Lazyweb: Greatest *consistent* scifi/fantasy series novels?
May 9, 2015 10:29 AM   Subscribe

What are the best scifi and/or fantasy book series that are consistently great from novel to novel? For my purposes this would be a series of at least three books, and probably no more than... six? ish? (I might be cutting it short; this is a general estimate of about how long my interest tends to remain keen. Not a dealbreaker if a bit more). I'm looking for the sorts of books that really draw you into the fictional world and have a lot of character building, with few or no "weak links" from book to book.

I'm calling it lazyweb, because though I've tried to bookmark and note the many fantastic suggestions I run into on Metafilter and elsewhere, I don't have a manicured list, at all. I've read a lot of books and a lot of series books, and I won't even try to list the ones I've already been through here (because Lazy, and bad memory), or try to confine things too much, because even though I generally don't like dystopian stuff, for example, I've read a few that turned me right around.

I love character development and world immersion, and skilled, elegant writing makes me swoon. Smart, clever, surprising, engrossing, graceful, subtle, non-racist, non-misogynist (homophobic, etc.) is the ideal dream. Book series that are anything at all like that, especially consistently within the series, that have at least three published novels so far are what I'm looking for!
posted by taz to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
The Discworld series is much (much!) longer than you stipulate, but otherwise it meets your criteria.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:42 AM on May 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

The Expanse is pretty consistent from book to book (with four out, a fifth on the way, and a SyFy channel TV series coming out soon). The cast of characters changes somewhat book to book and are very diverse. It's a step or three into the horror genre, but I didn't find it scary.
posted by books for weapons at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Culture Series by Iain Banks goes from strength to strength as it goes.

I'm also a big fan of The Hyperion Cantos and The Baroque Cycle
posted by hobgadling at 10:48 AM on May 9, 2015 [11 favorites]

Yeah, thinking about 'consistently great', Terry Pratchett is the first name that comes to mind. Actually there are several sub-series, like the ones about the witches, the guards and the ones with Moist von Lipwig, that are more or less the specified length.

Other contenders: the Laundry series by Charles Stross, the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey and the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich.
posted by rjs at 10:52 AM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding Iain M Banks' Culture series.
Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ursula K LeGuin's Hainish Cycle hits all of your points, most especially the skilled, elegant writing.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:55 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I prefer sci-fi/fantasy series where each book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you're looking for books with cliffhangers, then these might not be for you:

* The Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold. 3 books within the same universe, with a lot of themes that aren't explored by other novelists.
* The Vorkosigan saga, same author, which contains much more than 6 books but it was written so that readers can jump in anywhere. A good mini-series to start with would be Shards of Honor, Barrayar, and The Warrior's Apprentice. For sci-fi universes that I yearn to live in, warts and all, I can't beat this universe.
posted by muddgirl at 10:57 AM on May 9, 2015 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks muddgirl, for bringing it up: Cliffhangers not at all necessary!
posted by taz at 10:58 AM on May 9, 2015

I liked Riverworld. The first of the five books is a Hugo Award winner.
posted by achrise at 11:00 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Robert Asprin wrote and was involved in a good few series. It's been years since I've read either, but I used to love the MythAdventures and Phule's Company series.
posted by cmoj at 11:05 AM on May 9, 2015

Try Kate Elliott's three-book Cold Magic series, or her seven-book Crown of Stars series. You can always count on Kate Elliott for fascinating, historically-grounded worldbuilding, strong female friendships, and themes of revolution.
posted by yarntheory at 11:13 AM on May 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

James Alan Gardner's League of Peoples series is excellent. With the exceptions of Commitment Hour and Trapped, the series has some (but not many) recurring characters in an ongoing timeline. The two books I mentioned are standalones in the same universe. There's lots of world/culture building, a developing arc, and great characters in all of his books.
posted by sleepinglion at 11:32 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tim Powers' Fault Lines series is 3 equally amazing and nearly independent books.

