Serial fiction has come a long way since Dickens was writing–and publishing–it in the 1800s. Whether they draw on the style of Dickens, modeling after that popular serial storytelling venue (your television), or playing a game of exquisite corpse, serials have come back in a big way, bringing bite sized chunks of prose to your e-reading device. Some are written by a team of writers in Hollywood style, some by a single author emulating that screen narrative format, and some by one author after another (and no one knows where the story will end until it does). Each of these writing styles brings a unique serial reading experience in a fantastic variety of genres.
Whether your taste runs to near futuristic sci fi (Alternis or Machina), urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews’s “Innkeeper Chronicles”), heart-pounding stories that will keep you guessing (C. D. Miller’s Dark Heights, Ray N. Kuili’s Eden Can Wait, or Casey Lucas’s Into the Mire), your favorite comics characters in prose (Black Widow, Jessica Jones), or stories you can share with your kids (J. K. Rowling’s The Ickabog), you’ll find something–probably several somethings–to love. If you want your fiction in short bites on your cell phone, there’s an app for that. Several. Prefer a larger screen? Plenty of these serials are available in your browser (or as purchases for your e-reader).
Why serials? Some readers follow their favorite writers—like Max Gladstone, Delia Sherman, Malinda Lo, Sarah J. Maas, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ellen Kushner, Brian Francis Slattery, and even J. K. Rowling—into new formats. But many serial readers have been groomed by internet reading to read differently. These new readers are looking for a quick read on cell phones: that could be an article on a really excellent geek news website, or it could be shorter-than-novels fiction. The rise in contemporary serial fiction is looking to find a place in that niche reading time.
So if you’re looking for something to read in line at Starbucks, while you’re waiting for your kids at the bus stop, or just something that you can read in the same amount of time as you can watch a TV episode, serial fiction may be just the thing for you.
There’s an app for that.
When Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey launched his Belgravia app for the serial novel he was releasing (see below), his was just one of the apps available for short bites (and bytes) of fiction on Android and iOS devices. While some are single-novel apps, most are platforms where you can access a lot of fiction at various price points. Here are some you should know about:
Radish features a wide variety of self-published authors. Readers subscribe to stories for micro-payments, starting below a dollar, that are charged with each episode. Readers can search by genre as well as tags (including “werewolf,” “rebellion,” and “blackgirlmagic”) to select their titles.
Tapas is a similar app, though you can earn and purchase coins and keys that unlock chapters of stories. Some of these are from traditional publishing houses, such as Hachette, who have licensed their books (such as excellent kid’s book The Wild Robot by Peter Brown) to the app.
Most are from self published authors, including (now movie-famous) Andy Weir, whose The Martian was originally a serial at his own website before it was a feature film, has a number of titles on the app.
The biggest draw-back of the app is that the bite-sized chunks are very small, so readers won’t likely want to just get by on the keys and coins they can “earn” from the app’s promotions.
These websites aren’t apps, but they serve a similar function to Radish and Tapas: they provide listings of serial fiction popular around the web. If you’re looking for more than what we’ve investigated here at Den of Geek, visit either Top Web Fiction, a voting site where the most popular serials rank, and Web Fiction Guide, which has both curated and popular user lists. If you find a good one we haven’t covered, tell us about it!
Online indie serial hosting site Wattpad released a messaging-based story serial app called Tap, which gives serials an extra sense of immediacy that mimics some of the fun of an alternate reality, transmedia game like Andrea Phillips’s brilliant The McKinnon Account.
Serial Box has several serials that can be read–pay per episode or series subscription–through their website, on the e-reader, or via their app. One of the biggest perks of Serial Box serials is that any episode purchased includes the audio version, which is great for readers who need their fiction on the (literal) run. The app and the website both offer serialized versions of classic literature, including Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice, and short fiction from authors including Max Gladstone, Catherynne M. Valente, and Ken Liu, among others. Check out synopses for their ongoing (and completed) original series below.
Bookshots is James Patterson’s bite-sized fiction project: two novellas come out each month, priced at $3.99. Patterson is the idea man while his co-writers do the heavy prose lifting, and several dabble in Patterson’s previously established worlds, including his Alex Cross books.
What about an app that delivers story content the way you’d keep up with your friends via social media? That’s the conceit behind Long Shorts, an app that delivers stories in a host of genres: fantasy, comedy, romance, nonfiction, mystery, sports, realistic YA, and classics converted to this new format. The stories update in “real time,” meaning readers only receive a short chunk of story at a time. If you’re interested in trying out this new social fiction format, download their app on Android or iOS.
Now that you know which apps are available, on to the specific serials you should check out…
Ongoing Serial Fiction
While the science fiction and fantasy genres have the lead as far as the number of individual serials available for purchase, the format has always included realistic fiction and intrigue, as well as expanding into erotic novels. Take a peek at what’s new and what’s ongoing!
On May 26, 2020, J. K. Rowling launched a new serial on a dedicated web site. This revision of a children’s story was something she wrote for her own children, and read to them as a bedtime story as a work in progress. But after the Harry Potter books concluded, she decided to take a break from children’s fiction, so The Ickabog went up in the attic. Now, ten years later, she decided to release the chapters, especially for children struggling with so much time away from others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to posting chapters on a regular basis, Rowling is hosting a competition for children ages 7 through 12 to illustrate the chapters; winning illustrations (judged by someone other than Rowling) will be featured in the published version of the book, scheduled to come out in November. For parents wanting to share an ongoing story with their children—or needing an art project to help keep the kids busy once distance learning concludes—the timing on this release couldn’t be better.
