Thursday, January 6, 2011

My take on series

Today I was thinking about the concept of series/sagas and the advantages/drawbacks compared to single novels. So I've decided to put down in writing some considerations about this topic. Hopefully, this will foster some discussions. Please feel free to share your opinion/comments, to suggest an entirely different perspective, or simply to criticize my arguments!

- Story Length

One of the nice things about series is that if you enjoy the first book, you can follow up on it. How often do we read a story that is becoming extremely interesting as the plot develops, and then even when a good ending is provided, we are left eager for more? But are series that different from single novels in terms of length? Unquestionably, some series would be hard to match by a single book. Examples I can think of are the Reality Dysfunction, Dune, and Area 51. Or the longest one I can remember, Mission Earth. But many single novels are quite extensive on their own. Off the top of my head, I remember Battlefield Earth and Cryptonomicon.
There are also series that have later been printed as a single novel, compiling several individual books. The Great Book of Amber is a compilation of the 10 original individual novels (in fact, 2 main story arcs of 5 books each). This was an excellent book to read, though I took a break of a few months between the story arcs. 
In general, after I have invested some time in a story, as long as it continues being enticing and exciting, I like being able to read more on it. There is a sense of familiarity that I, personally, enjoy. So I tend to favor series and long single novels.

- Availability

Obviously, single novels offer a great advantage. If you can find it on a bookstore (physical or online), you do not have to worry about whether volume 3 is already out of print. And nothing worse for your collection than having an incomplete series just due to a single missing book...

- Usability

Handling a shorter novel is easier and more comfortable than a very long, thick, bible-sized book. We could get also into the hardcover vs paperback vs TPB issue, but I will leave that for another time. Still, having a story broken over a couple of books might make the reading easier and will also usually damage the books less after you go through them.

- Publication time

Here, having shorter novels will allow you to get your hands on them faster. While the author is still scribbling down the next arc of the story, you will already be devouring the published part. So definitely having stories published as series will speed up the time it takes for the story to reach you.

- Series vs sagas

I tend to think of series when they are sequential but each book could be read almost independently. This is the case of Area 51. Ender's Game is somewhat like that, though you will definitely want to read it straight through. And I think of sagas when you have a story that was meant to be published in several individual volumes; thus, when each book, since the first one, clearly shows that the author has further story to tell.

- When to buy the series

- Costs

Almost invariantly, will pay much less for a large story than if it is printed in 2 volumes. The same goes for compilations; they will be cheaper than the single original books. But if it is a good enough story, you probably do not weight the cost of the books as a key factor.

- Conclusions

So... Do I prefer series or single novels? Hard to say. Some of my favorites of all times are single novels, for which the author almost certainly has never planned a sequel. However, most of my favorites are series. And, in fact, the books I remember in more detail are series. In some cases, I spent so long reading about that particular universe and characters, that many years after I can remember very fine details of the plot. At the end of the day, excellence is what you want, whether it's in the form of a single large novel, or a multiple-book series that took 10 years to be entirely published.

Your feedback is much appreciated.


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