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Series Fiction

I. DEFINITIONS

Today, to say the least, there exists no clear consensus as to how to define the genre of series fiction: one study of the subject may focus on texts which are entirely ignored in other studies, while authors of reference entries on the subject may announce, in the calm tones of an authority proffering settled wisdom, definitions of series fiction which are totally at odds with the definitions of series fiction presented in other references. Only two assertions, it seems, cannot be challenged. First, there are some bodies of works displaying certain specific features which absolutely must be regarded as series fiction, since no alternative characterization is possible; such works cannot be reasonably described as trilogies or tetralogies, or as a single text followed by several sequels, or as a number of novels that happen to share the same characters and settings. One might argue that these texts, best exemplified by the products of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its successors, should be the focus of any extended consideration of the genre. However, the second point to make is that numerous commentators identify as series fiction other bodies of works which lack these specific features, and may even valorize these other texts as the truest and finest representatives of the genre; hence, any discussion of series fiction cannot entirely exclude texts which do not measure up to strict definitions.

What, then, are the specific features which unambiguously identify texts as series fiction? The key attribute is that such bodies of works are designed from the start to be a potentially infinite series of very similar stories, usually involving the same set of characters, although recurring settings or story patterns may also serve as unifying factors. These stories may have a mild aura of slow chronological progression—each new adventure is described as taking place after the last adventure, and the characters may become slightly older and slightly more capable as the series continues—but books may be enjoyably read in any order, since the overall series of books has no narrative pattern—no real beginning, no real middle and no real end. Thus, the first book of the longest-running series to date, the Hardy Boys's The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon, begins with one brother telling the other, "After the help we gave dad on that forgery case I guess he'll begin to think we could be detectives when we grow up." Despite published reports to the contrary, then, The Tower Treasure is not really the Hardy Boys's first adventure; it is merely the first one which their creators chose to record, though it was preceded by at least one unrecorded adventure, and possibly several others. And while declining sales may someday force the series to come to a halt, that final book will not represent the end of the Hardy Boys's career, since it will, in the manner of all its predecessors, surely leave open the possibility of another adventure to follow. (It is true that the authors of two relatively recent long-running series—Ann M. Martin's The Baby Sitters Club and K. A. Applegate's Animorphs—chose to bring their series to definitive ends with Martin's Graduation Day [2000] and Applegate's The Beginning [2001], but this strategy is unlikely to be repeated by other series, since the decision seemingly caused these once-popular series to vanish from the bookstores. A perpetually expanding series, it seems, is more likely to be perpetually interesting.)

The other features of such bodies of works relate to the planned infinitude of their series. The series has an overall title—usually featuring the name or names of its stars—and all books have similarly designed covers which help to ensure that the books will be shelved together in bookstores. Each book in the series is identified both by a separate title and by a number, enabling youthful collectors to easily keep track of which works they own and which works they are missing. The numbers also convey, of course, that like the natural numbers themselves, books in the series may go on indefinitely. Marketed as predictable sources of reading pleasure, works of series fiction are rigidly formatted to have a certain number of chapters, a certain overall length, and a colorless, anonymous prose style. To strengthen the aura of uniformity, each book is attributed to the same author, either a fictitious creation like the Stratemeyers's Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene or a real author like Ann M. Martin or K. A. Applegate who, almost invariably, is eventually driven to employ ghostwriters to keep producing new volumes at a regular rate.

So defined, series fiction for most of the twentieth century was written exclusively for children. In the 1980s, however, not only did series fiction become prominent in the burgeoning new market of young adult literature—including new series featuring stalwarts Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in more mature, and often more violent, adventures—but genuine series fiction for adults also emerged, the first prominent example being the Star Trek franchise, soon followed by other series that almost exclusively fell into the categories of science fiction and fantasy.

