From the archives: Tie-ins and fanfic

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License to Slum: The Novel of the Movie of the Game

Sunday, 31 August 2008 — 11:40pm | Literature, Tie-ins and fanfic

Licensed fiction—or “media tie-in” novels, as I believe the accepted term is nowadays—is a touchy subject for me, or at the very least, a source of frustration. I’ve gone on the record as calling it “McFiction” every now and then. My first significant volume of writing on the Internet was probably my extensive participation in the pointless “canon” debates on the film forums at, a wretched hive of scum and villainy that I used to moderate about a decade ago. Don’t bother looking for me—I made my rounds there back in the period when I still ascribed to the adolescent norm of online pseudonymity—though you are quite free to imagine me exactly as I was: out on the patio with a blaster rifle on my lap, keeping the kids who read Star Wars books off my lawn.

To be perfectly fair, my aversion to tie-in novels, be they novelizations of films or spin-off series that seize a life of their own, was admittedly prejudicial in origin: how many, after all, had I actually read? Then again, I don’t need to sample every subspecies of gourmet tofu to verify that I just don’t like tofu; and likewise, I simply have better things to do than spend my precious reading time on something that I am predisposed to think of as systematically bad in the hopes that oh, maybe I’ll like this one.

Does this reduce to an argument from personal taste? Perhaps; but as longtime readers know, with me, nothing is ever just a matter of personal taste, and I take pride in being able to defend everything I enjoy without having to resort to the old standby of, “But it entertains me.” It is never enough to just be entertained: to be satisfied with so little is chiefly how we let society condition us to accept lower standards. We deserve better.

All the same, I am nothing if not open-minded. So if my readers would like to recommend a tie-in novel that they consider to be the pinnacle of the form, I will gladly feature it in a future instalment of the Wednesday Book Club. One rule: don’t pick Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. (Everybody, for some reason, picks Heir to the Empire.) I’ve read it, and it sucks.

I’d also like to point out three items of interest I read earlier in the week: Forgotten Realms author Erik Scott de Bie’s spirited defence of game fiction, fantasy novelist Jim C. Hines’ confession of a prejudice against tie-ins that he would rather get over (with a follow-up post at SF Novelists), and Wired Magazine’s feature story on Star Wars continuity manager Leland Chee. For those interested, I also recommend this collection of articles (esp. Are Tie-In Writers Hacks?) published by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, an advocacy group for, well, whatever it is they do.

In the true spirit of friendly debate, I decided to give the common pro-tie-in arguments serious consideration instead of shooting them from the hip—and then subsequently, shoot them from the hip. The way I see it, if I’m going to promulgate the stereotype that tie-in fiction is second-class, I’d better have a good excuse.

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The hack-and-slash fiction property market

Monday, 17 December 2007 — 8:17pm | Literature, Tie-ins and fanfic

Sarah Eve Kelly has written a fascinating post on fan fiction’s place in the literary economy—one that, for all its brevity, deserves some measure of attention. Sarah’s piece is a pointed refutation of an article entitled “Valuing the Work in Fanwork”, which makes the bold claim that fan fiction is a subversive means of anti-capitalist resistance—an assertion that is counterintuitive at face value, but worth dismantling anyway.

The substance of the original article’s argument is that the mainstream tends to dismiss fan fiction as an illegitimate activity, or a pointless waste of time, because it is locked into a capitalist mentality that cannot fathom why anyone would invest time in writing freely disseminated fiction they can’t sell. This is silly for a number of reasons, and it reeks of an ex post facto apologia for an activity whose supporters already found worthwhile from the start, but I’ll defer to Sarah’s observations before I lob my own handful of napalm on the pig-pile.

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