I've been ambivalent about tie-in novels for a very long time. I say this as someone who grew up reading movie novelizations (particularly Alan Dean Foster's) and has really liked the pair of Warhammer 40K books I read. Andre Norton's Quag's Keep was good fun. I also admit my main reason lies with my terrible experience with the first of TSR's Dragonlance books: Dragons of Autumn Twilight and Dragons of Winter Night. It's hard to remember what I disliked specifically about them, but I know by the time I made it to the middle of the second book, I wasn't going to even open the third, Dragons of Spring Dawning, even though I'd already bought it.
What worked for me as a gamer - classes, alignment, definite rules of magic, etc. - became wooden on the page. Characters had defined roles to play that weren't interesting or intriguing. I would like to think I saw the coming flattening of fantasy fiction into generic mush, but I think I just found the books boring. Their "epic" stylings were old hat to me, having read hundred of fantasy books by that time, from Tolkien to Karl Edward Wagner to Ursula K. LeGuin. It didn't help that I also detested Larry Elmore's cover art, with its dull-eyed, moody characters and silly-looking faux-barbarians.
From that point in 1984, I watched the shelves of the Waldenbooks in the Staten Island mall fill up with more and more TSR novels and fewer and fewer ones non-TSR novels. When the Forgotten Realms books came along it got even worse.
I looked at the FR books, but there was nothing there that looked appealing or caught my eye. I know there are loads of people who grew up on R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt books, but I'd already read the adventures of a moody, racial turncoat in the Elric books a decade earlier.
And then the FR books just kept coming and coming. ISFDB lists nearly 250 books written in the setting. There's a point of overproduction and diminishing returns. Again, I didn't read those books, so my inclination to avoid them was based on prejudice, but acknowledging that doesn't mean I'm going to change my mind. There's way too much original fantasy with weird or cool ideas to choose from to make me. Watching what DL and FR did to D&D and gaming in general, rejecting its wide open nature for a highly delineated setting, didn't endear them to me either.
So why did I read and review Matthew Hughes' Pathfinders Tales book, Song of the Serpent, and why did I buy Howard Andrew Jones' Plague of Shadows and Stalking the Beast? Simply, I already know really like the authors' work. Hughes' Vancian Raffalon stories are a hoot and Jones Dabir and Asim are classic historical S&S.
I also like what I've seen of Pathfinder's Golarion setting. It's got the feel of an up-to-date version of TSR's old World of Grayhawk with room for any sort of campaign or adventure and is generic enough for the ref to mold it to his own vision. Its roots look more in keeping with D&D's pulpier roots than the mass-market epic ones of Dragonlance. Which strikes me as the perfect game setting to write stories for. I know I just complained about the generic qualities of DL, but by offering writers a generic one to play in it can be like the sandbox settings of early gaming, and therefore anything and everything goes. Which is a good thing.
My review of the Hughes book, Song of the Serpent is up over at Black Gate. It's a mixed review. The book's first half is just what I wanted in a Vance-pastiche, the second half, not so much. It mutates into a "big quest" story too different in tone and style from what came before. Hughes is a very good writer, so he's able to make the quest appealing and knows the material so he knows how to draw you in, but it wasn't what I wanted at that point.
It didn't turn me against Golarion, though. The world, as interpreted by Hughes is a good one, with room for oddball Vance-style societies alongside a classic dwarf citadel and a sorta Old West boom town. Scanning the rest of the Pathfinder titles, they don't look like they're dominated by any single storyline or character (see Elminster or Drizzt). They're also fairly short, looking more in keeping with seventies era fantasy than the bloated tomes and endless series of the last thirty years. It's not that I don't have time to waste on those sorts of book, I just mostly don't want to. Then I found this quote by Pathfinder author Tim Pratt made me smile.
It’s an amazingly wide-open world.”killer robots from beyond the stars.
How can you not be snagged by that quote? Still, I probably won't be rushing out to buy lots of of Pathfinder books, unless by an author I already like or recommended by someone whose tastes I respect. What I will say is, I'm not going to reject these sorts of books simply out of hand ever again.
So what do people think? Do you read these sorts of books? If so why, and if not, why not?