Everything Old is New Again: Science Fiction Serials
Way back, some of my first long fiction books were the Skylark and Lensmen series by Doc Smith. These were fun stories. By the time I read them, they were all in book form, of course. But originally, they were serialized in magazines. So were later works like Heinlein's "Farmer in the Sky", most of which first appeared in Boys Life. People would read a section of the story, and then have to wait a week, or often even a whole month, before they would get the next section of the story. Unfortunately, I don't really remember those days. A child of the 70s, the day of the serial was long over before I was reading. But the format was once the dominant one for fiction. Good stories got serialized first, then compiled into books.
And readers loved it.
Today, we have our own echoes of that old style. Soap operas, and their evening counterparts on TV, carry us through long plots from one episode to another. Comic books still play out these sorts of episodic fiction in much the same way they always did. But prose has been a long time coming back around to the serial mode.
Then last year, a lot of exciting things started happening. Serials started popping out in ebook form. And they started selling. Amazon noticed, and opened up a new serial label for fiction produced under their imprints. TOR noticed - and John Scalzi got to write one of the first of the great new serial novels, "The Human Division" - which, by the way, is fantastic. Definitely worth the read if you like science fiction!
I'm excited about serial fiction making a comeback. I find that I enjoy reading these nice chunks of story. I enjoy the anticipation of wondering what will happen next, and having to wait a little while to see. I'm glad Scalzi is putting new episodes out weekly, not monthly...!
But We Can Do More, Now
So far, the serials produced have pretty much followed the old model. Take story, write it so that it is broken into logical parts, each one a segment which will be published separately. Then when a set of episodes is done, compile them into a full sized book for the audience that prefers to read the whole book all at once. That's how it was done in the early 20th century. Heck, that's even how it was done in the day of Charles Dickens.
But is that the only way to do serials? I don't think so.
I think that, today, we have more to bring to readers.
We have better connections to our readers, for one thing. We can get very fast feedback from folks reading the story. Readers can be involved in the stories in a way they never could before. Sure, by the time they read episode 3, episode 4 is certainly already written. But their feedback might be able to directly influence episode 6. The internet has given readers a way to reach favorite writers in real time. And it opens the doors for a lot of new potential in serial fiction.
Readers can be part of the story in ways that were never possible in old-style serial fiction.
Readers: how would you like to connect with a writer, during a serial season? My new work, STARSHIP, launches officially today. It's a science fiction serial set in the very near future. Humanity has its first starship, far sooner perhaps than it had any right to possess one. It's a story about people, though - about people life has beaten down, who try to reach for the stars regardless.
And I'd love to connect with readers as the story moves forward. I am excited about the opportunities for readers to engage in the process of storytelling. I'd love to hear from you! How can STARSHIP become our story?
STARSHIP Episode 1: Ad Astra is available from all major ebook retailers. Following episodes will be released weekly, until the first story (five episodes, forming a novel-length story in total) is released.
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