Very strong world building. They changed how I see the world. Bestest urban fantasy with no porn.
posted by irisclara at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of Max Gladstone's work -- they're linked books more than a direct series (less linked than the Vorkosigan books), but there aren't many and I think they're all great.
posted by jeather at 11:40 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've always loved the Khaavren Romances by Steven Brust. They're like an amped-up fantasy Three Musketeers (and sequels), quite unlike his other novels.
posted by Woodroar at 11:47 AM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Gene Wolfe's Book Of The New Sun tetralogy, especially if you like skillful writing. Thirding the Culture novels.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Old Mans War by scalzi
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:08 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Steven Brust. I almost swallowed my tongue laughing at some of the elegant writing. The characters are wonderful and keep the books moving briskly.
posted by irisclara at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

The illuminatus! Trilogy
posted by adamvasco at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Kage Baker's Company novels.
posted by wintersweet at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Robert Asprin wrote and was involved in a good few series. It's been years since I've read either, but I used to love the MythAdventures and Phule's Company series.

I enjoyed those when I was a kid, but I worry about how they'd hold up. I mean, I loved Piers Anthony, too.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Tamora Pierce's books scratch that itch for me. She writes connected YA fantasy series with overlapping characters focusing on different people in the same world. My favorites are the Alanna books, which follow a girl who disguises herself as a boy to be trained as a knight (I know people who read this first as adults can be underwhelmed); the Daine books, about a girl with Wild Magic who can communicate with animals; and the Keladry books, about the first girl to openly train to be a knight. They follow chronologically and deal with the same country and political system over time.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:51 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't re-read them for a while but I remember the Coldfire Trilogy by Celia S. Friedman as being pretty consistently great. It has elements of both fantasy and science fiction, an immersive world with unique magical mechanics, and strong, well-developed characters including one of the most complex and interesting (and often disturbingly sympathetic) antagonists in genre fiction.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Kushiel's Dart starts a fantastic series of closely related trilogies. You can read three, or read six, depending on how into it you get. The third trilogy takes place later but is quite good. I thought it was a stunning series and read all 9 in a week.

The only other series I've liked as much is the Hidden Fire series. (Don't panic -- it is genuinely great and about as far from Twilight as you can get while still involving characters who offer the interesting plot device that they are, you know, more or less immortal.)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:47 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series has been good and should be wrapping up this year.

I enjoyed Brian McClellan's Powder Mage Trilogy as well.

Both play with some fantasy tropes in smart ways and neither feel like they suffer from Epic Fantasy Bloat.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:22 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some people don't, but I like Christopher Paolini's Eldest -> Inheritance series of books...really drew me deep into that world and I read them as fast as they were published.

I would call the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien consistent and immersive.
posted by forthright at 4:27 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Octobre Daye series by Seanan McGuire is one of the more consistent series I've known, with the added bonus of payoffs books later that you don't realize will be a payoff. I'm also fond of her other series, but they're shorter in general; usually three books. She has very immersive worlds which always seem much, much larger than what's on the page.

Mercedes Lackey has two current longrunning series, one set in Victorian England and the other in a fictional world with a semi-sentient naturalistic-ish magical force - The Elemental Magic series and the 500 Kingdoms series. I have favorites in both series, but I've liked all of the books. They are Euro-focused, but with more diversity that your standard Euro-setup; for example, one of the heroes in the former series is a Doctor of Eurasian descent having to navigate both racism and sexism. Lackey also introduces a decent amount of class diversity. The latter series has a patriarchy analog that I really appreciate how it is woven into the story, and it's sparked a lot of thought for me external to the series.

Pierce was mentioned above; her Circle of Magic / Circle opens series is one of the most racially diverse I've ever run into, being set in a variety of loose analogs for the Mediterranean with the accompanying variety of characters due to extensive trade/travel. Added bonus of gender parity and eventual examples of a wide variety of romantic relationships in the later books as the protagonists age. They are nominally young adult, and the first four books are short due to that, but I would consider the subject matter more than appropriate for adults.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:30 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've always been a big fan of Grimwood's Arabesk Triliogy
posted by bitdamaged at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding John Scalzi's Old Man's War series!

Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam series (it's dystopian, but it meets all your other criteria and is fantastic).

Octavia Butler has a few wonderful series: Xenogenesis/Lilith's Brood, Patternist, and Earthseed (ok, that last one only has 2 books, not 3).

Discworld isn't quite what you're looking for, but I'd highly recommend giving it a shot. I didn't think it would be my thing at all (too silly, how could a 40+ book series maintain a decent level of quality), but I was pleasantly surprised by how great so many of the books in the series are.
posted by snaw at 5:44 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
posted by uncreative at 6:19 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gibson, people -- Willian Gibson! The man who invented cyberspace!

