Tie-in fiction vs Non-tie-in fiction

Hi guys!

It was recently made aware that Paul S. Kemp wrote a post pertaining to my reviews of the first two volumes of the Erevis Cale Trilogy. This is in no way meant to be a response to his comments concerning my reviews. But the author did address an issue which could generate a number of interesting discussions:

I do wish, however, that reviewers would never, ever, feel the need to apologize/qualify/squirm about reviewing tie-in fiction (to Pat's credit, he does so only in the TF review). It continues to feed the unfortunate (and wrong) perception that tie-in speculative fiction is, by definition, qualitatively inferior to non-tie-in fiction, and you all know my position on that. It's the same nonsense and need for hierarchy that causes writers of "literary" fiction to dismiss genre fiction in its entirety (it is amusing that many non tie-in speculative fiction writers hate this sentiment when it comes from "literary" writers, yet those same non tie-in specfic writers have no problem turning around and directing the same thing at tie-in writers; it's a strange disconnect that I've never understood).

By the way, for an excellent essay on the subject of writing tie-in fiction v. non-tie-in fiction, see Karen Traviss' comments at Emerald City.

You can read the essay here. While I don't agree with everything this writer says, there is a lot of truths in her essay. Read it, and let's see what everyone thinks about her observations. . .

I don't think I have to elaborate on the literary fiction vs genre fiction rivalry. As I mentioned countless times, there has never been this many talented and incredible authors comprising what we call speculative fiction. Sooner or later, those "literary" types will have to give them the respect they deserve.

However, I don't believe the same can be said about tie-in fiction. And it's the reader in me that makes that claim, not the reviewer. Now, Star Wars is a special case, as it did attract a couple of very good authors. Few writers would turn back on the possibility of getting that much exposure. And yet, fans and non-fans alike will tell you that the quality of Star Wars novels can range from excellent to dubious.

In my review of Twilight Falling, I did mention the apparent low quality of some TSR/Wizards of the Coast offerings, while praising works by other authors. I never meant to imply that readers could not enjoy Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels. Far from it. As a guy who fell in love with the fantasy genre reading those books during the 80s, how could I possibly do that? Still, as you discover what's out there, it becomes increasingly difficult to truly enjoy such novels to the level that one will appreciate works by authors such as Tad Williams, Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Hal Duncan, Scott Lynch, and a multitude of others. Wizards of the Coast has never elected to produce the sort of ambitious story arc that would bring the aficionados back to the novels they enjoyed at a younger age.

Which, in my opinion, is why that sort of tie-in fiction offerings will always be considered as something akin to the minor leagues or the Canadian Football League. In and of themselves, they are fun and entertaining. No doubt about that! But they don't compare to the Major Leagues or the National Football League.

I'll post a link to that essay on a couple of message boards, just to see what sort of debate we will end up with. . .

23 commentaires:

Paul S. Kemp said...
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Paul S. Kemp said...

I think it is common for reviewers/readers to confuse their particular taste (which is perfectly valid, of course) with objective truth.

For example, to draw any conclusions from this...

"And yet, fans and non-fans alike will tell you that the quality of Star Wars novels can range from excellent to dubious."

...is a bit of a stretch. After all, the category "non-tie in spec. fic." also contains books that range in quality from excellent to dubious, yet no one generalizes "dubiousness" to the entirety of non-tie-in spec. fic. on the basis of the presence of *some* books of dubious quality. Yet that is quite common when it comes to tie-in fiction (e.g., I read a bad Forgotten Realms book or two ten years ago; therefore, all FR books are crap).

Now, are books of "dubious" quality more likely to show up in tie-in spec. fic. than in non-tie-in? That's a matter of opinion, I suppose, but whether it's true or untrue has no relevance to the evaluation of a particular title, which should stand or fall on its own merits.