Also matching this definition of series fiction are the offshoots of individual works, originally intended to be complete in themselves, that proved to be so popular with readers as to inspire—or even compel—their authors to begin producing numerous sequels that were later presented as installments of series fiction. Thus, when L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and when Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote The Boxcar Children (1942), they originally envisioned those books as single stories. However, they were later urged to write additional adventures featuring the same settings and characters, and these sequels were soon appearing at regular intervals and were all republished with an umbrella title, similar cover designs, and numbers on their spine in the traditional manner of series fiction. Then, after Baum and Warner died, other authors were recruited to carry on their series.

In addition to works with these features, there are two groups of texts which are frequently embraced as series fiction. First, there are stories which were planned from the start to extend to a specified number of volumes, prominently including J. K. Rowling's seven-volume Harry Potter series (launched in 1997). Books in these series may in some ways seem like items in a series, but their key distinction is an overall narrative arc, with a beginning, middle, and end, so that readers are required to read the books in sequential order; this means that, in essence, they are more like very long novels split into several volumes than standard series fiction. Second, there are those works which engendered several sequels without ever gelling into the pattern of series fiction, such as Mary Norton's stories about the diminutive Borrowers (the first being The Borrowers [1952]) and P. L. Travers's stories about the magical nanny Mary Poppins (the first being Mary Poppins [1934]). In these cases, since each volume is potentially the final installment, and since there may be a considerable interval before a new installment is written, the book in these series tend to vary more in their contents and tone than do regular series, and the characters are more likely to grow and change over time. The sequels are also likely to be less and less interesting, as authors grow bored with characters they did not intend to spend many years with, or as they struggle to come up with new adventures for characters whose adventures had apparently concluded. All of this provides a contrast to the uniform, if low, quality maintained in all installments of those series which were carefully planned from the start to endure indefinitely.

II. HISTORY

From the broadest possible perspective, one might say that series fiction is rooted in an ancient human desire to extend pleasurable stories beyond their natural conclusions, so that one might look back to ancient mythology, and the numerous stories told about heroes like Hercules and Thor, or to the extended romances of medieval Europe featuring heroes like Roland, as the progenitors of series fiction. However, it is more useful to limit a historical survey to the last two hundred years, when the modern publishing industry emerged, to understand the contemporary phenomenon of series fiction.

Because one may simply regard series fiction as a number of books involving the same character or characters, some have argued that James Fenimore Cooper's novels about frontiersman Natty Bumppo (the first being The Pioneers [1823]) represent the origin of the genre. Edgar Allan Poe's stories about detective Auguste Dupin (the first being "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" [1841]), followed more prominently by Arthur Conan Doyle's stories and novels about detective Sherlock Holmes (the first being A Study in Scarlet [1887]), established the pattern, long commonplace in mystery and detective fiction, of innumerable novels featuring the same fictional detective solving a variety of different cases. Strangely, however, extended series like Rex Stout's novels featuring detective Nero Wolfe (the first being Fer-de-Lance [1934]) or Erle Stanley Gardner's novels featuring investigating attorney Perry Mason (the first being The Case of the Velvet Claws [1933]) have never been embraced as examples of series fiction.

Seeking early examples of series fiction aimed at young readers, one might consider the genteel American series aimed at young girls which became popular in the late 1800s, like Sophie May's Little Prudy series (launched in 1864), Martha Finley's Elsie Dinsmore series (launched in 1867), and—a bit later—Eleanor H. Porter's Pollyanna series (launched in 1913). Other commentators might instead choose to focus on the more boisterous adventures found in Great Britain's "penny dreadfuls" and the United States's "dime novels," aimed at an audience of young boys. While various formats were employed, these were typically cheaply printed pamphlets that appeared every week and often focused on one recurring character and his exciting adventures; the most noteworthy American author of dime novels, Luis Senarens (1863-1939), is best remembered for his numerous stories featuring boy inventors Frank Reade, Jr., and Jack Wright. These works display many of the features now associated with series fiction, such as poor writing, repetitive story lines, thrill-packed adventures, and the regular use of pseudonyms to create an aura of continuity despite the use of multiple authors. What these dime novels lacked, however, were the permanence and profitability that could only come with publication in book form.

