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Not quite a review: on Guide to Series Books: Movie & TV Tie-ins from Star Wars to Star Trek by G.P. Jonas December 26, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.
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So this book is listed as an ebook or print edition on Amazon. Obviously it’s the kind of thing that would catch my eye, what with me spending years on the old Complete Starfleet Library website and collecting books from a number of other series. Fortunately, Amazon has a Look Inside for this one, and I saved a couple of dollars.

There are dozens of series in this book. For each one, there’s a simple list, like this:

Astonishing Gallop of Hester and Jane

  1. Hell is a Bicycle (1974) by Grant Floon
  2. When Flagons Belch (1974) by Flora Sackville-East

In some cases with more complex publishing history you may get something like this:

Invasion of the Spoonbenders (movie novelizations)

  1. Invasion of the Spoonbenders: Beware: Spork! (1988) by Flounder Walsh […]

Invasion of the Spoonbenders (TV series non-canon books)

  1. The Currency of Bile (1995) by Keiko Sardini, Jr […]

Invasion of the Spoonbenders (canon sequel series)

  1. The True Bending (2004) by Leah Fraught and Wes Grumbler […]

Personally, I’d like to see publisher information, at the very least. A little more clarity on whether the books are novelizations or original tie-in novels or something else. The numbers are just sequential and not necessarily taken from the books. Considering the number of series included, it’s not surprising they aren’t including more information, but maybe it would have been better to take on a smaller job and provide more data.

There are also, inevitably, some omissions. The Blake’s 7 section omits Tony Attwood’s Afterlife and Paul Darrow’s Avon: A Terrible Aspect, though it does have the old adaptations and most of the new Big Finish books. (It’s missing one of the hardcovers and includes an ebook-only story, though there’s no format information.)

And mistaken inclusions: the Blade Runner section has Beyond Orion and Eye and Talon as books 3 and 4. Nothing under the former title was ever published; it may have been an alternate title for Eye and Talon.

So, yeah… too big a job, possibly too quickly done. This may be the kind of thing that should exist as a website, except there are a number of those already. I’d rather see something with more detailed information for more targeted sets of books. This one has SF, soaps, westerns, cop shows… why not break it down into a few volumes by genre, with each one overseen by someone who loves that particular genre enough to spot some of the mistakes and omissions without having to look at a bookshelf or googling?

io9 on tie-ins January 20, 2014

Posted by sjroby in Life in general.
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I hate the commenting interface on io9, so here I am.

Katharine Trendacosta wrote a post called Why Expanded Universes Are Important. I agree with the basic idea, but not all the details. Trendacosta looks at a handful of reasons why tie-ins are good things.

The Expanded Universe as a Gateway to Science Fiction Reading. It works for some people, but I’ve encountered too many people who read tie-ins and find “real” SF uninteresting, and SF fans who sneer at tie-ins. Personally, I got into them more or less simultaneously, for different reasons.

Expanded Universes as Gateways to Fandom. Sure, to an extent. But I was a dedicated tie-in reader for a long time in isolation. The Internet was a more important route to fandom for me.

Expanded Universes as Gateways to Writers and Writing. Well, blogging, maybe. I’ve never been a fanfic writer. Closest I came was working on an interactive Star Trek story in Apple Basic on my old Apple ][+ many years ago. It wad fun, mapping out paths, giving a hypothetical player some choices that led in different directions… but I hit the 128k barrier way too early in the story and couldn’t figure out how to get each strand of the story to continue properly on the next program. Fun while it lasted, though. (Post-TMP Enterprise encounters a huge derelict starship that turns out to be a Preserver vessel. Didn’t plot it much beyond that that I can recall.)

Conclusion and a Look at Star Wars’ EU. In which Trendacosta basically says I love the Star Wars expanded universe and it was CANON! Well, actually, no. Despite the people with full-time jobs sorting out EU continuity, despite the levels of canonicity, George Lucas clearly said that there was his stuff and then there was all that other stuff he didn’t pay much attention to. In other words: NOT CANON. (And the correct response is Says you, and who cares?)

