I swear, it’s taking me ten times as long to work out which book/series I want to talk about in these entries as it does to actually write about them! There are just so many series that I adore (most of the ones I’m thinking of I’ve read at least 2-3 times) that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. So I’m going to sort of bend the rules here, and give you my top 10 favorite series.
Yes, my preferences lean staunchly towards science fiction and fantasy, which is why these series all fall into those genres. I promise I’ll include some other genres in other entries in this 30 Days of Books exercise!
10. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series – I read these avidly as a child. Back then, I saw only the wonderous plots and characters and was relatively immune to any of the religious underpinnings. Playing Fenris Ulf (Maugrim for those reading a version printed since 1994) in a city production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe helped cement my love for all things Narnia. It only made #10 on my list, however, because in my last re-read of the series as an adult, they had lost some of their luster.
9. Piers Anthony’s Bio of Space Tyrant series – This one would be a bit higher in the list but I still haven’t read the 5th and final book of the series. I got my hands on it last year, though, so I am planning to spend some time this summer re-reading all of them and closing it out. These are great novels though, chock full of space-pirates, intrigue (political and military) and some grandiose ideas about colonization of the outer planets and the implications stemming from such societies.
8. E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman series – By far the oldest of any of my choices, the Lensman series harkens back to the days of pulp publications, and sadly, shows some of its age in the language and two-dimensional characterization of the mostly-male cast of characters. In spite of that, this is space-opera at the Golden Age’s finest. With a scope that spans galaxies and aeons, the series is a fun romp through the technological, mental, and moral evolution of humanity into something much greater than our current society.
7. Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series – I’d be remiss if I left this series out – it makes my previous comments about “grandiose ideas” seem paltry in comparison. What can you say about a world that has everyone who has ever lived waking up side-by-side with each other, learning to coexist in an environment where basic necessities are almost magically provided for, but virtually no other technology exists? Farmer leads Sir Richard Francis Burton (of 1001 Arabian Nights fame) up and down the river, making allies and enemies on his quest to discover the source of the giant river that bisects the planet, and uncover the secrets of those who resurrected the world and gave everyone a second chance. Makes for a fascinating and truly unforgettable read.
6. Jim Butcher’s Codex of Alera series – This is Butcher’s fantasy series, combining the culture of Ancient Rome in a world very different from our own. The biggest difference? Elemental spirits, called “furies”, are linked to and controlled by the humans who populate the continent of Alera. I love the depth and details Butcher includes to make this world and the people within come alive. He does an amazing job with military/battle engagements, and has a great grasp on what makes for interesting political intrigue. Add in the magic scheme and you’ve got me hooked almost within the first chapter.
5. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series – Not much to say about this series that hasn’t already been said. I grew up with Bilbo and Frodo, reading these books to their exciting conclusion before I was even out of the 7th grade. Unlike some others, I don’t get too bored or tired with Tolkein’s forays into language and history that add little to the plot. I haven’t read these aloud but from what I’ve heard they go down much more smoothly that way, and if you can get them on the audiobook format, you’ll enjoy them that much more.
4. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – I think two or three of these books were out before I dove into the world of Hogwarts, and I probably should have waited even longer! As it was, I was anxiously awaiting each new publication in the series, and voraciously devoured each in turn as soon as I could get my hands on them. Sure, it’s not the best-written of all the series I’ve read, but it captured something special that hits me just right and just makes me love these books.
3. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series – Butcher is the only one to get double-billing on this list, but for good reason – I’ve got just about everything he’s written in either of his two hit series, and can’t get enough. Yes, urban fantasy and wizard-detectives might be getting played out a bit, but I don’t think it’s the genre that draws me to this series as much as the character of Dresden himself. His strength, ethics, magic, and of course his loner/outsider image all strike me just the right way – painting a picture of someone I sometimes daydream about being. The fact that Butcher layers on the complex plots and cadges them in a quasi-mystery format only adds to my affection for the books.
2. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series – I almost made this #1 on my list, and it is the most recently re-read of all the series I’m listing in this post. I’ve reviewed most of the individual books on my Goodreads account, and I urge you to go check those out if you want to hear my thoughts on any of them. Until I read this series, I thought King was a decent and entertaining writer. After reading about Gunslinger Roland and his adventures traveling to the Dark Tower, however, I know how talented Stephen King really is when he hits his stride. With the news that King’s got a new in-between novel in the series on the way and with the plan for a series of Dark Tower movies in the works, I’m a very happy camper.
1. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series – In the end, this series, one I had not heard of AT ALL until about 7 years ago, won out over all the others. Bujold has a way of drawing me into the world of the Barrayar and Cetagandan empires that I just can’t describe. I live inside these books when I read them. I can’t help smiling as I experience manic/depressive Miles Vorkosigan use a combination of smarts, determination, and lucky timing to blast his way through the stolid and entrenched culture and traditions of a militaristic society, shaking things up and leaving a trail of bewildered, shocked, and impressed disaster-victims in his wake. I’m probably not doing them justice with this short teaser of the series – they’re better experienced than described. In day 4, I’ll try to share that experience with you as I talk about my favorite book from this series.