A Little Bit On The Side – Part Two

by limebirddennis

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In a previous post I talked about science fiction authors who also wrote some great episodes of famous science fiction TV shows. Today I will be looking in the opposite direction – at that venerable article the tie-in novel or ‘novelisation’.

Novelisations of movies (and in some cases stage plays) have been published since at least the 1920s and are now a major area of book publishing – if a film is based on a book then it is usually re-issued with a cover related to the film, if not then a novelisation is often commissioned. I remember, in 1979, reading the paperback of Alan Dean Foster’s adaptation of the first Alien movie, a book that was subsequently passed around between many of my friends.

Science fiction fans are notorious for wanting more works set in their favourite universe and so the biggest area of novelisation by a long way is in transferring (and expanding upon) TV series for the fans.

The first Dr Who novelisation Doctor Who (in an exciting adventure with the Daleks) was written by David Whitaker (who was also a screen writer on the original series) and was published in 1964. In all there were more than 150 novels written about the ‘original’ (the first 8) Doctors, and there have been almost 50 ‘New Series’ novels so far (Doctors 9, 10 and 11).

The Star Trek universe has also been a fertile ground for novelisations (now in the hundreds) initially adaptations of episodes and then, from 1968, with original stories – the first being Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds who I remember more for his works of sociological prediction and his Joe Mauser series. The first book written for adults was Spock Must Die! in 1970 by James Blish, who won the Hugo in 1959 for A Case of Conscience (although he is probably more famous for his Cities in Flight series – which I loved as a teen). He also wrote numerous adaptations of episodes of the original series.

The king of the novelisation has to be Alan Dean Foster. Apart from his own original ideas (for example the books set in the Humanx Commonwealth, the Spellsinger fantasy series, and the Icerigger Trilogy) he wrote novels of the first three Alien movies, he novelised Alien Nation, he wrote ten books based on Star Trek: The Animated Series (he has the story credit for the first Star Trek movie), and he wrote a Star Wars sequel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye before The Empire Strikes Back was made. Foster fleshed out the original Star Wars screenplay (even though George Lucas has the credit for the novel) and it is Foster who came up with the back story, the races, the technology etc. that became the bible against which the series is produced. In 2008 he won the Grand Master award from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

Other popular (and lengthy) TV series novelisations that are currently ongoing are Buffy the Vampire Slayer (70+ novels), Angel (around 30 novels), Charmed (40+) and  Stargate (51 novels based on the movie, SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe).

One of the most famous novelisations is Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from 1966, although many don’t know it as such – Asimov based his novel on the screenplay but the book was published six months before the movie hit the theatres and so many people believe that he was the originator of the story. That would not be allowed nowadays; I was shocked to read a few weeks ago that, in 2011, the novelisation of the movie Red Riding Hood was sold in bookshops WITH THE FINAL CHAPTER MISSING! Readers had to wait for the movie to be released and then DOWNLOAD the last chapter. I’m sorry for the all caps there, if they had a font called ‘strangle publisher’ I would have used that instead. Novelisations are, in many ways, a gift to the fans and so to treat book buyers so shabbily is inexcusable!

Games are also a rich vein of ideas for novelisation, with hundreds of Dungeons and Dragons books, a similar number of Warhammer 40,000 books and everything from Halo to Assassin’s Creed hitting the bookshop shelves.

From the above figures, it’s clear that novelisations are alive and kicking and I have read opinions that they are very good at getting teens who may not read much (or at all) interested in books – so they can be beneficial as well as enjoyable!

Have you read any novelisations? What were your favourites?

What TV shows or movies would you love to see turned into a book?


15 Responses to “A Little Bit On The Side – Part Two”

  1. There’s a strange thing going on with BladeRunner – obviously based on the Philip K Dick novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ – spawning a set of sequel novels by KW Jeter. I say strange because I remember the first book trying to sort-of tie the two together, and answer the ‘questions’ from the movie that subsequently vanished with one of the many director’s cuts… Actually, probably quite appropriate for it all to be so mind-bending! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment calypte. The only K. W. Jeter that I have read is his very early steampunk sequel to The Time Machine Morlock Night (from 1979!). Jeter actually coined the term steampunk in 1987.

