ENJOYABLE SCIENCE-FICTION BOOK SERIALS
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.
Copyright © 2014 Harry Drummond, DudleyMall.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.