Daniel Godfrey is the author of the inventive time travel novels New Pompeii and Empire of Time, in which a nefarious near-future corporation (is there any other kind?) unlocks the mysteries of temporal manipulation and hatches a plot to bring the doomed residents of the ancient city of Pompeii forward in time just before they were to be buried in lava, intending to exploit them to make a profit. It all goes about as well as you can imagine.
Today, Daniel joins us to talk about a subject that has nothing whatsoever to do with his books, but exemplifies why you can trust his judgment: namely, why tie-in novels get such an undeservedly bad rap from many readers.
“It’s not as good as the book!”
Part of the reason, I think, the above statement is heard so often is that movies and TV are all about what we can see from the outside, whereas books put you directly inside a character’s head.
Movie and TV tie-in novels, however, try to pull off the opposite trick: taking something that is entirely visual (and relatively short), and giving it back to you the characters’ direct points-of-view. Tie-in books fill in the blanks between the meaningful stares and glances, and pad a story without a making a book feel bloated or swollen.
As such, I’ve selected five tie-in novels that I think show the best of the trade, whilst also picking out what I think gives tie-ins their main strengths.
Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn
Okay, let’s start with the monster: Heir to the Empire (and its sequels, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command) don’t directly follow any of the Star Wars films, but they would have made great movies. I’m not really interested in doing a compare and contrast with the Disney canon Episode VII—and I appreciate that much of what is in Heir to the Empire has been superseded and replaced by both the prequels and the new trilogy.
However, for tie-in novels, what Zahn did acts as a benchmark against which all others can be now judged. Take well-loved characters and continue their stories? Check. Introduce your own characters and make your audience fall in love with them, just as they did the originals? Check. Have a clever plot that sucks you in and doesn’t let go? Check. Basically, Heir to the Empire demonstrates that tie-in novels don’t have to be constrained by their source material—they can develop the brand and take them places new. And, more importantly, they can feed back to the original property: forcing them to include their best aspects. Step forward, Grand Admiral Thrawn!
The Eight Doctors, by Terrance Dicks
The BBC first tried to reboot Doctor Who with a 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann. The results were mixed, but McGann’s performance was the main positive from the attempt. The Eight Doctors follows straight on from the TV movie, and is the starting point of a series of 73 books featuring the Eighth Doctor. Of course, there are a lot of Doctor Who books, featuring all of the many incarnations of the iconic character. However, I picked this one as it proves an important point about tie-in books: they can keep your favorite TV shows on life support—even if the main character benefits from a double-heart beat!—whilst you wait for the execs to realize what a great property they own and get it back on the air. (P.S. If you’ve seen the web short The Night of the Doctor, then you’ll know what a great Doctor Paul McGann would have made!).
Dark Mirror, by Diane Duane
Star Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite series of Trek, and I like how the episodes can be collected into groups: the holodeck episodes, the Q episodes, the Borg episodes, etc. One interesting thing the original Star Trek did was set-up a “mirror” universe, featuring evil alter-egos of the main crew. The TV series didn’t return to it until the Deep Space Nine episode “Crossover” – but, in Dark Mirror, Diane Duane creates a similar story using characters from the TNG universe. Alongside the TOS and DS9 installments, it would have been great to have seen this Mirror TNG episode make it to the screen to complete the group!
(As an aside, tie-in novels have proved a great source of material for TV shows with, for example, the Doctor Who episode Human Nature coming from one such book—albeit with David Tennant replacing the McCoy incarnation of the book.)
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
It’s one of the most famous movies of all time, by one of SF’s most celebrated writers. And, whilst both the book and the film are based on the same short story by Clarke, they were developed together, with the book being published after the film came out. So…this is a tie-in novel! And I wanted to include it in my list of five to demonstrate one thing above all others: there is no reason why tie-ins can’t operate on the same level as any other originally published book.
Alien: Out of Shadows, by Tim Lebbon
Taking place in the gap of Alien and Aliens, Out of Shadows forms the first of a series of books fleshing out the world created by Ridley Scott and James Cameron. The close-focus of the films— so crucial in ratcheting up the tension, particularly in the original—meant that much of the world building was left off-camera. Tie-in novels give us an opportunity to pull the camera back a bit— see also The Force Awakens and its additional detail on the First Order—and take in more about what makes our favorite SFF environments tick. What is particularly great about Out of Shadows is the way in which Tim Lebbon seamlessly transfers Ripley’s voice to the page. (A trick also achieved in Adam Christopher’s Elementary novels, which capture the various tics of Johnny Lee Miller’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes).
So there we have it: five (and a bit!) tie-in novels that hopefully show why I like them so much—and why they deserve the same chance you’d give any book.
What’s your favorite tie-in novel?.