The man who hit upon this formula for success, and the true father of series fiction as it is known today, was Edward T. Stratemeyer (1862-1930). After years of writing dime novels, Stratemeyer set up his own company—the famed "Stratemeyer Syndicate"—to produce series of books featuring popular characters like the adventurous Rover Boys (series launched in 1899), the playful Bobbsey Twins (series launched in 1904), boy inventor Tom Swift (series launched in 1910), and others less well remembered today, such as the Moving Picture Boys (series launched in 1913), career girl Ruth Fielding (series launched in 1913), Bomba the Jungle Boy (series launched in 1926), and aviator Ted Scott (series launched in 1927). For maximum efficiency in generating titles, Stratemeyer adopted the policy of only preparing outlines for each new book in a series and hiring cheap, anonymous writers to actually write the books. Stratemeyer allowed two of his early successes—the Rover Boys and Tom Swift—to gradually age into adulthood as their series progressed, resulting in a loss of popularity and an eventual end to the series. Later, Stratemeyer and his successors made sure that their series characters, including their most prominent creations, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, would remain forever young. As another factor to explain the enduring success of those characters, however, one must also acknowledge the special talents of the principal chroniclers of their early adventures: Leslie A. McFarlane, who as Franklin W. Dixon wrote 21 of the first 26 Hardy Boys books, and Mildred Wirt Benson, who as Carolyn Keene wrote 23 of the first 25 Nancy Drew books.

Other publishers were soon following Stratemeyer's example and producing series of their own, although none enjoyed any lasting success. After Stratemeyer's death in 1930, his daughter Harriet Adams carried on the business by taking over the task of preparing outlines and launching new series, though the output of the Syndicate, along with the series fiction produced by competitors, was significantly reduced during the 1930s and early 1940s. Outside of this milieu, however, the period did see the beginning of some cherished series about and for children outside the milieu of series fiction, such as Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (1930) and its sequels and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House novels, which started with Little House in the Big Woods (1932).

In the late 1940s and 1950s, series fiction again began to become prominent for a number of reasons. Of course, the post-war "Baby Boom" simply meant that the audience for books aimed at younger readers was larger than it had ever been before, but other factors led to a particular emphasis on series fiction. For by this time, people had grown accustomed to the format of indefinitely continued series in the new media of the twentieth century: the motion picture industry often produced several films featuring the same cast of characters (including four starring Stratemeyer's girl detective Nancy Drew), long series of short subjects with a similar format, and adventurous 15-episode serials for youngsters attending Saturday matinees; there were many radio programs that featured recurring characters, ranging from action heroes like the Shadow and Superman to humorous teams like Fibber McGee and Molly and Amos and Andy; and the new medium of television similarly made regular series a major part of their programming. Now accustomed to listening to or watching familiar, unchanging characters in an indefinite series of adventures, young readers were more prepared than ever to seek out and enjoy fiction which followed the same format. Thus, the Stratemeyer Syndicate began a number of new series featuring characters like Tom Swift's equally ingenious son, Tom Swift, Jr. (series launched in 1954), western hero Bret King (series launched in 1960), and the mystery-solving family, the Happy Hollisters (series launched in 1953). Other publishers enjoyed success with series featuring characters like peripatetic nurse Cherry Ames (series launched in 1943), girl detective Trixie Belden (series launched in 1948), and young spaceman Tom Corbett (series launched in 1952).

As the children of the Baby Boom matured into adulthood in the 1960s and 1970s, series fiction again experienced a decline, ending virtually all of the series that had been launched in the 1940s and 1950s, but the second Baby Boom of the 1980s and 1990s brought a wave of new series from a variety of publishers, prominently including Ann M. Martin's Baby-Sitters Club series (launched in 1986), Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley High series (launched in 1984), R. L. Stine's horrific Fear Street series (launched in 1989) and Goosebumps series (launched in 1992), and K. A. Applegate's science-fictional Animorphs series (launched in 1996). A few series adopted the novel format of interactive fiction, in which the story regularly stopped to allow readers to choose two possible courses of action, each leading to a different page, which would in turn offer additional choices, producing a book that could essentially provide an entirely different story upon each reading; the first of these was Edward Packard's Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, The Cave of Time (1979).

