I read Ender’s Game for the first time last year. I’ve been a science fiction fan for years but for some reason I avoided this one. In high-school english one year I had a choice between Ender’s and Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (I was one of the only ones who picked Clarke). I’m a convert now, Ender’s Game is one of the best science fiction reads I have encountered and no matter how bad it is I’m looking forward to the movie.
I’m hesitant about reading the rest of the series. There are half a dozen books in the main Ender’s series and a number in the Shadow spin off. The conventional wisdom (and by conventional wisdom I mean the opinions of a couple of my friends), is that the rest of the series is terrible. Ender’s Shadow might be worth reading, but the rest is a waste. I know I’ll make up by own mind at some point, but this does raise a larger issue for me. When is one book enough?
Rama was actually a pretty decent book, but was followed up by sub-par sequels (a similar point could be made about 2001). Dune is another one of my favorite classics of sci-fi, but it became diffused as I read further (I didn’t make it past Dune 3) and I lost the thread of what made that first book so great (This weekend I actually sold my copies of all the successive sequels of these three series keeping only 2001, Rendezvous with Rama and Dune).
Were later books necessary or were they merely Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money?
It’s not that I don’t like series. I’m enjoying reading the Honor Harrington Series by David Weber (which has at least twice as many books as Ender’s). It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Asimov. I love the robot novels as well as the Foundation series. Foundation is an interesting example of both ends of the spectrum. The original trilogy is very tight and spans hundreds of years of history. The later books are longer (the first three books together equal the individual subsequent books) but I remember enjoying Book 4 and the last, Book 7 – Forward The Foundation. It was only when I got to the “New Foundation Trilogy” that I’d had enough (For those of you who don’t know the Asimov estate authorized three authors, Gregory Benford, David Brin and Greg Bear, to write a new trilogy “completing” the series. I lost interest when they described 400 foot tall naked Voltaire and Joan of Arc making love).
Some of the best sci-fi authors rarely wrote series. Two in particular, Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein, almost never wrote sequels. Is the world really looking for Stranger in A Strange Land – The Continuing Voyages or Blade Runner 2 (sadly there is actually a sequel to this but it wasn’t written by PKD). 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 (George Orwell, Ray Bradbary) are classics enjoyed and studied by many who wouldn’t consider themselves science fiction readers, and would not be enhanced in the slightest by a continuing series.
So what makes one series great and another series terrible? When should one book stand on its own?
It might be a matter of intention. The sequel to 2001 was written 14 years after the original novel, Rama II was written 17 years after Rendezvous with Rama. I know even from my own limited experience that my writing style and views have changed dramatically over the last few years, I can’t imagine what more than a decade would mean. This is not the case with Dune, it was intended as a series (one that was left incomplete until the son finished the work). It may simply be that was strange and new and exciting in that first book became boring and monotonous as time went on.
What are your favorite and least favorite series? What series should really have been left to one book?