Friday, July 06, 2007

Reading Guides for SF&F

One of the weakness (and strengths) of some of the modern-day science-fiction and fantasy novels is that several books comprise a series and sometimes, it leaves a very tangled web. Sometimes, you simply need reading guides (and not in the Cliff Notes fashion).

For example, the last time I counted, the books in the Dragonlance series number more than a hundred (and there was a time when I had half of those books, but read only half of them). What I find convoluted about Dragonlance is that there are some books that you simply won't understand or appreciate unless you read a certain trilogy. It's not enough to read at the beginning of Book 1 of XX series but you have to read Book 1 of YY series. In the case of Dragonlance, a good core of the books requires you to be familiar with Dragonlance Chronicles and Dragonlance Legends (and even until today, those two trilogies are probably the best in the franchise). Thankfully, this phenomenon wasn't repeated in Dungeon & Dragon's other famous franchise, the Forgotten Realms novels (the books are still interlinked but not as dependent on each other).

Another example I think is Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. It's not so much "understand" and "appreciate" as much as that the Discworld series is easily a genre of its own with various sub-genres under its wing. For example, the Rincewind novels is a parody of the fantasy genre while the Witches novels parody non-genre classics like Shakespeare. The City Watch easily makes fun of pop culture while Death is a character so compelling that stories simply revolve around his existence.

Then there's some esoteric material that you don't need so much a guide as a warning or better labeling. A friend once bought Peter Hamilton's Night Dawn series, purchasing Book One, Book Two, and Book Three, not realizing that there were six books in the series and the latter half was labeled as Book One Part 2, Book Two Part 2, and Book Three Part 3.

Of course for the same reasons, some experimental and interesting series of books have similarly arisen. I mean Orson Scott Card's Ender series begins with Ender's Game but after that, it branches into two parallel storylines. One could follow Ender's story in Speaker for the Dead and travel the universe, or follow the arc of Bean and what happened on Earth in Ender's Shadow.

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