With the first episode live on May 28, 2020, Jessica Jones is both the newest title in Serial Box’s impressive library of original content and the newest in the company’s collaboration with Marvel. As Jessica transitions from comics and small screen to a prose serial—written by Lauren Beukes, Vita Ayala, Sam Beckbessinger, Zoe Quinn, and Elsa Sjunneson—she’s focusing on developing some healthier coping mechanisms (not drinking so much) and trying to take some cases less likely to kill her. But when a simple, cut-and-dry case has more lurking beneath the surface, Jessica can’t let it go, even when the stakes get dangerous. This is sure to be a hit with fans of the Netflix series, and it’s great to see a frequently underused Marvel superhero get more air time.
We might not yet have a release date for the Black Widow movie, but fans who can’t get enough of the Russian assassin/Avenger can get a fix with this recently released serial, with new episodes releasing on Tuesdays through July 2020. As the second collaboration between Marvel and Serial Box, Black Widow follows Natasha Romanov as she tries to track down whoever stole her blood—because they also stole the blood of Bucky Barnes. There’s no good reason for someone to take the blood of two secret operatives, especially when there’s a possibility that the someone responsible is trying to develop their own brand of super soldier serum. A Barnes/Romanov team-up is something we’ll never really get to see in the MCU, but pairing these two is sure to hit all the right spy movie tropes. Serial Box veterans Lindsay Smith (lead writer for The Witch Who Came in from the Cold) and Margaret Dunlap (Bookburners) are joined on the writing team by feminist writer Mikki Kendall, urban fantastist L.L. McKinney, and thriller writer Taylor Stevens.
While the conceit for The 18th Century Man, a serial on Medium by Dan Morrison, seems simple enough—a young man, conceived during a power outage, negates electricity—the first chapters indulge in a hefty dose of social and political commentary that let readers know they’re in for something that aims deeper. James grows up on his grandmother’s farm in Woodstock, Vermont, as the focus of speculation. Everyone wants to know how he became the way he is—including James himself. Reading on Medium requires either using a limited number of stories for free or becoming a subscriber; to help his readers, Morrison posts chapters into the same story, with email alerts that let them know when the next one is added. Readers just picking up this serial can easily binge the first seventeen chapters—and then keep a watch on Morrison’s email list or Facebook group for the next installment.
In the 1930s, Manhattan, a serial killer is on the loose, and Knox is the PI on the job. Both she and the murderer, John Craddock, served in World War I; the experience left Knox with the unenviable ability to see the paranormal. And the case with Craddock is anything but what it seems. Elements of Lovecraftian horror infuse this story of a badass Afro-Latina detective, and New York noir combines with queer romance to give the story a while different flavor from anything else in this genre. Let K Arsenault Rivera, Brooke Bolander, Gabino Iglesias, and Sunny Moraine take you on a trip of horrors beyond space and time—and try to hold onto your sanity while you’re reading.
The world is a mess, and the future lies off-planet if humanity is to survive at all. Machina is set after a climate apocalypse ravages Earth. In the first episode, readers meet a group of dreamers—best friends Trey, Stephanie, and Smits—who intend to save humanity from their crumbling planet, ravaged by earthquakes and worse, by creating AI that will terraform Mars. Skip forward a few years, and those Trey and Stephanie are feuding, running rival tech companies both striving toward the same goal. Although Trey’s company focuses on a more traditional style of programming—where the AI is guided at every step by humans at the helm—Trey is innovating with the help of AI anthropologist Noor Venable, whose understanding of AI may change the way everyone thinks. Stephanie’s group, determined to give their AI more independence, is led in part by ace-programmer Cameron—who finds themself as charmed by Noor as Trey’s AI. The competition is being covered by intrepid “kid-reporter” Hiro Watanabe, who steals every scene he’s in. With the writing team of Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Curtis Chen, and Martha Wells, all of whom have followings beyond their serials, this is one tech corporate drama that will keep readers checking their devices for every episode.
One of my favorite bits in the MCU is when Thor and Loki team up in some old-school “Road Movie” style comedy. This prose serial, the audio version of which is narrated by Daniel Gillies of The Vampire Diaries, doubles down on the fun of the Loki-Thor duo. Here, the at-odds brothers voyage through the galaxy to track down a dangerous artifact. But the cast doesn’t stop with familiar faces: new characters include a Korean tiger-goddess, Frost giant mercenaries, and a charismatic, gender-fluid space pirate.This is the first prose serial collaboration between Serial Box and one of the big comic publishers, featuring the writing team of Aaron Stewart-Ahn, Jay Edidin, Brian Keene, and Yoon Ha Lee. If you love it (or prefer a different hero), keep an eye out for the forthcoming Marvel titles Black Widow, Black Panther, and Jessica Jones, or the upcoming DC serials The Flash: Rogues.
Launched in November 2019 with a full season already in the books, Gods & Lies is a single-author serial from Serial Box. Billed as American Gods meets The Maltese Falcon, Gods & Lies follows investigator Justix Iris Tharro, a human agent of the goddess of Justice. But in order to solve the bizarre murder in the Temple of Wind, she has to team up with Andy, a disgraced demigod, trying to win back the favor of his divine parent. As Iris digs deeper into the mystery, she realizes that Pantheonic politics are involved—and dangerous. The full season one novella, written by Elizabeth Vail, is now available for bingeing!