Also in the 1980s, publishers increasingly found that the adult readers who had grown up reading series fiction were now willing to accept similarly formatted fiction aimed at adults. True, there had been earlier experiments along those lines—in the 1960s, Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan and Mars novels, the pulp magazine adventures of Doc Savage, and the German Perry Rhodan novels had all been republished as series fiction with numbered titles—but original works of series fiction for adults emerged as a genre primarily because of the success of the Star Trek novels. After two isolated examples—Mack Reynolds's Mission to Horatius (1968) and James Blish's Spock Must Die! (1970)—the actual Star Trek series began with Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano, Jr.'s Spock, Messiah! in 1976. The Star Trek series now includes over 300 novels, including novels about characters from all five television series, novels featuring original characters, and separate series aimed at younger readers. Later, the film Star Wars and the television series Doctor Who also inspired long series of novels, and there were also series based on other science fiction series and children's series shown on the Nickelodeon and Disney cable channels. Outside of film and television spinoffs, numerous fantasy series have been launched, some based on video games or role-playing games, although strictly formatted series fiction for adults remains rare outside of science fiction and fantasy.

Overall, with perennials like the Hardy Boys and Nancy still producing new titles, old favorites like the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden reappearing in print, and new series for young readers and adults being launched all the time, it seems reasonable to conclude that series fiction will long remain a major feature of the children's publishing industry and will become increasingly prominent in the young adult and adult fiction markets.

III. CHARACTERISTICS

Since their beginnings, works of series fiction have been condemned as inferior fiction, largely on the grounds that they are poorly written, repetitively plotted, and rigidly formatted in their contents and length, and because they foreground plot at the expense of character development. Yet one can also point to series which offer a higher quality of prose, more variety in their stories, more flexibility in their structure, and more attentiveness to well-rounded characters. A key indictment of series fiction which is harder to defend would be its mandated lack of change. In series fiction, characters cannot mature, change their attitudes, take on new responsibilities, or deal with significant new challenges or serious setbacks. Instead, they must forever remain the same people in the same situation, successfully completing adventures that have absolutely no impact on their personality or status before moving on to another adventure of a similar sort. However, one can argue, the essential characteristic of human life is constant change, so that any work of literature that honestly deals with the human condition must show how and why people change and continue adjusting to change. From this perspective, series fiction represents a gross betrayal of basic literary values. One can even maintain that the unrealistic timelessness of series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys make them works of pure fantasy, despite the absence of conventional generic markers, and this may be the reason some scholars privilege less formal series in which characters grow and mature as superior exemplars of the form.

One might begin a defense of series fiction, then, with arguments related to those used to defend fairy tales and fantasy for children. Most children are ambivalent about the prospect of growing up: they may long for the freedom that they perceive in adult life, but fear the heavy responsibilities that adults must accept. Thus, as a pleasant escape from these concerns, series fiction can offer them protagonists a bit older than their readers who are allow to enjoy most of the freedoms of adulthood while also securely protected and cared for by a nurturing family. Almost all varieties of series fiction, one finds, tend to share two central characteristics: young protagonists who are unusually mobile and independent, and a family that tolerates and encourages their adventurous activities while also offering them security and a safe haven. Thus, after the Hardy Boys fly off to Bombay to solve a mystery, they can return to their comfortable home in Bayport and enjoy one of Aunt Gertrude's delicious home-made pies. True, it is not realistic to have characters forever suspended between the worlds of childhood and adulthood in this fashion, but it may be appealing and psychologically rewarding, sometimes, for young people to vicariously experience such a situation.

