I just got my contributor's copies today to BenBella's Star Wars on Trial, the latest in their "Smart Pop" series, and it's given me an excuse to address something that's been worrying at me for a bit.
I'm quite fond of BenBella's Smart Pop books, and quite honored to have been asked to contribute to four of them, their The Man From Krypton, Star Wars on Trial, the forthcoming So Say We All (about Battlestar Galactica), and an upcoming Spider-Man title. I enjoy writing these essays, and I hope to write many more. I also think that Star Wars on Trial is a very good book, possibly one of the most fun books they've put together so far.
So why the worry? The nature of the book is that writers are split into "witnesses" for the defense or the prosecution, themselves represented by Matthew Stover and David Brin. The book is divided into eight sections, looking at the politics of Star Wars, its portrayal of women, its lack of real science, its impact on the field, etc... The back and forth effectively encapsulates the heated emotion all Star Wars debates stir up and has all the juicy fun of a good flame war.
Now, I've got a lot to say about Star Wars, pro and con, a lot of which can be summed up with a not-uncommon deep affection for the original trilogy and an utter disgust with the new one (though I'm less thrilled with Return and quite enjoyed Revenge). And I've got a lot of real problems with some of Lucas' choices in the latter films - something I share with, oh, most of the English speakng world. But the topic I drew was the media tie-in and whether it was good or bad for the genre.
Probably because my head was up my butt and I wasn't paying attention, I didn't quite grok the us vs. them nature of the book and what I set out to write was a much more balanced look at the issue, an attempt to ask the question "are media tie-ins harmful?," rather than answer it outright. To that end, I included quotes from a number of different writers in the field. Realizing into the process that I was supposed to be more emphaticly one-sided in my opinion, my essay was steered towards a more forceful attack on the media tie-in (and even paired back eventually from what you see in print). Now, when I say "steered" I am not saying editorial involvement from above altered my words. I altered them to give BenBella more of what they were looking for and what I had agreed to do. But the result is that I feel I have taken (or will seem to have taken) a strong Lou vs. Media stance that is not entirely how I feel.
Lest you think I'm backtracking, I am not wild about media tie-ins. I don't believe they draw readers into the rest of the field, nor appreciably affect the number of readers a writer gets for his non-media tie-in work. My own sense from working in media as a journalist is that readers of media tie-in works are there for the media, not the writer. There are superstars of the tie-in (R.A. Salvatore for Forgotten Realms of course), but these are different readerships and I don't think if all the Star Wars books disappeared tomorrow that those readers would rush out and pour their dollars into purchases of Accelerando or Starship:Mutiny. And maybe this doesn't matter.
I've bought the occassional Doctor Who book in the past, don't fault my friend Sean Williams for his successful Star Wars trilogy, and am happy for Chris Roberson's upcoming X-Men novel (the cover of which, by John Picacio, will undoubtably blow us all away). I don't fault anyone for writing or reading a media tie-in. Sure, I wish we lived in a world where the cinema of science fiction more closely resembled its literature and where popularity followed quality more closely than it does. Yes, I am aware that there are books of quality written as media tie-ins, and, ironically, I suspect that a lot of Star Wars novels are better than Star Wars itself.
And I think that railing against Star Wars is raging into a wind.
But a few months ago, I gave a young man who only reads Forgotten Realms novels a copy of Sean Williams' fantasy, The Crooked Letter. The next time I saw him, he said he finished the book in a rush, that he couldn't put it down, and that it was "the smartest fantasy he ever read." He said that he "didn't know that fantasy could be this good," and that he was telling all his friends about it and was anxious for the next book in the series.
As I try to say in my essay, I don't object that the media tie-in exists, but that it is so often conflated in the minds of the general public with the rest of the science fiction and fantasy genre. I do not fault you if you read them or write them, and perhaps you write them well, but for my part, it is the rest of the genre that I will strive to proselytize and uphold. Star Wars, after all, doesn't need my help, but there is a lot of smart pop out there which does.