If there was a golden age of serial fiction, it might have been the era when Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain were publishing their stories-in-installments in print periodicals, with their readers desperately waiting for the next part of the tale. But if that’s true, right now might just be the platinum age of serial fiction. The digital medium is perfect for publishing stories as episodes, and modern readers who are used to receiving stories in an episodic format, thanks to television, may appreciate the medium in a more nuanced way than their historical predecessors.
Modern serials make use of both styles of writing. Some rely on a single author who publishes their novel bit by bit, keeping readers hooked. Others are developed in a television-style writer’s room. Some feature added features like music or illustrations, making use of transmedia opportunities made possible in the digital world. These stories span genres, including near futuristic sci fi (The Vela 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 or television characters in prose (Marvel’s Black Panther: Sins of the King and Doctor Who), and illustrated (Twice) or audio only (Hope and Red) fantasies. Whatever you enjoy reading, there’s a serial for you to enjoy.
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 serial 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!
Jon Skovoron’s Hope and Red was originally published in 2016, but the author is back with a serialized version—delivered straight to your podcasting app, narrated by the author. As the story that launched Skovoron’s “Empire of Storms” series, the novel introduces warrior Hope and thief Red, who must team up to take down a corrupt empire. This fast-paced fantasy has all the right cliff-hangers to keep you waiting for the next episode.
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. The season one conclusion had me sobbing at the end. (Check out my review of The Vela here.) Season two, The Vela: Salvation, is posting episodes right now, and I will be hanging onto my seat for each week’s new episode.
This summer, Serial Box partnered with The Big Finish to release their full-cast audio dramas of Doctor Who to the serial audience. Two collections of stories, The Tenth Doctor Adventures and The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, feature the adventures of the Tenth Doctor and his companion Donna Noble, voiced by David Tennant and Catherine Tate in one and narrated by Jacob Dudman in the other. Four other offerings focus on earlier Doctors, crossovers with multiple Doctors, and the enigmatic Lady Christina. Fans of the television series are sure to find something to enjoy in these companion tales to the program, and listeners who have never watched the show (as rare as those may be!) have the opportunity to dip their toes into a very complex and well-loved world.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire
In Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire, 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.
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.
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. They’re fantastic at providing new content, some in the serial specific world of The Innkeeper Chronicles, which has now produced several novellas. 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.
They’re currently posting a new novel, Blood Heir, set in the world of Kate Daniels, featuring an adult Julie—Kate’s adopted daughter—in an Atlanta eight years after the original series concluded. For readers who weren’t ready to let the series go with Magic Triumphs, this brilliant relaunch is just the reward we needed for surviving a pandemic.
“The Innkeeper Chronicles,” the more frequent ongoing serial series, revolve 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.
Team 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 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 deep into 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.
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. Season one concluded earlier this summer, but season two promises to bring readers even deeper into Rhymer’s world.
If the audio experience is important to you and 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 Part One was picked up by Serial Box, and is 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), which are delivered weekly depending on when you start your subscription. 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.
Amazon Original Stories produces one-sitting fiction reads, such as their premiere releases Joyce Carol Oates’s novel The Sign of the Beast and nonfiction book Crown Heights by Colin Warner and Carl King. Their most recent collection, “Hush,” is a series of contemporary thrillers from authors like Oyinkan Braithwaite and Jeffrey Deaver. Other 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. Other authors who have written for the imprint include Jennifer McMahon, Lisa Unger, Edgar Cantero, Emily Raboteau, Adam Haslett, Brandi Reeds, 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 second season, with writing team Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Curtis C. Chen, just wrapped—but the cliffhanger indicates the solid possibility of a third season in the works.
What happens when a medium and a scientist are at odds in Victorian England—and a vengeful spirit enters the mix? That’s the premise of this forthcoming serial: scientist James Walker hires spiritual medium Beatrix Greene to host a seance. She’s worried he intends to prove that she’s a fraud, and she’s determined not to let that happen. Neither of them expect to have to banish a ghost—or to be so attracted to each other. The first episode is live (and free) at Serial Box, and the second releases just in time for Halloween chills and thrills.
One of two Serial Box titles in development for television, The Co-founder is a contemporary drama 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.
It’s difficult waiting for news about the MCU’s Black Panther 2, but fear not: there’s a serial to tide you over! With a sneak peek released in August 2020, the full serial won’t release until January 2021, but I’m already ready to keep hitting refresh until it launches. Led by Ira Madison III, the writing team (Geoff Thorne, Mohale Mashigo, Steven Barnes, and Tananarive Due) take readers to a Wakanda plagued by undead. T’Challa, striving to be both a good king and an Avenger, must turn to his long-lost father to find out how to stop the supernatural onslaught—and face the demons of Wakanda’s past. With Emmy-nominated William Jackson Harper announced as the narrator, this one is going to be a fantastic read—or listen—when it releases.