It is also true that, in the past, children typically grew up in one house in one town while constantly surrounded by the same parents and siblings, and with such stable upbringings, they might reasonably be expected to prefer more diverse and variegated fiction. Today, however, children may move several times while growing up, live through one or more parental divorces, and constantly face difficult adjustments to new parents, new siblings, new homes, new schools, and new communities. In these circumstances, more than ever before, children might understandably prefer fiction which can offer the sort of comforting continuity that their own lives so conspicuously lack; the idyllic world of Nancy Drew, with her supportive father and loyal circle of friends, might represent for some children a needed island of stability in a tumultuous, constantly-changing world. This may also explain why families have remained so central to series fiction, despite changes in the lifestyles of young people that often marginalize their actual, flawed families and, hence, heighten the appeal of the ideal imaginary families of series fiction.

Still, a few recent series suggest in contrast that this formula of adventurous freedom combined with a stable, supportive family may not longer be quite as appealing to contemporary children as it was to their parents and grandparents. Some children today, especially those in dysfunctional families, may feel that they are being given too much freedom, not too little freedom, and the idea of independently roaming far from home might seem frightening, rather than exciting. Thus, unlike Stratemeyer's well-trained and stalwart young heroes, the protagonists of R. L. Stine's Fear Street and Goosebumps books often seem unprepared, self-centered, weak, and helpless in the face of supernatural menaces, and their parents or other adults may be distant or uninvolved, unable or unwilling to provide any meaningful assistance. In such cases, the story's happy ending may provide their protagonists only with a temporary escape from, instead of the final defeat of, their daunting foes. In sum, while previous generations of younger readers clearly preferred characters who sought and reveled in freedom, Stine's success has demonstrated that, today, there is also some appeal in protagonists who fear and recoil from excessive freedom.

Since the days of Stratemeyer, series fiction has also been defended for its educational value. In the most basic sense, the books may offer well-researched accounts of certain activities or exotic locations, so that, for example, readers can learn basic facts about taxidermy in the Hardy Boys mystery The Short-Wave Mystery (1945) and tour the city of Venice, Italy by reading the Nancy Drew mystery The Phantom of Venice (1991). Indeed, constrained to maintain its characters at the same age and in the same situation, series fiction now necessarily seeks out different kinds of supporting characters and settings to add some elements of novelty to otherwise-familiar narratives. Once focusing on Caucasian characters in small American towns, then, series fiction now takes readers all over the world, introduces them to people from different cultures, and explores a wide variety of lifestyles and professions. Their protagonists may still be young Americans, but today's series fiction, unlike that of earlier generations, can no longer be charged with such sins as racism, sexism, chauvinism, or xenophobia, and might instead be credited for its understated promotion of tolerance and multiculturalism. More broadly, series fiction can be commended because it is providing children with positive role models, young characters who are strongly committed to traditional values and obedient to parents and authority figures, but also characters who are capable of courageous and independent action in response to various challenges; even the less-capable protagonists of Stine's Goosebumps books will at least show themselves to be good-hearted and occasionally resourceful.

Yet the ultimate defense of series fiction must rest on a single, inarguable fact: scores of younger people love to read these books, and scores of older people fondly remember and value these books, so that they must be regarded as significant and worthwhile works of literature, even if they fall short of many of the traditional standards of literature. Anxious to have children read books of any sort, in an age when there are so many alternative activities to lure them away from reading, librarians now happily place works of series fiction on their shelves, and scholars of children's literature, who once contemptuously ignored the genre, are now regularly publishing serious studies of series fiction in books published by university presses.

IV. THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE

Walking into a modern bookstore, one will find the overwhelming majority of series fiction books in two sections—adult science fiction and fantasy, and children's and young adult's fiction. Significantly, however, they are displayed differently in these two sections. Science fiction and fantasy readers will invariably find all of the series books in a separate section, isolated from the standalone novels, reflecting an ongoing hostility to adult series fiction expressed by many traditional readers who feel that series fiction is debasing their beloved genres. Younger readers, though, will usually find works of series fiction intermingled with standalone novels, indicating that series fiction is now universally accepted as an appropriate form of children's literature. Recalling that series fiction for children was not entirely accepted until several decades after its emergence, one perhaps should not be surprised that series fiction for adults, a relatively recent phenomenon, is still stigmatized in many circles.

