What do I call the series?

I am about to self-publish the first book in a five-book series. The second one is already drafted, and I have some notes on the final three. I say this to show that this is not merely a book with an open ending, but that for once I actually have a plan for how the rest of it will go.

So, I’m thinking it terms of branding the series with a common look for the covers, similarly structured titles, common font choices… everything that you expect to see in a series, and one of those things is that little splash of text on the cover beneath the title, proclaiming it to be Book One of the Impressive Series Name.

But just what do I call the series? Sometimes these are named for the protagonist like “The Dresden Files” or “The Honor Harrington Series”. Other times it’s the setting, like “The Hollows” or “Chronicles of Narnia”. And then there are enigmatic elements from the tale itself, “A Song of Fire and Ice” or “His Dark Materials”.

How do I pick one? I’m asking both for some general guidance, and I’m also going to try out a few on you and see what you think.

These books are space opera, and they deal with a 17-year-old boy growing into adulthood after the death of his adopted father. Part of the deal with that, though, is that he didn’t find out about the adoption until after that death, so there are all kinds of father-son issues going on here. The first book is titled Ships of My Fathers, and all the rest will be similarly titled, i.e. [Nouns] of My Fathers.

Common elements across all five books include the protagonist, the ship he inherited from his adopted father, and a shadowy villain who is tied up in both his past and his future. My instinct is to name it after one of those elements.

For the character, it would be: Book One of the Michael Fletcher Saga
For the ship it would be: Tales from _Sophie’s Grace_, Book One
For the villain it would be: Book One of the Father Chessman Saga

I’m not particularly married to the “Tales from…” or “Saga” aspects. It’s the other words that I’m struggling with. Naming it after the rather plain-named Michael Fletcher seems boring. I like the ship one better, though that particular ship is actually sidelined for most of the first book. And that leaves me with my current favorite, “the Father Chessman Saga” since it sounds all impressive, but I feel weird naming the series after the villain. It would be a bit like calling the Harry Potter series the Lord Voldemort series.

So… reactions? Advice? Mockery?

Better Sequels

Usually sequels don’t live up to the original, but sometimes they surpass it. I was talking to a friend recently, trying to come up with a list of them, but it was hard. What made it harder was that I wanted to limit it to SF/F genre films. We came up with three, and I found a few more. We also found several that were debateable or didn’t quite make it. Here we go:

The Winners:

The Empire Strikes Back: This one is so often quoted as the declining-sequel rule breaker that it has to go on the list, and I think it really does deserve it. As much as I loved Star Wars as a kid, Empire turned the franchise – ever so briefly – into more serious adult fare.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: This one gets in easily, not only because it was a great film, but because the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture was so limp that it’s a miracle this one was ever made. In my not so humble opinion, this film saved the franchise.

Star Trek: First Contact: I was tempted to knock this one out, because it’s not technically a sequel as much as it’s the next installment in an ongoing series. However, I can buy the argument that Star Trek: Generations started off a new film sequence, and that let’s this one in. So, while Generations tried to do far too much and didn’t pull much of it off, First Contact focused on one thing: stopping the Borg from destroying our history. It had a tight story, cool characters, and plus… you know… THE BORG!

Road Warrior: Some people don’t even realize this is a sequel, but the original Mad Max was an Australian blockbuster. I love it – and would love it even more without the terrible dubbing job – but I have to say that Road Warrior has a better style, better car chases, and a better plot.

Aliens: My friend argued against this one, not because he thought the original Alien was better but because they were so different as to almost be different genres. Alien is a walk through a dark alley, almost a horror film, while Aliens is a military-action rollercoaster. But I think they’re close enough that I’m going to include it.

Now on the many Honorable Mentions:

For a Few Dollars More: This is well outside the bounds by genre since it’s a western. It’s also questionable whether it’s even a sequel to Fistful of Dollars. However, it is the second in what most folks refer to as “the Man with No Name” trilogy that ends with the classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In some ways, this one was the high point of the trilogy for me, and Clint Eastwood almost played second fiddle to Lee Van Cleef’s search for long-delayed justice for a very personal crime. If you’re a fan of gun-fighting westerns, you need to see this one.

The Four Musketeers: This is historical fiction as opposed to SF/F fiction, but the main reason I don’t like seeing it on lists of great sequels is that it’s not really a sequel. It’s the second half of the Three Musketeers movie that was released the year before. The director shot so much film that he decided to break it up, leaving quite the legal mess for the film industry to sort out in contract law for generations to come. However, all that aside, this is a fabulous film, and this pair of Musketeer films (with a young Michael York) is in my opinion the best of all the Musketeer tellings.

Kill Bill, Vol 2: This one also shows up on great sequel lists, but I also don’t think it belongs for the same reason that The Four Musketeers didn’t belong. It’s not a sequel.  It’s the second half of the film, and of course it’s better than “the original”. It has the climax, you dummy. But yeah, great film. The first one ripped out your carotid in a nasty arterial spray, but the second one grabbed on tight and yanked your heart out through your severed neck. Ok, not that bloody, but you get the idea.

Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight: I think that both of these sequels were better than the originals, but despite all the fancy weapons and cool gadgets, I don’t consider comic movies to be either science fiction or fantasy. I think they’re their own genre like horror or mystery.

Toy Story 2: The original was awesome, but this sequel knocked it out of the park. I just don’t think it qualifies as SF/F.

Terminator 2: My friend lobbied hard for this one, but personally, I think the original is still the best of the series. Yes, the second one had better effects and a pretty good story, but the original one hangs together so much better and has that wonderful bittersweet romance.

Superman 2: Some people rate this one as being better than the original, and given the stupid fly-around-the-earth-backwards time travel in the first film, I can see their argument. However, the people making this argument are usually referring to the Donner cut of the film rather than the theatrical release, and I haven’t seen the Donner cut. If I do, I might join their camp, but in the meantime, I’m sticking with the origin-heavy original.  But yeah, it’s still comic, not SF.

So, what great sequels did I miss? What about book sequels instead of movie sequels? Or for that matter, does this make you think of any terrible sequels? I’ve got half a mind to follow this up with a list of sequels so bad that they don’t officially exist, e.g. Highlander II or Star Trek V.