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What Media Tie-In Book Would You Recommend to Naysayers?

Author Jim Hines confesses a prejudice against media tie-in novels:

One of the things I realized at GenCon last week is that on some level, I’m prejudiced. That there’s a part of me that thinks of gaming fiction (Forgotten Realms, etc.) and other media tie-ins as somehow lesser than original fiction like my own.

I’m not happy with that realization. I’m not sure where that prejudice came from, but I’d like to finish eradicating it now, please. In part because I have a number of friends who write gaming tie-ins, such as …Ed Greenwood and Peter David and so on… And in part because, like so many prejudices, it’s stupid.

So I’m trying to break down the roots of this prejudice. A part of it, I believe, comes from the idea that if I’m making up my own original world, I’m being more creative than someone who works in a pre-defined world. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not.

Kudos to Jim for the honesty.

A while back, we asked “Are Media Tie-In Novels Trash?” There are good and bad media tie-in novels just like there are in any subset of books. The trick is finding the good ones. I know that Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn series comes highly recommended…

Do you know of any others? What media tie-in books would you recommend to people who dismiss them out of hand?

About John DeNardo (13014 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

34 Comments on What Media Tie-In Book Would You Recommend to Naysayers?

  1. Nick Smale // August 23, 2008 at 4:14 am //

    Many of the 1990s Doctor Who ‘New Adventures’ novels were very good. A couple of the new series’ writers — Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts and RTD himself — contributed to the NAs, indeed Cornell’s (Hugo nominated) TV story ‘Human Nature’ first saw light as a New Adventure.

  2. Dan Abnett’s work certainly comes to mind – the “Eisenhorn” mentioned above and the “Gaunt’s Ghosts” series which I find equally enjoyable. Dianne Duane’s “Rihannsu” Star Trek books were also above the fray.

    I think the problem is that if one were to walk into a book store and randomly select a Star Trek/Wars/Forgotten Realms/etcetera novel off the shelf and open it to some page, chances are you may wonder how the book got past an editor. This is especially true of some of the Star Trek novels which seem so poorly written it’s as if the it went from (maybe) second draft to printer sight unseen.

  3. Babylon 5 books by Peter David are pretty cool.

  4. A few Star Wars novels (since that’s about all the tie-in I read):

    Shatterpoint, by Matthew Stover

    Revenge of the Sith, by Matthew Stover

    Republic Commando: Hard Contact, by Karen Traviss

     

    I think it helps that both Stover and Traviss are outstanding writers and their original fiction is top notch, but their Star Wars books are the class of the field.

  5. 90% of media-related fiction is crud. But, then again, 90% of all fiction is crud.

     

    But, for me, a few highlights have been Vonda McIntyre’s ST books. Also, The Final Reflection by John Ford, a novel within a ST novel. In Star Wars, I have a fondness for Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, maybe because it was one of the first (the first?) spin-off novel for that genre.

     

    I’m reading the Abnett volume mentioned and the only weakness, for me, is the fact that I’m not familiar with the 20-odd years of gaming backstory that goes into the Warhammer 40k universe. But I’ve liked it enough to buy a couple other volumes to try.

     

    Folks recommend a few of the Battletech novels, mostly by Stackpole and Keith.

  6. Chris Roberson’s X-men novel, “The Return” was very good and much better than any of the current X-men comic books.

  7. How Much for just the Planet? a Star Trek novel by John M. Ford is quite good.

  8. Bob Hawkins // August 23, 2008 at 10:35 am //

    <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Go-Ask-Malice-Slayers-Vampire/dp/1416915877″>Go Ask Malice</a> by Robert Joseph Levy. It’s a very fast and compelling read — I would have finished it in one sitting if I didn’t have to go to work. It’s the origin story for Faith from BtVS, and it integrates the origin into the story, other authors take note. It has a lot of Boston local color that makes it feel more substantial.

  9. For someone new to the <i>Star Wars</i> Expanded Universe (and man do I feel all ‘laugh at the sad little mediafen’ typing that out) I would honestly only recommend one set of books: Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy (<i>Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising</i>, and <i>The Last Command</i>.) They’re not the first SW tie-ins but they did kick-start the modern EU back in the early 90’s and can be read as a standalone trilogy or used as a stepping stone. They aren’t the only decent books, but they are some of the few that can be read without needing a ton of non-movie backstory filled in.