Serial Box has had great success with their exquisite-corpse style fiction, including 2018’s Exquisite Corpse (below). The story works like this: each invited author reads only the episode immediately preceding their own, with no knowledge of the rest of the story, and has no discussion of how the story progresses. For Embodied, a free serial from Serial Box, the topic was the human mind as transferred to an android body, anticipating a perfect afterlife. But of course, even perfectly arranged afterlives have problems—especially when the android has memories of lives it never led… Writers involved in the 2019 game were Yoon Ha Lee, Malka Older, SL Huang, Gwenda Bond, Max Gladstone, Fran Wilde, Sarah Gailey, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Madaline Ashby—a star lineup for a chilling tale of life after death.
A lot of the serials covered here are science fiction or fantasy titles, but First Street delves into contemporary events by focusing on four young clerks working in the Supreme Court. Set behind the scenes in this secretive branch of the U.S. government, the story follows these young lawyers as they navigate Washington D.C., forming friendships and relationships while also influencing some of the biggest issues in contemporary politics. The season features one of Serial Box’s largest writing teams: Catherine McKenzie, Jasmine Guillory, Elyssa Friedland, Shawn Klomparens, Randy Susan Meyers, Kermit Roosevelt III. Fans of The West Wing and Shondaland series are sure to get drawn into the intrigue—and for readers who also like television adaptations, First Street is one of two Serial Box titles that is in development for screen treatment.
The second of Serial Box’s titles in development for television is The Co-founder, set to launch later in 2020. When two women, Val and Jules, create what could become the next big thing in gaming, they face a hurdle: they’re women. In order to fit in with the Silicon Valley tech-bro culture, they hire barista and failed actor Toby to act as their third co-founder. It’s a plan that might just work—until Toby tries to steal their gaming platform out from under them. The season, written by Alexis Wilkinson, is available for preorder.
Husband-and-wife team Ilona and Gordon Andrews have been releasing a series of free novellas on their website as a reward to loyal readers, and their newest novella, Sweep with Me, just concluded in January, and is now available in your favorite ebook store. Though that means the series is currently on hiatus, keep watching for new stories—and catch up with what you’ve missed before! When a new novella is posting, each weekly installment is a partial chapter, typically readable inside of fifteen minutes, and enough of a bite sized chunk to whet your appetite for whatever comes next.
The story revolves around Dina, an Innkeeper, host for interstellar travelers that include familiar mythological figures like werewolves and vampires, as well as more outlandish aliens. Her inn feeds magic into her, so she can change reality on her inn’s grounds to better accommodate–and defend against–her guests. In Clean Sweep, the first novella, a supernatural danger threatens Dina’s non-magical neighbors. Dina isn’t supposed to get involved, but she’s not the type to let what she’s supposed to do stop her from doing what’s right. While most of the stories center on Dina, one focuses on Maud, Dina’s sister, navigating the intergalactic politics of space faring vampire civilization while keeping her half-vampire daughter, Helen, safe. Meanwhile on Earth, a holiday celebration at the inn is complicated when a cosmically powerful being needs a safe place to meet her amoral human uncle. The series is a fantastic hybrid of space action, swordplay, and romance, and shows that the series has plenty of room to grow.
Andrews creates a very cool world mixing fantasy and science fiction tropes and populates it with a fully realized cast, including not only Dina and her sister, but also the local (hunky) werewolf, a temperamental Quillonian chef, and Dina’s struggling inn’s only regular guest, a vampire noble claiming asylum on earth due to her previous ruthless acts. Can’t wait for the next installment? Andrews is updating the main blog with chapters of a new project in the world of Kate Daniels, which should tide you over!
In November 2017, Amazon launched a new Kindle imprint, Amazon Original Stories, to produce one-sitting fiction reads, beginning with Joyce Carol Oates’s novel The Sign of the Beast and nonfiction book Crown Heights by Colin Warner and Carl King. The most recent releases include the “Disorder” series of short stories, designed to keep you awake at night, and the “Inventions” series, which explores the true stories from the age of innovation.
The imprint has also published “The Real Thing Collection,” six nonfiction essays about relationships including pieces by Fresh off the Boat author Eddie Huang and Pretty Little World coauthors Elizabeth LaBan and Melissa DePino; and the recent “Inheritance” collection, with stories from Alice Hoffman, Julie Orringer, Alexander Chee, and others. “Dark Corners: Stories from the Shadows,” contributed by Jennifer McMahon, Lisa Unger, Edgar Cantero, Joyce Carol Oates, Emily Raboteau, Adam Haslett, and Brandi Reeds, features stories sure to keep readers up at night. Other authors who have written for the imprint include Dean Koontz, Nick McDonell, Susan Straight, Jeffrey Deaver, and Janice Y. K. Lee.
The stories are available for free to Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscribers; other readers can purchase the books for $1.99.
In Ninth Step Station, a future Tokyo is torn, divided between the invading Chinese and the supposedly peacekeeping Americans. Disaster after disaster have kept Japan from recovering, and their police are short handed and short supplied.
When Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda is paired with US Peacekeeper Emma Higashi as her new partner, neither of them is pleased with the arrangement. But despite their hesitations, they solve a series of crimes that feature espionage, rebellion, and humanity at its worst, many of which revolve around the war.
Created by Malka Older, Ninth Step Station feels at once like great near-future sci-fi and a modern police drama in which both of the main detectives are, refreshingly, women. The strong first season, featuring a writing team that includes Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Curtis C. Chen, earned the series a renewal, so there will be more murders to solve in Season Two, which is drawing to an intense conclusion.
