As much as I bemoan the poor public of image of science fiction by mainstream readers, there's an even worse injustice going on. Some people in those very same slighted genre circles are often quick to dismiss a certain type of book: media tie-ins. These are the books that are based on a story most often found in another media (like film, television, and games) but could be sourced from other literary properties as well. These are the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dungeons and Dragons prose novels that the bookstores like to relegate to the end of the science fiction and fantasy bookshelf section. They are positioned like an appendix in a non-fiction book "in case you're interested in more reading." You know, if you've run out of other things to read.
I think we can agree that the only losers in literary snobbery are the snobs themselves. Media tie-ins can be just as entertaining as any other kind of book. Sure they can suffer pitfalls like poor writing and characterization, but so can mainstream books or any other kind of novel. Even Stephen King wrote stinkers. Here's the thing most people don't consider: media tie-in books can also be home to whip-smart writing and crackerjack plotting. It can be the home of some of the most colorful characters you'll find in the written word. You want action? Mystery? Suspense? All of that can be found in the pages of media tie-ins.
So, yes, media tie-ins are worth your time. I'll even back that up: one of the best set of books I've ever read—in any genre—was the Eisenhorn trilogy by Dan Abnett. The books are set in the richly-imagined Warhammer 40K universe, which is based on the popular role playing game. (Even WH40K itself is an offshoot of the fantasy RPG Warhammer, for which there are even more prose novels.) Abnett is a one of the most skilled master storytellers you've never heard of. This is the series that I point to when anyone is quick to dismiss tie-in fiction. The fact that it is set in the Warhammer 40K universe is incidental, though if you are familiar with the games, that would be an added bonus when you read them. I don't play the game, but that didn't stop me from losing sleep because I couldn't stop turning page after action-packed page, or cheering when a bad guy finally got his comeuppance.
If it sounds like I'm some media tie-in cheerleader, it's because I used to be a media tie-in snob. It's true. A fell into the trap of thinking that media tie-in properties were somehow "lesser" books than the other stuff on the shelves. I couldn't have told you exactly why. Maybe it's something I just picked up from others when I was a young and clueless reader. Here are some of the so-called limitations of media tie-ins that I believed or heard others state:
- Media tie-ins are where new writers "cut their teeth" and learn the craft. To some extent, that's true. But that's also true in any other book categorization you can name. Ask yourself this: How many debut authors write something that is obviously a "first novel"?
- They are confined to a limited sandbox – Yes, it's true: the owners of media tie-in properties have a set of rules that writers must follow, some more strict than others. But so what? That doesn't necessarily spell doom for a story. For some writers, it can be challenging and even freeing to work within those walls. Many questions about the universe are, in fact, already established facts and those world building details can be springboards for new and exciting story ideas.
- Nothing major can happen in a media tie-in. This ties in (see what I did there?) to the "limited sandbox" notion, but is worth calling out separately. The main complaint along these lines is that you can't kill off a major character. Well, yeah, I guess…but who wants a major character killed off? Presumably one of the reasons you like a media property is for the cool characters. Also: it's not true. SPOILER ALERT! In the media tie-in novel Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Vector Prime, author R.A. Salvatore has the distinct privilege of killing off Chewbacca, everyone's favorite wookie. Yes, this is the exception rather than the rule, but it is possible. So there.
I'm sure after being on the business end of my supernatural powers of persuasion you are asking about media tie-in titles that you can get your hands on. As luck would have it, I'm rounding up recent media tie-in books of interest to science fiction and fantasy fans. But you'll have to come back in seven days to see them. See you next week!