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I envy people with good long-term memory, but not when it comes to books. Not remembering every detail gives me renewed pleasure from revisiting the ones I most enjoyed. These include several science-fiction serials, each of which I've read several times. I read science fiction rather than fantasy, meaning that the main cast of any novel will be human, but if there is sentient life on other worlds (and surely there is) it is very likely to be different from that of Earth. Science fact (including CERN's not-faster-than-light neutrinos) suggests we are unlikely ever to meet them, however. The journey times will probably be far longer than our lifetimes, so encountering other sentient life-forms is not something you need to put on your to-do list. And the one practical suggestion of generation ships might let your great grand-children meet aliens, but you'd still be dead and gone. Instead, imaginative writers invent possibilities, blow past the objections, and entertain us with what if?

The following list is a tiny fraction of what is out there to be read. These are serials (a reasonably continuous story over several books), not series (stories from the same story context but not necessarily linked), though the line does get blurred at times. They can usually be read individually but are more rewarding and make more sense when read in order.

Lois McMaster Bujold's prize-winning Vorkosigan books are a joy to her fans. The first two novels Shards of Honour and Barrayar cover interplanetary war, civil war, and the birth of the two protagonists' son Miles. Thereafter, Miles becomes the focus of the stories as a highly intelligent, hyperactive individual who barely scrapes into the Space Service because of his frailties, but makes up for this with his deviousness and brilliance. Barrayar, the home planet, is a well-realised planet and society, with his parents playing a solid part there, and there is a lot of action in space and on other planets as well. You don't have to read them in order, but will enjoy them far more if you do. Some short stories got incorporated into these books, but there are still one or two that didn't and they may be written out of time-order. Be especially careful of the collections as there is some duplication in them. Ms Bujold usually includes a chronology at the back of her books to give you a chance to orient yourself! And note that Miles's cousin and reluctant stooge, Ivan, finally got a book to himself - and it's a good one.
Bujold Shards cover
Jack Campbell is still writing his current series, The Lost Fleet, which centres on a 100-year war between two human-space coalitions which has reached a climax when book 1 The Lost Fleet: Dauntless opens. Jack Geary - apparently killed at the very beginning of the war - has just been found alive in a damaged survival pod, having meanwhile been mythologised for his successful fight to save a convoy. He's not a genius but was taught fleet fighting tactics before the war killed off nearly everyone else skilled in them, and this becomes the ace card.

The books have been roundly criticised for their shortcomings (you get hardly any physical descriptions of characters, for example), but the same critics read and re-read the books because you get drawn into them. The original serial runs for 6 books but there is a follow-on serial currently of 4 books Beyond the Frontier, and also a spin-off serial Lost Stars using characters in common, and with overlaps so that you get a different view of events you already knew about. One flaw in these books is that they began with a too-small and poorly reproduced chart in the back which accumulated errors. Eventually it disappeared altogether. This link Lost Fleet Charts takes you to an upgraded main chart (which includes the book reading order) and our own new charts for the later books. Do read the books in order or your enjoyment will be reduced.
Campbell Lost Fleet cover

Campbell Lost Stars cover
Ann McCaffrey's very successful Dragon Riders of Pern have got to be among the richest literary creations ever written of a totally fictitious planet and its community, greatly aided by the warmth of her character creation. The books are more series than serial, though they mostly build progressively, and later gap-filling has done more to join them up. They concern Pern, a planet in an out-of-the-way sector of space that was wrongly thought to have been a failed human colonisation and not revisited. As a result, society there has become rather medieval in nature, except for one aspect: they have flying dragons for transport and defence. The later books with and by Anne McCaffrey's son Todd (some set in earlier years) establish these as a scientific development from small flying lizards with an unusual further ability.

A short story in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall is the first chronologically as it covers the landing and development of Pern by people who were still trained scientists - and the totally unforeseen drawback of living on Pern. Todd McCaffrey has written stories set some centuries later than this, but before the period used by his mother.

The Masterharper of Pern is a late-written title that actually comes second in the main story flow, and leads right up to the moment that the original series began. These were Dragonflight, then Dragonquest, best read in succession. The next two, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, have only a limited link with the previous ones, but read like a single story that got too big and had to be split. Plenty more books followed.

There are also short stories, often contributions to SF collections that sometimes got rewritten into the novels. Red Star Rising, also known as Dragonseye has its place here because one story adds early history, while the other two are enjoyable solo stories.

Three other serials are The Tower and the Hive (5 books), which includes the Rowan/Damia stories; the Crystal Singers where singers with perfect voices extract and tune crystals for power systems (3 books or an omnibus); and the 4-book Freedom or Catteni Sequence serial where planets have been raided for slaves to run other planets, and the most troublesome ones were dropped on the fend-for-yourself planet of Botany.
McCaffrey Dragonflight cover

Damia cover

Crystal Singer cover
Ann McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough partnered from time to time, and produced The Powers that be, an excellent first volume of a serial trilogy describing the realisation that the planet itself is sentient, and that Petaybee was willing to work with or against the humans landing on it. When Ms McCaffrey wrote in partnership with others, there was a noticeable tendency for what first appeared to be an all-ages series to drift down the reader age-range, and this was the impression when the 4th book and others later appeared.

Powers That Be cover
Elizabeth Moon has two separate serials, both with powerful (but relatively benign) families at their core.
The Serrano 7-vol serial is available as 3 omnibuses: (1) The Serrano Legacy, (2) The Serrano Connection, (3) The Serrano Succession. The Serranos are a political and space-going family facing attacks on both fronts. The focus of action moves around between members and associates of the family, sometimes staying with one or a group for lengthy periods.

The Vatta family are a major space trading company with a daughter who opted for the Space corps instead. Then a pirate war began. The 5 books have several enjoyable characters, and are a true serial to be read in order: (1) Trading in Danger, (2) Moving Target, (3) Engaging the Enemy, (4) Vatta's War, (5) Victory Conditions.

Moon Vatta cover

Mike Shepherd's Kris Longknife stories got good reviews by others so I decided to try the first, Kris Longknife Mutineer. I began to worry early in the book when politics looked like intruding too much, but I kept going and was glad I did. Some SciFi characters are as thin as the paper they are written on, but the author builds the social, political and military communities that Kris Longknife is a part of, in ways that develop the reader's understanding of those communities. So instead of feeling like ho-hum gaps between the action scenes, they do support and enrich the story-setting, and the stories have good momentum. It is a serial but while they are better read in order, it's not essential, and plenty of books are already available.

Shepherd Mutineer cover

E.E. 'Doc' Smith wrote lots of books, but notably the Lensman serial written in the 1940s onwards and still obtainable today. Triplanetary starts 2000 years ago but rapidly skips forward to the future. Exceptional people become an exceptional space force. Titles in reading order: Triplanetary, First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, Grey Lensman, Children of the Lens, Masters of the Vortex. Yes, they are ancient and pure space opera – but still enjoyable.

Doc Smith Lensman cover
Copyright © 2014 Harry Drummond, DudleyMall.

Sorry, DudleyMall doesn't have a book dealership if you have a sudden
urge to try any of these. But there are shops and others online to help you.

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