So here’s the Thing… no seriously, here’s the Thing. Image is from the cover of Alan Dean Foster’s adaptation of John Carpenter’s the Thing. Don’t look at me like that.
I was contacted by Steven Shinder on Facebook and asked to participate in a one-a-day top ten favorite books challenge. While I won’t be posting every single day (work and all), here are three of my favorite franchise books. I’ve decided to post them here and link back to Facebook. The plan is to nominate a new person each time who will then post their top books on their page. The books are posted in no particular order, they are just three of the best genre books I’ve read. Each has had a profound effect on me and helped shape me as a writer.
Disclaimer. The purpose of this list is to encourage readers to, well, read books they might have otherwise passed on–specifically franchise fiction. As such, no favorite literary classics will be covered. Otherwise, the entire list would be full of said classics. In no way is this meant to indicate that something like V: East Coast Crisis is a better novel than, say, Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mocking Bird. This list is mostly an exploration of beloved franchise fiction.
The Visitors are our friends.
BOOK 3. V: EAST COAST CRISIS
Author(s). Howard Weinstein and A.C. Crispin
This particular review—as with many others here—is just as much about the book in question as it is about the series of novels it comes from.
Exposure. On a field trip to Philadelphia in elementary school during the 1980s, one of the historic stops our teachers decided to have us visit was… a mall. It was actually more to have us catch our breaths and have some downtime after the long day of site seeing—none of which I remember. The lasting impression was that mall, and the book series I found in the little B. Dalton’s there—V.
I had been a huge fan of the Kenneth Johnson created TV series. And not only did I find one V book there—I found NINE. I called my mom from a payphone (’80s, everyone) and she reluctantly gave me permission to use the money I had been given to buy some historical souvenir to instead buy the nine books.
One of my favorite sci-fi TV series of all time, V had a human looking Nazi-like regime of aliens coming to earth in fifty massive motherships and claiming to be mankind’s friend. They offered us cures to terrible diseases and technological enhancements in exchange for the production of an environmentally safe chemical needed for their homeworld. In reality, they were rat-eating lizard people wearing fake skin who had come to steal our water and abduct humans to use as food and troops for a battle with an unseen enemy. It was an allegory for Nazi Germany and a quiet sacrifice of our ideals for the promise of a better life (something a little too relevant to today’s politics). Martial law was imposed. Scientists and their families, the only ones who could expose the Visitors, were persecuted and hunted down. Both suspected guerrilla fighters and innocent civilians were rounded up and kept in concentration camps awaiting questioning—questioning that they either came back from brainwashed and converted or did not come back from at all. And with the help of a fifth column of visitors that opposed the invasion, a small resistance grew against these alien conquerors. Mike Donovan, Juliet Parrish, Ham Tyler and their alien allies Martin and Willie faced off against the lizard armies of Diana, Lydia, Steven, Charles, and the mysterious Leader.
Good sci-fi stuff.
East Coast Crisis was not the V I was expecting. Rather than a sequel, it was a companion to the original two television miniseries—V and V the Final Battle, taking place during them but showcasing the United State’s east coast struggle rather than the TV series west. Plus, Dan Rather and Isaac Asimov are characters in it, so win-win.
Many of the V novels did not star the TV series cast but instead developed different areas of the struggle to reclaim our world from these alien invaders. I was hooked, eventually hunting down the rest of the books (there were a total of sixteen).
Lesson. Expand your universe. Novels are a fertile playground to explain and enhance a franchise. Several bizarre moments and concepts introduced in the TV series by TV writers who didn’t necessarily understand sci-fi were explained and clarified by talented sci-fi prose authors within these pages. It taught me to think of other stories that take place during the events of an established movie or novel and give the “bigger picture.” My Planet of the Apes “inbetweenquels” follow this philosophy.
Conclusion. This series did an amazing job of expanding a universe and included some top name authors. I prefer Crispin’s style to Weinstein’s, and don’t recall the tale of how they came top be co-writing this book. Independently they both are prolific sci-fi authors and have written several Star Trek novels. I recommend the entire series. You can find out more about them on the long un-updated fan site here.
Show me more: A sixteen novel prose series tie-in with two fantastic TV miniseries, a season-long television series (not the best), an eighteen issue comic series from DC Comics, and a Hardcover novel direct sequel to the novelization of the original miniseries that ignores everything that came after it (huh?). Also, a reimagined reboot TV series that strayed too far from the premise.
Available? Long out of print. Only available used on Amazon and eBay. On eBay, search for ‘V Series Novels’ or the like. A plain and simple ‘V’ will get you anything with a roman numeral five in it. Good hunting.
Nominated next for this chain letter. Kim Perrone
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
BOOK 2. JAWS 2
Yes, this is one of the best novels I have ever read. Much better than Peter Benchley’s original. Don’t judge me. You don’t know.
“He heard the faint subway roar. He did not care. He stopped moving. He was too tired to fight his sleepiness, though the boat was only three strokes away. He would doze like a basking seal, and swim the last few feet later.
Then he was borne aloft. He sensed his ribs, lungs, spleen, kidneys, bowels, duodenum, were being firmly squeezed together as if in some giant hydraulic press.
He felt no pain at all.”
Author. Hank Searls
Exposure. My mom had a bookshelf with “grown-up” novels in my parents’ bedroom. When I was bored and she wasn’t home, I would raid those books, looking to read something I wasn’t allowed to read. In this manner, I was exposed to the novelizations of Alien, ET, The Shining, Christine, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, It, and even the Flowers in the Attic series. It was in the fourth-grade that I stumbled upon mom’s copy of Jaws 2.