     A lot of my SW-loving pals (the ones whose tastes I trust) recommend the X-Wing series from Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston as well, and they don’t require too much background aside from the movies. I’m pretty much a main-characters only type, though, so I’ve only read one or two.

    I will second Joe Sherry’s nomination of Stover’s <i>Revenge of the Sith</i> novelization – it adds a ton to the script and really makes it a fuller work all-around. (I haven’t actually read the other books he names: For the most part, I’m just not interested in the prequels.) Stover has a Luke Skywalker novel coming out at the end of the year that’s getting a lot of positive buzz in fandom, and looks to be newbie-friendly as well.

    I’d have additional recs (and many warnings) for someone actually intent on diving straight into the SW EU, but there are so many these days that are decent for tie-ins, and decent if you’re already neck-deep in it, but maybe not for someone just wading in. I suppose that lowered expectations are business as usual for this corner of genre…

  10. Tim DeHaas // August 23, 2008 at 12:49 pm //

    The novelization of the movie “The Abyss,” by Orson Scott Card, was a full fledged novel that fleshed out the three main characters – Bud, Lindsey and Coffey – into three-dimensional characters.  Fantastic reading and one of the few novelizations trivialized by the term “novelization.”

  11. The prejudice against tie-in novels comes from the original fear that such novels — and the games and films connected to them — would take over the SFF field and wipe out any other kind of SFF fiction and non-tie-in authors would have to go begging for shelf space. So a whole lot of venom and irrationality was poured over them, resulting in generations of fans being told that tie-in novels are the work of the Devil.

    These days, that prejudice has been mitigated somewhat by numerous authors of respected non-tie-in fiction writing Star Wars books and other tie-in projects, and by the fact that the tie-ins did not, as prophesized, take over and send an evil cyborg back in time to kill all the editors of non-game SFF. But it still lingers because that primal fear is there that the tie-ins might still invade, and because despite category SFF being incessantly labeled lowbrow by others, there seems to be a need to make sure that something else is labeled even more lowbrow. And what better candidate than novels connected to the games, films and other mediums that we blame for taking readers away from us?

    In reality, tie-in fiction helped fund the whole print SFF field and brought in a ton of new readers. Half the time, people don’t even realize that they are reading a tie-in novel, unless it is something high profile like Star Wars. So I applaud you, Jim, for realizing that such prejudices are stupid and that work should be judged on the writing, not the type of story it is or who publishes it.

     

     

     

  12. All of the tie-ins I read, I read when I was like 18, and evaluating stuff you read that long ago can be difficult sometimes because your tastes grow and change as you grow older and become more well-read. That said, I remember Peter David’s Star Trek: TNG novel, Q SQUARED, as being really good, and I remember quite enjoying the Birthright D&D novels, especially Simon Hawke’s THE IRON THRONE and WAR. Another D&D novel I really liked was Troy Denning’s PAGES OF PAIN, set in the Planescape world.

    Those are all off the top of my head, so that’s saying something right there–obviously they stuck with me.

    For Star Wars, I’ll second the recommendation of the Timothy Zahn THRAWN trilogy, which always seemed like the best of the SW books I read. I also remember quite liking K J Anderson’s DARKSABER. And if comics count for this discussion, I really liked what Anderson (I think) did with that series that took place like 4000 years before the original movies and explored the Sith in that earlier era.

  13. KatG: For me the prejudice doesn’t come from fear that tie-in will take over SFF, my prejudice comes from an intrinsic belief that tie-in novels will suck on a quality-level.  It’s not fair, and read Star Wars tie-in, and I fight this prejudice, but I still have it.  I still fight the “but it isn’t a real novel” prejudice.  I’m not sure where it came from because as a kid I read the novelizations of the Star Wars movies, the novelization of Robin Hood and Hook, and had I been aware of them, I’d have read the Star Wars books with glee and not trembling. 

     

  14. Kate Orman’s Doctor Who novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird is absolutely magnificent, and Paul Cornell’s Human Nature was so good that they filmed it. A.C. Crispin’s Sarek ads some interesting dimensions to Vulcan and has plot points I’d love to have seen incorporated into the cinema franchise. I’ve not read the Dan Abnett, but he is highly respected by several authors I do read. And, despite my reluctance to give away a precious slot of free reading time to a tie-in when I have so many novels written by friends I should be reading instead, I find myself tempted by the novelization of The Dark Knight, because – and only because – it is written by Denny O’Neil, the man who created my preferred version of Batman and the man with more claim to the caped crusader than any one else on earth, and I’m interested in this book-length access into his insight into the character.

