Random House has launched a free science fiction book library in which it showcases one novel from each of several series. I think it’s a clever marketing tactic, since I used to be a huge collector of series science fiction and fantasy books. Being able to browse one book from a series gives you a feel for the author’s style and what the world setting might be like.
Of course, series science fiction and fantasy suffers from a number of challenges. The worlds are usually not fully imagined in the early books of series and as you get farther along the authors make mistakes in referring to past events and places. Andre Norton literally wrote Witch World novels off the top of her head for 25 years, rarely looking back at the minor details of previous books. Hence, she sometimes introduced variant spellings for cities and characters, or slightly altered chronological references.
Among some of my favorite authors through the years whose series I have read were Clifford D. Simak (his Enchanted Pilgrimage kicked off a short series set in an alternate Earth where magic and science intermingled), Christopher Stasheff (whose Warlock/Gramarye books evolved into several secondary series about the children of Rod and Gwen Gallowglass), Anne McCaffrey (Pern, of course), Marion Zimmer Bradly (Darkover), and Gordon Dickson (the Childe Cycle).
I think the last series I was passionate about was Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium/Empire of Man cycle. He opened up that world to other writers (most notably Larry Niven and S.M. Sterling) but I always felt that Pournelle’s stories were the best in the series.
In fact, quite a few authors have opened up their series worlds to other writers. It tends to be jarring when you’ve become so used to one writer’s style and depth of knowledge about a world and you find a book set in that world, written by someone else, where the writing is very different and the details seem to be less well-organized. Even Andre Norton usually provided a very consistent style and level of detail that her collaborators rarely matched (and she extensively edited many of the stories set in Witch World).
If you’re interested in reading more free science fiction and fantasy, you may want to check out Project Gutenberg’s Science Fiction Bookshelf, a collection of free eBooks contributed by fans over the years. All the eBooks are in the public domain so they are quite old. Gutenberg also offers Precursors of Science Fiction, although I feel the list is incomplete.
For example, the Mark Twain book A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court is included in the list but not Tom Sawyer Abroad. The neat thing about that Tom Sawyer story is that Tom, Huck, and Jim are lost to the winds in a large balloon that seems to be well-equipped for a journey across the planet. Modern balloonists should have had it so good.
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