I especially favor his most recent trilogy, set in the present day, which has yet to acquire a well-known moniker. Perhaps the Blue Ant trilogy? Or the Hubertus Bigend? I'd prefer the Milgrim but that character doesn't show up until the second volume.

Previously, his near-future Bridge Trilogy is also great, the Bridge itself such a wonderful invention. Note that both of these series don't really 'take off' until the second volume gets going, so maybe not so consisten, but that's just my opinion.

His sprawl trilogy is also of note, fantastic in its day but now very stale, and so many of you can't seem to get past the first page of the first volume, Neuromancer...

posted by Rash at 6:42 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Try Cherryh's Foreigner series. They're split into trilogies, so you can stop with the first three or go on to the next three, as you prefer. She has a great way of making her aliens almost-but-not-quite comprehensible to humans that seems more realistic to me than the standard "just like us but green/blue/tentacled" that seems to happen a lot.

Benedict Jacka has a very consistent urban fantasy series set in London - if you like Carey or Jim Butcher's Dresden books, but would prefer it with a bit less angst and a little more favor-trading, try the Alex Verus series. I think he's up to five books so far.

Seconding the Gardner recommendation, as well.
posted by tautological at 6:56 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards has been great so far. Granted, I'm on book 3, and number 4 hasn't been released,
posted by RakDaddy at 8:16 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing pratchett, banks, Gladstone.

Adding the the chathrand voyage, honestly I'm still surprised these books weren't more popular / critically acclaimed.they are excellent and the quality is very consistent, excellent world building, great female characters.
posted by smoke at 11:42 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Haven't read it for a while now but I raced through the 5-6 books of The Gap Cycle by Stephen Donaldson when it first came out.
posted by my-username at 5:37 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

You say novels not comics, so this is a bit of a long shot, but Bill Willingham's Fables series is great.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 8:07 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Robin Hobbs' assassin/fool books-7 now, well-written and immersive. One of my favorites to reread.

Completely different, but amazing-much more violent and complex, sprawling and complicated but amazing-Steve Erickson's Malazan series. Complete, ten books.
posted by purenitrous at 10:58 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy is a lovely, well-written, classic fairy-talesque fantasy series with clever, likable protagonists and an enchanting setting. I highly recommend it.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:57 PM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Adding on to uncreative's comment, I really enjoy Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series (although it's got many more volumes than what you are looking for).
posted by the thought-fox at 7:40 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

CJ Cherryh has done a bunch of great trilogies, Chanur, Morgaine, Kesrith. Dense, gritty and political with a high verisimilitude and psychological realism quotient.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:21 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich
Seconding this one!
posted by soelo at 8:07 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for the sorts of books that really draw you into the fictional world and have a lot of character building, with few or no "weak links" from book to book.
For me, Hugh Howey's Silo Series hit all those notes.
posted by chazlarson at 8:06 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone! This is great because I recently finished both "City of Stairs" and "The Goblin Emperor" and felt like this* after each one, because I didn't want to leave them, so decided to go with a few series (or same-universe) sets. I bought several of the books recommended here, and downloaded a pile of samples to check out. I'm currently reading Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone that Jeather suggested, and am delighted with all the ideas. A+++ Would Lazyweb Again!

*Artist's site
posted by taz at 4:15 AM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm adding another long shot (because it's a comic): Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Wiki summary: "The Sandman is a story about stories and how Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured and subsequently learns that sometimes change is inevitable."

I don't usually read comics, but I tried this one, and *fell* into it. I bought Trade Paperback #1 and liked it enough to buy #2, which is where I fell in love. I bought #3-9 and read them in one day, and then went insane until #10 was available where I live (don't do that, #9 ends on a cliffhanger).

It has amazing world building, and wonderful characters with good development.
posted by ari_ at 5:28 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

aaaaaaaaaaaaah! Given the framing of your request, it's entirely possible you've read this already, but just in case: N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance series is great. It's definitely "high fantasy" (gods and goddesses, royal courts, that kind of thing), but very imaginatively written, and great world-building.
posted by duffell at 6:33 AM on September 30, 2015

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