Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Long-running series

Interesting conversation in the comments a few posts down, about The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series by Joan Aiken. I, like apparently many people other than my commenters, didn’t know there was a series, but it turns out that there is, and an extensive one:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962)
Black Hearts in Battersea (1964)
Nightbirds on Nantucket (1966)
The Stolen Lake (1981)
Dangerous Games (1999)
The Cuckoo Tree (1971)
Dido and Pa (1986)
Is Underground (1992)
Cold Shoulder Road (1995)
Midwinter Nightingale (2003)
The Witch of Clatteringshaws (2005)

Plus a prequel:
The Whispering Mountain (1968)

Elaine T suggests that the series gets odd toward the end: Has anyone but me read the whole series to the end? What did you think of it? I thought it went more than a little weird and awry at the end. And evidently other readers agree, which makes me wonder, do you all think the series is actually worth reading to the end, and if you would stop early, which book would you stop with?

Then Cheryl L wondered what other series might be out there that were written over a huge period of time.

I can’t think of any SFF series that were written over 40 years, but the one long SFF series that leaps to my mind as having changed a lot from front to back — though in some ways I think this one got less weird as it went on, rather than more weird — is Jo Clayton’s Diadem series.

That one started with Diadem from the Stars in 1977 and went a mere decade, finishing up with Questor’s Endgame in 1986. I found the whole thing okay but not spectacular, but I particularly remember the way that planets kind of had souls (or something) in the early books, a plot element that vanished as Clayton forgot about it or changed her mind.

Then there’s Cherryh’s massive and ongoing Foreigner series, which has been going since — did you know this? — 1994. So it’s actually been going on for 20 years now. [That makes me feel old!] And of course she’s been adding not quite a book per year, so her series is already longer than the Wolves series. This one, in contrast to Aiken’s series or Clayton’s series, has been quite consistent throughout. I can think of one character who changes significantly over the course of the series as Cherryh apparently changes her mind about the role she wants him to play, but the world and characters are very, very consistent overall, as you’ll see if you read the whole thing fast from front to back. I suspect this is because she’s written it so quickly, relatively speaking, but she plainly also just has an extremely firm mental picture of the atevi and ateva society.

Okay, so — DOES anybody know of another SFF series that was written over a long time span, and if one comes to mind, what did you think of it?

And yeah, I’m definitely going to pick up a few of the Wolves sequels.

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17 Comments Long-running series

  1. Maureen E

    I was going to say the Vorkosigan books, but those are just 26 years old (still older than me!) and I don’t know if LMB will write more–she’s given “maybe but I’d have to have an idea and I don’t” answers as far as I’ve seen. So I don’t know it that counts. Also, Elizabeth Wein’s Arthurian/Aksumite books are going on 20 years, assuming that we do at some point get the last book. (I have heard rumblings, but nothing definite.) Similarly, I wouldn’t be AT ALL surprised if the Queen’s Thief series ends up taking 20 years to be finished, especially since apparently book six may become two books instead of one.

  2. Maureen E

    Forgot to talk about consistency, but really for all three of the ones I mentioned, the books do seem at least parts of a whole to me, though they may take on vastly different aspects of the world.

  3. David H.

    Not limited to SFF series, my first guess was actually Hercule Poirot–the first book was published in 1920 and the last in 1975 (55 years).

    For SFF, what about C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, if you consider that a series? Gate of Ivrel in 1976 and the latest book I think is Forge of Heaven in 2004 for 28 years, and if she ever goes back to it, she can add on another decade there.

    My first vote is for the Foundation series by Asimov. In magazines from 1942 on, or in book from from 1951 one. The last Foundation book by Asimov himself was in 1993, so that’s a minimum of 42 years (or 51 with the first stories). And that’s not counting the additional series that Asimov joined with it (the Robot stories, etc.) or the “authorized sequels” by the Asimov estate.

    If you’re fine with additional authors, there’s the Dune series from 1965 on with the “help” of Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson.

