Sci-fi/fantasy will eat itself (or) HBO’s bid for literary success


Just returned from the sci-fi convention Arisia, up in the surprisingly temperate zone of Boston, in which I spent several hours on panels talking about sci-fi/fantasy films and TV. (I also sold a book, but that's for another post.)

Lesson learned: It is possible to get about 20 people in a room to talk about nothing but "Game of Thrones," "The Hunger Games" and the "Alien" universe for an hour and fifteen minutes; it probably would have been possible to stretch each session to twice their allotted lengths. If there's one thing genre fans love to do, it's parse the work. Interestingly, there was extended discussion in both cases on whether the films/TV series adhere to the books (in the case of both "Game/s" series)? If not, why not, and were those changes acceptable to the fans? ("Alien" didn't originate out of books, but thanks to "Prometheus" there was plenty of discussion about canon on that point too.) Answer: Most deviations are unwelcome, if understood.

But what struck me was a comment from the audience indicating that George R.R. Martin, author of the "Song of Ice and Fire" books ("Game of Thrones" is just the first) is writing his final installment of that series in tandem with the TV show's development, and has apparently commented that the show is influencing what he's planning on saying. That's extraordinary — not so much that a writer is influenced by fandom, but that a massive book series conceived pre-TV adaptation is now being changed, however subtly, by the adaptation itself. J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books finished amidst the adaptations of her works, but she always maintained she had the whole thing plotted out ahead of time — but was she also influenced by the time she got to "Deathly Hallows" by the image of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry by then?

I've got mixed emotions about the influencing. On the one hand, it's probably slight in each case. On the other hand, it's undoubtedly been done before and we just haven't heard of it. On yet another hand, fandom in sci-fi/fantasy is elastic and self-referential and fans themselves often go on to become the creators of the next bodies of work, so this may be nothing new.

But it feels problematic to me. TV and film are different media from the written word, and while adaptations of movies into novels do exist (and can be compelling) I personally prefer the idea of a work being completed independently from its adaptation. Surely Martin knew what he wanted to do with the books before HBO came knocking — why in any way adjust that view now that there's a cable network involved? I know it sounds very high-minded, but it's hard to shake. I keep thinking of the classics, and how outside forces naturally shaped other literary masterpieces, such as Dickens' work (he was paid by the word, no wonder his books are so big) — but this new development feels like its the books that are getting compromised. There was a band in the 90s called Pop Will Eat Itself. In the case of "Ice and Fire," I wonder just what is eating what.

Not that any of it will keep me from tuning in and opening the next book. I'm hooked on both.