I was always tentative with these horror novels. I didn’t want to scare myself, so I would pop a book open to a random page, hope for a dirty scene, read a paragraph out of context, and then decide whether or not I was going to stay away from that one. I flipped through Jaws 2 and read a vignette about an embryonic male shark struggling to survive against his equally unborn but bigger sisters who were trying to eat him in their mother’s womb.
It got better. I realized that I was reading the mother shark’s point of view. She was aware of the conflict in her uterus and was driven to eat to stop her unborn children from eating each other. My nine-year-old mind was blown. This one went in my backpack and made its way to school with me.
Jaws 2 is a classic example of the old adage that the book is better than the film. Thing is, the book was based on the film—but a version of the film that didn’t make it to the screen. The Jaws 2 movie that almost was was much darker than what we got, and that’s a topic for a future essay. But even though this novel is based on an unshot script, Searls nonetheless owns this story—the shark’s internal musings and the in utero fight for survival is all him.
I remember pouring over the book under my desk when I was supposed to be reading textbooks in class (I’m a fast reader, so I always finished before the allotted time). The descriptions were vivid, the horror was real, and it made me look at the world in a different way. I’m paraphrasing here, but instead of saying something like, “the sun was setting,” Searls would write something to the effect of, “the sun was a lazy red ball bouncing on the horizon.” I use it to teach creative descriptors in my creative coaching sessions and on my writing panels. It inspired my future writings, and at the time it opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world.
It also probably helped me down the road towards becoming the continuity freak I am today. In Searl’s Jaws 2, the pregnant mother shark is traveling up the gulf stream as her kind is wont to do, searching for food to satisfy her developing young. She realizes she’s come to a place she’s been before, an area of ocean where two years before a large male shark had wrestled her to the bottom, had his way with her and swam off towards a nearby island. She remembers the pain of the moment, and that her unborn offspring were in fact sired by him. Angrily, she changes course, heading towards the island in search of revenge.
A connection between the sharks and an explanation as to why another giant great white comes to Amity. Did Searls have to do that? Nope. he did anyway. On top of that, he must have realized that another Jaws film was likely to come down the road and set up a potential hook for the inevitable sequel (the hook itself I won’t ruin for you, read the bloody book). He filled in continuity gaps in a film franchise, very much like what I now work at doing with franchises like Planet of the Apes and Alien. He made me look for answers to things that didn’t need answering.
Hank Searls ruined my life, and I love it.
Lesson. Perspective in storytelling. Sometimes a cigar is a dirty smoking shark. Or something.
Conclusion. Underrated. The most influential novel I’ve ever read. Deal with it. Then read it.
Show me more. The four movies—although I only recommend the first two. This book is technically a sequel to the original JAWS novel—not the Spielberg flick, and as such contains references that might confuse some readers—such as Hooper’s affair with Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen(!). Searls also wrote the novelization of Jaws: The Revenge—which makes that lightyears better than that film, but still can’t save it.
Available? A thousand times, yes. It’s long out of print, but you can get previously owned copies for dirt cheap on Amazon and in plenty of used book stores. I’ve got it in hardcover and paperback. I even wound up with an unedited reviewer’s copy my ex-fiancée found at a convention (see cover below). You look, you will find.
Nominated next for this chain letter. Amy Irene
This next book is seminal, and with the new movie franchise about to begin, it’s a good time to brush up on your Herbert…
No, not that kind of Herbert. Trek nerd.
The Spice must flow.
BOOK 1. DUNE
The cover of the edition I read in 1984. It wound up looking worse than this in my backpack.
“Fear is the mind–killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”
Author. Frank Herbert
Exposure. In the sixth-grade, this sci-fi nerd was given a three-book boxed set for his birthday. It wasn’t Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or even V—it was something I hadn’t been exposed to yet. It was Herbert’s masterpiece, Dune. I didn’t see the movie out that same year, but I dove into the books. There was something called spice (Kessel?) that opened your mind to a new world of mental abilities, warring houses, strange creatures called Navigators, rebels, an empire, and a desert planet.
Oh, and there were worms. Massive monstrous behemoth worms.
The desert winds of Arrakis swept me away as young Paul Atradies outmaneuvered death and betrayal to find his strength and purpose.
11-year-old me thought Herbert had ripped off Lucas, but later discovered George had been inspired by Frank. Later series I enjoyed that also clearly drew inspiration from Dune were Battletech and Warhammer 40K.
I had only read the first three back then and wasn’t aware there were more. On top of that, I hadn’t reread them until after the SyFy channel miniseries was released in 2000. Watching the miniseries, I found myself spouting dialogue along with the characters on the screen from a book I hadn’t picked up in 16 years.
It stayed with me.
Conclusion. Masterful. If you are a sci-fi fan and haven’t read this, son I am disappoint. Feel shame. Then pick up a copy and know bliss.
Show me more: An endless stream of sequels and prequels set int he same universe—first by Herbery himself and then by the likes of his son and Kevin J. Anderson. There are two TV miniseries, a bizarre 1980s major motion picture with Sting and Captain Picard in it, and a new movie franchise on the way.
Available? Always. Several editions over several years. Hardcover, paperback, digital, too.
Nominated next for this chain letter. Timothy Ellis
—Andrew E. C. Gaska
An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures and has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. He is the Origins Award nominated settings writer and adventure author of the ALIEN Tabletop RPG. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team.
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