    In terms of single authors, I believe that Orson Scott Card could conceivably catch up with Asimov and Aiken as long as he keeps making Ender’s Game stories–1977 for the original Ender’s Game short story or from 1985 for the first novel. Card is only 62 years old and he’s got the Formic Wars prequels coming up plus additional sequels to the series which could take him to 40+ years.

    I haven’t read all of the series above so I can’t say anything about weirdness…

  4. Rachel

    Hi, Maureen — I agree that the Vorkosigan books seem to all be parts-of-a-whole even if they switch protagonist or whatever. I hope very much that she writes more of them, but I kind of think she isn’t going to, alas.

    For me, Elizabeth Wein’s stories feel quite different from each other as the setting changes, and to a lesser degree as the protagonist changes. I sort of accept that The Winter Prince and The Sunbird are in the same universe, but I don’t really believe it. Medraut is too different, though granted he had reason to change; the settings are too different — the series winds up not feeling like a coherent whole to me.

    I bet you are right about how long it takes to finish The Queen’s Thief series, alas.

  5. Rachel

    David, yes, I bet there are any number of mystery series which span decades! I wonder how long Rex Stout was writing Nero Wolfe mysteries? I was feeling too lazy to look up mystery series, which is basically why I stuck to SFF.

    You’re quite right about Card going on and on and apparently on with the Ender’s Game universe. I think he actually changed that universe quite a bit with some of the sequels — that strange thing with dominant personalities kind of overwhelming lesser personalities, or whatever it was — but then kind of changed it back again when he started writing the Shadow of the Giant trilogy. I really could not begin to guess where he’s going to wind up. I’m not a hundred percent sure I’m going to continue reading the books in that universe; I really have not cared for some of the later ones.

    I don’t know if I’d call the Merchanter / Alliance books part of a series, even though they do share a common universe.

    And I have no idea whether to count series that switch authors! Wow, I hadn’t considered that at all, that’s a very interesting question. I guess if the subsequent authors who pick up the series manage to really match the style and focus of the original author . . . I might count those. Maybe.

  6. Charlotte

    I had the five that that were published first when I was a child, and read them repeatedly….and found them good. When she returned to the characters, I was a different person, and I never felt the new books Fit. They weren’t the same people I had loved as a child…But who knows how I would have felt reading them in series order all at once when young.

    (have you ever read any of Aiken’s short stories? Small Beer put out a lovely anthology of all her stories about the Armitage family–The Seriel Garden,, and it’s lovely, and I highly recommend it!)

  7. Pete Mack

    Liaden Series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller started in 1986 and is still going.
    God Stalk series by PC Hodgell started about the same time and is going again.

    Baen E-Books is pretty good about giving (good!) authors a second chance. I’d never have heard of either one without Baen webscriptions, which was selling ebooks as early as 1998.

  8. Elaine T

    I love many of Aiken’s short stories, and have several collections. But I’ve never found the collection with the story where the magic words were ‘Lancashire hot-pot.’ (so if anyone knows which one has that, I’d appreciate your telling me!

    The WHISPERING MOUNTAIN isn’t exactly a prequel, and many people find it difficult because Aiken really played with dialect in it: Welsh, Scots, cant… and the Seljuk of Rum who speaks like a thesaurus. Time wise it seems to parallel Dido’s adventures at sea with Captain Hughes. The main character in TWM is Owen Hughes, his son, who has been sent off to live with grandad in Wales. (Owen is briefly mentioned at the end of THE CUCKOO TREE.) There’s the Crown Prince (speaking Scots), the Seljuk, a lost tribe of gold workers, miniature camels, a nasty nasty Marquis and a harp of gold, curses. And more! not to mention the mountain. I love it.

    Back to one of the questions of the post, how long has LeGuin been writing Earthsea tales?
    Now there’s a series the author shouldn’t have revisited, IMO.

    For Aiken’s series, I’d stop at either CUCKOO TREE or DIDO AND PA. Not that I like D&P that much but it does bring some closure.

