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Listen to Your Elders

June 15, 2010

I thought this week’s subject was interesting in that I had never really given thought to my favorite book series. When it came to series, I had only been thinking of how many books I wanted in my particular Land of the Blind series.

After reading CJ’s blog, I began thinking that maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself with a long series of books. I certainly don’t want my books to take off on an outrageous tangent like the Anita Blake series or become completely over the top like David Weber’s Honor Harrington series (although Weber sort of redeemed himself with At All Costs).

When I think back, I realize that I really got into reading through series. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy; Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, 2010, 2061; Ian Fleming’s James Bond; Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and John Carter; Erle Stanley   Gardner’s Perry Mason, etc

Series today can’t hold a candle to those originals. Those originals held your interest and made you salivate in anticipation of the next book.

Today’s stuff, like Anita Blake and Twilight start off good and then get off the beaten track as if their authors have run out of ideas and are just experimenting. Even the better writers have gotten long-winded and silly, like Brian Lumley’s last Necroscope series (Harry Keogh died, but now his sons carry on the series that will never end).

I’ve learned the hard way to read the first book and skip the rest of a series, where, in the past, I got the sequel automatically. A prime example is one of my all-time faves – Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic Mists of Avalon. So far, I haven’t bitten on any of the sequels by Bradley or by Diana L. Paxson (when Bradley passed away in 1999).

I don’t want to relive my childhood, so I haven’t taken advantage when I’ve seen the Harry Potter books at Goodwill. Likewise, I won’t do it if I see Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight Saga because I don’t want to be a 40-something trying to be a “tween.” (And because I want my monsters and bogeymen to remain monsters and bogeyman, not tween heart throbs).

I also want book series that don’t strain credibility. If you’ve ever read the Mack Bolan series by Don Pendleton (and a slew of ghost writers), you’ll understand. Over the course of 100-plus books with Mack Bolan, Phoenix Force and Able Team, I got tired of Pendleton and company trying to find new ways to kill bad guys — for example, one of the Bolan books described a terrorist being garrotted so hard that he was decapitated and his last act was to boot his own head into the gutter. Obviously the producers of Saw and Friday the 13th were inspired by Pendleton.

So, what whets my appetite? What satisfies my craving for mental stimulation (besides Wicked Writers)?

The classics, baby, the classics.

Envelope please.

And the winners are:

J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and C.J. Cherryh.

I want my stuff to be as exciting, suspenseful and character-driven as anything by those three.

I crack open their books over and over again until the pages are so dog-eared that not a single page is left untouched.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (along with the prequels The Hobbit and The Silmarillion) has action, romance, strong characters, suspense and excellent plotting. It should be required reading for all fantasy writers (and all writers in general if only to show how to create and sustain believable fictional worlds).

Cherryh’s Chronicles of MorgaineGate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth and (in my opinion, the best of the series) Exile’s Gate. Stephanie Meyers and Laurell K. Hamilton could learn a thing or two about romantic angst from the friendship and companionship between Morgaine and Vanye.

Of course, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories and books speak for themselves. I will read and reread them all day long.

Close behind those three are other authors of a by-gone era — Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea & Mysterious Island), Octavia Butler (Lilith’s Brood), George Schuyler (Black Empire, Black Internationale), L. Ron Hubbard (Mission Earth dekology), H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quarterman), and Fred Saberhagen (Berserker series).

If you want the best series, find the new stuff that can stand with the classics, like Koji Suzuki’s Ring Trilogy. You’ll know them. They’ll be the ones not gathering dust on the shelves because they’ll constantly be on and off and back on your nightstand or coffee table.

"Ring" trilogy

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2010 7:42 am

    Loved Mists of Avalon when I read it back in the early nineties! I remember dating this really nice, but socially awkward engineer at the time. We happened to share some friends in a role playing circle and he shyly asked me out. He fairly good-looking and I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, so hey, why not?

    Turns out we didn’t have much in common – but we had both read that book and had a nice discussion on it over dinner. I think he was impressed I read all the fantasy and sci-fi titles. It wasn’t something you commonly saw from a bikini-contest entering chick.

    Great suggestions, Greg! Most I’ve read, but I’m happy to see some titles I haven’t yet as well!

    • June 15, 2010 1:27 pm

      Glad you liked it, C.J. Moreover…wait a minute!

      Bikini contest-entering chick?!

      Well, well, looks like there’s more to Miss CJ than any of us knew. Can bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan.

      Thanks for the comments.

      • June 15, 2010 7:25 pm

        Dah- da-don. Great commercial. What can I say? It was 20 years ago and I was much thinner and naturally busty. I never won and only entered two, but I didn’t get dead last either 😉

  2. June 15, 2010 5:36 pm

    Now, you’ve definately got me on this one, Greg! I havn’t read nearly as much as you have! (Or if I did, I have little memory of doing so!) It’s a great run through… a neat “starters” library! And I would certainly follow your suggestion of going for the classics! 🙂

  3. Oliver York permalink
    June 15, 2010 6:28 pm

    I learned my lesson with unfulfilling serial books with the Star Trek franchise early in my adulthood. It was re-enforced by the V.C. Andrews books.

    I relearned it again 5 years ago, allowing myself to get caught up in Laural K. Hamilton, the ‘Left Behind’ series and to a lesser extent, Kim Harrison.

    However, in the past two years, I have taken the serial leap once again, and this time with success. Off the top of my head, I throughly enjoy these series:

    J. L. Langley’s “With/without” series (Paranormal Romantic Suspense M/M werewolf) – 3 books with one more planned, published by Samhain, “Sci-Regency” series (Sci-Fi/Regency M/M romance) – 2 books with one more in the works, published by Samhain, and “The Ranch” series (Contemporary Western M/M romance) – currently ending with 3 books, published by Loose-id.

    Alley Blue’s “Bay City Paranormal Investigators” (Paranormal M/M romance), stopping at 5 books, with two other books as an off shoot of characters. Published by Samhain.

    Charlie Cochran’s ‘Cambridge Fellowship Mysteries’ (Edwardian Romantic M/M Mystery) ending the series run at 7 books. Published by Samhain.

    I believe the formula to a successful series run may be knowing when to stop. (Which to me, is a ‘duh!’ factor, but maybe to others, it’s hard to tell.)

    With the above books, the authors seem to know when the natural conclusion has happened, and gracefully exits to go on to something else, instead of milking the characters dry and turning all their hard work in to a horrific parody.

    The only other continuing series/characters I remember liking in the distant past would be the ‘Redwall’ series (Bryon Jacques, fantasy), the ‘Mitford’ series (Jan Karaon, contemporary Christian fiction), ‘Out in the Woods’ series (R.A. Salvatore, fantasy) and the aforementioned Tolkien trilogy and Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Author Cannon Doyle.

    • June 15, 2010 7:30 pm

      Oliver – have you tried the Dean James “Simon Kirby” series? It’s about a gay vampire who writes romances in a small British town. A great light-hearted murder mystery with terrific humor, written in the cozy style. He only wrote four (I think), and I loved everyone one of them.

      You mentioned some I’ve never heard of. I’m looking forward to checking them out!

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