No Successful Science Fiction Book is Immune to Serialisation and Spin-Offs
In my previous blog, I discussed my disgust that the wealth of wonderful science fiction literature is squandered and completely underutilised by the movie industry. In this blog, I’d like to continue my complaint section but this time discuss how many of the same problems that beguile the movie industry from making better science fiction movies, also affect the science fiction publishing industry.
Science fiction publishing is an industry. Profit is the priority, so they often prefer material that is familiar and has a track record of success. Unfortunately, this means novel and thought-provoking stories don’t get the wide distribution they should. I’m one of the few people who still like to go and look at books at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore – the Science Fiction section, always highlights the dearth of new ideas. Most of the books on the shelves are stories that plug into previously created universes. No successful science fiction book is immune to serialisation and spin-offs. Worse yet, the industry traps promising young writers in having to write many of these appendices as they represent a lower risk to the publisher than presenting something entirely new.
Not naming any names, but some of these extended series are based on works that really did not deserve the extended lifespan they’ve been given. That’s not to say that I hate all series. As you’ll remember from my earlier blogs, I’m a big fan of the Ender’s Game series as it ventures into both the past and future, fleshing out a fully realised world and engaging stories. It also helps that the series is written by Orson Scott Card the whole way through.
I also really enjoyed the prequels that lead up to Dune. With Dune being such an epic Space Opera, it naturally lent itself to that kind of expansion as it had so much to branch out with. Author, Frank Herbet’s eldest son, Brian, took on this one alongside Kevin Anderson. They did a great job exploring the Butlerian Jihad, House Atreides, and the Sisterhood of Dune. If you liked Dune, you might really like these.
As a huge fan of Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain, I also loved the books she wrote discussing what happens in the world of the Sleepless after its conclusion. Similarly, Connie Willis, has a great recurring theme on the use of time travel throughout her Blackout/All Clear series –it’s a must-read.
A few of these series aside, the majority of what you’ll find at the store is based on TV shows, movies, or games. When the Star Trek section looks like a metastasis, there’s a problem. It’s not that I’m not a huge Star Trek fan, far from it, but the shelves aren’t a good representation of what’s out there. One of the joys of science fiction is the creation of new worlds and the unique stories that inhabit them. Straight-jacketing of stories into pre-existing worlds is a crime, as it limits the freedom to explore. That freedom is central to one of the most important functions of science fiction – the critical examination of our own world. So much of good science fiction, makes us think about serious issues around us by presenting them in a new world allowing us to think through them without many of our own biases.
The good news is that a lot of great stories are still being written. I’ve written about it before, but the best place to find the best stories is in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois. Each year it packs in 50 of the best short stories, offering a true wealth of material to explore across the publications 34-year history. Rich Horton’s, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, is another anthology I make sure to pick up every year. For those of you who want to dig into the classics, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison of The Terminator fame, and Again, Dangerous Visions are two great anthologies from 1967 and 1972 respectively. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Hugo and Nebula awards (winners and nominees). As with all things, some years are better than others. I’m old enough to have seen the field grow, ebb and flow, but every year produces great stories and ideas.
If you expand your interest beyond just classical science fiction, you can always wander into the closely related horror genre and the realm of fantasy. Both offer similar payoffs to science fiction, I’m just more of a sci-fi nut than anything else.
Next up I’m going to tackle science fiction authors that I just love and some of the universes that they’re created. I’m also going to tackle some of my favourite movie directors (including Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams and even George Lucas) and some of the wonderful visual worlds that they’ve created. I am also more than willing to tackle suggestions from the audience. So, if there’s anything that you’d like me to take on, please let me know about in the comments section!