After a hugely successful IndieGogo campaign, editors in chief Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma have launched what they term a YA Serial anthology. Magazine-like in its approach, this ongoing collection of short stories is focused on bringing marginalized voices to the forefront of YA lit. Issues 0 through 12 have posted, with three stories each. Contributors include Dhonielle Clayton (in Issue 0), S. K. Ali (issue 5), Uma Krishnaswami (issue 6), Malinda Lo (in Issue 1), Gina Chen (issue 2), Brandy Colbert (issue 3), Wendy Xu (issue 4), Justine Larbalesteir (issue 10), and more, with stories selected by Nicola Yoon, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Cynthia Leitich Smith. If you like your YA in bites, and if you’re invested in reading under-represented voices, this is a site to follow.
In this dark fantasy in a post-war world, a badass mercenary captain leads her crew on a hunt for the missing heir of a baron—who happens to be her old commanding officer. Unfortunately, the marsh into which they must travel is populated by carnivorous trees—and human enemies who may be even more dangerous.
Riss Chou, the head merc, is appealingly snarky; her second-in-command is a posh bisexual sorcerer who, on first read, reminded me of one of my favorite characters from Kill the Queen; and another team member is a blood sorcerer hiding his talent (because it’s illegal). While the first few chapters hint at the much larger world, the narrative never overwhelms, keeping the main quest story line at the forefront, and building the world in the background.
Launched April, 2018, the serial has completed its first full novel and is midway through book two. In 2020, the serial was nominated for New Zealand’s top literary prize in SFF: the Sir Julius Vogel Award. Author Casey Lucas updates the serial weekly on Wednesdays, New Zealand Time.
One of my favorite recent space operas is The Vela, a Serial Box original written by powerhouse team Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and SL Huang. The story centers on soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou, who’s more worried about taking care of number one than she is about the imminent death of her star system. But when she takes a job to find a missing rescue ship, The Vela, she and her teammate, Niko, the child of the inner planet’s president, find themselves embroiled in endgames that will decide the fate of the universe. Hang tight for the season conclusion—this one had me sobbing at the end. (Check out my review of The Vela here.)
If you were among the fans who lamented the end of the Canadian SF show Orphan Black, celebrate the return of the Clone Club! The series returned in prose and audio format, with showrunner Malka Older leading a writing team that includes Madeline Ashby, Mishell Baker, Heli Kennedy, E.C. Myers, and Lindsay Smith, with Emmy-Award winning star Tatiana Maslany as the narrator. (Den of Geek chatted with Tatiana Maslany about continuing the series.) The original series involved con artist Sarah Manning discovering that she was one of a number of clones, created in an illegal human cloning experiment, and that there are people out to kill her and her Sestras. The serial picks up eight year later, revealing the fate of the Sestras and their future conflicts. The first Serial Box season has concluded, but fans can keep hoping for more time with the Clone Club.
Matthew Rhymer is not what he seems—even those who know him best don’t really know his story. When his estranged friends receive a letter intended to be delivered to him, they become privy to an unbelievable story, which has to do with the Lady, her rule, and the hungers of a mysterious enemy. The newly launched illustrated serial “Twice” parcels out the mystery a tiny bit at a time, each episode giving a little more for readers to piece together. Each episode features a gorgeous painting from author/illustrator Mark J. Ferrari. While Ferrari has a tip jar on the site, subscriptions to the ongoing serial are free, and each episode can be read on the website, or delivered directly to your email.
In a not-too-distant future, the world’s governments have agreed to allow their standings in an MMORPG to determine their share of the world’s resources. Unknown to game designer Tandy, it’s her unreleased MMORPG that the AI designed by the governments has stolen. She now has a choice: join the game on Team USA and have to deal with prickly diplomat/soldier/gamer teammates, or have her life’s project taken away. We chatted with the writing team for Alternis in an exclusive cover reveal and with Summer Glau, who is narrating the audio book, about the project when it launched in May. If you haven’t started following this series, it’s not too late to jump in and join Team USA—before Team Russia steals all the glory of the game for themselves…
If the audio experience is important to you, and you love what the podcast did for ReMade but you’re looking for something for a mature audience, you might be interested in checking out music-enhanced serial Dark Heights by C. D. Miller, with music composed and performed by C. D.’s brother, Chris Miller. The music and prose are developed in tandem, so that they are intentionally intertwined. This indie serial is available at its original website but has also been picked up by Serial Box, and will soon be available through their app.
The story is of a town, Park Heights, where supernatural forces in a war of shadows converge. Caught in the chaos are town native Tess Bellamy and drifter Gabriel Majeaux. The series features an HBO-level of graphic content (so it’s not for young readers) and bends genres and genre expectations. If you’re a fan of psychological horror, this unique music and prose blend might be right up your alley. Just… be careful of those shadows.
One of the reasons some readers may prefer a serial subscription to a paperback is that they can read bite-sized fiction discreetly on their phones. That’s one of the goals of the Lady Victoria Howard web app, an erotic serial written for women, by women. Billed as the world’s first serialized erotic novel, the web app has subscriptions available for the first three seasons (39 episodes). The story follows Lady Victoria Howard, sister to a modern duke, whose past heartbreak has led her to a sexual awakening, that allows her to explore her sensuality—and live her life to the fullest.
A dance school is the unlikely setting for this social thriller, where a group of moms must team together to protect their daughters from a series of brutal attacks—all of which began when new dancer, Imogen, started attending the same dance academy. But while Imogen may have dark secrets, the mothers aren’t entirely innocent, either, and the deeper they get into the mystery, the more those secrets begin to come to life. This upcoming Serial Box release is penned by writers Sophie Hannah, Claire Mackintosh, BA Paris, and Holly Brown.
