Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Order

You might not think about it very often, but people have different ideas of the order books in a series should be read or movies should be watched. You probably go into a library after hearing that something is good, and look for “book 1.” But there are different ways of determining which book is “book 1,” and here at A Scientist’s Fiction we are generally unsatisfied with letting someone else do our thinking for us, so let’s dive into the mess.

I assume most people go by publication order when deciding what order to read something. They would watch Star Wars in the order 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. To me, reading books in the order they released is usually the obvious choice.

But some people want to read stories in the order their events take place, chronological order. For example, they would say you should start The Chronicles of Narnia with The Magician’s Nephew, and go 6, 1, 5, 2, 3, 4, 7. Or for Star Wars, they would go 1, 2, 3, Rogue One, 4, 5, 6, 7.

You could lose friends over this.
When chronological order and publication order disagree, I am usually in favor of publication order. But not always. So do I have two incompatible preferences that I switch between, or is there is another, as yet unstated option? The answer, partly, is a third option:

The order that makes the best of what you love most. Most of the time, books are written, including prequels and side stories, assuming that the readers know everything that has been written before. This is why I most often agree with publication order. Sometimes, though, neither gives the writing the best possible treatment. With the original Star Wars series, the best way is the Machete order, proposed by Rod Hilton on his blog five years ago. He says you should watch the films in the order 4, 5, 2, 3, 6 (and then the others, if you are really interested). This gives you two movies of Luke, two movies of Anakin, and one where they have their showdown.

Still, this only applies if you want to read every book or watch every movie and episode in the series. If it is long and somewhat disconnected, like Discworld or Star Trek (or Star Wars in the near future), then you might want to get straight to the best parts, and ignore the fluff and side stories.

In addition, different people get the most out of different things. For example, you may love character interactions, but if you are a longtime reader of A Scientist’s Fiction you know I love to be blind-sided by an earth-shattering plot twist. As you can see, the details can get really complicated.

Despite all this, I still believe there is a formula. I am of the philosophical persuasion that there is always a formula for everything, though I won’t take a tangent into the justification here. I cannot give you the equation for the formula of reading order, but I can tell you that it incorporates both the preferences of the individual readers and their external circumstances. Find out what you love about stories and check your time constraints, and base your reading order off of that. And when you introduce someone you know to the series, pay attention to their preferences when suggesting where they should begin. It all gets back to the golden rule, do unto others what you would have them do to you, and that includes getting to know them and what they are interested in, not assuming they are just like you. And if your friend does not see the same way as you, accept that it is okay to disagree.

On a different note, I want to give myself a pat on the back for releasing an ASF discussion on each of the five Fridays this month! It has been over a year and a half since the only other time I have done this. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I did it right after NaNoWriMo. Here is to keeping the momentum going!

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