Epic Sci-Fi/Fantasy Series: I wish I could speed read!

Slow reader
Slow reader

What do Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Tad Williams’ Otherland series and Peter F Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn Trilogy have in common?

You could say they are all from the Science Fiction or Fantasy book genre and you’d be right. You could say they are all part of a rather epic series and you’d be right also. In fact the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is theoretically twelve but actually fourteen books (in fact the final book in the Wheel of Time series has just, at long long last, been published, written by Brandon Sanderson working from notes left by Jordan after his death in 2007, and working with Jordan’s wife and long time editor). Tad Williams’ Otherland series has four books and Peter F Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn has three. Williams and Hamilton also have multiple other series in their back catalogue also. Robert Jordan may have but I’m unaware of any.

Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan

You could thrown in a ball from left field and say they are all written by men…unless any have an extremely well kept secret and are actually the aliases of women writers! They’re not…although its not unknown for even well known writers to publish other books in different genres under other names, sometimes of the opposite sex.

Time to spill the beans, you can leave the Mastermind chair now. What these three have in common (this is where, like an Agatha Christie film, a solution is revealed that you couldn’t possibly have guessed even if you’re Sherlock Holmes) is that I have read the first book in each series but have not progressed any further. Actually that’s not strictly true, I have glanced at the first few pages of the second book in each series and then put each down again promising myself I would read them in due course but knowing there was a strong risk this would never happen.

Why do I stop after the first? Several reasons although lack of interest or desire aren’t among them.

First, I’m a slow reader, sometimes a very slow reader and, truth be told, my attention span isn’t great, even when I’m enjoying something. So I have to be choosy about what I read. It can take me a month or longer to read a ‘standard’ 300-odd page book someone else could polish off in a week or less. I don’t know why I read slowly, its just the way I’ve always been.

Second, I’m not one of those people who can plough through a whole series without a break for something else. I need variety or I will likely get book lag, become tired of too much immersion in one world. I need something probably lighter and shorter in between. I say inbetween, clearly I’ve never got to the other side of inbetween, in other words, onto the second in a series.

Third, I think its quite possible I could spend the rest of my life in one series and never be able to read anything else!

Fourth, each volume in an epic series, certainly in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genres, tends to be lengthy, frequently 1000-odd pages. They generally aren’t like, say, popular supermarket crime or chick lit books where although a series may be lengthy in itself, the individual titles can be reasonably short. But then the length of science fiction and fantasy books is one reason people like them; they set out an entire world usually populated with many intriguing characters and you feel like you’re joining them on their epic quest. A bit like reading or watching Lord of the Rings, for a time you are Bilbo in his quest to destroy the ring, or you are at least right there with the heroic band.

Peter F Hamilton
Peter F Hamilton

But the main reason I’ve only read the first in these series is my inability to read any faster than slow. Sometimes I try to force my mind into a faster speed but I end up re-reading what I’ve just read because I haven’t taken anything in. Kind of defeats the purpose if you have to re-read as you go.

This is why I wish I could speed read. If I could zoom through a book fairly fast but still take in the story I’d get through more than the first book in an epic series. But then I’ve always held the assumption that to speed read would mean missing half the story, whizzing over carefully written sentences and missing the different little bits of details that frequently produce the magic of the story. Do speed readers miss the bits where you’d normally stop and re-read and think wow, that was amazing? Those moments where you stop to allow your mind to sink into and enjoy the feeling you get from a certain passage? I may be totally wrong but to me the very existence of the word ‘speed’ in ‘speed reading’ implies missing certain bits in a blur. But not being gifted in speed reading I wouldn’t know. I’d still like to give it a go.

I know of people who say they re-read books in a series before the next comes out so they get the sense of continuity. I knew a woman who did this with Robert Jordan’s series when I worked in a book store a lifetime ago. I can understand reading quickly through a book you’ve already read as you already know the story so maybe that’s a form of speed reading, perhaps more like skimming. To do it with a whole series that runs to, at that time, seven or eight books is, well, overdoing it? Maybe. Maybe not.

Tad Williams
Tad Williams

I remember reading on the back cover of Jordan’s first Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World, a reviewer saying they had “Read it in three days and will queue for the sequel.” Those words have always baffled me because I could never get through a book that length (or any length) in three days. I can’t imagine someone being able to immerse themselves properly in an 800+ page book in just three days. Where do they find the time? Although maybe if your job is to review a book then you can shut yourself away and do nothing but that.

Anyway, I do sometimes wonder if I will ever manage to finish a series. Possibly Robert Jordan’s series is out of my reach but Williams and Hamilton, purely because there are less books in those series, are a better possibility. In the absence of speed reading however, it’s going to be a long journey.

Of course, there are always the audio book versions but, in all honesty, I’ve never really ‘got the hang of them’. I still love, even in this digital ebook age with my trusty Kindle, having a physical book in my hands. I can underline (apologies if you’re one of those people who think marking a book in any way is a form of blasphemy!) and make notes and skim back and forth between pages if I forget something. I can read a book at my own speed, sometimes going a little faster and then having to slow. But then I tire and have to put the book down till next time. At those moments, I wish I could speed read.

What do you think?

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