Ever wondered just what lies at the center of the Bermuda Triangle? When, after two hurricanes hit the area, ships and planes start disappearing when they enter the Triangle, a covert group travels there to investigate. A third hurricane shipwrecks the team on an uncharted island… where they discover they aren’t alone. The secrets of the Triangle are slowly revealed in Michael Crichton style suspense, with a healthy dose of television’s Lost. This just-launched serial is written by Dan Kobolt, Mindy McGinnis, and Sylvia Spruck Wrigley.
Tor.com has been quietly dominating the novella market, releasing several excellent, critically-celebrated shorter-sized stories predominantly in e-book format. Among these are the stand-alone novellas of JY Yang’s Tensorate series. The first two, published in 2017, tell a technology-vs.-tradition tale of two twin siblings, Mokoya and Akeha, drawn to opposite sides of a rebellion. The two children of the Protectorate, Mokoya and Akeha were sold into slavery as children. Mokoya can sense the future, while Akeha can see the mechanics of manipulation among the adults who govern their world. Akeha views the Machinist rebels against his mother’s rule as a way to free the Protectorate from its rot. Mokoya becomes embroiled in a hunt for the deadly naga, but discovers that conspiracy lies beneath magic.
The series is continued in The Descent of Monsters, in which a female inspector is trying to solve a mystery that involves a cover up, an escaped experiment, and strange dreams she can’t define. The Ascent to Godhood, the fourth in the series, is set to publish July 2019. A prequel to the other three, it reveals how the Protector became the power she once was.
High fantasy meets political intrigue in Born to the Blade, a series that has continued to ramp up the tension and raise the stakes in every episode. Created by Geekomancy and “Genrenauts” author Michael R. Underwood, with a team of fan-favorite and critically-acclaimed writers including Marie Brennan, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, Born to the Blade combines elements from Game of Thrones, Avatar the Last Airbender, and The West Wing. Duelist-diplomats fight for the fate of not only the neutral Twaa-Fei islands, but the world. Filled with sky islands, magical martial arts, and a pair of ambitious young people ready to shake the world, Born to the Blade is geared to become a hit for the high fantasy crowd—but rumor has it there’s no second season yet in the plans. If you’re like me and can’t handle the cliff-hanger from season one, spread the word! A little more love could put a renewal in the works!
Serial Box’s first horror serial appropriately launched on October 4, 2018, with a pilot story from horror luminary Brian Keene, continuing on from stories originally introduced in the Black Box TV series Silverwood by Tony E. Valenzuela. When a crack between dimensions lets something… bad into the forest of Silverwood, California, that thing seeks to gain enough power to return home. With a Lovecraftian creature driving people to madness, and nods to splatterpunk and slashers, the series promises to touch on favorite horror tropes and give plenty of night chills. Along with Keene and Valenzuela, the writing team features Richard Chizmar, Stephen Kozeniewski, and the Sisters of Slaughter, Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason.
Less spine-tingling and more weird western, Bullet Catcher, by Joaquin Lowe, is the story of Imma Moreno, whose dead-end life changes directions when she decides to apprentice herself to a bullet catcher—mythical warriors whose heroics are told in hushed voices, but who were supposed to have been slaughtered by the gunslingers long ago. With notes of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, and inspired by tales of Jedi and the series Avatar: The Last Airbender, this serial launched October 18, 2018, an eerie post-apocalyptic companion to the Halloween season’s horror stories.
The frame of reporters seeking the truth and finding something more than they bargained for is familiar because it’s such a fun way to play with reality—and keep readers guessing about what, actually, is real. That’s one of the conceits behind Ray N. Kuili’s twisted near-future guessing game, Eden Can Wait, currently producing episodes in its second season. Ryan West is a truth-seeker, but when his devotion to real journalism loses him his job, and his career, he becomes embroiled with the Experimental Science Institute, and a top secret experiment that may be more than he bargained for. Compared by reviewers to the feel and flavor of Lost, this serial combines psychological-thriller, suspense, and science-fiction in a tale that questions morality—and the meaning of mortality.
College senior Macy Walker is obsessed with death, and in her on-air show, “Dead Air,” she airs out the old case of horsewoman Peg Graham’s murder. But though she starts reporting her own findings—and realizing that plenty of people would like Graham’s case to stay buried. Launching on August 1, 2018, this investigative serial is paired with an original in-world podcast of Macy’s show. Creator Gwenda Bond works with well-known YA authors Rachel Caine and Carrie Ryan to bring the college setting—and the murderous plot—to a new audience.
If you caught my article on Serial Box last fall, you may have tuned in for the ReMade podcast experience, produced with Podglomerate in time to listen to season one of this intense YA post-apocalyptic serial before season two started. Twenty three teenagers, all of whom died in the same minute, become the last hope for humanity when they awaken in a brand new world. Here, there are robots that hunt humans, a dangerous jungle, and the ruins of an ancient civilization. For the teens–who might be the last people on the planet–to survive, they have to learn to work together. Divided over the events in season one, survival definitely does not get easier in season two!
With the continued love for YA dystopian futures in longer, doorstopper fantasy titles, this is an entry into the genre that you can take in chunks. The writing team includes some familiar names for YA (and wider) readers: Matthew Cody, Kiersten White, E. C. Myers, Andrea Phillips, Carrie Harris, and Gwenda Bond.