Also, many writers choose careers in tie-in fiction because it suits their particular ambition/lifestyle/whatever, not because they do not have the talent to write non-tie in fiction. I suspect there are as many reasons underlying the choice as there are tie-in writers. Sometimes an author is fond of the underlying IP (the setting); sometimes the tie-in line is where an author got his or her break and he or she feels a certain loyalty to fans and publisher alike; sometimes it's just a financial decision -- as a rule, the sales for an average, mid-list Forgotten Realms novel (i.e., one not by Salvatore, Greenwood, or Cunningham, because their sales, I suspect, are much greater than average) vastly exceeds the sales of the average mid-list Tor/Baen/DAW novel (again, we must exclude top-list writers like GRRM, Jordan, Feist, Brooks, etc.).

I see it as a symptom of the same snobbery usually thrown at genre writers by "literary writers." It's just wearing a different dress.


Paul

maschine said...

Perhaps the problem is, that with tie-in fiction the focus is more on the series (e.g. Star Wars) and not on the author.
So, when you categorize the books, you go by the series and not by the author. That way you mix good and bad novels and get in the end only an average rating, whereas when you want to rate non-tie-in fiction you categorize them by the author.
And since many authors write in a more or less constant quality you get more good (and of course also bad) ratings.

Patrick said...

Paul,

It's nice of you to drop by and join this discussion.

But when you claim that this is just about the same as the rivalry between literary fiction and genre fiction, I beg to differ. In my mind, the problem with literary types is the fact that they can't even admit that there is something good about genre fiction, nor will they acknowledge that some literary fiction now has a panoply of "fantasy" elements within its works. Obviously, those people have never read a page written by brilliant writers such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Hal Duncan, and several others.

I agree with you 100% when you claim say that there are books of dubious quality in non-tie-in fiction. Too many, if you ask me! But that's a reality readers have to live with. Yet, with such a vast pool of authors, many of them continue to stand out from the rest.

Such might not be the case with tie-in fiction because a lesser number of writers produce such works. And Maschine raises a valid point when he claims that it's more about the series than the authors when it comes to tie-in novels. Hence, a much smaller number of authors do stand out from the rest.

Even Star Wars, which attracts many "big" names, suffers from that. I mean, Timothy Zahn wrote incredibly good Star Wars books. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of everyone else. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, but I'll be the first to admit that few Star Wars novels have really stood out over the years.

Similarly, most of the authors you have mentioned did write some good Forgotten Realms books. And for the record, I rank you among the better FR novelists I've read. Weis and Hickman wrote wonderful Dragonlance novels, no doubt about it. But there has been so many deficient novels set in those universes put on the market over the last two decades, and I believe that this is what hurts the franchises in terms of quality. The sales are still good, I'm certain, but the critics look at the product as substandard novels.

And I believe that's the main reason why many reviewers are loath to give tie-in fiction books a chance. Most of us have read a multitude of them, and we have learned our lesson. While a few are jewels in the rough, most are sadly not worth our time and money.

In my opinion, WotC should let you guys run wild, give you the opportunity to come up with something "big" and original. Something that could interest every fantasy fan out there. But that's just me. . .

Race said...

Interesting debate. I've got a whole shelf full of tie-in fiction, from FR Dragonlance, MtG to Star Wars. But if I'm honest I probably do hold them in a different light than I do other genre fiction.

I've read some real turds in tie-in and non, ive read good books in both, but I dont know that I've read any tie-in that I'd rank up with my very favorites non tie-in. However one of my favorite authors, John M Ford has done Star Trek.

I do think the confines of tie-in univereses doesnt allow for as many great books. You dont always have the freedom to drop a moon on Chewbaca, or kill off Wulfgar. That is what hamstring many Tie-in writers.

Paul S. Kemp said...
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maschine said...

I have to admit, that I haven't read any Star Wars novels (only a few comics), but I thought that the SW setting doesn't confine you that much.
You can always set your story on a far away world with aliens of your liking...you just have to implement one or more jedi knights.

Okay, then you have to sell the book to your publisher..but in the end (I guess) you should be able to tell the story you want to tell, with your own characters...and the ability to kill them off how and when you like to

Paul S. Kemp said...

I guess I see this...

"And Maschine raises a valid point when he claims that it's more about the series than the authors when it comes to tie-in novels."