Serials You Can Binge
These serials, which are not currently updating, are worth checking out, especially as some of them may later get a second season.
Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood
We might not yet have a fully official 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, which just wrapped its first season in July. 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.
This recently completed serial is set in 1930s Manhattan, where 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 readers will be happy to binge—and hope for a second season.
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 Serial Box’s other Marvel titles!
If you were among the fans who lamented the end of the Canadian SF show Orphan Black, celebrate the return of the Clone Club—eight years after the conclusion of the show! (Den of Geek chatted with Tatiana Maslany about continuing the series as the audio book narrator.) The first Serial Box season has concluded, but fans can keep hoping for more time with the Clone Club.
This may not be the vampire romance POV swap that everyone’s been talking about, but The Other Half of the Grave has some of the same appeal! Fans of Jeanine Frost’s “Night Huntress” series encouraged her to write scenes from the male lead of her first “Night Huntress” novel, One Foot in the Grave, for behind the scenes goodies. 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.
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. Contributors include Dhonielle Clayton (in Issue 0), Malinda Lo (in Issue 1), Justine Larbalesteir (issue 10), and more. A print edition of some of the stories is due out in fall, 2020, but the original 12 issues remain available online.
High fantasy meets political intrigue in Born to the Blade, a serial that 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. Rumor has it there’s no second season yet in the plans, but if you’re like me and can’t handle the cliff-hanger from season one, spread the word!
Billed as American Gods meets The Maltese Falcon, Gods & Lies follows investigator Justix Iris Tharro, a human agent of the goddess of Justice. 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.
First Street delves into contemporary events by focusing on four young clerks working in the Supreme Court. Recommended for fans of The West Wing and Shondaland series, who are sure to get drawn into the intrigue.
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.
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. A game designer has a choice: join Team USA 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 narrated the audio book.)
A covert group travels to the Bermuda Triangle to investigate disappearances, only to be stranded on an uncharted island… where they discover they aren’t alone. Secrets are slowly revealed in Michael Crichton style suspense, with a healthy dose of television’s Lost.
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.
JY Yang’s Tensorate novellas tell a technology-vs.-tradition tale of two twin siblings, Mokoya and Akeha, drawn to opposite sides of a rebellion. A prequel reveals the history of the Protector’s rise, and a continuation of the original duology, The Descent of Monsters, features a female inspector trying to solve a mystery that involves a cover up, an escaped experiment, and strange dreams she can’t define.
This Cold War with witches spy saga had two seasons—and ended on a cliffhanger. If you like a good KGB vs. CIA story, definitely let Serial Box know you’d love to see a third season!
Continuing on from stories originally introduced in the Black Box TV series Silverwood by Tony E. Valenzuela, this serial offers a Lovecraftian creature driving people to madness, and nods to splatterpunk and slashers. (Check out our interview with the writers.)
Imma Moreno’s 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. Tales of Jedi and the series Avatar: The Last Airbender inspired this weird western by Joaquin Lowe.
Sarah Gailey’s The Fisher of Bones is a fantasy novelette in twelve parts released by Fireside Fiction, with an audio version produced by Serial Box. 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.
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.
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.
This contemporary fiction piece focuses on a circle of female friends whose careers revolve around their geeky passions. The focus on powerful and healthy female friendships is a delight, and the diversity of the cast is wonderful.
Bookburners, the flagship series for Serial Box (and one of my personal favorites on this list), is the story of a team of Vatican-employed agents trapping demons in books—until they realize that magic is too big to be contained. The story finished its fifth and final season, and the collected episodes are too good to miss.
This completed serial is a prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside fantasy series, and the the swashbuckling and political intrigue kept readers hooked through the serial’s 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.
The Associated Press series 1776: The World Turned Upside Down was originally published for the bicentennial of the United States in a hardcover, large format book for news organizations. The serial features dramatized audio narration 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.)
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.
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, with two event serials: Exquisite Corpse and Embodied.
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.
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. This is captivating historical fiction, vividly set in the 17th century.
Fans of Downtown Abbey will gravitate to this story, written by Julian Fellowes, of the Trenchant family. Belgravia integrates real historical details into the text through hyperlinking; the setting is viscerally described, and the characters presented with an open eye to their flaws as equally as their virtues.
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 The Vela, or the most recent installment of whatever Team Andrews is writing, 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.