Another chosen daughter of a fated lineage is the heroine of The Sun Fire Chronicles, an ongoing work in progress by Kri Chiarillo. A lost member of the Eosean people–a people cursed by the sun goddess to take the form of tiger people, and blessed by the god of the cosmos with his magic—Kridina never knew of her heritage. But when she is chosen as the host of a magical force known as the SunFire, she must learn to control both the power and her own rage if she is to survive—and avoid a prophecy that she will doom the world. The counter to her SunFire is ColdFire, the blessing of the god of Cosmos, rumored to no longer exist… but Kridina soon discovers that rumors are not to be trusted. The story updates irregularly but has twelve full chapters and a long intro currently posted.
FBI crime thriller False Idols pits Layla el-Deeb against a terrorist network operating via Ciaro’s art scene. Her entry into the world of Cairo’s financial elite is complicated by her impoverished childhood in Cairo’s slums, and going undercover in her home city comes with greater challenges than she expected. The series writers include Star Trek and Missing writer Lisa Klink, short story writer and essayist Patrick Lohier, and YA mystery novelist Diana Renn. The first season released in a print compilation on April 3, 2018.
Witch has wrapped Season 2 of a saga set in 1970-71 Prague at the height of not only the Cold War, but an ongoing struggle between sorcerers of the Ice, who want to preserve the status quo, and the Fire, who seek to remake the world with magical fire. In the midst of this conflict are KGB agent and witch Tanya, whose grandfather set her on the course for both the Party and magic, and Gabe, a CIA agent who stumbled into too much magic in Cairo and now has to learn control in order to get his life back on track.
The setting is fascinating — just enough technology to feel modern, right up until the moments when it isn’t, with a sense of things crumbling around the edges while magic seeps in. Season 2 builds on both the conflicts and kinships between Gabe and Tanya, as well as giving some previously minor (and some new) characters the spotlight.
The enhancement of the cast breathes even stronger life into the series, and the banter between Gabe and newcomer Edith is an ongoing delight. Witch has a great writing team (including creator Lindsay Smith, Bookburners creator Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and guest author, multi-time Hugo and Nebula award winner, Michael Swanwick).
While I read a lot of fantasy, in serials and not, I don’t often get the pleasure of reading contemporary stories about women who like the things I do–all the gamer geeky, SFF fannish fun stuff that fills my every day Facebook feed in my friends circle. Geek Actually fills this hole for fannish readers looking to add a little contemporary fiction to the mix. The five main characters are members of a chat-group and circle of female friends who call themselves the Rebel Scum. Most, like me, are women with careers that revolve around their geeky passions.
The focus on powerful and healthy female friendships–a theme that shouldn’t be limited to MLP:FIM–is a delight, and the diversity of the cast is both wonderful and unsurprising, given the writing team behind this serial: Fandom Hearts series author Cathy Yardley, “Dirty Sexy Geeky” author Melissa Blue, Cecilia Tan of the Vanished Chronicles, and TV-writer come novelist Rachel Stuhler (Absolutely True Lies).
If you don’t need a guarantee that your space opera is going to be regularly updated (this serial updates very sporadically because it’s free and the authors write other books as well), you might want to check out The Starkillers Cycle by Sarah J. Maas and Susan Dennard. The pair, known best for their YA fantasy, combine their love for space fantasy and tough women in the 26 chapters currently posted.
The serial opens with Mel, a prisoner who was convicted of murder, killing another inmate in self defense, and choosing to escape and brave the jungle of her prison planet rather than face the consequences of another conviction. Other characters include a debutante who leaves her glittering world to become an accomplished pilot, an ex-military escaped prisoner worried about the sisters he left behind, and a law enforcer whose family thinks he should have a higher profile job–who’s recruited to confront Mel after her latest in a string of supposed crimes.
The language is graphic, and the content is what you’d expect from the darkest of Maas’s work–plenty of threats of torture, blood, and potentially disfiguring injuries–but despite the grim edge, it has the atmosphere of large-scale space fantasy, chock full of adventure, excitement, and rich families seeking to shape the galaxy as they see fit.
Completed Serial Fiction
If you’re an old-school reader who’d rather wait until the whole story is complete, there are a bunch of finished serials to pick up, too…
This may not be the vampire romance POV swap that everyone’s been talking about lately (*cough* Edward Cullen *cough*), but The Other Half of the Grave has some of the same appeal! Ever have a novel series that you wish would just give you more behind the scenes goodies? Want to see the original story from the romantic interest’s point of view? Fans frequently go over the moon for that kind of material—which is exactly how Jeaniene Frosts’s The Other Half of the Grave launched. Because her “Night Huntress” series is told from the point of view of the female protagonist, when she released a short scene from the perspective of the male protagonist (and the main character’s lover), fans clamored for more. The resulting serial follows the main story of her first “Night Huntress” novel, One Foot in the Grave, but adds details from a different point of view. It’s not an entire book—readers would do best to read the original novel first—but the bite sized installments are a huge reader perk, and are only available for a limited time. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, these (vampire-)bite-sized scenes are to (un)die for…
Bookburners, the flagship series for Serial Box (and one of my personal favorites on this list) has launched its fifth and final season, and the fate of a changing world is at stake. In season one, Sal Brooks, a NYC detective, became a member of the Catholic church’s covert team—locking down demons and the tomes that contain them—in order to save her brother, Perry, from a demon. But growing knowledge of the world, and how magic has infused it and started to crack it at the seams, led the main characters—and the world—to a breaking point. The world is cracking at the seams as more and more magic flows in. In order to save the world, the world may have to change—and the Bookburners are paving the way.