...as a restatement of the problem, and in that spirit I agree with Maschine. Readers do generalize about an entire line on the basis of their exposure to one or two authors. But in my view, that's no more valid than my saying: "I've read all the Dune books by Brian Herbert and boy do I think they sucked. Therefore, other books by this Frank Herbert guy, taking place in the same setting, must needs also suck." (for the record, I've never read a Brian Herbert Dune novel; this is just an example).

And even if that were a valid generalization (and again, it is my position that it is not), it still would be an unwarranted jump to claim that because the books in FR suck, therefore all tie-in fiction sucks, including that produced by the wildly different group of writers/editors in Star Wars/Trek/Warcraft/City of Heroes/Halo/What Have you. The category "tie in spec. fiction" is just too large to make that kind of logical leap. Much like the category "non-tie-in spec. fic."

As for your view that literary criticism of genre fiction is somehow different than what we're discussing here: We'll just have to agree to disagree. I see essentially no difference at all.

Here's all I ask of readers: Evaluate each author, whether tie-in or not, on his or her individual merits. If my books don't work for you, others in FR may, or in Warcraft, or whatever. There are a lot of differences between authors across lines and within lines, and many of them don't write "jewels in the rough." They write good books, period.

Maurice said...

The problem with the writing of shared worlds, is that the whole mythology, characters and events are shared. Take the latest story arc The New Jedi Order from Star Wars. Every book revealed more information and added very important plot points to the overall story, but not every book was guaranteed to have much happening in it or even be well written and as a reader its not easy to not feel in a way betrayed when a bad book can be written.

Dragonlance, FR and Star Wars do have gems in them, but the majority (IMO) are weakly written.

If the writers were given more creative freedom it could result in a raise of quality in general. For example Weis and Hickman have a lot more freedom in Dragonlance and their books are mainly concerned with huge themes that alter the Dragonlance universe or play very important roles in it. I always feel that the other writers are then working on something less 'important' and therefore less interesting, regardless of how good their writing is. The problem is you would have thirty authors changing the face of Ansalon with each book.

You have to take the good and the bad, and the way it is now, people will put shared world books aside, because everytime a new book comes out theres no guarantee that it will be worth reading at all

Sarah said...

I guess the problem with evaluating each author on her/his individual merits in tie-ins, for me, is that we don't have the built-in devotion to the author that we have among, say, George R.R. Martin's fans. A lot of readers are reading indiscriminately, aren't they? IE: Oh, a new Star Wars book, I'll buy it. They're not buying it because they love the author's work.

If people are automatically going to buy it just because it's part of the set, what's the motivation on the publishers' part to go for the best quality in each edition? As a SFF fan and former English major, book snobbery is annoying to deal with... I am not against tie-ins in any way (my boyfriend and I have an entire bookshelf of Dragonlance and Star Wars), but it does seem like there are a lot of thin, quick-read stinkers out there. But then, that's the same snobbery that prevails against "series" books in general. So maybe I'm just rambling inconclusively here.

I do agree that there is a tendency, when people start complaining about the quality, to haul in the "heavy hitter" authors to make big plot decisions and write a really good one.

Patrick said...

Hey guys,

What's with the deleted posts??? This is not an inquisition, you know. Please feel free to leave your comment. This is just a debate.

And Paul, I'll always agree to disagree -- with you or anyone else. Feel free to do the same!;-)

From what you imply, it seems evident that you feel that some readers/reviewers will not give you and your novels a fair shot because you write Forgotten Realms books.

As such, I totally understand your frustration and the stand you are making here. Anyone standing in your shoes would indubitably do the same. Unfair, you say? Hell yeah. No doubt about it. But isn't this a reality that you and your fellow authors must live with? Racism is wrong. Yet it's a reality that everyone must face, each and every day.

If I understand you correctly, I believe that you would like to expand your readership beyond the WotC media-tie-in readers. And you feel that reviewers are really making it hard for you to get some more exposure by automatically relegating you to the "lowly" position of a tie-in fiction author. In essence, they don't allow your work to stand on its on merit, and judge it based on what the Forgotten Realms line has been publishing for the last 15 years or so.

