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.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,