Saturday, February 12, 2011

If You Love Series Fiction - 12 Great Reads

My Dozen Favorite Book Series
(c) 2011 by Tom King

If you've come to the end of the Harry Potter books and you need another book to read, but you want one that will be with you for the long haul, what you want is a book series.  Have I got some winners for you. These books take you deep into the lives of some characters you will love. If you're a voracious reader, you've probably read most of these. If you're new to series fiction, however, then you are in for a treat.  To wit - my top ten book Oh, to heck with the grammar.  On with the story......

1. "The Chronicles of Narnia" by CS Lewis.  I discovered this gem in college in a children's literature class I took for my teaching certificate.  We were supposed to read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by Friday.  I read all seven in chronological order (not the order of writing which I recommend by the way) and was finished to my regret by Thursday night. Lewis' highly readable and engaging Christian allegory chronicles the dealings between eight English schoolchildren, Digory, Polly, Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Jill and a powerful lion king called Aslan in the land of Narnia from the Lamp Post to Cair Paravel. Narnia keeps summoning the kids to itself via magic items like horns,wardrobes, rings and pictures from train stations, back bedrooms and holes in walls. The books carry you on to the end of the world itself where Narnia and Earth become one. It is a lovely trip The books in logical order are:
  • The Magician's Nephew
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • Prince Caspian
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Last Battle
2.  "Horatio Hornblower" by CS Forester.  It is a complete and total accident that my two favorite series are by authors with the initials CS. The C and S both stand for different names altogether, but that doesn't matter. I stumbled on these after watching a Gregory Peck movie on the late show one night. I didn't know that Captain Horatio Hornblower was the subject of a series of books. The novels trace the career of an awkward young commoner midshipman, without advantage or patron who rises in the British Navy on brains, nerve and an innate understanding of just what it takes to be a captain. I'm told Gene Rodenberry studied Capt. Hornblower in designing all the captains in the Star Trek series. He could not have picked a better character study in leadership.  The books, again in chronological order, not the order in which they were written are:
  • Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
  • Lieutenant Hornblower
  • Hornblower and the Hotspur
  • Hornblower and the Atropos
  • Hornblower During the Crisis
  • Beat to Quarters
  • Flying Colors
  • A Ship of the Line
  • Commodore Hornblower
  • Lord Hornblower
  • Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies
3. "The Polesotechnic League" by Poul Anderson.  I discovered Poul Anderson early in my science fiction reading. Nicholas Van Rinjh, a recurrent character in the series is a fat Dutch trader who is wildly wealthy, a thorn in the side to the authoritarians in the League and a genius at horse-trading with alien cultures. His purpose in life seems to be to figure out how to get everyone to play nice so he (and they) can make a little money. Van Rinjh is the ultimate capitalist.  These are most of the books and story collections in the Polesotechnic Universe:
  • War of the Wing-Men
  • Trader to the Stars
  • The Trouble Twisters
  • Satan's World
  • The Earth Book of Stormgate
  • Mirkheim
  • The People of the Wind 
 4. "The Time Patrol" by Poul Anderson.  I keep coming back to Anderson. His Time Patrol series is more of a psychological, sociological and historical study as it is impacted by future science. Manson Everard, an out of work ex-soldier/engineer answers a cryptic want ad and finds himself taking a job that sends him to the Cretaceous Era for basic training and up and down the time-line as an unattached agent and Time Patrolman, guarding the timeline against interference by future time travelers. The historical detail is breath-taking and the situations are mind-bending. I recommend buying the collections so you get all the stories in the series:

  • Time Patrol
  • Brave to be a King
  • Gibralter Falls
  • The Only Game in Town
  • Delenda Est
  • Ivory and Apes and Peacocks
  • The Sorrow of Odin the Goth
  • Star of the Sea
  • The Year of the Ransom
  • The Shield of Time
  • Death and the Knight
The shorter novels above have been collected in "The Time Patrol" or "Annals of the Time Patrol". If you love history and science fiction, this series gives you both with a taciturn hero and great back stories.

