Tag: serials

The romance of science fiction serials


Science fiction magazines are known for short fiction: stories, novelette, and the occasional novella, usually in that order of frequency. I’ve written before of my short fiction addiction and science fiction magazines are perfect for feeding that addiction. But every once in a rare while, science fiction magazines offer something almost unique to all fiction these days; a piece of fiction longer than a novella, yet presented in bite-sized nuggets. I’m speaking, of course, of the serial.

For those younger readers who might be unfamiliar with the term, a serial is essentially a piece of long fiction, often times a novel, that is published in a magazine over a period of several consecutive issues. Each part of the serial tends to end at a climactic point in the story, and each subsequent part begins with a synopsis of what came before. While serials are pretty rare in science fiction magazines today, they were once standard fare.  E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Gray Lensman was a 4-part serial in Astounding science fiction beginning in late 1939. Other famous serials include L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout, Robert Heinlein’s Sixth Column, and Isaac Asimov’s The Mule. Indeed, many famous novels from the Golden Age and the 1950s and 1960s originally appeared as serials in Astounding or Galaxy.

There is something romantic about reading a science fiction serial. Reading a serial takes you back to a time before our need for instant gratification. There is a pleasure in reading Part 1 of a story, having it end in a cliff-hander, and knowing that you have to wait a month before you find out what happens next. The anticipation for each subsequent part of the serial is akin to anticipation before a vacation, a build-up that reaches such a feverish pitch that when the issue finally appears in your mailbox, your fingers come away bleeding from paper cuts as you dig past all of the other material in the issue to find the next part of the story. While this notion of serials is commonplace today in television series, in the written form, outside of science fiction, I believe it is almost unheard of. Indeed, it may be only comic book fans that know a similar joy as they wait the next installment of the story arc for their favorite comic book.

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Wake, part 1

I just finished reading part one of Robert J. Sawyer’s serialized novel Wake.  As usual with Rob’s stuff, it’s outstanding.  It pulls you in, and keeps hold of you, and entertains you and makes you think, and makes you crazy for the fact that you have to wait nearly a month before part 2 comes out!

Beyond that, it clearly shows the difference between the Big Leagues and the minors.  I consider myself to be in the minors, single A, if you will, with my one professional s.f. story sale.  Not only is Rob in the majors, but he has demonstrated time and again that he is an All-Star.  Wake is just another example of this.  I’ve been getting a lot of help and good feedback from my fellow work-shoppers, and I feel good about that.  But it is still an effort for me to produce  a story.  Reading Rob’s stuff makes it look easy.  I’d love to be in Majors some day, but for now, I’m quite content sitting on the sidelines and observing how the pros do it.


I finished Robert J. Sawyer‘s serialized novel Rollback earlier this evening and it was terrific. Although I complained about the wait between each part of the story, it turned out to be totally worth the wait. This was a good science fiction story. In some ways, it reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s fiction, for instance, in the optimism of the story. There were strong characters, flawed, and real. And there is a hopefulness to Sawyer’s view of the future that is a breath of fresh air. If you are a fan of Sawyer’s books, this one is a treat. If you’ve never read his stuff before, I’d definitely recommend this one. According to his website the hardcover edition of Rollback is due out in April 2007 by TOR books.

Lazy Nanuet Sunday

I was up at 7 AM and everyone else was up shortly after 8 AM. After various showers, we decided to head over to Friendly’s for breakfast. Eric and Ryane headed home around 11 AM. I debated when I was going to leave and finally decided that I would wait until Vicky got back from her work meeting she had Sunday afternoon. Norm, Vicky and I lazed around until Vicky headed into work, and then Norm and I headed over to Dave and Busters. I’d never been to a Dave and Busters before, and so I really didn’t know what to expect. It is a kind of Chuck-e-Cheese for grown-ups. One of the games I played three times was Sega’s Airline Pilot Simulator, which allowed you to fly an airliner. It was a pretty good simulation. I played all three levels, beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and I managed to successfully takeoff and land the airplane each time. Norm played Police 9-1-1- and was frustrated because the game did not seem properly calibrated.

I had a snack at the mall and then we headed back to Norm and Vicky’s place and waited for Vicky to get home. She got home at about 4 PM and I got on the road at about 4:15 PM.

