Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Which order should I read them in?

I rarely blog anything about fiction, unless it directly pertains to dungeon fantasy.

But recently the reading order of some books has come up in discussions on G+, with a friend wanting to start a (completed) book series, and even elsewhere.

Reading order. How important is it?

My basic attitude is, ideally, you want to find the "best" introduction to a series. The first book, if possible, especially if the series is fundamentally one long story. But in the end, if the series if good and your interest is high, it doesn't matter.

At all.

Some examples from my own experience:

Conan. The first Conan material I ever encountered was the movie, Conan the Barbarian. Then, Conan the Destroyer. After that, Marvel's Conan comic books, and I read a lot of them. Not the comic-book adaptations of the novels, either, but just the stories written for the comics directly. The first actual Conan book I read was in college, and it was the Bjorn Nyberg's Conan the Avenger.

All this did was whet my appetite for more. After the Nyberg book my friend Tom gave the catalog of a used book dealer and I ordered one of every Conan book in the list, and plowed into the REH stuff, Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp stuff. I loved it. The later stuff by other authors, not so much.

Pretty much, if you asked someone the "proper" reading order for Conan, they'd never in a million years tell you to start with the movies, then the comics, and then a (not very good) work by an author writing for the Howard estate. Yet, here we are.

Vlad Taltos. My first exposure to these was the comic adaptation. I still have the Jhereg graphic novel. It seemed really cool, so eventually I found a copy of Jhereg and read it because I liked the graphic novel. From there, I read them in whatever order I found them in the bookstores. I've re-read them in chronological order (interesting) and published order (you can see exactly when the author's life gets complicated in real life) but I read them all. I probably started at a pretty good spot for these, since Jhereg was the first book written. But it felt long and slow after the comic version, and I sure as hell didn't read the rest in order. The next one I read just might have been Phoenix, now that I think about it.

Still, I read them all (even the musketeers pastiches he's done, which I read like homework. Love Dumas, don't love copies of Dumas). Reading order didn't trip me up.

Elric. I read these early - I got the first one of my books in Junior High. I bought Weird of the White Wolf because it was the earliest book in the series they had at the bookstore and the silver cover was so cool. So my first story could have been The Dreaming City - a great place to start. It wasn't. My first story was the prologue story with Aubric that explains the origin of the Young Kingdoms, which was hard to get through with no background. Then it was The Dreaming City. But it was luck, and I think I read Bane of the Black Sword next, then read them in nominal order. I read the Corum books in order sometime in the middle of this, and then Count Brass, an endcap to the Hawkmoon books. Didn't affect my enjoyment of them very much, although Count Brass could have been better if I'd read the original series first. Maybe.

Garret, P.I.. I was a big Black Company fan and someone (My PBM buddy Vance) kept pushing me to read these. So I grabbed the first one I found, Deadly Quicksilver Lies. That's a fairly late point to get into the series. But it was fine. They're written and set in chronological order but it took until I was caught up for me to be in order, too. For a while these were hard to find.

Again, not in a good place to start, but a great series so I was hooked. I generally tell people to start with one of the earlier books if they can, even Sweet Silver Blues if possible (they are chronological and connected, after all) but it doesn't matter. On the hardboiled subject, the first Chandler I read was The Long Goodbye, also not a theoretically good starting point. It was fine. I loved his prose and learned how to make a gimlet.

The Dread Empire, also by Glen Cook. I read the prequels before the middle series of books. In fact, I read the prequels before I even had all of the original three books, and then read a sequel before I read the book that it's basically filling in missing bits of (An Ill Fate Marshalling, which fills in missing bits of Reap the East Wind.) Not a problem. Starting with the second of the two prequels was impossible, because I had no idea what was going on, but once I got the "first" book I was okay.

These are ones where putting them into a different order can make them more enjoyable and change the experience a bit, but me reading them in the wrong order didn't dim my interest in them.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. First thing I read was "Two Sought Adventure" and I wasn't impressed. I put them down and didn't come back to them until I'd gotten the Lankhmar city setting for AD&D and looked at some story summaries. Then I went and got Swords & Deviltry and started in on their chronologically ordered adventurers with The Snow Women. Slow, but once I got to Ill Met in Lankhmar I was hooked forever. At that point I think my tastes had changed a bit and they stuck.

The Cthulhu Mythos. First stories I read weren't any of the really famous ones. I can't even tell you which one I read first, except that it would have been in the collection The Doom that Came to Sarnath. It might not haven even been Lovecraft. I only sort-of liked it, but the RPG looked cool and everyone liked the guy, so I kept at it, and found stories I liked a lot.

By the way, same guy who cajoled me into reading these until I liked them was the guy who got me the catalog with the Conan books.

So it doesn't matter?

Not really.

Generally, if a series is a single connected story - not a series of short stories - starting at the beginning is ideal. It might be the only way to go. I don't think I could have ever gotten anywhere with the Books of the New Sun if I hadn't started at the first book. Same with a lot of tightly plotted novel series. But short stories? A series of connected but basically independent works?

In my opinion, in the long run, it won't matter at all. Just grab the nearest one at hand and get reading. It'll be fine. You might not think so, but if the books are good, it doesn't matter.

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