      I have, of course, Philip K. Dick’s classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but will have to search out Jeter’s sequels. Thanks for the tip!

  2. “What TV shows or movies would you…” – Maybe something went under my radar, but since there’s no book available and if I had one or three wishes for free, I’d like to see FRINGE on my bookshelve. Especially to see, how close can a book be on the character of Walter Bishop – which was the main reason I watched FRINGE on TV.

    • Thanks for the comment Erik.

      I agree, it is surprising that there were no Fringe novels (or at least not yet!) There were a number of comics though (including a prequel written by Zack Whedon (brother of Joss).

  3. Dennis I see I’m going to be busy, I haven’t heard of many of the titles you have mentioned, except of course for the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. I’ll have to download some of this to my tablet and I can’t wait. The books you’ve suggested so far have been excellent reads.
    As for the editor that printed a book with the final chapter missing – I would rebel and tell everyone I know not to buy, but that’s just me (and I really know so few people). I would have to watch that publishing house in the future too, for other tricks.
    Great article, again you bring up a facet of writing that I hadn’t considered. Limebirds is a very good place for your expertise!

    • Thanks a lot for your comment Neeks.

      I agree, I would be very wary of that publisher if it had happened to me. I still can’t believe that they had the nerve to do that!

      I’m glad that you are enjoying my tips. Just wait for Blogging A to Z in April, most days I will be including tips in my articles, so your ‘to read’ list will grow and grow!

  4. When I was a kid I used to love reading books about my favorite shows, one that comes to mind is Full House books I used to read. It’s so funny, I remember the first time I read the word refrigerator…I did that thing where I sounded it out…rr–rr—ref–refrig—-REFRIGERATOR MOM I JUST READ REFRIGERATOR. . It’s odd the things we remember!

    • Thanks for the comment Laura.

      You’re right, it is strange what people remember. For me it was those little Ladybird hardback books of fairy tales. There is an advert on South African TV about Spar supporting a local school, it ends with a little girl in the school library holding a Ladybird Rumplestiltskin! It takes me right back!

  5. What a great post and a blast from the past to be reminded of how I poured over Blish’s Star Trek stories. In sixth grade I wrote my first “book,” completely ripped off from Star Trek and written in #2 lead pencil. It’s so true that great stories can dwell in multiple mediums and we will read/watch them again and again and each time take away something fresh. Now I have to go dig out my old Star Trek books!

  6. Interesting article, Dennis! I have several Alan Dean Foster novelisations on my shelves – some in rather ratty shape – but I didn’t know just how much he’d written, so this was fun to read. 🙂

    Before I answer your question, I agree with your comment about that Red Riding Hood offence. That’s a horrible trick to play on a reader, especially a purchasing reader! I take issue with big cliffhangers at the end of books even when a sequel is due. To have to download just the last chapter is ridiculous. Wait until the film is in theaters before you release the book, in that case! Arg!

    As for novelisations, I loved them growing up. I remember having big books of “Star Trek” stories on my shelves, as well as the Star Wars novelisations and continuation stories (Timothy Zahn’s SW stories remain a highlight of my sci-fi collection). Many of these were adapted into comic book form, as well. So, what happened, for me, was I’d see a movie, read the adaptation, maybe pick up the comic. That led me to pick up similar comics, or more books by those authors. That opened up new, bigger avenues for my reading appetite. It’s how I found and fell in love with the Lieber and Burroughs stories!

    Try not to laugh, but one of my favorite Foster adaptations is for the film Krull. It’s not a great movie – it’s not even a good movie, really – but there are these little character moments in the book that do such a nice job of fleshing out the supporting cast, I still go back every few years and give it a read-through. I suppose I tried mimicking Foster’s style when I wrote my 2006 NaNoWriMo novella. I don’t know if it worked, but it was certainly fun. 🙂

    These adaptation stories – which, in some ways, are basically fan fiction – tend to have an easy style that’s great for new readers. Of course, some are lesser than others; I’ve read more than one that reads as “phoned in.” But, as you say, they can be good introductions for people who ordinarily might not take the time to read a story.

    Thanks for the little history lesson, here. I enjoyed taking a waltz down memory lane, too! 🙂


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