East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The condition of media tie-in


“This novel is one you will live like a 3D movie. […] I loved it, it’s like the most vivid videogame!”

This is from a real review of a real novel.
And yes, together with the author’s admission he had “researched” the book by playing Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed, it sort of caused me a certain depression.


The depression comes from the realization that the market (and many readers with it) moved on, and I was left behind.

I love doing research for my stories, and I have already bored you enough with this.
I need to get my facts straight – or as straight as possible before I bend them.
And I do not want to write stories that feel like 3D movies (wobbly, out of focus and causing headaches?). I want my stories so that they are vivid, but not like videogames.
I’m old.

And I write – probably – in a dated mode, aiming my fiction to an old audience, with old tastes and old expectations.
There seems to be this new trend coming, that means all genre books aspire to the condition of tie-ins: predictable stories about characters from other media, unchanging and infinitely replaceable, meant as a brief, occasional diversion between a game on the consolle, a movie or a TV series.

The old joke, that this guy Tolkien’s novelization of the Peter Jackson movies was too slow and did not follow the screenplay, is becoming a reality.
“Original” work is supposed to tie in, at least ideally, with the true passions… with the culture of the target audience. A culture that owes more to videogames and TV series and movies than it does to old books.
People than at the name “Conan” thinks Jason Momoa and not Frank Frazetta.
And why not? From a commercial point of view, it’s a winning tactic: there are many more cosplayers and video-gamers than readers of novels.

And mind you, I’m not dissing these people – they belong to a culture that’s different from mine, and I respect them. But thinking we belong to the same tribe due to the minimal apparent overlapping would be dangerous. We like things that look similar, but are not the same.


A few days ago somebody told me I am old, that books are not so important when it comes to “geek culture”, that they are “surpassed”. That there’s more to imaginative fiction than imagination.
It was explained to me that not everybody reads fantasy or science fiction for the intellectual challenge, the sense of wonder, the surprises, the view of reality through a distorting but illuminating lens.
There’s Tardis-shaped mugs and zombie slippers, too.

“Somebody might start with a Tardis mug and become a Fritz Leiber fan!”

I’ve seen unlikelier things happen, but I still give pretty stiff odds on this one.

Yeah, I know, I know – buggy whip makers lamenting this new fad of automobiles, and all that.
But you see, what really scares me is not the readers diaspora – there’s a big wide world out there, and there’s readers for everyone. No, what really really scares me, is the fact that this approach to writing turns the authors into factory workers: “here’s the template, I want 100.000 words by Monday”.
It limits the themes and concepts because when you pitch your story you must make the media connection explicit (“think Batman meets ET, in Middle Earth, but done by Jerry Bruckheimer”), and truly original ideas are likely to be scrapped because they “don’t have a market”.

“But there will always be a niche market for original stories!”

… I was told.
This is the worst form of normalization – the segregation of the most important elements of the whole genre fiction (imagination, originality, challenging ideas) to a niche market.


So I think now I’ll sit here along the road, where the market has left me, and read some old books, and write some new stories.
Doing it my way, just like Paul Anka.
Then we’ll see if some reader comes along.
Who knows, somebody might scree my name in the tea-leaves at the bottom of a Darth Vader’s Head mug.
Given enough time, the odds get even.

And you?
Have you found a bench along the way, or are you keeping up with the forward rolling market of the new readers?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “The condition of media tie-in

  1. Today I pitched a game I could write as “Inglorious basterds with nazi zombies”. So yes, I understand your concern, but I am trying to keep up with the flow. Same happens with comics: I find people who know comic characters from other media and have never read the comics irksome, but I don’t think there is much we can do. As people age, they may look into other media.


    • I know there is little we can do and I am convinced that they will not look into other media as they age: first because there is no “age-trigger” to cause them to shift from, say, TV series to books, and secondly because when they will try to shift, they will not find anything that’s not a tie-in anyway, and will probably not feel the need to look for anything different either.
      But tonight I’m particularly pessimist 😉


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