Here’s what makes tie-in fiction important and necessary and sometimes so damn good. When you see a filmed version of a beloved literary work, chances are, even if you like it you’re well aware of how much is missing — the interior lives of the characters, the background information that was dropped because the movie would run too long, scenes dropped because they just wouldn’t work in a visual medium. Play that in reverse. A good tie-in novel takes a visual world and expands it into an ocean of words that can bring us into characters’ interior lives as the show never could; they can show us all the little things that don’t make sense in a fast-paced movie or TV episode; they can be crazy big epic beyond a budget’s ability to realize. Try to imagine Doctor Who doing something like Alien Bodies or Star Trek doing something like Destiny (or How Much for Just the Planet, for that matter). It wouldn’t work as well on screen.

In short, tie-ins make a fictional universe bigger, deeper, and better. That’s why they matter. Says me, anyway.

Shared universes, tie-ins, crossovers, swords, sorcery December 22, 2013

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Life in general.
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Star Trek and Doctor Who are the big multimedia fictional universes for me these days, but one of the first to demonstrate to me how this kind of thing could work would have been the world of Robert E. Howard’s characters. I first encountered Howard back in 1978 when I picked up a used copy of The Hour of the Dragon at the base library paperback exchange.

The Hour of the Dragon was the first of three Conan books edited by Karl Edward Wagner and published by Berkley books back in the 1970s. As Wagner was at pains to point out in his introductions, these books were the real, unadulterated Conan as written by Robert E. Howard, not a bunch of pastiches and posthumous collaborations like the twelve-volume series of Conan books from another publisher (originally Lancer in the 1960s, but Ace in the 1970s — and Sphere in the UK).

Well, I really enjoyed The Hour of the Dragon, and sure enough I went looking for the other two Berkley editions, but I think my second Conan book was Conan the Freebooter, in the Sphere edition. (The fun of being Canadian — we often got both UK and US editions of books, but that could get confusing when the editions were different or, as in this case, the numbering of series books was different. Collecting Moorcock’s Elric books was especially entertaining in that regard, if by entertaining one means frustrating, and one does.)

So I looked around for any Conan-related stuff. Two different series of books, one by Howard only, one more epic series incorporating revisions of Howard stories about other characters to make them Conan stories along with totally new Conan adventures, primarily the work of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. And the Marvel comics by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. And Savage Sword of Conan, the black and white comic magazine. I also managed to discover Marvel’s Kull and Red Sonja comics just before they were cancelled. Bantam published collections of Howard’s Solomon Kane and Kull stories. Then Ace published two new Conan novels by Andrew J Offutt just before de Camp and Carter started editing a new series of six Conan books from Bantam (including, ironically, a Conan novel by Karl Edward Wagner), and Grosset & Dunlap or Ace did six mass market paperbacks reprinting the early Marvel comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. Then came the novelization of the first Conan movie (I was unimpressed) to end Bantam’s run and the first Robert Jordan Conan novel from a new publisher, Tor. Cormac Mac Art six novel series. Red Sonja six novel series (I think I only got the first two). More Marvel comics, including King Conan and more attempts at Kull and Red Sonja.

And all of this in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when there were precious few original Star Trek novels.

It wasn’t all one coherent universe the way Star Trek or Doctor Who would (mostly) be. Howard’s characters existed in different eras, Kull millennia before Conan, Conan millennia before Bran Mak Morn or Cormac Mac Art, and them centuries before Solomon Kane — but Howard was willing to cross over between them, even having Kull meet Bran Mak Morn. And the later writers who expanded the Hyborian universe were even more eager to introduce crossover elements. The villain of the first Conan movie was actually Kull’s nemesis.

One of the coolest things was Michael Moorcock allowing Marvel to use his character Elric in a couple of early issues of the Conan comic. That might have been my introduction to Elric, and if I thought Howard and his successors liked making connections between his characters and series, just imagine how much I got into the whole Eternal Champion thing.

I dropped out in the late 1980s. I’d lost interest in the comics, and the Tor Conan novels by Jordan et al were just too formulaic, with little of the variety of Howard’s stories. But I’ve come back, a bit, thanks to the Dark Horse Conan comics and the Del Rey REH collections.It doesn’t — and can’t — hit me now the way it did when I was 15, but there’s still something there in Howard’s writing and characters. Haven’t bothered with the new Red Sonja comics, though — that chainmail bikini is just too damn silly.