Any effort to epitomize the contemporary literature of series fiction is problematic, if for no other reason than the vast dimensions of the field, ensuring that some readers will be unhappy about the omission of their favorite series. In addition, because the marketplace is now so volatile, series which are hugely popular today may literally vanish tomorrow, to be replaced by some successful new series. Any discussion of series fiction, is necessarily obsolete the instant it is published, destined to provoke its readers to wonder why some forgotten series was given so much attention while another series of obvious importance was inexplicably excluded.

The dominating force in series fiction for adults remains the Star Trek franchise, still represented by dozens of new titles despite the declining popularity of its television programs and films; books based on the Star Wars films are also prominent, though not as numerous as Star Trek novels. Once, these sorts of stories—exciting adventures featuring likable characters in a colorful cosmos filled with friendly and unfriendly humanoid aliens—were a staple of science fiction in general; now, they have largely migrated to the world of series fiction, employing the established universes of Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction films and television programs as their settings. Generally, however, series fiction based on television series and film series does not endure after new episodes of the original franchise are no longer being produced; thus, books based upon the 1990s series Babylon 5 are no longer appearing, and one assumes that current works of series fiction based on the Battlestar Galactica television series, the Alien films, and the Halo video games will soon vanish, to be replaced by series fiction based upon newer media franchises.

Oddly enough, the most popular fantasy series for adults—the DragonLance books, many written or edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and the Forgotten Realms books, mostly written by R. A. Salvatore—both emerged not from a film or television program, but from the popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. There have also been a number of books by various authors based upon the card game Magic: The Gathering. Very much in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien, such series offer rousing epics of heroic fantasy with familiar elements such as magical artifacts, ancient curses, courageous young heroes, wizards, elves, and dragons.

Since series fiction for adults is found almost exclusively in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, it is not surprising to find similar series aimed at younger readers. Science fiction series for younger readers include the Starfleet Academy series describing the youthful exploits of characters from the series Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Voyager (series launched respectively in 1996, 1993, and 1997) and K. A. Applegate's Animorphs series, featuring teenagers with the power to turn into animals who are fighting against alien invaders. Horror series can also be found: although they are no longer as popular as they once were, R. L. Stine continues to produce new Fear Street and Goosebumps novels, and in 2004 he launched the new Mostly Ghostly series involving a young boy who must cope with two ghosts living in his house. Some would also include in this category Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events series (launched in 1999), although its horrific events are not supernatural in nature. Generally, however, fantasy series are the most common: these include Lynne Ewing's Daughters of the Moon series (launched in 2000), featuring five young girls with magical powers; Cate Tiernan's Sweep series (launched in 2001), describing the maturation of a young witch; and Diane Duane's Young Wizards series (launched in 1983), about the heroic adventures of two young wizards. Fantasy series based upon media franchises include the Charmed series (launched in 1999), based on the popular fantasy television series, with some books written by series creator Constance M. Burge, and Rob Kidd's Jack Sparrow's series (launched in 2006), describing the youthful exploits of the hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. There have also been successful fantasy series featuring animal protagonists, including the heroic squirrels of Brian Jacques's Redwall series (launched in 1986) and the adventurous owls of Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series (launched in 2003).

The majority of series fiction written for younger readers, though, involves more realistic characters and settings. For example, some mildly salacious series fiction for female teenagers focuses on the romantic escapades of adventurous, and often wealthy, young women; examples would include Lisi Harrison's The Clique series (launched in 2004), Louise Rennison's Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series (launched in 2001), and Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl and It Girl series (launched respectively in 2002 and 2005). Such provocative fare has inspired some bookstores to post warnings that some items in their young adult sections might contain "mature content." To provide a more wholesome and thoughtful alternative to such fare, Annie Bryant began her Beacon Street Girls series in 2004, offering stories of teenage girls facing various challenges which are purportedly influenced by consultations with authoritative experts. A more youthful heroine, coping with her parents' divorce and other problems, appears in Laura Dower's From the Files of Madison Finn series (launched in 2001).