  15. I liked all the Star Trek novels by Diane Duane, “Spocks World” most of all. For really, really old school tie in, read Andre Norton’s D&D tie in,”Quag Keep”.

  16. My favorite at the moment is probably the Hellboy series.

  17. In reality, tie-in fiction helped fund the whole print SFF field and brought in a ton of new readers.

    How did it help fund the whole print SFF field?  Most publishers of tie-in fiction don’t publish original fiction, so the profits from the former can’t help the latter.  And most writers who write both tie-in novels and original novels say that writing tie-ins did not help the sales of their originals.   Tie-in fiction doesn’t act as a significant gateway to original fiction; since there’s an endless supply of new tie-in novels, people who like them can just keep reading them forever.

     

  18. OMG, somebody else who read “Quag Keep”?

  19. You don’t think of it as a real novel because that’s what people kept saying about them — and this was very much related in the beginning to fears that the “fake” novels would crowd out the non-tie-ins. You think it will be low quality because people told you they all were, and perhaps because you read a tie-in novel or two that you didn’t like much.

    Which is pretty much what non-fans say about category SFF. If you’re judging a book by its type without having read it, if you’re judging an author you haven’t read based on another author you have, is that a logical judgement or a prejudice? Sure, you may not like a type of creative expression, but “it’s not my thing” doesn’t necessarily translate to “it’s bad and everyone should avoid it.” The list of tie-in authors at this point — George Martin, Timothy Zahn, Greg Bear, Barbara Hambly, R.A. Salvatore, Michael Stackpole, Christopher Golden, Orson Scott Card, etc. — bestsellers, Hugo winners, bright young things, at what point do we stop having a knee jerk reaction and say that creativity has more than one aspect?

    In the beginning, Frank, when things were getting going in the new fantasy market, the tie-in books helped a great deal to drag in new readers and get more bookshelf space. Check with those who got into SFF in the eighties and early nineties, and you’ll find a fair number of folk who first ripped through Forgotten Realms or Star Wars novels, then moved on to other things. And most publishers of tie-in fiction do publish the non-tie-in stuff — Bantam, Simon & Schuster, Del Rey, Harper — they all have and continue to publish tie-in fiction and make money from it that helps fund other books, which helped the SFF market to expand.

    Tie-in books — novelizations, game series, film/tv tie-ins, comic adaptations and tie-ins — they’re not a separate thing from the whole spectrum of SFF. It’s a type of fiction. In my opinion, writers should be free to move about the cabin — to write comic books, screenplays, computer game texts, card game texts, tie-in fiction, paperback fiction, hardcover fiction, web fiction, short stories, bardic poems in iambic pentameter — whatever they want, and have each work be judged on its own merits, not its form.

     

     

  20. I loved “Quag Keep” too. It is one of Norton’s many forgotten classics.  Unfortunately, it almost never gets credited as the first D&D novel.

  21. You don’t think of it as a real novel because that’s what people kept saying about them You think it will be low quality because people told you they all were

    I don’t know who you’re addressing here, KatG, but I hope it’s not me.  You don’t know what my opinion of tie-in novels is or how I arrived at it.

    What I said was that tie-in novels don’t subsidize original SF; the truth or falsity of that assertion is independent of whether tie-in novels have artistic merit.  I might think mystery novels are great, but that has nothing to do with whether mysteries subsidize SF or compete with it.  For example, Wizards of the Coast is the biggest publisher of gaming-related fiction, but no matter how good the Forgotten Realms novels are, WotC doesn’t publish a significant amount of original fantasy.  (They recently canceled their line of original novels almost immediately after launching it.)  Similarly, Pocket Books publishes tie-ins for Star Trek and Marvel comics, and that imprint publishes hardly any original SFF.  Sure, Pocket Books is part of a bigger conglomerate, but each division has to be profitable by itself; no other division is being subsidized by Pocket Books’ profits.

