In general, I’m not into tie-in novels because quality can be an issue. Also, there’s often issues with whether or not the books Really Happened.
Take, for example, Star Trek. There was a novel series, Day Of Honor, with a TOS book, a TNG book, a DS9 book and a Voyager book. I got the TNG book free with a magazine. I think I’ve read it twice, and it never quite succeeded in being interesting. I read another TNG book many years ago, looking it up I think it was Intellivore, and that wasn’t very interesting, either. On the other hand, I read a DS9 graphic novel, and some of a novelisation of the DS9 pilot, and I recall enjoying those. I heard a TOS audiobook, Envoy, that I rather enjoyed.
Good, bad, or ugly, however, none of these books are considered canon, so there seems to be little point in them.
There were a couple of Voyager novels that were supposed to be canon, and bits of them were written into episodes, Mosaic and Pathways, and as I recall they fell afoul of the same sort of revisionism that happened to the Star Wars Expanded Universe recently: the “oh no, they’re not canon after all” syndrome.
Babylon 5’s tie-in novels were all supposed to be canon, though this too has fluctuated a little, they now “all contain canonical elements”, one has been described as “90% canon”, and so on. There were quality issues here, too: some were good, but I particularly remember “The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name” as being very not good. And surprisingly similar to the later yawn-fest Thirdspace.
Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has a different approach to canonicity. The books, the graphic novels, and the long-rumoured movie can all be considered canon, even when they’re different or contradict each other, they can all exist on “different levels of the Tower” (though you have to wade through rather a lot of books to find out what that means).
The book that I’m writing about today, but have thus far completely managed to avoid actually talking about, is the second of a tie-in trilogy of books to the computer game Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.
Due to the kind of game it is, each time you play it there are significant differences: one time through, a faction can be wiped out very early, the next time they could stay through to the end. In effect, what’s “canonical” in one play through, is unlikely to be “canonical” in another. There are several ways to win the game, and you can only win in one of the ways in each playthrough, so for that game the others are, strictly speaking, “non-canonical”.
So books set in that universe, then, can just take the many familiar elements of the game, flesh out the inner parts of the world that we don’t get to see much of when we actually play the game, add more characters, perhaps even give more character to the characters we already know, and tell a story using those pieces. Canon, in this sense, doesn’t really matter if the story is good.
In the first book, the author, Michael Ely, managed to maintain an overall status quo: none of the faction leaders were “out of the game”, as it were.
In the second book, Yang and Deirdre are the focus. Lal is somewhat a shell of his former self after the events of Centauri Dawn. Deirdre’s tech is limited, though the Gaians have been working very hard on Centauri ecology, and hybrid farms, and harnessing the power of mindworms. We start to hear the Voice of Planet. Morgan is trying to expand his territory into Gaian territory, with Santiago backing him up. Yang has been isolated on another continent, and is looking to introduce himself to the other factions from a position of strength, to become a full member of the Planetary Council.
Yang is also dealing with rebellion in his own bases, while he also prepares to reveal his secret army. We see some of the “inhuman experiments” referred to in the game, and the “nerve staple” atrocity. All right!
Not wanting to say too much, but I did like the ending. In the last few pages you’re not sure what to expect, and then BAM!, he twists the knife.
Well played, sir.
Mr Ely was heavily involved in the creation of the game, and here he starts adding things that would be really cool to see in the game (I’ve been playing a Civ IV mod based on Alpha Centauri, so seeing them in that would be just fine, too). In plain Civilization IV, most countries have multiple available leaders, so reading the books, one can pick out potential contenders. Also, Deirdre’s Skyfarms of the book seems to be distinct from the Sky Hydroponics Labs of the game.
Anyway, I enjoyed this book, and for the whole series: so far so good. I’m almost to the end of the usually-expensive-but-I-picked-it-up-relatively-cheap third book in the series, I’ll let you know how it goes.