A Thousand-and-One Space Wizards

Just in case you haven’t heard it yet, I’ve been working on a collection of short stories based on my previous novels titled Robots versus Slime Monsters.  My original goal for publication was the end of October, but obviously that hasn’t come to pass.  I’m finishing up the ninth story now (based on Too Many Curses), and after that, I only have to write a story based on Monster.  Then I’ll move onto the editing and formatting and all that other stuff.  With some luck, it’ll be ready by mid-December.  I’ll keep you updated, but before the year is over, I’m hoping to have both e-book and actual physical soft covers available.  So far, so good.

Writing these stories has been an interesting experience.  It’s fun to revisit worlds and characters I’ve created.  It’s allowed me to take a stroll among my previous novels, and I’m happy with the body of work I’ve created so far.  There’s no doubt that each universe has larger worlds to explore, and that all of them can tell more stories.  I’m regularly asked about sequels and series, and it’s probably inevitable I’ll end up doing that at some point.  It seems to be what people want.  But just because they want it, it doesn’t mean they should always get it.

I know saying that will probably make me look like a hypocrite when I finally do it, but I’ll freely admit that the primary motivation will be my desire to make a living.  That doesn’t mean I’ll phone in those stories, or that I won’t give them just as much attention as I do any story.  It just means that, given my druthers, I don’t know if I’d do it when I could write more standalone originals.

I have never been a big sequel fan.  Not in my own work, and usually not in the work of others.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t assume that because I liked a story that I’ll like more of it.  I think the original Star Wars trilogy is a masterpiece of science fantasy adventure, but I never had an interest in the extended universe.  From what I’ve heard, it never sounded very interesting. I absolutely love The Incredibles, and my love for it makes me actively dislike the idea of a sequel.  The film remains the best superhero story ever, and anything more is likely to sully that perfection.  Or, even worse, make it mundane.

Star Wars is a great example.  The Jedi Knights in the original are a mysterious order from the ancient past with only a handful of members still alive.  The prequels give us hundreds of Jedis, and that wonder and awe that Darth Vader embodied so beautifully in the original film is lost when there are literally hundreds of people running around with light sabers, flipping like space ninjas through the air, hurling boulders at each other.  It stops being something special, and just becomes another character class.  Heck, Han Solo, the space smuggler, is a rarer character archetype than friggin’ space wizards at this point, and that’s just weird.

I get the appeal.  Jedis are cool, so MORE Jedis must be COOLER.  And I can’t argue with the success, so I’m clearly the odd man out.  But I’d hate to have Mack Megaton become just another robot or Helen Nicolaides become just another woman with fur and horns.  I love that Emperor Mollusk is the only space squid evil genius in my stable of characters, and I’d hate for his universe to become a predictable place.

All this is irrelevant though because the general public seems to feel exactly the opposite.  They become attached to their favorite stories, and rather than finding them diluted by more of the same, they appear to find it rewarding.  A show like Once Upon a Time is built upon taking familiar characters and expanding on their origins in a shared universe, and while I’m not necessarily against the idea, I have to admit all the characters seem alike.  This is a show, for example, where both Captain Hook and Tinkerbell have tragic backstories.  For most, that seems to make them more interesting.  For me, it only makes them more generic.

I can’t be the only one who finds the notion of tacking on a tragic backstory to an established character as cliche at this point, but it sure as hell seems like it.  The question isn’t whether the public likes it.  They obviously do.  The question is it worthwhile to do.  From a purely commercial perspective, there’s no argument it works.  And not every story that goes that route is formulaic or unworthy of praise.  I can say it’s only a matter of “when”, not “if”, that I’ll end up writing a sequel, and I believe (perhaps foolishly) that I can manage to do so without weakening the characters or their original stories.  But I still believe that we could all be served a little better by more originality.

The Marvel movies have managed this by introducing old characters to a fresh audience.  There are decades of Iron Man stories, but for the average person, he’s something of a new discovery.  And I am an old school Thor fan, but most people have never heard of Malekith or Kurse, so in a way, it’s a fresh experience.  That’s probably the key to the Marvel movies’ success in the first place, a perfect blend of obscurity to the general public and familiarity to old fans.  But even this balance can’t be maintained for long, and I’ll admit I’m weird again because I’d be much more interested in Thor: The Dark World if Loki wasn’t in it.  Not because I don’t like Loki, but because the more time I spend with Loki, the less interesting he becomes.

Yet even if Loki weren’t part of it, the Marvel movies are innately less surprising as time goes by.  Iron Man 3 wasn’t a bad movie, but it was by the numbers (and it should’ve been), and  a lot of people went just to watch Robert Downey Jr. do his schtick, which he is very good at, but which I find so familiar as to be not terribly engaging.  But what do I know?  It works, and in the end, isn’t that what matters?

