words to the effect of "don't miss next week's exciting episode".

My feeling, from comments in our hugely interesting discussion, is that Suldrun's Garden is of type #1 - there is a partial resolution, but it seems clear to me that the people who most appreciate the book do so because they have absorbed a composite message from the entire series.

What do others think? Which kind of book series do you prefer, on the whole?

Comments

  • 3

    If we wanted to use descriptors rather than numbers, would we call these:

    1. Serial
    2. Episodic
    3. Shared World

    Maybe?

    Regardless, I'm with you in favoring #2 / Episodic series or #3 / Shared World series. The Dresden Files is episodic, as are most long-running mystery series. It feels more responsible of an author to actually give you a complete story for your money. That's what I try to do with my short stories and novellas. They have the same character who grows and changes based on her actions, but each story has its own beginning, middle, and ending.

    While I can see your point about Lord of the Rings being type 1 / Serial, I give the Professor a pass. He wrote it all as a single, long novel. His publishers, who had to deal with the cost of printing on that much paper, are the ones who broke it up into a trilogy ... and condemned the fantasy genre to so many trilogies in the years since!

  • 2

    To me 'Shared World' implies different authors using the same world, specifically.
    For an author that writes several of his books in the same world, well, those are just novels. The Wooster Series being a good example. The stories are not specifically chronological, but they are all written by the same author.

    Shared World is something else - Thieves World, being an example of that.

  • 1

    I meant to say that I felt Suldrun's Garden was sufficiently self contained, as a story. True, not all loose ends were tied, but I can accept that even in a stand-alone novel.

    I think that what people were expressing was an increased understanding of the world after having read the later novels. To compare this to Tolkien, it's like saying that you can appreciate LOTR more after having read The Simarillion - which is true - even though you needn't have read the Silmarillion first - which is also true. In fact, it was a long time before anyone did!

  • 2

    Thieves' World sprung to mind as a "shared space" example, even though I haven't read it in probably over 20 years.

    "Serial" implies to me specifically pieces of a story being released. Steven King's Green Mile or the Plant, or the literal cliffhanger films by pulp heroes. I think Charles Dickens wrote like this back in the day.

    However, there's a difference between say, Dresden, where you ought to read them in order versus say, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys where order doesn't matter. Even The Next Generation and X-Files, which usually are monster-of-the-week stuff, have some metaplot going on. So maybe call these Linear Soap Opera versus Episodic Sitcom? (There probably is a real word for this.)

  • 1

    @rossum said:
    "Serial" implies to me specifically pieces of a story being released. Steven King's Green Mile or the Plant, or the literal cliffhanger films by pulp heroes. I think Charles Dickens wrote like this back in the day.

    Yes he did, and there's good evidence that he altered some of the endings that he had originally planned based on audience reaction :)

  • 0

    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    If we wanted to use descriptors rather than numbers, would we call these:

    1. Serial
    2. Episodic
    3. Shared World

    Yes, that's a very cool classification, though later discussion shows we don't all agree on the nuances of each type

  • 0

    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    Regardless, I'm with you in favoring #2 / Episodic series or #3 / Shared World series. ... It feels more responsible of an author to actually give you a complete story for your money. That's what I try to do with my short stories and novellas. They have the same character who grows and changes based on her actions, but each story has its own beginning, middle, and ending.

    Yes, totally agree.

  • 1

    @rossum said:
    However, there's a difference between say, Dresden, where you ought to read them in order versus say, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys where order doesn't matter. Even The Next Generation and X-Files, which usually are monster-of-the-week stuff, have some metaplot going on. So maybe call these Linear Soap Opera versus Episodic Sitcom? (There probably is a real word for this.)

    I find it interesting that in the TV series world, we have switched over almost entirely from monster-of-the-week style (I like that phrase) to overall story arc. Taking Star Trek alone, look at the evolution purely in terms of integration between TOS, Next Generation, DS9 and the new Discovery. Evidently we all like our series to have an overall theme these days.

    But that's a slightly different world to that of books, I think - though that's probably another interesting thread in itself - as @Michael_S_Miller commented, some authors go for a reader experience where each book is self-contained, whereas others deliberately play for the unfinished ending as a hook into the next in the series. Personally, I rarely go on to purchase the next in this second case, though I'm a sucker for series of books in a world that I like.

    I don't feel Vance was as commercially cold as that with Suldrun's Garden - I suppose my sense is that he imagined the land and its countries, then floated SG out there to see if his readership liked the concept. That done, he was then free to shade in detail that he had not bothered with in book 1. Clearly, from the reaction of those who love the series, this extra detail is a big plus to the series as a whole.

    There's a story of Larry Niven re Ringworld, that he adapted some of the technology of the ringworld on the basis of people getting fascinated with the concept and feeding back potential problems (like the axial instability of the whole system, for which he subsequently wrote in extra control engines at the rim). I wonder if Vance did the same? Did people write in saying "but Jack, how does this magic actually work?"

  • 1

    I like the classification. If it's a long book series, #2 is definitely the way to go for me. #3 doesn't satisfy me, and #1 leads to things being a huge investment, or ultimately unfinished.

    As for Suldrun's Garden...I think it's pretty much self-contained on its own, albeit with lots of loose ends. BUT...I can't imagine anyone reading and enjoying it, but not going onto the other two, and I don't think books 2 or 3 would be great without having read the earlier books first.

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