Media tie-in fiction

There’s been some talk around the Blogosphere of late about media tie-in fiction: its merits and demerits, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing and so on. The good folk at SF Signal have added their two cents worth, with an interesting Mind Meld: “How do media tie-in novels affect science fiction?“.

The Mind Meld is well worth checking out and dovetails nicely with a book that I’ve been reading. Just last week I was sent a copy of Hellboy: Oddest Jobs (for which many thanks, Garth!!), and it’s been occupying my thoughts on and off ever since. The book features stories by Joe Lansdale, Garth Nix, China Mieville and others. Frankly, if it was anything other than a media tie-in I would have been aware of it, waiting for it, and would be planning reviews etc etc. Instead it blind-sided me. How did a Hellboy anthology come to have stories in it by a bunch of writers whose work I admire and follow, and how would that work stand up to their own non tie-in work?

Well, I’ve been reading it, and it’s good. The writers I’d expect to excel do: Mieville, Nix, Lansdale, and nothing is less than entertaining. In fact, for the most part, it’s a book I’m happy enough to recommend – it’s certainly better than many of the original anthologies I’ve read this year. But… you knew there was going to be a ‘but’, right? The stories are good, and if you love Hellboy then the book is for you, but the stories for the most part feel creatively ‘thin’. I don’t know how else to explain what I mean. These stories lack the kind of texture and complexity that typifies most of the authors’ non tie-in work. They’re not bad, they’re just well, ‘thin’, which I think makes it less interesting than any of the authors’ other stuff.

This reaction has left me wondering if I’m biassed against tie-in fiction. I haven’t read tie-ins in many, many years — I find the idea of reading a Star Wars or Star Trek novel a fairly excruciating prospect, no matter the writer — and while I’m aware of tie-ins, I typically don’t pay any attention to them. I don’t think such books are a bad thing, or that they in some way damage the way an author writes. I also don’t doubt for a moment that the good tie-in books are perfectly entertaining and fine, and that many of them act as introductions to written SF for readers, I just don’t want to read them. I also feel – and this might link to that idea of ‘thinness’ that I mentioned – that tie-ins have a thing in common with fan fiction: they’re the stories that happen in the corner of the eye of the main story, a distraction from the central event. Any Star Wars story is peripheral to the main films, is a ‘what next?’ kind of thing. I think that’s ok, but it doesn’t seem terribly interesting.