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by Rick Klaw

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The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

I am torn. Not that it's so unusual. I wear many hats. At various times I have been a writer, editor, publisher, promoter, critic, and bookseller. Often many things at once, changing personas from moment to moment. (Perhaps I am a character in a Michael Moorcock novel?) As expected, reality appears a bit different from each job.

This time the trouble began at Armadillocon 24. Or more specifically at the Tor party on Saturday night. It was a fairly typical convention party with free beer and munchies, some interesting conversation. And most importantly for the purposes of this essay, covers of several upcoming Tor titles. There were several interesting looking releases including a new Jonathan Carroll (and the re-release of my favorite Carroll Bones of the Moon), Cory Doctorow's first novel, the impressive anthology The American Fantasy Tradition, and a new Dune prequel by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. My initial response to the Dune book was "WOW. That sure will sell." But as a creator, I hated the idea. There is my dilemma.

[Cover]

What is this tendency to re-hash and re-explore old concepts that were better done by the original creator? Intellectually, things should move forward. The Conan novels are a fine example. Robert E. Howard's Conan stories are among some of the finest sword & sorcery fantasies ever written. Fans have been waiting for over 75 years for someone to write one as well as Howard. Not to knock the writers that have attempted this monumental task, but it ain't gonna happen. As a creator, I'd much rather have seen these writers attempt their own works. But as a bookseller... well Conan books written by others did sell at one time. The Howard Conans still sell wonderfully in used bookstores. (There are no affordable American versions of the original Conans in print.) And the Dune prequels sell remarkably well. The Dune franchise as a whole has really seen little drop since the resurgence following the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series. On the surface, the whole Dune prequel thing may be a different sort of animal all together. Yes, Brian is the son of Frank. The problem is that the elder Herbert created Dune and the younger's stories are not of the same quality.

This phenomenon of sequels by other writers is certainly not unique to science fiction. There was quite a stink when Alexandra Ripley wrote a sequel to Gone With the Wind. Hardcore fans felt that if Margaret Mitchell had wanted a sequel to the book, she would have written one. It's not like she died right away; she just didn't have anything more to say. Regardless, or perhaps because of the controversy, Scarlett was a tremendous bestseller. Because of the buzz and controversy created by Scarlett, sales of GWTW increased as well. You got two bestsellers for the price of one. There is no doubt that all the prequels to Dune (this will be the fourth) have increased the sales and visibility of the original series. Let me tell ya, the later books in the original series were all but dead. Now people are even looking for Heretics of Dune! (Why no one has reprinted the Dune Encyclopedia is beyond me.) As a bookseller, I appreciate anything that generates sales.

[Cover] Confession time. I, too, have been guilty of reading and enjoying one of these sequels by other hands. As frequent readers know, I am a DickHead, a fan of the late, great Philip K. Dick. When they announced that one of his disciples was to write an authorized sequel to both the film Blade Runner and the novel it's based on, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, I had to read it. K.W. Jeter did a masterful job with Blade Runner 2. It wasn't quite a PKD novel, but Jeter did his best with a nearly impossible task. Even though I enjoyed the product, I would have much preferred an original Jeter novel. Not that I blame him. I'm sure he was offered more money. A lot more. So he didn't phone it in. Jeter did what he always does: wrote an wonderfully entertaining and weird novel.

[Cover] Joe R. Lansdale, who wrote many work-for-hire projects early in his career, says it's always important to do your best work regardless of what is and who it is for. Ya never know who is reading. Inferior work will always haunt you. But the inverse is not always true. Jeter produced a wonderful piece of work with the Blade Runner sequel, as well as with his Star Wars and Star Trek books. Except for getting a paycheck, the works have had little impact on his career. Sadly, most of his own books are out of print including the classic Dr. Adder. I have never known of a writer to experience a spike in sales due to this type of writing. It helps to pay the bills, but that's all. Sure, several writers became famous in their own right, but authors such as Robert Jordan are not known as Conan writers. ('Course he's probably known as mud at the moment thanks to the delay of the tenth volume of his Wheel of Time epic.)

I mentioned Star Trek and Star Wars. Although I would still prefer to see original works, I see a difference between a media tie-in and sequel to a dead author's work. Both Star Wars and Star Trek were conceived as collaborative efforts and so they are naturals to be worked on by diverse hands. Yes, I realize that Lucas is the motivating force [sic] behind Star Wars, but The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were written and directed by others. After Episodes 1 and 2, it might be better for everyone if he sought some help for Episode 3. Properties such as Dune and Conan were conceived and written by individuals. The newer books are always inferior to the originals because the new authors cannot look into the minds of the originators and see their intents, no matter how many notes they left behind. These johnny-come-latelys will always be copies. Often with these sequels/prequels the original subtext is lost.

Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber Once again my dilemma appears on the horizon. Roger Zelazny wrote some of my favorite short stories and novels. Well, until Nine Princes of Amber. The whole Amber thing left me flat. I preferred his earlier works. Turns out that John Gregory Betancourt has recently written a prequel trilogy to the Amber series. As a bookseller, I can see dollar signs. As a creative person, it makes my skin crawl. Not only is it disrespectful to Zelazny's memory, but it means I have to deal with people lavishing praise on the original Amber novels. It could be worse. They could have written prequels/sequels to Zelazny masterpieces such as Dream Master or Lord of Light. If this does happen, I will bear no responsibility for putting the idea into some publisher's head.

I will always be torn. Publishers will continue to take the easiest road to make the most money. I really can't blame 'em. Booksellers will eagerly sell the sequels. If only we lived in a perfect world. A place where the K. W. Jeters of the world could make a decent living by just writing their own creations. A boy can dream, can't he?

Copyright © 2002 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw is also the fiction editor for RevolutionSF. As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. He has never been involved creatively with a sequel by other hands, but he sure has sold a lot of them.


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