We seem to be of an age, or close enough to it. As a fantasy fan, I'm persuaded that you remember when TSR first burst on the scene. The Dragonlance novels written by Weis and Hickman took the market by storm. When the Forgotten Realms universe was introduced, we frequently saw some of its titles on the NYT list. At that period of time, those books were like a breath of fresh air on the fantasy genre. Which, in my opinion, is why it exposed a whole new generation of young men and women to the fantasy genre.

Do you remember those days? At the time, there was no amazon.com. When you ordered a novel at your local bookstore, it took 4 to 6 weeks to receive it. If they had it in store. There were no mega-store, just local bookstores. Do you remember that 4x4 fantasy/scifi section. Do you remember buying the next Eddings/Feist/Brooks offering, not because you truly loved the author, but because finally a fantasy book was out? Do you remember spending an hour in front of that small section, checking out the covers to hopefully find something relatively good, only to go back home with a stupid Mercedes Lackey stinker!?! And then giving Lackey a second chance, because surely she could do better than that, only to find out that she couldn't!?! Ah, the good old days. . .;-)

TSR changed all that. For a while, they were releasing books every single months, and most of them were good. Unfortunately, although the publisher continued to turn up novel after novel, after a while the quality of its products began to deteriorate.

What I see right now, 20 years later, is that TSR/WotC has maintained the status quo. The company which began has such a positive thing, a veritable breath of fresh air in a genre that really needed it at the time, has grown complacent. Its fans have grown up and discovered new, better authors. And those authors have been pushing the envelope for the last decades, many of them producing works that are destined to become classics.

Time was, the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms lines seemed bent on bettering themselves and keep moving up. Sadly, that is not the case. The status quo, that's the main problem. When was the last an ambitious story arc was published as a FR series? To me, not since the Vales trilogy (Waterdeep, Tantras, etc), when Cyric became a god. How can WotC hope to compete with what's out there if they're not prepared to take chances and push the envelope themselves?

Most of the time, it feels as though those novels are aimed at a younger audience. Yet it is obvious that you have higher hopes than that. But the boundaries that regulate your own writings make it awfully difficult for you to do so.

Let us be honest here. In a previous post you have mentioned a few names that stand out in the FR universe. Frankly, after more than 15 years, that's a terribly small group of authors, considering the high number of books published over the years. And therein lies your problem, Paul. At least in my opinion.

As I mentioned, I would include you in that group. So why was I reticent to give your series a shot? To put it simply, because I have read to many atrocious Dragonlance and FR and Greyhawk and Spelljammer and Dark Sun and yada yada yada. And I'm persuaded that a lot of readers/reviewers are jaded and feel the same.

Now, that is incredibly unfair to you. After all, you rank among the better authors who have writing Forgotten Realms books. But the dubious quality of the works of many of your predecessors is hurting you. And as long as WotC is satisfied to put out substandard books, writers like you and Elaine Cunningham and others will continue to suffer from that. Because, as unjust as it is, readers will continue to associate the talent of the author with the quality of the line. Which, in the end, prevents people to judge your novels on their own merit and to give you a fair shot.

The old adage "Once bitten, twice shy" comes to mind. I think that too many of us have been disappointed by several such novels in the past. And with the price of books these days, and the high number of unbelievably good fantasy novels out there, people will feel more comfortable spending their hard-earned money on a more or less "sure thing."

Hence, I may be wrong but I don't think that people snob tie-in fiction such as FR novels because they have read one or two books of dubious quality. I think that most people have given TSR/WotC more than a fair chance over the years. And, like me, they just got tired of being taken advantage of. Don't get me wrong. I still read any Weis/Hickman Dragonlance novels, and an occasional Salvatore book. As for the rest, I guess I'll always be a little reticent and will require recommendations from readers/reviewers I trust.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But I won't be fooled a third time.

The Forgotten Realms universe is so rich and vast in scope, they should let authors like you, Salvatore, Cunningham and others truly shake things up. Come up with the sort of story arcs that can appeal to both your regular readership and the ones who have moved to other things. The ingredients are all there. They just need to use them to cook up a new recipe.