Giving the people what they want isn’t a bad philosophy.  Nor do I automatically assume it to be “selling out”.  But I still like to believe that sometimes, the job of the artist, is to NOT give the audience what they want.  Sometimes, no matter how much they’re clattering for more, it’s worthwhile to leave that yearning unsatisfied.  Not that this philosophy works if you want to make money, and, despite all my artistic pretense, I enjoy money too.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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8 Comments

  1. Posted November 1, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    I find it annoying that we have to grim n’ gritty up every famous literary character these days. But it’s just part of the idea that Hollywood finds it easier to “reboot” or “reimagine” an existing property than to risk coming up with a new one.

  2. Beau A
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I’m excited about the short story collection. I’ve always enjoyed it when authors do short stories, whether stand alone or based on their novels. When you wait a year or years for a single novel by your favorite author, it’s nice to get a get a collection 10-20 individual stories. You can wait a year for a whole cake, or here, you can snack on this giant platter of petit fours. And I do love me some petit fours.

  3. John
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m also excited about the short story collection. But it is not just that I am looking forward to visiting some of my favorite universes again. I am hoping that it might inspire you to write some short stories with new characters set in new universes. I am sure that you have a lot of story ideas that won’t carry a full novel, but might work well as a short story or a novella. I would buy a collection like that in a heartbeat.

    Since you are also trying to extend beyond your current fan base, it might be worth it to write some short stories with new characters and submit them to the SF and Fantasy magazines like Asimov’s or Fantasy & Science Fiction. A good story published like that could generate a lot of new interest in your other books. I have found several of the authors that I read now through the pages of those magazines.

    I would love to see sequels to most of your books. However, I can see where that would be as much or more work than writing a book with new characters in a new universe. You don’t write to a “formula” so sequels could actually be harder. Although I do like to think that while writing a sequel there might be a happy accident that leads to one or more “new” books…

  4. Whitewater
    Posted November 3, 2013 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    If you’ve got to go for a sequel, my vote is for Monster pt II.

  5. Shawn
    Posted November 3, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    You will always be in the minority, so stop bitching about this topic. You will fail to win over anyone with your argument when there are movies like: The Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator II, Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan and books like: The Foundation and Empire, A Clash of Kings, The Guns of Avalon, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, The New Testament and where would fandom be without The Lord of the Rings or should I say the Two Towers. And where would YOU be without the Myth Adventure series? Have you even read Myth Conceptions?

    Sometimes you can expand the world and make it better. You seem to be doing this without your even realizing it. Is there really that much difference in the world of Divine Misfortune and the world of Monster? It is all the same wacky tongue in cheek world where something might eat you kind of place. But that’s O.K. That is what people want and expect from you. I say give in to the idea and enjoy the experience.

    I have all your books and look forward to the next one. In your book Monster, Monster was hardly in it. I want more Monster. Thank you.

  6. Posted November 5, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting conundrum, because on one hand, I’m not quite as sequel-averse as you are, but on the other, a large part of my draw towards your work, aside from the general quality, is that your stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think there are a lot of reasons people like things that are established, including the fact that they already have a proper emotional investment, they don’t need to learn new rules, and good characters always leave us wanting more. The problem, of course, is that usually when a story ends, not only is the literal threat over, but the emotional and internal arc is usually resolved as well. This tends to create problems of either a story becoming internal conflict free, which feels too easy and hollow, or writers having to create a new internal problem, which runs the risk of undoing the previous character development, or building on it in a way that feels artificial. In this case, we sometimes find ourselves in a position of wanting less, which is bad.

    So how do we balance these things? I don’t think it’s innately bad to want to tell more than one story with a given set of characters or world, but there should always be a plan of where to take them, and what their stopping point is. No matter how much we may like them, if a character or world reaches its thematic stopping point, their story should be done. If there’s more to tell and more room to grow, then more should be done.

  7. UnstoppableCarl
    Posted November 10, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Would you also be resistant to stories set in the same universe of one of your stories? I found the emperor mollusk universe to be very interesting on its own and would pickup anything you wrote that was set in it.

  8. Cam B
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to say I enjoy everything you’ve written I own and have read all your novels multiple times. I’m extremely excited for the short stories that will be coming out (hopefully) this year. I agree with everything you’re saying and how sometimes sequels aren’t always the best thing for some stories but If you can do it right, and I’m fairly confident if there is anyone who could it’d be you, then by all means try to the best of your ability to expand on your stories and make them even better(not that they need to be). After reading and enjoying your books as much as I do, you have my word I’ll be first in line to buy anything you publish I wouldn’t even have to know what its about(god knows I’ll be among the first to know that too, as I check your site frequently for updates) to know that odds are I’m going to love and support you even more as an author. I wish you nothing but the best of luck and I’m positive your future in Fantasy/ SF is going to be a long and prosperous journey that I’ll be with you every step of the way on. All that matters is for the love of Luka, KEEP WRITING!!!!!!

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