    Check with those who got into SFF in the eighties and early nineties

    I got into SFF in the early eighties, and I’ve never met anyone who made the transition from media tie-ins to original fiction.  John Ordover, longtime editor at Pocket, has himself said that most readers of media tie-in fiction don’t like original SF novels because they find them inaccessible; he thinks writers of original SF need to write material more like Star Trek if they want to be read.

    In my opinion, writers should be free to move about the cabin

    I don’t think anyone here has said writers shouldn’t be free to write whatever they want.

     

     

  22. Sorry, Frank, I should have specified. The first part of my last comment was directed in response to Joe Sherry, who was responding to my first comment.

    Tie-ins have helped subsidize non-tie-in fiction. Bantam Spectra and Del Rey have made a lot of money from the Star Wars novels, Del Rey has made money from the Halo novels, SFF imprint Roc, which is part of the Pocket/S&S family, has benefitted from Pocket’s Star Trek novels, World of Warcraft novels, etc., and every major SFF imprint has various media and game tie-in novels. Solaris Books, a respected smaller press, is owned by a gaming company, as are a few others.

    The reason I brought it up was not as a comment on quality of tie-in fiction, but to point out that tie-in fiction did not wipe out and destroy non-tie-in fiction, as it was demonized for attempting, but instead became an established and often beneficial part of the landscape. I know quite a few people who started reading tie-in fiction first and have chatted with many more on-line at SFFWorld and elsewhere. Not all tie-in readers make the move, but even a small percentage makes a big difference in fiction publishing.

    The stigma attached to doing tie-in fiction makes it sometimes difficult for authors who want to try it, and can create difficulties in their careers for those who do. For writers who started in tie-ins, they encounter a lot of prejudice by people who haven’t read their work, simply because they write tie-in novels, which can effect getting their non-tie-in stuff off the ground. So they aren’t free to move about the cabin, though I’m not accusing anyone here of being the cause of that. I’d just like to see the stigma removed from the SFF field, because there’s really no point to it, just as I’d like to see the stigma toward category SFF removed from the fiction market.

  23. I got into SFF in the early eighties, and I’ve never met anyone who made the transition from media tie-ins to original fiction.

    Hi I’m Rob, now we’ve met.  I started off with the Dragonlance novels before “graduating” to non-shared world fiction.

    Seriously, though, I follow on to Joe Sherry’s thoughts. Read any of the Star Wars novels by Matthew Stover.  Though Episode III might not have worked as well on screen, he fleshes out the story very well and gets inside Anakin/Vader’s head enough that you don’t think of him as a whiny-emo kid. 

  24. Back in Alderwood Junior High I found a old paperback copy of King Kong (a novelization of the film by Cooper, Wallace and mostly Lovelace) abandoned in the cafeteria. I hope whoever left it enjoyed it as much as I did.

  25. Cassandra // August 25, 2008 at 3:15 pm //

    @ Rob B: <i>I got into SFF in the early eighties, and I’ve never met anyone who made the transition from media tie-ins to original fiction.<i>

    Yeah, but they’re out there… Just off the top of my head, Ann Crispin and–much more recently–Marjorie Liu come to mind.

    Also, I recommend the <i>Bablyon 5</i> Bester/Psi-Cops trilogy by J. Gregory Keyes.

  26. I never used to read tie in novels, although I was very into ST:TNG at one time, and I dare say there were novels to be read. I think I did have a bias against them, although how this was arrived at I don’t know. I did try one tie in novel for a favourite show a few years back and was disappointed.

    Then after hearing good things about a couple of Stargate SG1 books, I gave them a try and loved them. Published by Fandemonium, they are usually grittier than the tv show (with more blood, serious injuries and angst) and often are written with different chapters being from the individual view points of the Sg1 team. This is wondeful, as it means you get to be in the head space/s of your favourite team member/s, and usually follows through two or more threads of action.

    I find them well written, and with good characterisation, and decent plots. They sometimes feel meatier than the actual show becuase they are able to go places where the show can’t, whether because of time, budget or other constraints. Some are better than others and I think looking back on it, that the Stargate: Atlantis books (from the same stable) sometimes engage me a little less. But that be partially be because I find the SG1 characters a more interesting read.

    But I would have no trouble recommending them to a Stargate fan, and I eagerly await the arrival of each new book.

