Monday, July 30, 2007

For Love and/or Money

One of my on-line friends was telling me about how he never reads media tie-in books. You know the kind. Novels about TV series, movies, games,etc. Buffy. Magic:The Gathering. Charmed. Star Trek, whatever version. Forgotten Realms. That kind of thing. He had noted that I read a lot of Conan pastiches, which he was comparing to the various media tie-ins referred to above.
I tried to explain the difference between a pastiche and a tie-in, and that sometimes one book can be both. A true pastiche is something written to approximate as closely as possible, the source material, and usually is written by someone who has a great affection for and considerable knowledge of that material. While that does occur in the world of media tie-ins, far more of the TV and game books are written as work for hire by professional ghost writers, usually for book packagers. A book packager is someone who contracts to do certain types of books for publishers and then draws from a stable of writers to get the work done. (This isn't the case for Wizards of the Coast, who have their own stable of writers.)
Since this came up because of Conan, I'll use Conan as an example.
Back in the 1960s, science fiction writer L. Sprague Decamp was introduced to Robert E. Howard's Conan by his friend and frequent collaborator, Fletcher Pratt. Pratt had been given a review copy of a new printing of Howard's only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon. He hated it, but thought Decamp might enjoy it.
That turned out to be an understatement. Decamp loved it, and became a huge fan of Howard's work. Over the next few years, Decamp would write quite a few of his own Conan stories, usually in collaboration with Lin Carter, another REH fan. These stories would be used to fill in gaps between the original Howard stories and also to fill pages to make up a series of a dozen or so paperbacks. Thus the Decamp/Carter Conan stories were written for love and money. There's no doubt that Decamp did well financially from the series, but he also genuinely loved the character and wrote hundreds of pages of essays and articles for the REH fanzine Amra, gratis.
Conan proved a hot property for many years and numerous other writers worked on the series for various publishers. Quite a few of these writers also were Conan fans, including Poul Anderson, Andrew J. Oufitt, and Karl Edward Wagner. But the majority of the new Conan books (specifically the TOR line of books) were written by a group of very competent and professional writers who weren't really that interested in REH or in Conan. Robert Jordan in his pre-Wheel of Time days. John Maddox Roberts. Roland Green. Steve Perry. Now we're slipping into media tie-in land. Books written to fill a gap.
Not that all of them are bad. Jordan writes surprisingly action packed books for a guy later known for the glacial pace of his series. John Maddox Roberts, who writes excellent mystery novels set in ancient Rome brings his vast knowledge of history to his books. There's some good stuff in there but none of these books were written for love of the material. It's the equivalent of a television episode. Some good. Some bad. Few inspired.
It's the same in other franchises. I know that some Star Trek tie-in novels are written by die hard Star Trek fans. I'm sure the same is true in other series. But overall I can see why my friend avoids most media tie-ins. Much like Forest Gump's famous box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. However, there is considerable difference in something written purely for a pay day and something written for love of the material, even if one gets paid for the latter. Fan fiction that you get paid for is often labeled pastiche, but deep down it's still got heart.

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