The Bookburners writing team is full of pros from across the industry: Max Gladstone (who we talked to about season five and his other writing projects), Margaret Dunlap, Brian Francis Slattery, Mur Lafferty, Andrea Phillips and Amal El-Mohtar.
The series began with the conceit that books could trap demons, and the Vatican’s Team Three were the ones trapping them: Liam, a hacker who is getting over his own former possession; Grace, a supernaturally swift martial artist with a curse of her own; Father Menchu, the spiritual and practical leader of the group whose early encounter with an “Angel” shaped his faith; and Asanti, a librarian whose curiosity for the arcane is sometimes too powerful for her own good. Over the course of the series, Sal’s brother Perry has continued to play a central role, due to his own encounters with magic, and the team added Frances, Asanti’s apprentice in both the archives and in magic, as a pivotal character. This group of characters has grown and developed over the course of the series—and it’s their personal tales, set against a world in disarray, that have stuck with me. The series finale brings a conclusion of both change and hope—despite some tear-inducing goodbyes—to a world readers like me have enjoyed so much since its launch.
If you’re familiar with Ellen Kushner’s Riverside fantasy series, beginning with Swordpoint, you’ve already got a great hook to start this concluded serial: Tremontaine is a prequel to the adventures in the novels. It also serves as a great introduction to Kushner’s world for those unfamiliar with her work–or any of the other excellent writers on the team, including Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and Paul Witcover.
In season one, readers meet Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, who is facing financial difficulties but scheming on ways to improve the situation for herself and her city; Ixkaab (Kaab) Balam, a fierce daughter of traders who gets into a duel over a woman’s honor just as she arrives in the city; and Micah, a brilliant young girl from a farming family who is taken under the wing of a scholar who thinks she’s a boy. The entire Tremontaine series concluded with its finale in 2018, when the swashbuckling and political intrigue that have kept readers hooked came to their ultimate conclusion. Series creator Ellen Kushner has posted a guide to the Riverside novels and the order in which they occur chronologically for readers wanting to delve more deeply into that world.
Over the course of 2018, Serial Box produced the Associated Press series 1776: The World Turned Upside Down. Focusing on the lives of ordinary citizens, the serial is a month-by-month account of life in the American colonies and the events that led to the founding of the United States. The commentary was originally published for the bicentennial of the United States in a hardcover, large format book for news organizations, and Serial Box brought the series to a digital medium, both text and enhanced audio, for the first time. Better yet, the audio narration is dramatized, with voice work by Clint McElroy as Alexander Hamilton, Bob Garfield as Thomas Paine, Chris Jackson as Washington, Nicholas Christopher as John Adams, and Robin Miles as the narrator. We talked with CEO Molly Barton about the project in July, and the final episode was produced in December, bringing the year to a close. The full serial and omnibus editions are now available.
Brenda Clough takes up the mantle of Wilkie Collins in creating a sequel to what many critics consider the first and finest example of the modern mystery genre, The Woman in White. Written in the style of an 1860s serial, A Most Dangerous Woman features the sleuth team of Walter Hartright and his sister-in-law Marian Camlet as they unravel the truth behind Marian’s husband’s first wife. To solve the case, and to prevent Marian’s husband from hanging for crimes of bigamy and murder, Marian and Walter brave dark and dangerous places in London’s underworld. Fans of vintage serials will be thrilled with this classic-feeling original. To make the current run even stronger, Serial Box has published the original Wilkie Collins story in full—for FREE—through both the Serial Box app and the website.
You’ve heard of the game: several authors create a story together, writing a chapter at a time and then handing it off to the next, so that none of the authors really know where it’s going to end up until the last moment. Serial Box took the concept and turned it into a serial format, making it a day-long literary event featuring Christopher Golden (Ararat), Cassandra Khaw (Food for the Gods), Paul Cornell (Witches of Lychford), Nick Mamatas (I Am Providence), Paul Tremblay (Disappearance at Devil’s Rock), Campbell finalist Alyssa Wong (“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”), and Silverwood: The Door writing team members Brian Keene, Richard Chizmar, Stephen Kozeniewski, and the Sisters of Slaughter. The prompt was provided by horror news website Dread Central: “With only a few days left until the big gallery opening, you’re struggling to finish your final pieces. However, it’s not lack of inspiration but rather dwindling supplies that’s holding you back. The problem is that your art uses rather…unorthodox materials.” The final version of the story is available for free at Serial Box, and it would be unsurprising to see the publisher host a similar event in the future.
Looking for something a little lighthearted for your bite-sized reads? In honor of the real royal wedding in May, Serial Box released a short, mini-series of love stories, not about the bride and groom, but about couples involved in the day’s events. Tourists, reporters, butlers, royal guards, gardeners, and maids find what they’re looking for in this romantic read from team writers Megan Frampton, Falguni Kothari, Kate McMurray, Liz Maverick, and K. M. Jackson. At six episodes for the season, this is a low commitment, high fun series worth the read.
Another fantasy read with very short installments is Sarah Gailey’s The Fisher of Bones, a novelette in twelve parts released by Fireside Fiction, with an audio version produced by Serial Box. The Prophet leads the children of the Gods in the wilderness, away from the city where the Chancellor has declared all Gods illegal. Ducky is the daughter of The Prophet, and with his last breaths, The Prophet casts off her name so that she can take up his mantle. It’s up to her to lead the people on a journey to their prophesied holy land, a task she must take up while mourning the loss of her father. It’s a beautiful and desolate fantasy story filled with trials of faith, and the short chapters make it a quick read–but the chapters will linger in a reader’s thoughts much longer.
