Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Daunting Task

By Meghan B.

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about a fantasy book I should read. It had everything, they said. Sex, intrigue, interesting characters and all sorts of great stuff. I was completely sold, until they said it was the first book in a massive series.

The first of many
There is nothing more daunting than finding a book, especially a sci-fi or fantasy one, and learning that it is the first volume in an epic series. Suddenly you are not just committed to one novel, you are committed to a dozen or more! The series my friend spoke to me about, the first being Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, goes on past six volumes. The time you would have to invest, and the money (six paperbacks at $7.99 each), is enough to make anyone pause before diving headfirst into them.

Why does genre fiction seem to go on and on forever? The Wheel of Time series is a dozen books long, Harry Dresden's tales are almost on their thirteenth and George RR Martin is about to release the fifth book in the epic Song of Ice and Fire saga. Don't even get me started on how long Dune seems to be... even Sookie Stackhouse is poised to be eleven books long. Standing in the cozy aisle of a bookstore, staring at a series that takes up an entire shelf and finding yourself at book one can be a mixture of terror and excitement.

Read more and tell me what's worth delving into after the jump!

I try to get into series when they first come out, and then wait with baited breath for months until the next volume comes out. I bemoan the lack of continuation in novels that are simply stand-alone stories. So why do I seem to be unable to leap into a series that is established and well on it's way? There are many long series I'm fully entrenched in, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels being a prime example, but I seem unable to commit to anything new.

So many books, so little time...
I left the bookstore today without Kushiel's Dart. I regretted it the instant I was on the road. I felt a slice of guilt over it. How could I be thinking of starting a new series when I had so many unread still at home? Like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it come rolling back down, I am unable to start a series because I have so many unread ones at home which I have not read because they're part of a long epic. It's a vicious cycle. The curse of the book lover.

So what do you think, dear readers? What is your take on epic sagas in genre fiction? Do you read them, relish them or revile them? Which ones do you love or hate and how do you get over that initial stepping stone of "oh dear god, there are a dozen books in this series, god help me."?
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  1. It would be incredibly regrettable if you skip the Kushiel series! The ninth book is coming out this summer, but this series is broken down into 3 sets of 3. Look at it like that. The first trilogy tells the story of Phedre how she come to be a hero of the realm. The second trilogy stems from the second, but it is separate series detailing the life of a character you meet in the third Phedre book. The third set is pretty much stand alone. It takes place many generations removed from the first two. Maybe that will help.

  2. Actually, Kushiel's Dart is the beginning of a trilogy and a phenomenal one at that. There are later books set in the same world but are about completely new characters. Books four through six are a separate trilogy, as are books seven through nine. The entire series is wonderful and I couldn't recommend it more but the first three are required reading, imo. I love them that much. I hope looking at it this way will make it a little easier for you to pick Kushiel's Dart up next time.

  3. I think series are good if the setting is interesting and the author can keep each book fresh. I'm of the opinion that they should have a stopping point planned when they start, or it has the tendency to run off the rails *cough*AnitaBlake*cough*. But even if it doesn't I feel like the books start blending together after about 9 or so.

    But mostly its becoming unavoidable. That's where the industry is going. It makes sense, its my easier to build a loyal sales base when people know exactly what they're getting. Charles Stross has a great essay about how his Pseudo-Fantasy Merchant Princess series got stretched from a planned three books to a tentative nine.


  4. OK, you all have me talked into reading the Kushiel books.

    And as for you, Miss Meg, if you don't get to reading Harry Dresden and the GRRMs, we shall have a conversation, you and I!

    Of course, this is from the person who's way too intimidated to start the Discworlds because there are so darn many of them.

  5. I always start at the library and if it is something I really like, then I start investing in the books (even the already read ones).