When people first learn about my books, one of the first questions they ask me is whether they’re stand-alone novels or part of a series. In fact, most of my books are part of series because I think it’s fun to continue to explore the consequences of the actions a group of characters take across several volumes. That said, I also believe that each book in a series should stand on its own. In other words, if a reader has never encountered a book in the series before, they should be able to jump in at any point in the series and not be lost. Moreover, when they reach the end of the book, they should feel they’ve had a satisfactory journey without having to buy another book. I want them to buy the next book because they like the characters, not necessarily because I left them with a cliffhanger.
In my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels, I achieved that by introducing an alien traveler called Legion who has the good intention of wanting to keep humans from destroying each other by meddling in human affairs. Legion starts by encouraging the Russian Empire to “unify” Earth by taking over the North American continent. That story became Owl Dance and the story is essentially resolved in the book. In Lightning Wolves we explore consequences of the war. The Arizona desert becomes an even more lawless frontier than it was before and miners go head to head with cattle rustlers. Meanwhile, we find the Russian invasion is still happening in California. Again, those events are resolved. In the third book, The Brazen Shark, we see the Japanese worried about powerful Russian neighbors and what happens when a samurai force steals a Russian airship for their own political aims. The fourth book, Owl Riders, returns to Arizona and the consequences of leaving a mining machine in the hands of the Apaches.
My hope is each book can be read on its own, but you get a little more out of the story if you read the whole thing. One of the ways I know whether or not I succeeded is by handing a later book to a new reader and asking them whether they were able to follow along or if there were points that lost them. Of course, you can learn more about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://www.zianet.com/dsummers/books.html#clockwork_legion.
Right now, my writing focus is on my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. The first book, Firebrandt’s Legacy, is very much a standalone story telling the adventures of Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his band of swashbuckling space pirates. I’m working on rewriting the second book of the series, The Pirates of Sufiro. It tells how Firebrandt influenced his children and grandchildren’s generation to become heroes. The third book, Children of the Old Stars, is about Firebrandt’s grandson, John Mark Ellis, who goes on a quest to understand an set of beings called the Cluster who destroy starships for no reason people can understand. In the final book, Heirs of the New Earth, those ships have taken over Earth and the galaxy is about to be changed forever.
I’m working as hard as I am to make The Pirates of Sufiro the best book I can because I don’t want people who start with Firebrandt’s Legacy to lose interest and stop. That said, I think a reader could jump into Children of the Old Stars or Heirs of the New Earth and understand what what’s happened without reading the earlier novels. In fact, I just had a lot of fun reading those two novels again. It’s not uncommon for me to pick up a book I wrote a few years before and cringe at some of my word choices or directions I sent my characters, but for the most part, I thought these books still held up. Of course, you can leap into this series right at the beginning by picking up Firebrandt’s Legacy at: http://hadrosaur.com/FirebrandtsLegacy.php. If you want to leap ahead and see how well Heirs of the New Earth stands on its own, I have a few copies of the first edition available at half off the cover price at: http://hadrosaur.com/HeirsNewEarth.php. I hope you’ll join Firebrandt and his heirs for their exciting adventure.