One thing's for certain. The three-book, three-hundred page format no longer works in fantasy. Hasn't for well over a decade now. The fans are out there. And if WotC give you enough freedom to come up with some killer stuff, those fans will flock back and gladly give the FR and Dragonlance lines the respect they deserve.

As things stand right now, they are getting the respect they deserve, or lack thereof.

Which places you between a rock and a hard place, I know. And it's a pity. Unfortunately, it's all a question of image...

Okay, I'm off to bed. Don't know if this made much sense, but I'm too tired to proofread it!:-)

Green Gaidin said...

I have not posted on this blog before but Pat linked this at another site we visit and I found the topic interesting, so here I am :P

The issue is interesting to me because I can't seem to reconcile the two sides in my mind. Every time I get closer to saying one side is right, the other comes in with a good point and brings us back to square one. On one hand I look at tie-in fiction, or fiction based on settings/characters created by others, and cringe. I work in a bookstore and have the opportunity to pick up any book I want and look at it at my leisure, and being a writer myself I've developed particular tastes and and stances on prose. When I pick up a book, whether tie-in or not, open it up, and find grammatical errors or poor vocabulary it's an instant headache. Unfortunately, tie-in books tend to be worse than most in this respect. I have never read anything by Mr. Kemp (although I'll be looking for him when I work next!), I will say that opening a book by Salvatore, Greenwood or other tie-in writers and seeing terrible, terrible writing is sad to say the least. Essentially these writers are piggybacking on the product line to immediately give their work recognition and bring in readers. That is the reason that, as pointe dout above, midlist tie-in writers make more than regular midlisters. How can you complain about your work not getting enough recognition because it is tie-in when you have such a leg up there in the first place?

I'm of the stance that writers should create their own worlds and characters. I'm sorry, but reading about yet another taciturn dwarf or an arrogant elf makes me want to ride the line, not cross the tracks if you follow me. I read Mr. Kemp's comments above about it being a lifestyle choice and it makes me... I don't know exactly how to phrase it. Angry, I guess, but not neccesarily AT Mr. Kemp. Writing is supposed to be about something deep inside of you. I can't remember who it was (David Morrel?) that said you know you're a writer when you realize you couldn't stop yourself if you tried. That you're a writer because your soul cannot let you be anything else. Somehow that doesn't tie in with writing a story that has been all predetermined beforehand. Michaelangelo didn't paint-by-the-numbers, you know?

On the other hand, I look at well known characters like, say, Batman, and the incredible pieces of art produced with the same old characters in Gotham City. "Dark Knight Returns" was written almost 50 years after the character was created and it was so deep, such a landmark, that it is still taught in University Lit. classes. But let's be honest, there have been a lot more pieces of crap than masterpieces, and that's true of all tie-in fiction.

I'd like to respond to Mr. Kemp:

"There are a lot of differences between authors across lines and within lines, and many of them don't write "jewels in the rough." They write good books, period. "

I'm sorry, but the fact of it is they do not. As I said above I am unfamilliar with your work so I'm not singling you out, but there's a reason they're called 'jewels in the rough': because they're nigh impossible to find. Anything of quality is singled out in the current exposure-heavy internet era. I took the '50 Book Challenge' this year, and the more I'm reading the more I'm finding that I flat out do not have time to read all of the 5-star books out there, never mind the 4-star books. Why would I want to read something that is simply passable (what you call 'good books, period') when I could read something amazing? The truth is that the vast majority of writers who are talented enough to write something amazing are writing stories and worlds of their own creation.







Oh and hey Pat, great blog. Keep up the good work :D

maschine said...

@Green Gaidin:
Michelangelo is a bad example, I'm afraid, since he DID use already well established characters and interpreted them his way ;)

But I, too, guess, that most of the really authors rather set their storys in their own worlds or at least prefer to change their worlds frequently.
Ok, I have to admit, that I am not that familiar with tie-in books, but instead look at the really good comic book writers:
Green Gaidin mentioned Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
Miller only wrote three or four Batman story arcs, the same with Daredevil (ok, including which was quite long) and other comics.
Alan Moore, too, hopped from one comic to the other.
Or Neil Gaiman, he told the story he wanted to tell and then let the Sandman die.