  9. Cheryl L

    The stories in THE SERIAL GARDEN are delightful! Reading that collection inspired me to launch into the WOLVES series. I agree that you could stop reading at DIDO AND PA. I suspect that Aiken intended it to be the final book in the series, but was persuaded to add more later. It wraps up a lot of plot threads. THE WHISPERING MOUNTAIN is vintage Aiken. I think her deft use of dialect is one of her strengths as a writer, and it is certainly on display in TWM.

  10. Andrea K

    Dido’s story doesn’t really wrap up until “Witch”. It’s a short little book – but Aiken was dying while she was writing it, and pushing to get it out.

    I would definitely read the series to the end, but then I love Dido.

    The Chrestomanci books were definitely written over a long period of time. And you can’t get past Alan Garner putting out Book 3 in his series 30 years after Book 2.

  11. Estara Swanberg

    Lee & Miller, Hodgell and the Vorkosiverse have been mentioned, so I’d add the Darkover Universe by Marion Zimmer Bradley, where I would say that the single books can differ in quality (they don’t usually have the same protagonists as they chronicle the development of a planet’s society) but it’s an overall fascinating look not just at the sf development but also as a reflection of the time in they were written.

    Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books come to mind as well, they have a similar background idea as Darkover: chronicling the development of a planet’s society, but are very much their own thing. I loved the early Pern books (with all the underlying problems of the role of women and green riders, heh, because the few women that were focused on did seem to have agency to me) but I thought they weren’t as successful after the Masterharper’s death, so I stopped reading them.

    Michelle West’s Essalieyan novels span quite a lot of time in publishing terms, but still focus on the same dense high epic development embodied in a group of varied characters and their life – probably with an overall focus in the person of Jewel, now of House Terafin. I have loved almost everything written by Michelle Sagara West (I have a hard time getting into the darkness at the start of the four Sundered books), so I can’t objectively say whether she works for others – but whether in the Essalieyan books or Queen of the Dead books or in the Elantra series, she ALWAYS has women with agency who build a chosen family or protect their family or avenge their family and that family does usually not consist of children and a mate but of misfits finding life together (in the case of Kaylin, her chosen family is a police force ^^). I am single and I have no problem with cheering for Jewel or Kaylin. I have heard criticism that her books are too long (oh yea? What about Martin or Rothfuss? I guess when it’s a female author, suddenly there’s a length limit?), but – like Cherryh’s Foreigner books – I think the space is needed to see the whole tapestry, because a world is complex after all. I’ve not lost my way when I enter the world there – admittedly these are books that need to be started at the beginning, I believe. Aren’t they all a part of what Jo Walton called “chunk series”? I seem to enjoy those.

    In the are of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance there’s Eileen Wilks World of the Lupi series, which mostly does follow one couple, but has an overarching danger/crime plot – it’s been going strong since before Mercy Thompson or Kate Daniels were ever published and just hit book 10 this year. This is a very character-based series, and you’ll like it on the base of the characters or not. I tempted Chachic into an author glom of the whole series this year and she wrote about it on her blog/mirrored on Goodreads.

  12. Elaine T

    A long running series that wrapped up eventually is Katharine Kerr’s Deverry cycle which started in 1986 with DAGGERSPELL and finished a couple years ago after 15 books, I think. It was different in that she used reincarnation of the main characters, so we start with them in book 1 in ‘now’ and then have a section of ‘past incarnation’ all through. It helped keep things fresh and was certainly a different way of handling back story and history that got us to that point. She conceived of the various threads as making a Celtic knot. I can see why, after finishing, but overall… well, if she’d done a few things differently I’d’ve probably liked it better.

    LeGuin’s EARTHSEA started in 1968, and she was writing in it into the 2000s.

    If setting makes a series, the longest running in genre may be Andre Norton’s SF, which was all in pretty much the same far future setting; started in 1953 and kept going till she died in 2005.

  13. Craig

    Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the 10 books of his Barsoom series from 1912 to 1941. I would say they were actually quite consistent across the years.