    (Actually, I seem to recall that one of my first experiences with sci-fi was reading the novelisation of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which started out as a radio show. Does that count as a tie in? I proceeded to be rabid about sci-fi thereafter.)

     

  27. John M Ford’s Trek novels stand head and shoulders above. I also have an unholy love for Brian Daley’s Han Solo novels.

  28. Also, Susan M Garrett’s Forever Knight tie-in _Intimations of Mortality_ is excellent, as is Ann Hathaway-Nayne’s _These Our Revels_.

  29. agentotter // August 25, 2008 at 8:21 pm //

    I quite liked the Stargate SG-1 tie-in “Siren Song,” and there’ve been some other pretty good ones for that show. I have to say that my favorites at the moment though are Torchwood novels; “Everyone Says Hello” and “Slow Decay” being particular high points. The Torchwood and Doctor Who books are very hit and miss too, though; some of them are superb and some are just awful. I like the audiobooks (particularly if Burn Gorman’s read them; he does terrific book readings) so that kind of adds an extra dimension of awesomeosity, that they have the actors from the show in question read the books.

  30. I thought Anderson’s SW Thrawn books were pretty entertaining, although I haven’t read them in several years. And I agree that Card did a great job with the novelization of The Abyss.

    Back in the 80’s and early 90’s I read a bunch of the Trek books and several of the role-playing tie-ins, but they were more like snacks between the hearty, nourishing meals of original SFF novels – the meatier stuff from authors doing a far better job building their own worlds, characters and stories that would last and have meaning. I found the tie-ins to be fun while I was reading them, but ultimately forgettable. Reading something by Clarke or Bradbury though, that’ll stick with you for life. Nothing wrong with snacks, but you’ve got to recognize what constitutes a meal.

    I think the gateway argument works sometimes… I remember having this discussion when I was working in a bookstore after university, around Christmas, and a father came in with his son and told him he could have any book he wanted. The father complained to me when his son immediately picked up a superhero tie-in (The Hulk or Spiderman, I think), saying he wasn’t sure about letting his son read this kind of silliness. I responded that it was better to let the 10-year-old read what he wanted to, in order to encourage him to read, and that those books might open the door for better, more interesting and more challenging books later. And I think this works sometimes. My brother started reading SFF exclusively with tie-ins, and has graduated on to bigger and better books.

    The tragedy, however, is seeing some people who never grow beyond the cotton candy, even after years. I’ve got a buddy who professes to be an SF fan, but all he reads is Trek TNG books. It’s fine that he enjoys them, but he’s missing so much. So much, in fact, that you can’t even have a discussion about SF in a broader or deeper sense with him because he can’t frame anything beyond his Trek obsession. Granted, I suspect this has more to do with a personality flaw of his than because of the nature of tie-ins, but what if he’d started reading Herbert instead of yet another follow-up to the Rodenberry empire? I hate to sound like a snob, but it’s like he’s living his life eating nothing but Macdonalds.

    I haven’t read a tie-in in years myself, mainly because I don’t have time – too many new, original books to explore, and too many old favourites among the originals to revisit. Ultimately a better diet – one of meals rather than snacks.

     

  31. Sorry, that would be Zahn’s Thrawn books. Boy, it has been a while!

  32. @ Frank 

    Maybe I misunderstood the question, sorry.  As a reader I made the jump from shared-world/Media tie in into non-media.  I wouldn’t want to represent myself as a published writer, at least until I become one. 😉

     

    @ Cassandra

    I think your pulling my quote from Frank, who originally said that.  There are number of writers who made the jump, with varying degres of success.  Other examples include R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greewood, Jean Rabe, Elaine Cunningham, and Michael Stackpole.  Stackpole’s Talion: Revenant is a pretty good book as was his novel A Secret Atlas.

  33. Just about anything written by Dan Abnett is good. This will sound a little off center, but I almost cant believe the guy isnt writing his own stuff as opposed to writing in that shared world of Warhammer – he really is excellent. Sometimes it can be tough to get past the art on the covers of those books, and I will admit I burned through one out of shear, desperate boredom during an all nighter I had to pull for work. But once I read that first one I lost all my prejuduces for Abnetts stuff.

    I would especially recomend the Ravenor series…

    While I will admit I havenet read something every author in that shared universe has to offer, I would not recommend much else in the Warhammer outside of Abnetts books.

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