The potted history of the serial novel is well-documented, dating back to The Thousand and One Nights, with its frame of vizier's daughter Scheherazade narrating hook-laden stories to avoid execution by King Shahryar. Its heyday was the 19th century, with the Charles Dickens-founded periodical, All the Year Round, publishing novels of his, including Great Expectations, and Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, at the same time as Sherlock Holmes was taking his first cases in The Strand magazine (which had a circulation of 500,000). Nowadays newspapers and journals rarely serialise novels, but the format lives on in Japanese manga, as well as the dank online caves of the horror, SF and occult genres, pioneered by Stephen King's "e-novel", The Plant, published in 2000 (which remains unfinished).
So does the serial novel in 2009 feel anachronistic, or thoroughly modern – a way of reading literature facilitated by technology?
Serial novels makes me think of the Pickwick Papers. Serial writing makes me think of fanfiction and wips. And the contrary souls who prefer catching a "long, regularly-updated wip" right at the start to reading through one already completed. And comments and feedback and community. Imagining all the possible alternative stories in the virtual universe between the text and the reader, only that process is doubled in fanfiction, with the directness of its responding and being responded to.
The aesthetics of anticipation, I was told by one wip-fan... compelling enough to be addictive, especially if there is a judicious use of cliffhangers. And no abandoned fics at the end.