Serial Box Omnibus Editions
As one of the front-runners of the serial and bite-sized digital fiction boom, publisher Serial Box is constantly testing new ground for its serial fiction. Their latest move is the release, on March 29, of omnibus versions of several of their collected serials (all featured below). Keep an eye out at your favorite third-party digital bookseller (Amazon, iBooks, etc.) for text-only collected episodes from:
- Bookburners season 1-3
- Tremontaine season 1-3
- Geek Actually (only one season)
- ReMade season 1-2
- Whitehall (only one season)
- The Witch Who Came in from the Cold season 1-2
- Born to the Blade season 1
- A Most Dangerous Woman
Told over the course of four novellas, all published in 2016, this mythical medieval Japanese epic features a disinherited lord, courtly intrigue with the heirs of the Lotus Throne, and a sorcerer who creates a mask for a young man, capturing within it the spirit of a great stag.
As the story progresses, the Imperial heir and his sister must survive in wild, spirit-infested wilderness, the sorcerer helps a new race of people, not quite human, not quite demons, come into their own, and both the magical and the political become embroiled in the battle for the throne.
Fans of Lian Hearne’s earlier Tales of the Otori series will definitely enjoy this, as will readers who like their historical fiction with a fair dash of fantasy.
In the mood for courtly drama, full of machinations, intrigue, and fantastic clothing? Settle in for the turmoil of the romance of Queen Catherine of Braganza, her husband, King Charles II of England, and his mistress, Barbara.
Catherine, infanta of Portugal and devout Catholic, hopes for love in spite of hers being a marriage of state. Charles expects little more than to like the woman he initially finds as doll-like, but her love for his dogs (he’s passionate about the Spaniels; his mistress hates them) and her innocent desires begin to break through his resolve to keep her at a distance.
In turn, Charles fears the interference of his wife in the way his mother nearly ruined his father–and all of England–with her desires. And in the midst of this, the married Barbara, Lady Castlemaine, is bearing Charles’s second child, while her husband stews, his pride unwilling to meekly accept the title Charles has bestowed in exchange for his wife.
It’s initially difficult to like the scheming Barbara over the earnest Catherine, but as the risks to her station–and the fates of her children — grow by the second episode, she might gain a little of the readers’ sympathies. Whether she will keep her place at Charles’s side or eventually Catherine will find love propels the story — as well as the stories of the servants, particularly young Jenny, who may well become the Queen’s truest ally.
This is captivating historical fiction, and the 17th century setting is made vivid by a writing team that includes creator and playwright Liz Duffy Adams, fantasist Delia Sherman, romance novelist Barbara Samuel, Regency romance writer and urban fantasist Madeline Robins, fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal, and YA thriller writer Sarah Smith.
Fans of Downtown Abbey will gravitate to this new story written by Julian Fellowes, which revolves around the Trenchant family: James, an upwardly mobile merchant with aspirations toward mingling with the nobility, who has the ear and trust of the Duke of Wellington; his wife, Anne, who would rather be settled and happy than constantly working to socially advance; and their daughter Sophia, a young woman in love with a Lord about to risk his life in one of the greatest battles in European history.
The tale begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo at a ball that has become infamous for its proximity to the battle. The Belgravia team integrates real historical details into the text through hyperlinking, and though the style, where dialogue is hidden within a paragraph of prose, takes some pages to get used to, the setting is viscerally described, and the characters presented with an open eye to their flaws as equally as their virtues.
The series wrapped last year, and both the app (with special features) and the print book are available for binge readers.
Indexing by Seanan McGuire and its sequel, Indexing: Reflections, take fairy tale characters and insert them into a noir-style modern world. In the world of the serial, fairy tales can come to life among normal families, unless they’re disrupted by the ATI Management Bureau, who stop storybook intrusions before they can take over–when they’re lucky.
Rather than being written in chapters, each serial segment was released as an episode, so reading them back to back is like binge-watching Grimm or Supernatural. Indexing was a part of Amazon’s Kindle Serial fiction experiment in 2012, and there are somewhere around 70 other finished serials in the Kindle store.
The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart
The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart by Andrea Phillips is a children’s fantasy originally published in twelve monthly installments. Funded by Kickstarter, the original serial also gave readers a chance to treasure hunt alongside the daring pirate captain Lucy Smokeheart by solving a riddle in each chapter.
The complete edition includes the puzzles and the key to solving them. Phillips’ world involves carnivorous mermaids, praise for both bacon and chocolate, magic, and danger suitable for middle grader readers and adults alike.
If you’re looking to dabble in free fiction, you can always check out Tuesday Serial, a collection of serials from around the web, submitted by the writers who create them. The site has been active since 2010, so there are years worth of chapters to read and enjoy. And if you’re a nook user, Barnes and Noble has launched its Serial Reads program, which offers a serial as part of the new free Readouts nook feature, with Kristin Higgins’s In Your Dreams.
Queendom by Kim Antieau took a different outlook on the serial: she released a fully written and realized novel of a post-apocalyptic, non-dystopian future in five parts, complete with extras that aren’t going to be available in print. Sadly, if you missed the serial in December 2015, those extras are gone. But the novel itself — a politically driven plot in which a cook becomes a spy and an elected queen searches for those who are seeking to destroy her nation’s economy — is available.
The best part about serials is that they’re happening live — and if enough people are reading them, they make great Internet water-cooler conversation. So if you’re catching up on the latest episode of Machina, Twice, or the most recent installment of the Innkeeper Chronicles and need to gush — or just want to make sure I know about the hot new serial you’re reading — come on over and find me on Facebook.