I guess to be really good you have to be innovative, which is very hard if for 10, 15 or 20 years you set your novels in the same world.
And, I would say, if you are really that innovative, then you don't WANT to use the same world over and over, you rather want to make something different.

What does that mean for tie-in fantasy?
First of all I doubt that you can revolutionise a series more than 2 or 3 times a decade.
Also, if there is a really good author, he might be able to write one or two, perhaps even three really good and innovative stories/sagas, but I'm afraid after that he will either lose interest or his books will be less and less spectacular.

So, although there are really good tie-in books I doubt that there is a real continuity in quality


(I hope it became clear what I wantedt to say and I didn't use unpatient and the likes again...it's already morning over here *yawn*)

Paul S. Kemp said...

Pat,

If you think the Avatar Trilogy is the last big story arc to appear in WotC books, you probably have read little in the WotC books in many years. There have been numerous large-scale story arcs since that time.

Here's my view of what occurred: There was the explosive period that you mentioned. A few years after that, the editorial direction at TSR took a different tack, and decided to produce a fair number of books aimed at younger readers, but without saying as much (things like, Mage in the Iron Mask, Once Around the Realms). Those books, I speculate, soured some readers on the line, notwithstanding the continued writing of more adult themed books by Salvatore, Cunningham, et al. Many of those alienated readers haven't come back and formed their opinions of the line during that time. But I would argue that in recent years the editorial direction at WoTC has moved in a MUCH more adult direction. You acknowledge that you haven't read much in the way of tie-in fiction in years, and yet you're prepared to generalize about the current state of the line. Instead, why not try it? You did so with my books (thank you). There are others out there, too, and you may find, after sampling some, that the various WotC lines read more like they did during those early years.

Paul S. Kemp said...

"I guess the problem with evaluating each author on her/his individual merits in tie-ins, for me, is that we don't have the built-in devotion to the author that we have among, say, George R.R. Martin's fans. A lot of readers are reading indiscriminately, aren't they? IE: Oh, a new Star Wars book, I'll buy it. They're not buying it because they love the author's work.

If people are automatically going to buy it just because it's part of the set, what's the motivation on the publishers' part to go for the best quality in each edition?"

Sarah,

It's true that some readers of shared world lines simply buy all the line's titles, but most do not, and, in fact, do have loyalty to particular authors.

As for the incentive to produce quality fiction: It's the same as it is for any publishing house -- to increase readership, which requires good word of mouth, good reviews, all of which, at the end of the day, can be generated only by good writing.

Paul S. Kemp said...

"I'm sorry, but the fact of it is they do not. As I said above I am unfamilliar with your work so I'm not singling you out, but there's a reason they're called 'jewels in the rough': because they're nigh impossible to find. Anything of quality is singled out in the current exposure-heavy internet era. I took the '50 Book Challenge' this year, and the more I'm reading the more I'm finding that I flat out do not have time to read all of the 5-star books out there, never mind the 4-star books. Why would I want to read something that is simply passable (what you call 'good books, period') when I could read something amazing? The truth is that the vast majority of writers who are talented enough to write something amazing are writing stories and worlds of their own creation. "

GG,

That you hold an opinion fervently does not make it true. "Jewels in the rough" is Pat's phrase, not objective truth, so there is no "reason" they're called that other than Pat's use of the phrase.

You say yourself that you don't read tie-in fiction, that you sometimes breeze over a couple pages by this or that author, yet you're willing to make the kind of generalization I quoted above? On what basis?

Incidentally, tie-in writers do create their own characters, and, generally, their own micro-settings (say, the details of a city, or region) within an established world.

Paul S. Kemp said...

Here's the thing: It is my view that sweeping generalizations about tie-in fiction are invalid, both within and across tie-in lines. This is especially true when the "evidence" for the generalization is a limited sample size or is based on reading experiences from a decade ago.

It's the same as a person travelling to New York five years ago, encountering four rude people, and concluding on that basis that all New Yorkers are rude today.

I suspect I'm changing no one's mind, but it was worth a try.

Neth said...

Very interesting discussion going on.