It was absolutely miserable driving home. It rained most of the way, and at times the visibility was down to almost nothing. I was tired. Also, there was once again about an hour’s worth of traffic in Delaware so that while I left Norm and Vicky’s at 4:15 PM, I didn’t get home until about 9:40 PM. All-in-all, however, it was a fun weekend and as always, I had a really good visit.

I received the December/January 2007 issue of ANALOG in the mail this weekend. It had the conclusion (part 4) of Robert J. Sawyer’s serialized novel, Rollback and I am anxious to read it in the next day or so. Also in the mail was the latest issue of F&SF.

I’m getting ready for bed now. Working from home tomorrow…

Finished Out of My Mind

I finished Andy Rooney’s Out of My Mind on the train into work this morning and it was terrific. On par with everything else I’ve read that he’s written. I wish there was a newspaper around here that carried his Sunday column, but I haven’t been able to find one. (The paper in Albany carries it, but I don’t get that paper around here.)

Once I finished the book, I immediately started on Part III of Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback. I got through the 4 columns of “The story so far”, which is a just a recap of everything that has happened in the first two parts of the story. I plan to get started on the Part III proper at lunch today.

Mail call

In this evening’s mail were exactly 3 items of interest and 10 items of junk. I’ve gotten into the routine of sorting through my mail as soon as I get into the house, lest it linger in a coma-like state for all eternity and I miss paying another bill. The junk was weeded out quickly. The three items of interest, were, in order of importance:

  1. A hand-written note from Trevor and thepopeswife with an accompanying photo of our last dinner together before they moved off to Minneapolis. No one writes hand written notes anymore (heck, people hardly write letters anymore) and so it is very cool to get them because they are so personal. I’m trying to come up with an appropriate way to reciprocate. Pen pals, perhaps?
  2. The December 2006 issue of ASTOUNDING ANALOG (whoa there, what was I thinking!) This is the issue I have been waiting for because it contains part 3 of Robert J. Sawyer’s 4-part serial Rollback. The timing could not be worse. I am very eager to read the story, but I am totally and completely loving Andy Rooney’s Out of My Mind and at the present moment, the book is winning the battle over the serial. (On the other hand, I’ll finish the book quickly and perhaps be able to read the serial sometime this weekend.)
  3. Notice from the state of Maryland that it’s time for another emissions check. And before strausmouse can make the joke, they are referring to my car.

Once the junk was weeded out, it was a good mail day. One piece of good mail makes it worthwhile, but two pieces of good mail is something special.

November 2006 ANALOG

When I got home from work this evening, I had the November 2006 issue of ANALOG which I have been looking forward to because it contains part 2 of the 4-part serial of Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel Rollback.

For those interested, the first dozen or so chapters of the novel is available online at ANALOG

Thus the dilemma: do I set aside Flowers for Algernon, which I am close to finishing, in order to jump right in to part 2 of Rollback, or can I wait one more day. Given that I wasn’t planning on getting much reading done today anyway, I think I’ll try and finish Flowers for Algernon and then read part 2 of Rollback tomorrow.

“Rollback”, part 1 and the problem with serials

I just finished reading part one of the four-part serial “Rollback” by Robert J. Sawyer in the October issue of ANALOG. It was terrific! I couldn’t put it down, once I got started in earnest. Of the two other Sawyer novels I’ve read (Calculuating God, and Homonids) this is the best yet. The characters are great, the plot (what has thus far been revealed) is intriguing. Even the little details of the world 40 years from now are both interesting and believable.

I can’t remember the last time I read a novel serialized in a magazine, but there is a problem with them: I now have to wait an entire month before I can read part 2! I suppose it’s not quite as bad as having to wait six months to find out how the cliffhanger on Smallville is resolved, but still, a while month!? And once that comes around, a few hours of reading and I’ll have to start waiting all over again!

Of course, I am being a bit tongue-in-cheek here. Part of the allure and excitement of a serial is the wait. I was looking forward to this story, however, and I was not disappointed, so naturally, in this age of instantly-downloadable music, online purchases, etc., I want my fix now!

But it’s kind of fun to have to wait. Something to look forward to throughout the fall.