    Frank Herbert wrote DUNE and five sequels across a 20-year period, and of course his son has continued writing a bunch of new books in the 25 years or so since his death. I never read any of them but the original; opinions seem to differ about how severe the fall-off in quality is.

    Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd did much the same thing with her Pern books (1968-present).

    The “classic” example of boilerplate SF series is E.C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra, which I see from looking it up was 33 books published 1967-2008. I read exactly one of them years ago, and it’s probably symptomatic that I can’t remember which even looking at the title list (it was a woman’s name, so I think it was Zenya or maybe Eloise).

    The very longest genre series of all is definitely the German SF serial PERRY RHODAN, which a changing stable of authors have been publishing in novella-sized magazines every week since 1961, for a total of more than 2700 volumes. Plus spinoffs.

  14. Rachel

    Hi, Estara —

    Someday I need to try more by Michelle Sagara West; which one(s) feature Kaylin? Because that sounds interesting.

    I’m sure some people complain that anything over 280 pages is “too long”; I doubt Rothfuss is immune. I’m sure GRR Martin isn’t, since I personally have declared that his books are too long! But then, I’ve quit reading his series anyway. Sometimes I love really long books and sometimes even I would prefer the author cut 100 pages per tome. Someday I should try to put into words what makes the difference between the ones where you love to linger over every day in the characters’ lives and the ones where you’re all Can’t Something Happen, Let’s Move On.

    I also quit with the Pern books — before the masterharper died. He died? : (

    You and Chachic have definitely talked me into starting Eileen Wilks’ series; I have the first one — but heaven knows when I’ll actually start it!

  15. Elaine T

    The Darkover books definitely qualify as a long running series. If you like consistency in your background from one to another though, don’t read them. Geography, astronomy, history, all shift as the author reportedly didn’t bother to try to be consistent. Drove me crazy quickly.

    The first Kaylin book by Michelle Sagara (she drops the West for this series) is CAST IN SHADOW. All the titles are CAST [foo]. I like them, my teenager likes them. I hope she’s got an overall plot arc in mind. I think I see one, but I’m not sure from things the author says, that she sees one. There’s an omnibus of the first three available for Kindle – that would give you a good try. Andrew Plotkin (of that periodic table of dessert) thinks the author decided to make the main character have all the features of a Mary Sue and make them narrative strengths instead of weaknesses.

    On her West books, as you may remember, I loved the HUNTER books enough for you to pick them up. Loved parts of the next six book Essalieyen books, and in the most recent series want to swat Jewel who, unlike Kaylin who is maturing quickly, has had fifteen years to come to terms with her responsibilities and is still whining and incompetent. At best I can say ‘she doesn’t know she’s in a book.’ but it’s a really bad sign when I find myself saying that. I read them for everything else, and try to put up with the main character. Fortunately there’s enough good stuff.

    Her QUEEN OF THE DEAD YA series/trilogy? started with SILENCE last year, and the characters made it. I’ve got to say I like reading about decent teens.

    I KNEW there was a long running series I’d forgotten – Perry Rhodan, yes.

  16. Joshua

    Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series started in 1989, and is only halfway through (if the old plan of 8 books plus a prequel is true, less than half — though the rumor is the next two books are nearing completion). They are fun as Science fiction, if you enjoy reading about how someone smarter than you thinks — she does it quite well. (I think I appreciate John Wright’s books for the same reason though he has no such long-running series.) And the world she sets up is quite cool.

    I think I did read all the Willoughby Chase books, and those published after Dido and Pa and particularly after Cold Shoulder Road began to get very strange (including the Stolen Lake, even though it is earlier in the series internal history). But I still enjoyed them and wished I had read at least the first few sooner, after having them on my to-read list for years.

  17. Rachel

    Hi, Joshua — I’ve heard good things about the Steerswoman series and really ought to try it. I do love characters who are really intelligent; it’s quite a challenge for the author to do that well. The Willoughby Chase books are definitely moving up on my must-read-fairly-soon list because everyone seems to thoroughly approve of at least the first half of them!

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