5. Robots, Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov.  Asimov built these three series over decades of his science fiction career, then came back after a lengthy hiatus and wrote the ending in which he connected the three series into one long chain. Asimov explores the idea that robots and/or smart people can "take care" of the human race over long periods of time and keep the galaxy from going to hell in a handbasket. It's a progressive fantasy, but I have to give it to Asimov, he does point out the flaws in the concept quite nicely. Asimov is himself a scientist with four or five Ph.D.s and an exhaustive collection of dirty limericks. He takes a long look at the human race and how our creations may one day wind up our masters. While not as much fun as Anderson's rough and tumble capitalist universe, it's a fascinating look at the possibilities and dangers of scientistific meddling.  Hint - Asimov comes down on the side of science.  Here they are in roughly the order I'd read them:

  • Robot Visions (Includes the original "I, Robot") with inventor Susan Calvin and introducing Elijah Bailey and his partner, R. Daneel Olivaw
  • The Caves of Steel (Bailey and Olivaw)
  • The Naked Sun (Bailey and Olivaw)
  • The Robots of Dawn (Bailey and Olivaw)
  • Robots and Empire (Last with Bailey and Olivaw)
  • The Current of Space (first of the Empire Series)
  • The Stars, Like Dust (Empire)
  • Pebble in the Sky (Empire)
  • Prelude to Foundation (Empire and Foundation - Hari Seldon)
  • Forward the Foundation (Foundation - Hari Seldon)
  • Foundations Fear (by Gregory Benford - Foundation, and Hari Seldon)
  • Foundation and Chaos (by Greg Bear - Foundation, Hari Seldon, R. Olivaw)
  • Foundation's Triumph (by David Brin - Foundation, Hari Seldon, R. Daneel Olivaw)
  • Foundation (Foundation - Hari Seldon)
  • Foundation and Empire (Foundation)
  • Second Foundation (Foundation)
  • Foundations Edge (Foundation)
  • Foundation and Earth (Foundation and R. Daneel Olivaw)
The ending is a stunner. Save for the three editions not by Asimov himself, the series is tight, a smooth read and masterfully plotted. I've not read all the new stuff yet, but most of it and am collecting original editions to complete my set.  Isaac will be missed.

6.  The Ender Saga by Orson Scott Card is sixth because I'm more or less writing in order of discovery. Ender's Game is a stunning novel about the misuse of brilliant children. It leaves us with no clear answers about the morality of it, because, after all, the Earth is saved and the pupils soon become the masters in this brilliant series and it's take on how to effectively respond to bullying is disturbing, if effective. The book was so ahead of itself that it's taken 30 years for the movie industry to figure out the technology to make it into a film. Here's the more or less chronological list as it now stands:
  • Ender's Game
  • Ender's Shadow
  • A War of Gifts
  • Ender in Exile
  • Shadow of the Hegemon
  • Shadow Puppets
  • Shadow of the Giant
  • Shadows in Flight (soon to be published)
  • Speaker for the Dead
  • Xenocide
  • Children of the Mind
7. "The Dragon Riders of Pern" by Anne McCaffrey.   McCaffrey is a relentless serial writer. It's like science fiction meets romance novel in some ways. Her female characters are strong and well drawn. She can be a little corny. The novels of Pern are an easy read, big fat books and a fun alternative to television and you're not likely to run out of reading material any time soon. Once every four years, the colony world of Pern is visited by a space born rain of fire called "thread". Genetically bread fire-breathing dragons and their riders burn the thread up in the sky to prevent wholesale destruction of the colonists below. Each 150 some odd year visitation is called a "pass". Here they are chronologically:

First Pass
  • Dragonsdawn
  • The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall
Second Pass
  • Dragonseye
Third Pass
  • Dragons Kin
  • Dragonsblood
Sixth Pass

  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern
  • Nerilka's Story
Ninth Pass
  • Dragonflight
  • Dragonsong
  • Dragonquest
  • Dragonsinger
  • The White Dragon
  • Dragondrums
  • Masterharper of Pern
  • Renegades of Pern
  • The Girl Who Heard Dragons
  • All the Weyrs of Pern
  • The Dolphins of Pern
  • The Skies of Pern
  • A Gift of Dragons (collected short stories)
8. The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Pat O'Brian.  This series brings me back to my love of swashbuckling sea captains. Also set during the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship's physician, spy and naturalist Stephen Maturin would have been Horatio Hornblower's contemporaries. Truth be told, I don't like Captain Jack as well as I do Hornblower. Aubrey is a deeply flawed man and there are times I'd like to thrash him. His sins, for some reason, are, though common to sailors, less forgivable than are Hornblowers. That said, the series is a deeply detailed look at the lives of sailors and their captains and officers and O'Brien brings us another worthy study in the art of leadership. In chronoligical order, the books are:

  • Master and Commander
  • Post Captain
  • HMS Surprise
  • The Mauritius Command
  • Desolatin Island
  • The Fortune of War
  • The Surgeon's Mate
  • The Ionian Mission
  • Treason's Harbour
  • The Far Side of the World
  • Reverse of the Medal
  • The Letter of Marque
  • The Thirteen Gun Salute
  • The Nutmeg of Consolation
  • Clarissa Oakes
  • The Wine-Dark Sea
  • The Commodore
  • The Yellow Admiral
  • The Hundred Days
  • Blue at the Mizzen
  • The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
9.  "Rumpole of the Bailey" by John Mortimer. I am not a big fan of the mystery genre, but then Rumpole is not a detective. Rumpole is a pudgy, opinionated, small-cigar-smoking Old Bailey Hack - a lawyer of all things. I am not fond of lawyers, except for perhaps, this one. Rumpole lives his live between the Old Bailey, London Sessions and his Froxbury flat with his wife Hilda (SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED). They made a series out of the books that's as funny as the originals. It's more leisurely reading the books and wll worth your time. You'll feel you've made a friend of old Rumpole. I find him one of the most sympathetic barristers in all of literature, right down to the spattering of ash on his waistcoat.  The series, originally written for television, later became a book series and I prefer them that way. The books include novelizations and short stories from the series.:
  • Rumpole of the Bailey
  • The Trials of Rumpole
  • Rumpoles Return
  • Rumpole for the Defense
  • Rumpole and the Golden Thread
  • Rumpole's Last Case
  • Rumpole and the Age of Miracles
  • Rumpole a la Carte
  • Rumpole on Trial
  • Rumpole and the Angel of Death
  • Rumpole Rests His Case
  • Rumpole and the Primrose Path
  • Rumpole and teh Penge Bungalow Murders
  • Rumpole and the Reign of Terror
  • The Anti-Social Behavior of Horace Rumpole
  • Rumpole at Christmas
10. "The Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkien. Tolkien, also a member of the "Inklings", the famous group of English authors that also included CS Lewis, writes my very favorite fantasy series. It is my favorite sword and sorcery novel because of it is also a powerful and unashamed Christian allegory about the misuse of power and the power of ordinary people.  A huge body of work and one of the most remarkable pieces of world-building ever done by a novelist.  The series in order:

  • The Silmarillion (a prequel consisting of Tolkien's massive collection of background notes for his Lord of the Rings series. He invents most of two or three languages and a complete mythology of Middle Earth).
  • The Hobbit (the lightest of the three follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest for treasure)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Two Towers
  • The Return of the King
11. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle.  A Newberry Award winner when it first came out, L'Engle tells the story of the highly intelligent children of two scientists. It begins by violating the first rule of novel writing (Never, ever begin a story with the sentence, "It was a dark and stormy night." L'Engle doesn't pay much attention to such rules, spending time describing home-cooking over a Bunsen Burner in Mom's home laboratory and sending children across the universe via tesseracts with extra-dimensional old ladies. The books are brilliantly written and do not talk down to kids, challenging them at every turn to think hard about what they believe. Before the series is over, every member of the family is tossed about in time and space and become, not only a visitor to the past, but a part of the future. The series in order is:

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • A Wind in the Door
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet
  • Many Waters
  • An Acceptable Time
12. "Harry Potter" by JK Rowlings.  I came to Harry Potter late and with some reluctance. I was put off by the sorcery quite frankly. Though some of my favorite novels (Lewis and Tolkien, for instance), contain quite a bit of it, they manage to use it to good purpose and not to dabble in evil. I wasn't so sure about Rowlings. Then, on the recommendation of a Christian reviewer, I gave the series a go and to my surprise, found that Rowlings was more of a child of God than she gives herself credit for. The point of the whole book is that you should always do the right thing. When you choose yourself first, the consequences can be worse than if you chose to do the hard and unselfish thing. She also emphasizes that no person can take everything on their own shoulders - that we must depend on one another and hold each other up. Her magic is incantational and not invocational which makes me feel better. The protagonists do not summon up evil spirits (unless, of course, they are evil. In Lewis' and Tolkien's work it was the same. Evil people inevitably summon evil spirits and that is more true to life than most of us want to admit.  Here's the series in order:
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
 In conclusion...

My birthday is coming up in April and I am very partial to boxed hardcover sets and first editions, you never have to wonder what to get me. You have the list.

1 comment:

  1. If you have a favorite book series, do us a favor and give it your recommendation in the comments.