A couple of days ago I was thinking about two books I lost last time I moved house, about 11 years ago. I’d never been able to find them anywhere else since, until it occurred to me to go check if they were available for Kindle and – yes!
So I’ll be having a bit of a nostalgic read later. It’s an interesting thing about eBooks, they might make the concept of “out of print” obsolete. Unless it’s withdrawn for another reason there’s no reason for a book to not be available forever.
But back to those books I was thinking about. They were in fact two Star Trek tie-in novels, both by Diane Duane, The Wounded Sky and My Enemy, My Ally. I’ve always had a thing for the much maligned tie-in novel. I owned a lot of Star Trek ones, until I thinned out the collection to just my favourites. I was still buying them as recently as the end of Deep Space Nine’s run. I still remember staying up into the wee small hours as student to finish John M Ford’s entirely insane How Much for Just the Planet?
It wasn’t only Star Trek. It took me several years, but I managed to buy all of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperbacks that published in the UK back in the 1960. Bear in mind, this was before eBay! I collected them from jumble sales and second had book shops. That was way more fun than eBay.
Sometimes the tie-in book of a movie came out before the movie reached Britain. (No worldwide premieres in those days.) My first encounter with the words “Luke, I am your father,” involved reading them, not hearing them. They still made me gasp and that’s a very strong memory to this day.
The tie-in novel is an odd class of books. The quality tends to be highly variable. And like the unofficial side of the coin, the fanfic, there are times the characters are weirdly unrecognisable, making you wonder if they commissioned someone who never saw the show in question. But some can be great.
As they became more of a corporate thing, there was more restriction over content, but before that happened some of them have a distinctly fanfic feel – anyone else recall an early Trek tie-in from 1977 called The Price of the Phoenix? It was the slashiest thing I’ve ever read off the Internet. Later ones toed the party line more, but any fanfic reader would recognise the massive subtext in that book.
They were also something of a lifeline in the days when if you were lucky you had some VHS copies taped from the TV of your favourite show, long before they started releasing series box sets. How else to get your fix of your favourite characters? I knew some Star Trek episodes better from the James Blish episode adaptations than from catching the episodes when they showed up on a rerun.
Fanfic was another such lifeline, but obviously not as widely available as it is now. I dabbled with some sci-fi fanzines back then, mostly for British TV shows like Blakes 7 and Sapphire and Steel, but never had many of them. The tie-in novel was king for me. I’ll always think of them fondly.