Appealing to a different sort of juvenile interest, other series focus on young people enjoying the companionship of beloved animals. Young girls and the horses they love are the focus of Terri Farley's Phantom Stallion series (launched in 2002) and Laura Brooks's Heartland and Chestnut Hill series (launched respectively in 2000 and 2005), while Ben M. Boglio's Animal Ark series (launched in 1998) features a young girl who works with the animals treated by her veterinarian parents. Outdoor adventures of a different nature figure in Melissa J. Morgan's Camp Confidential series (launched in 2005), featuring a group of female friends who gather every year at a summer camp.

And of course, series fiction involving characters who solve mysteries remains very popular. The venerable Hardy Boys, having solved 190 mysteries in their original series, another 127 mysteries in the Hardy Boys Casefiles series for older readers (launched in 1987), 37 minor mysteries in the Clues Brothers series featuring them as children (launched in 1997), and several mysteries working in tandem with Nancy Drew, are now being featured in the new Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers series, working for an organization called A.T.A.C. (American Teens Against Crime). Nancy Drew has enjoyed a similarly prolific career, with 175 mysteries in her original series, 124 mysteries in her Nancy Drew Files series for older readers (launched in 1986), and 69 mysteries as a child in the Nancy Drew Notebook series (launched in 1994), now replaced by the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series (launched in 2004); she is currently featured in the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series (also launched in 2004). For somewhat younger readers, Gertrude Chandler Warner's Boxcar Children continue to appear in new stories written by other authors that invariably provide the young protagonists with a new mystery to solve, and Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown series (launched in 1963) continues to generate new titles featuring its young sleuth solving several short mysteries in each volume.

As already noted, series fiction as a phenomenon seems likely to continue and grow in the future, although it is difficult to predict what forms it might take. In the realm of adult series fiction, one can anticipate that the Star Trek and Star Wars novels will remain popular, that every new science fiction film or television series which attract fans will inspire a series of accompanying novels, and that heroic fantasy series will continue to attract numerous readers. In the series fiction produced for younger readers, one can anticipate ongoing efforts to "push the envelope" by introducing more and more sexuality and violence in series fiction for young adults, to be invariably countered by other series which aggressively promote their more wholesome content as a welcome alternative. While recent problems with the American space program have seemingly diminished youthful interest in space adventures, which were once common but have now vanished from series fiction for children, a new generation of space vehicles and more ambitious missions might rekindle a desire for exciting sagas of young astronauts. While one might argue that series fiction for younger readers has already exhausted every conceivable setting in the real or imagined past, present, or future, the genre of alternate history—now a popular subgenre of adult science fiction—might inspire authors to create new sorts of series involving, say, worlds where the Roman Empire never fell or the South won the Civil War. The Internet might also generate new forms of interactive series fiction, although such developments have been long predicted without really emerging to any significant extent. On the other hand, whatever novelties might arise, one can also expect that conventional series fiction featuring young detectives, girls and their horses, and peripatetic families will never entirely lose its appeal. Thus, any critical discussion of series fiction, like a work of series fiction itself, can never definitively conclude; instead, one must advise readers that while this current summation of series fiction has concluded, they should definitively watch for the next installment to come.

Bibliography

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Dizer, J. T. Tom Swift and Company: "Boys' Books" by Stratemeyer and Others. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1982.

Dyer, Carolyn Stewart, and Nany Tillman Romatov, editors. Rediscovering Nancy Drew. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Erisman, Fred. "Stratemeyer Boys' Books and the Gernsback Milieu." Extrapolation, 41 (Fall, 2000), 272-282.

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