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From the Silver Screen to Between the Covers

“I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated.”

Francis Ford Coppola

Speculative fiction books have been a fertile ground for adapting movies and television shows. However, adaptations of other media into speculative fiction books have also occurred, though not as regularly nor as successfully in many cases. There have been adaptations and expansions of tabletop roleplaying games, television series, movies, and video games.


The first notable adaptation from the movies appears to be 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke, New American Library, 1968). This adaptation is a little odd since the movie’s screenplay was based on another short story by Clarke titled “The Sentinel.” The story was originally published under the title “Sentinel of Eternity” in 10 Story Fantasy’s Spring 1951 issue. On top of the film being based on a previous literary work, Clarke worked with Stanley Kubrick during the filming process, refining the novel to match the screenplay more closely. Arthur C. Clarke would go on to expand the series with 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey (Del Rey/Ballantine, 1982/1988/1997).


James Blish’s Spock Must Die! (Bantam Books, 1970) is the first original novel from the Star Trek television show. Blish had written Star Trek 1, Star Trek 2, and Star Trek 3 (Bantam Books, 1968/1969/1970) as adaptations of the first season’s episodes, and finally had permission to expand the fictional universe with an original story.


Television series, with their episodic nature, are well placed to have expansions written in original forms. British speculative fiction series like Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 had several books written about the characters. In the case of Blake’s 7, the show’s finale left many viewers frustrated and confused. Afterlife (Tony Attwood, Target, 1987) is an original novel that answers most, if not all, of the questions raised in that final episode.


Star Wars would see a similar situation with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey/Ballantine, 1978). Interestingly though, this novel was published almost a full year before the novelization of the movie would be in stores available for purchase. Both Star Trek and Star Wars series have gone forward with a huge amount of tie-in original fiction. Some of these stories and novels have been considered to be canon to the respective universes. In the case of Star Wars, when Disney purchased Lucasfilm, almost everything that had been published besides the movie adaptations were placed under the Legends heading and no longer considered canon.


Other famous movie series have expanded into the world of books beyond adaptations. Both the Aliens and the Predator movie series have spawned original fiction. Other films which were originally based on books, like Blade Runner and Jurassic Park, have also expanded the original stories with fiction set in their respective universes. On the fantasy side of the equation, the movie Willow spawned the Chronicles of the Shadow War trilogy (Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn, and Shadow Star [Chris Claremont & George Lucas, Bantam Spectra, 1995/1996/2000])


However, movies and television series are not the only media to spawn original tie-in speculative fiction. Tabletop role playing games (TTRPG) have, unsurprisingly I believe, provided fertile ground for stories. TSR, the company which originally published the Dungeon & Dragons RPG, gathered authors and began publishing books based on their various worlds. The first book about Dungeons & Dragons was Andre Norton’s Quag Keep (Anthenaeum Press, 1978). She wrote the novel after playing an adventure in the world setting of Greyhawk with Gary Gygax. It was both the first book to be based on Dungeons & Dragons as well as the first one written based on any TTRPG. The sequel, Return to Quag Keep (Andre Norton and Jean Rabe, Tor Books, 2006) was a collaboration but Andre Norton died before its release.


TSR went on to form its own publishing house. By the time the company declared bankruptcy in 1997, they had published over 240 novels set in various campaign worlds. The two most famous settings for the novels were Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. These books would remain in publication for over a decade, making such names as R. A. Salvatore and the writing duo of Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman, famous. Once the game rights were purchased by Wizards of the Coast, the books, plus new titles, continued to be published.

Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t the only fantasy TTRPG to find additional fans in the bookstores. Warhammer Fantasy led to over 150 novels detailing the fictional reality of the game world. Games Workshop followed the success of these novels with books set in their grimdark science fiction setting of Warhammer 40,000 in 1997. Other science fiction settings would be used for settings in the 1990s and beyond.


Two famous post-apocalyptic games spawned additional fiction. The Steve Jackson game Car Wars had more than thirty short stories in the magazine Autoduel Quarterly. These were later collected into a single volume titled Autoduel Tales: The Fiction of Car Wars (Steven Marsh, Michael A. Stackpole, and others, Steve Jackson Games, 2020). They have recently announced a new series, The Autoduel Chronicles: Wasteland Runners (Three Ravens Publishing) with the first novel planned for 2023. TSR/Wizard of the Coast’s bizarre, over-the-top after-the-bomb TTRPG Gamma World, also spawned two novels (Sooner Dead [Mel Odom, Wizards of the Coast, 2011] and Read Sails in the Fallout [Paul Kidd, Wizards of the Coast, 2011]). Additionally, the far future wargame RPG BattleTech had several novel series and single titles written about the men and women fighting in the massive mecha of the major houses and various mercenary groups.


Tabletop gaming wasn’t the only area mined for fiction. Video games, especially the RPG and first-person adventure genres, would branch out into fiction. Several books have been published detailing the history of Azeroth, the main world of the fantasy MMORPG World of Warcraft. Science fiction video games have also had books written about them. Halo, based on super soldier programs and an alien invasion, starting with the original series of four books spanning The Fall of Reach (Eric Nylund, Del Rey Books, 2001) through Ghosts of Onyx (Eric Nylund, Del Rey Books, 2009), then expanded into several other small series and continues with new novels such as the upcoming Outcasts (Troy Denning, Simon & Schuster, 2023). Other series, including Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Assassin’s Creed have all enticed writers to produce at least one or more novels and short stories set in the respective gaming universes.


While it is more common to hear about a book or story being adapted for the big screen or a television series, it does go the other way as well. What original books or short stories have you enjoyed based on properties originally brought to life on screen, video console, or tabletop game?


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