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The Greatest Book Series to Marathon

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Lists | May 30, 2012 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Lists | May 30, 2012 |

The best part of being able to read inhumanly quickly is that you get to read far more than you be able to otherwise. Come to think of it, reading is unique among art forms in that the amount of time it takes to consume a piece is individual.

A two-hour movie takes two hours to consume, whether you are a 3 year old drooling at the screen or an expert on the art form with a mastery of all sorts of French terminology and the secret to what a Key Grip is. An album is the same. Video games, well, I suppose you can speed run through a game, but there are tight limits on how much that really makes a difference considering your character is going to move no faster just because you’re in a hurry. In theory, visual art can have wide variance in the time of consumption, but there’s a whole world of contemplation happening simultaneously with the consumption that renders the comparison a bit meaningless.

Ah, but the faster you can read, the more books you can read, asymptotically approaching some ceiling of bandwidth above which your brain just can’t handle more input.

The problem is that you have a terrible tendency to run out of books, at least until e-books meant that you had 1,000 paperbacks in your pocket without looking particularly happy to see anyone. Remember how the combination of DVD boxsets and Saturday afternoons led to the perfect storm of television watching? Marathoning an entire season of television in a day can’t be beat — just hitting the “next” button as every episode ends so that what had been originally aired in stutter steps every week or two over a nine-month period gets compressed into 16 hours of mainlined TV heroin. Electronic readers let us do that with books. Finish a novel, just click the next one, and keep reading.

So now the most exciting thing that happens in reading is no longer a new book from a favorite author after a long wait. It is the discovery of a new author worth reading with a dozen already published books just waiting to be plowed through all in one glorious haze of fiction. And the apogee of that discovery is when all the books are in one continuous series. Cocaine’s got nothing; fiction is a hell of a drug.

These thoughts tapered to the surface after the afterglow of churning through the entire The Dresden Files and Sookie Stackhouse series in a consecutive orgy of genre reading that lasted four glorious weeks. I’ve included them below with others as the best series to discover after the fact, each of which is a pile of reading that makes your eyes glaze over in pure satiation when you realize that you have several thousand pages ahead of you. I’ve only listed four, but they are comprised of more than 70 books, which should get you through the better part of a year. And as always, list more in the comments so that I don’t have to find things to read by myself.

4. The Southern Vampire Mysteries, by Charlaine Harris, otherwise known as the Sookie Stackhouse novels or just True Blood after the television series based on them. Although the first season as a fairly close resemblance to the first novel, there is very little resemblance after that point. And to be fair, the series is strongest in the middle and then seems to taper off a bit. Having read them all straight through (there are 12 now, with one more coming to finish off the series), I really can’t in retrospect remember exactly where certain books end and the next begins.

3. The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. Twelve books and a short story collection, though Butcher insists that there will be eight more books and then a climactic trilogy to close out the series, all of which almost makes we wish I’d discovered the series a decade from now. These novels actually get much stronger as the series progresses. The early entries are fairly formulaic and not necessarily all that memorable, but the series gradually attains a depth not just of darkness but of world building that is rarely seen outside of the big fantasy novels.

2. Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson. Book of the fallen? It’s 10 novels, each more monumentally massive than the last. When I finished the first novel, I couldn’t decide whether it was one of the most brilliant works of world-building that I had ever read, or just the author throwing out random names and places for 1,000 pages. It’s one of the best. And the second novel is one of the most brutal, unfair, poetic, punch you square in the balls endings that I have ever read in any novel. Though the rest never quite live up to that second novel, the sheer creative world building and ambition of the series makes it a fantastic read, especially all in one go.

1. Discworld, by Terry Pratchett. Discovering a series this brilliant with such prodigious length at such a late date is unbelievable. It’s just shy of 40 books at the moment, and they get better and better as you go along. What started as a tongue in cheek parody of fantasy novels becomes in short order some of the most nuanced and philosophical novels I have ever read. Anyone who has read enough to form an opinion and doesn’t think Samuel Vimes is one of the greatest characters in literary history is intellectually suspect.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.