I'll start of bluntly - the reason why I'm not interested in reading tie-ins:

The issue is that with the execption of Star Wars, I have not read books from those 'universes', which means that there is a vast amount of background information that I'm not familiar with. Regardless of whether a book or series does stand on it's own in this greater world, this becomes a mark against my reading it.

As GG mentions, reading time is precious. I have lots of books I'm interested in reading and relatively little time to do it. I read 40-50 books a year, which sounds like a lot, but when I look at my list of books that I already have or that I want, I realize just how much is out there and how little head-way I can make with reading even 50 books a year.

On to my reading the a lot of the Star Wars tie-ins, well I've more or less given up on that. In that case there were just too many mediocre (or less) books mixed about that I'm not interested in taking the 'risk'. Even with an author that I know has probably written a good book, I find myself less interested.

Is this snobbery? I don't think so, it's just an expression of my personal taste and priorities for reading. Sometime in the future these priorities will change, and maybe this will bump up some tie-ins. Only time will tell.

Patrick said...

Paul,

I don't believe you thought you'd change a lot of people's minds. Yet I'm glad that you are here, standing up for what you believe in. If any of us were in your place, we'd probably do the same.

However, I do believe you are making an error when you try to "convince" us that the entire FR line has been revamped and now produces many works of quality. That bucket doesn't hold much water, I'm afraid. WotC has a ways to go before it can bring back the disgruntled fans who turned their backs on them.

A very good friend of mine still reads a lot of FR and Dragonlance novels. So I'm pretty much apprised of what's going on in those two universes. And yes, although I haven't read too many of those books in the last 10 years or, I make it a point to read a few each year. Why no reviews? This blog's mission is to raise awareness among readers about what's good in the fantasy genre. When elaborating on my scoring system last winter, I explain that I would never review a novel that was worth less than 6/10. Why? It's simple: this site is not meant to mudsling anyone. I know how hard it is to get into the publishing world, and I don't want my reviews to hurt anyone. Incidentally, no FR or Dragonlance novel I've read since January 2005 (since this blog's creation) scored above 6/10.

Personally, I'll state again that you rank among the very good authors that have written for TSR/WotC over the years. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about your current or previous colleagues.

You say that there has been a number of books/series with large-scale and ambitious story arcs in the FR universe in recent years. Compared to other FR/Dragonlance/other tie-in fiction, perhaps. That's a matter of taste and opinion. And as such, your opinion is as good as mine.

But your desire appears to gain the respect and readership of men and women outside of the WotC's fandom. Which means that what WotC produces must be able to compete with works by the likes of Jordan, Martin, Erikson, Hobb, Keyes, Hamilton, etc. Highly unfair, that's for sure.

Why? Because it's not a level playing field. Those writers can let their creativity run wild, with no regard toward any sort of establishment. You and your fellow FR/Dragonlance authors don't have the luxury. As a result, it's well nigh impossible for authors like you guys to come up with the sort of epic tales that will memerize readers the way writers such as the aforementioned ones can.

For instance, as I was reading the first two volumes of your trilogy, I was also savoring Steven Erikson's THE BONEHUNTERS. In a single book, Erikson's contains material equivalent to 4 FR novels within its covers. The number of storylines is thus immensely higher and those can run a lot deeper than anything tie-in fiction can come up with. And that was a transition book to boot!

As I've said numerous times so far, if WotC is to regain the trust and respect of former readers, they need to give you guys more freedom and come up with a number of storylines on an epic scale. That's the only way they can compete with what's on the market right now.

But why would they? Sales are very good, without having to change things so drastically. As you pointed out, mid-lit authors in tie-in fiction make more than mid-list authors in non-tie-in fiction. It's a scary thought, but most FR writers probably make more money and sell more novels than R. Scott Bakker!

So from where I stand, I don't see why WotC would try to take a chance. Commercial success is more important than recognition to most companies.

I don't know how much input writers like you and Cunningham and Salvatore, etc, have with the editorial department. Perhaps they are following this little debate, here and on the message boards?

