No one to blame but myself.

I admit it–I don’t read as much as I used to, and when I do read, it’s often not “great literature.” As I chronicled recently, I’m working my way through the old Doc Savage paperbacks from the thirties and forties. I also read a lot of comic books these days.

When I do read a novel, it’s often…not that great. Once upon a time I used to read great works of literature for fun, but that was mostly in late high school and through college. Fantasy and science fiction have always been my literary bread and butter. And I’m also a lifelong fan of…(deep breath)…tie-in fiction.

That’s prose fiction based on other media, like movies, TV shows, even comics. I tend to think of it as sanctioned fan fiction, although more often than not the writers hired to write the books (for it’s often done work-for-hire) aren’t diehard fans of the property. As evidence of this claim, one need only look at the reputation of tie-in fiction.

Tie-in fiction is often considered a bare step above fan fiction in the minds of “real” writers. But I grew up on Star Trek novels, and some of them are among my favorite books, such as Peter David’s Q-Squared.

But I don’t want to write a defense of tie-in fiction. I’m sympathetic toward the genre, despite recognizing so much of it is crap. And it’s this dichotomy that makes me so mad when I read really bad tie-in fiction, like I did this week.

I’m not going to name the book or the author, because I would like to make a living in a geek-related field someday. Suffice to say, it’s a book from a well-known science fiction franchise, and the author is one of some reputation and has written some relatively well-respected tie-in fiction as well as some original sf works.

But man, did he phone it in on this one.

Having once been (I used to say “being”) an aspiring fiction writer myself, I’m very familiar with the tendency to write filler whenever you get stuck or lose interest in a writing project. Your plot starts to meander. Your characters go through the same trains of thought over and over again. You start writing sections from the perspective of incredibly minor characters. You tell long anecdotes with little or no bearing on your story. The writing becomes very self-conscious and a few cliches begin to creep in.

I did finish reading the novel, because it was fairly short and I kept thinking it might pay off somewhere…but it never did. What was most infuriating was how little the characters from the tie-in franchise were even involved in the story–they almost seemed like an afterthought, as if the author had an idea for a different novel and decided to poach it while writing this one.

If this book wasn’t a work-for-hire hack job, I don’t know what is. Thanks for making me waste $6 and a few hours of my life, writer-guy. Next time, skip the check and let someone who cares write the book, please.

  1. Mumma left a comment on September 27, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    You have more patience than I do with a book that I am severely disappointed in. I have no problem in closing the book, grabbing my favorite bookmark, and putting an unfinished novel in the ” done” pile. I will reach a point where I just don’t care about the characters and spend more time muttering to myself, thinking that the author either hears or cares what I am saying. I will muddle through my first wave, but by the time the second one hits, I’m gone.

  2. You should name the author or the title. Look at Harlan Ellison. He makes a living out of ripping other people’s works. I really don’t think there’s much harm in criticizing other works where valid criticism is due and don’t see that impacting future prospects.

    Bottom line – if you create something that someone thinks they can make money off of, nothing in your past short of cold blooded murder is going to steer them away from plying your wares. If they can sell you, they sure as hell will. Hell, if you can somehow document that murder (“If I Did It”) – even then they might sell it.

    So, rip away, I say!!!

  3. I am one of the people who sees it as a step above fan fiction. I’m sure there have been plenty of great stories told not being confined by a normal episodic or film budget/time constraints. I have a friend who I believe has read just about every Trek novel in existence. Still, I can’t ever seem to get into “tie-in” fiction.

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