Three More Reasons Why Spin-Off Novels Are Awesome

Well, since I seem to be seem to be interested in spin-off novels based on films/TV shows at the moment (and am currently reading a “Doctor Who” one), I thought that I’d look at some more reasons why this – often overlooked – type of fiction is surprisingly awesome.

But, I should probably also clarify what a spin-off novel actually is. It is an official novel which tells a new story featuring characters, settings etc… from something else, rather than being a direct adaptation of a film or TV show. Spin-off novels shouldn’t be confused with either unofficial fan fiction or traditional film novelisations. But, why are spin-off novels so awesome?

1) The author’s creativity: Because spin-offs aren’t a direct adaptation of any particular film or TV show episode, the author has a lot more creative freedom than they might do with a traditional novelisation. Yes, there will probably be official guidelines or a “canon” of some kind that they have to adhere to (which is another thing that sets spin-offs apart from fan fiction) but, if someone is writing a new novel featuring the characters from a film/TV show, then they still have to create a lot of stuff.

This often results in the kind of interesting, innovative and creative stories that you’d probably never get to see on a screen. For example, Yvonne Navarro’s 1996 “Aliens” spin off novel “Aliens: Music Of The Spears” is set in a cyberpunk-style city and focuses on a futuristic version of the music industry. And it works. It is the kind of creative and imaginative idea that would be “uncommercial” for a large film, but which is still accessible to fans thanks to the lower budgets involved in publishing a novel.

Not only that, unlike films and TV, novels are often written by just one person. This means that spin-off novels often have a lot more personality to them than you might expect. Two spin-off novels based on the same thing by two different authors can be radically different novels (eg: emotional tone, narrative style, themes etc…) and this is absolutely fascinating. It’s like hearing a cover version of a familiar song by a different band.

2) Length, efficiency and endings: One of the cool things about spin-off novels is that they often have a relatively standard length. Long spin-off novels do exist, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most spin-off novels usually tend to be a relatively lean 180-350 pages in length, meaning that they are great if you want to relax with something that won’t take you ages to read. They can also evoke nostalgia for the days when shorter novels were a lot more common too.

In part, this shorter length is because the reader is usually already familiar with the characters and the setting. Although spin-off novels do usually include more characterisation than films/TV shows, the fact that some of the character-building work has already been done means that the author can not only focus more on the main story, but it also means that it is easier for fans of a film/TV show to jump into the novel and start reading. All of this often results in slightly more focused and efficient storytelling which, again, can be brilliant if you just want to relax with a novel.

Plus, since collections of spin-off novels for a series are usually written independently by several authors, each book is also more likely to tell a self-contained story too. Since the novels aren’t usually a “canonical” part of a film/TV series and because it’s very likely that fans will choose a spin-off novel based on the premise or the author, and probably won’t read all of the spin-off novels, there’s a good incentive for each novel to tell it’s own self-contained story. In other words, the reader is less likely to run into annoying things like cliffhanger endings or the feeling of being obliged to buy another novel to see the ending of the one that they’ve just read.

3) What could have been: Earlier, I mentioned that it costs significantly less to produce a novel than a film/TV show. Yet, despite their lower budgets, novels can do a lot more stuff a lot more easily at a fraction of the cost. Since they are a low-tech non-visual medium that uses words to create images inside the reader’s mind, there is no limit to the level of “special effects”, complex location designs etc… that they can use. After all, novels use words.

What this means is that the average spin-off novel can often look like what a film or TV series could be like if it had an infinite budget and/or a longer running time. It is a fascinating glimpse into what beloved parts of popular culture could be like if money wasn’t an issue. For example, many spin-off novels based on TV shows will often be like 2-3 hour episodes with 2-3 times the special effects budget.

Plus, because descriptions in a novel tend to age a lot better and “look” a lot more realistic than special effects in film/TV usually do, spin-off novels can also give us a fascinating glimpse of what older films/TV shows might look like if they were made today.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons Why Spin-Off Novels Are So Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about original spin-off novels based on movies, TV shows, games etc… today. This is mostly because I seem to be going through a bit more of a phase of reading this genre than usual recently. I’ve probably talked about this topic before, but it seemed like it was worth revisiting given how overlooked this genre often is.

So, why are spin-off novels so awesome?

1) Extra stuff: One of the coolest things about spin-off novels is that they are like extra (non-canonical) TV show episodes, film sequels/prequels etc… that can focus on characters, story elements etc.. that were overlooked in the original source material. Not only that, they also have absolutely no budgetary limitations whatsoever too.

For example, many of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” spin-off novels I’ve read will include the kind of settings, special effects, depth of storytelling etc… that wouldn’t have been practical in an “ordinary” episode of the TV show.

Likewise, although the film sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” appeared in cinemas in 2017, readers have had sequels available since the mid-1990s, thanks to a series of spin-off novels by K. W. Jeter. I’m currently re-reading the first one of these (“Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”) and it reminded me of how, when I first read it in 2008, it was so awesome to actually have a sequel at a time when film companies had no interest in making one.

So, yes, spin-off novels provide a lot of extra stuff. Not only that, since multiple authors often write spin-offs for the same series, these novels tend to appear more often or in a larger quantity than the actual source material.

For example, although some of them can get a bit formulaic, there are far more “Aliens” spin-off novels than actual films in the franchise (which only get made every couple of years at the very most).

