Friday, September 12, 2008

Tying In to the Great Unknown

A couple of weeks ago MindMeld asked about the effect of media tie-ins on science fiction in general. One of the comments following from the discussion (Grant Watson wrote, "A superbly written piece of tie-in fiction can be as high quality as a superbly written piece of original fiction. In 2004, it was a Doctor Who novella that won Australia's Aurealis Award for Best Novel, for example" ) got me to thinking -- can a media tie-in really aspire to the same "greatness" as the best SF ever produced?

When we look at the awards and the fan- and review-constructed lists of top and best books, we don't see media tie-ins on them. This could simply reflect a general prejudice in either the reading habits or the inclusion selection process of the individuals making the lists (and if so, it's a widespread prejudice).

For argument's sake, then, ignoring such a possible prejudice, and imagining a world where media tie-ins were considered as award-worthy and list-worthy as regular works, would they win as many awards and be on as many lists? Could a Wolverine novel, say, ever achieve the same level of excellence of a Gene Wolfe novel? -- Could a Star Trek anthology be on the level of a Year's Best? -- Could a Halo novel compete with John Varley? -- on and on, you get the picture...

I just don't think so. And here's why: for me, the totality of the speculative experience one encounters in a fully-realized work is a statement of art -- it represents a victory of entropy over disorder, and portrays a vision, a unique way of looking at the world, in which the artist has considered all possible techniques and tools at his/her disposal to fashion the most profound and compelling statement possible. All the elements of the work are internally balanced, aesthetically juxtaposed to create a whole larger than the sum of its constituents. In a media tie-in, there are necessary restrictions to the artist's choices, so how can he/she be possibly selecting from all possible worlds that which is best-suited to tell their particular story, to most eloquently and artistically present their ideas? The only exception I can think of would be if the artist who was writing the media tie-in happened to also be the creator or originator of the tie-in universe itself, from which it would logically follow that their story might best be served by that particular set of rules and aesthetic. But outside of this (and I can't think of any real-world examples) I don't see it happening.
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