In the end, I think that they have maintained the status quo for too many years. And with all the incredible talent out there, it will take something really special to get former fans and the average readers to flock back and give WotC an hontest shot. And the only way to do it is by releasing a series that will capture the imagination of readers everywhere. They did it once with Dragonlance, so they could do it again. If they are willing to do so, of course.

Because, as unfair a fight as it is, right now it's like pitting a lightweight against a heavyweight. FR/Dragonlance authors don't have the tools and the backing-up they need to write the sort of books/series that can stand on their own against works like The Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Prince of Nothing, The Wheel of Time, The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, The Riftwar Saga, Crown of Stars, Discworld, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and countless others.

An author like you simply cannot showcase his talent to the full extent of its potential within those boundaries. . .

Again, just my two cents. So it's worth what it's worth!:-)

Maurice said...

'The issue is that with the execption of Star Wars, I have not read books from those 'universes', which means that there is a vast amount of background information that I'm not familiar with.'

You've touched on a good point. I also get discouraged by some of the books because they are not 'noob' friendly. They're targeted at fans of Star Wars or people who have played Dungeons and Dragons, and who have a very clear idea of what is going on. Im not as big a Star Wars fan as I am of DnD and often its very difficult to imagine alien races that are simply described by name and then two hundred pages later i will find out what they look like. Too many of the books simply drop names and fill the books with meaningless action.

Green Gaidin said...

Mr. Kemp,

I am willing to make the assumption that most tie-in fiction is not of adequate quality because, as I said, most of it is so bad that I can open a random book and find various grammatical errors, juvenile prose, and poor vocabulary usage. Random page, random paragraph, random author: garbage. Random page, random paragraph, author with literary credits beyond mere publishing: usually pretty good, sometimes downright engaging.

Time constraints say that I cannot read all books to determine the overall status of a series/author's works. I read Goodkind's series (or what was out, anyway) when I was 17 and bought the new book that was released when I was 18. I read it and cringed, and I haven't gone back to him since. He has published numerous novels since then yet I'm not going to pick them up again. Using your logic I would have to read every single line he has written to determine whether his new work was any good, and this is simply not true. In the same way that reading a great work or two can make me a fan for life, reading a terrible work or two can ensure that I never touch another one of his books. I don't find anything wrong with that asessement. As a mature and well read reader I can look at a random page or two and give you a pretty good overview of the quality. It's not as if pages 1 - 125 are great, 125-130 have terrible prose and are riddled with errors, and then it resumes quality from 130-on. And if it does then it's so poorly edited that I'm not interested in slogging through it anyway; Robert Jordan has already spoken for my non-edited fiction patience reserves (and boy oh boy I can't wait for THAT to be over :P).

Patrick said...

I've been thinking about this whole discussion for a while now. . . And for my money, the only tie-in fiction series that remained good from start to finish was the Robotech line.

Odd, but these books never garnered the sort of popularity I think they deserved. . .

Anonymous said...

I'm months late joining this discussion (and perhaps it would be best to let it lie) but I'd like to say my piece regardless.

I see a lot of people saying that they've read alot of bad tie-in fiction and so refuse to give any more a chance. This completely boggles the mind. In the past few years alone, WotC have recruited a host of extremely talented young (basically unknown) authors who can write a darn good story. I think it's unfair to judge these authors (who I can only assume most of those making the said comments have never read) based on previous bad experiences. As Mr. Kemp said, it's only fair to judge each author on their own individual merits.

Additionally, I see a lot of calls for a looser reign on authors of tie-in fiction (allowing said authors to run wild with any storyline they like). One thing that must be kept in mind is that these shared worlds, with so many different authors writing in each setting, must be regulated in some way. If authors were simply given free reign to "shake things up as they please," chances are the continued existence of the world in question would be a short one indeed. (Imagine a world with half a dozen globe-spanning wars raging at once.)

And finally, basing one's opinion of tie-in fiction on poor editing is pretty weak, IMO, as it seems every publishing house these days rushes to get their books out, allowing countless grammatical errors in their titles. It certainly isn't unique to tie-in products.

It just seems to me that the criticism directed at tie-in fiction by readers who admit to having read little of it in the past decade screams of elitism.