2) They’re made for fans: One of the cool things about spin-off novels is that, because they cost a lot less to produce, there’s less incentive for things to be diluted for a mainstream audience.

After all, if a studio is spending millions on a film, then they’re going to want to make sure it appeals to the widest possible audience. If they’re just spending thousands commissioning a spin-off novel, then there’s more incentive to appeal to fans.

This often results in spin-off novels being more of a satisfying experience to read than you might expect. For example, the mid-1990s “Blade Runner” spin-off novel I’m reading at the moment not only includes a clever twist on a continuity error in the original film but it also includes a few elements from the 1960s novel that the original film was based on. It’s the kind of sequel that is made for people who are massive fans of the original film.

So, yes, if you’re a fan of something, then spin-off novels can often be a more intense, geeky and satisfying experience than their actual source material.

3) Innovation and creativity: Although spin-off novels have to have official approval, the fact that they are written by a single author (rather than designed/made by a large team) and usually aren’t seen as canonical often results in a lot more innovation and creativity than you might expect.

Yes, this isn’t always the case, but it can be really cool to see. For example, even though I mentioned that some of the “Aliens” spin-off novels are a bit formulaic, one surprisingly creative example is probably Robert Sheckley’s “Alien Harvest” – which is a surprisingly light-hearted, quirky and vaguely cyberpunk heist thriller set in the “Aliens” universe.

Likewise, although all but two of the novels in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” series are direct novelisations of the source material rather than new spin-off novels, the first four books contain a totally new long-running sub-plot (revolving around a character called Trent) that isn’t present in the original games. Not only that, the sub-plot itself is also resolved in a really dramatic way in the spin-off novel “Resident Evil: Underworld” (which I really need to re-read) too.

So, yes, spin-off novels can sometimes include a lot of extra creativity that isn’t present in the source material.

4) Quality control: In the past, I’ve seen spin-off novels likened to fan fiction. Whilst these novels probably are “fan fiction” in the technical sense of the word, the fact that they are often published in paperback with official approval usually means that they are a cut above what you’d normally expect to find on the internet. They have editors, quality checks, consistency checks etc…

In short, they often allow readers to experience all of the benefits of fan fiction (eg: new stories in a familiar “world”) but without any of the downsides that you might encounter if you go looking for random fan fiction on the internet.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Thoughts About Novelisations And Spin-Off Novels

One of the things that I’ve noticed recently is that, due to things like hot weather, time stress and stuff like that, I’ve found myself reading a lot more books based on videogames, films, TV shows etc.. over the past few days. Although this is mostly because they’re easy and quick to read, it has also made me think a bit more about this somewhat overlooked genre of fiction too.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few thoughts about novelisations and TV show/movie/videogame spin-off novels.

1) They’re more about the journey than the destination:
Simply put, if someone is reading a novel that is either directly based on or a spin-off from a familiar TV show, film, game etc.. then they’re probably going to know what to expect. This familiarity is one of the things that makes novelisations/spin-off novels so relaxing and reassuring to read. However, it can make things like suspense and drama a little bit more difficult to achieve.

Good spin-off/novelisation writers will usually get around this problem by focusing more on the journey than the destination. For example, this “Aliens” spin-off novel I read a few days ago really doesn’t contain much in the way of new stuff when it comes to the plot. The basic premise is similar to another “Aliens” spin-off novel and the basic “dystopian villain vs. plucky rebels” storyline is a classic sci-fi/fantasy staple. Yet, this novel was extremely enjoyable to read. But, why?

Simply put, the novel is written in a rather thrilling and atmospheric way. There are lots of mini-cliffhangers, enough characterisation to make you care about the characters, some dramatic locations etc… In other words, although the story itself is reasonably familiar, everything along the way is still dramatic and interesting enough to be worth reading.

A better example is probably S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“. Even though I’ve read this novel before and played the videogame it was based on, it was still gripping enough for me to re-read it in a single day. This was all because of the writing, characters and structure. In other words, this novel is written in a reasonably atmospheric way, it is structured like a good thriller novel and there’s lots of extra characterisation when compared to the source material.

So, yes, these types of novels are more about the journey than the destination.

2) They age far better: Another awesome thing about novelisations and spin-offs are how timeless they are. After all, film and television have only been around for approximately a century or so and computer/video games have only been around for a few decades. The written word, on the other hand, has been around for millennia.

What this means is that novelisations of slightly older things can still seem fresh, new and interesting when compared to their original forms. After all, the written word has had much longer to refine and develop itself – so an old novel can easily be more spectacular than an old film or videogame. After all, it doesn’t have to worry about things like special effects, the state of computer graphics at the time etc…

3) Spin-off novels are like new episodes: This one is more about spin-off novels than traditional novelisations, but it’s really interesting nonetheless. Back in 2011-13, I went through a phase of reading “Star Trek: The Next Generation / Deep Space Nine/ Voyager” spin-off novels.

One of the cool things about these novels is that very few of them were directly based on episodes of these TV shows, with most of them telling new and original stories featuring familiar characters. And, since I’d already watched most episodes of these shows, the idea that there was a giant wealth of hundreds of extra “episodes” out there was really cool.

So, finding spin-off novels based on TV shows can almost be like finding entire new seasons of a TV show, new feature-length episodes and all sorts of cool things like that. Plus, since spin-off novels usually tend to be written in a slightly more informal and “readable” way, they’re often as relaxing as watching a TV show but with all of the added depth and sophistication that can only come from the written word 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