The Fandemonium novels fed this anxiety. I’d been reading Pepper
’s wonderful (and frank) series of review posts on the Stargate novels, and I used those posts as a guide in choosing which of the novels I bought myself, to read as prep. I soon found out that I’m really
demanding when it comes to the “pro” Stargate novels – I’ll cut plenty of slack for fanfic, but I got very cross at many aspects of the published novels.
One of these was the Lack of Daniel – even the better novels I read (or started) tended to sideline him, or reduce him to a cardboard cutout. In a similar vein: we all know the infuriating phenomenon of Invisible!Teal’c. Fortunately, my partner is an enthusiastic Teal’c fangirl, which guaranteed that I was NOT going to forget him. (She reads everything first, after all, even before my Beta Squad.)
Pepper also got me thinking about the very notion of the Stargate (or other media tie-in) novel. The show is the pure source material, after all. There’s enough fanfic out there to keep all of us occupied indefinitely – there’s sludge to wade through, true, but I’m not alone in noting that the average quality of Stargate fanfic is high enough to leave us spoiled when we wander into other fandoms that are less blessed with gifted and skilled writers.
So what can a novel do that the show can’t? What can it do that the main body of fanfic can’t?
One of Pepper’s answers to this was scale: novels have an unlimited special effects budget, after all! Also no budget limiting size of cast, number of locations, etc. There is
a limit on scale, but that’s a factor of the quality of the writing and the reach of the reader. You can easily dump too much Stuff on a reader: part of the writer’s challenge, whether it’s a fic, a novel, or a screenplay. is to make the infodumps smooth enough that the reader doesn’t stumble. (MacGyver gave me a lot of practice in that.) If the names of the characters are so weird that the reader can't follow the plot, the writer didn't get the names right. I remember reading the novel Dragon's Egg
years ago -- the science almost broke my brain, but at least I could follow the characters.
For me, the biggest thing was the nature of long-form fiction itself. The story has the opportunity to be scaled up to a certain size. In fact, it has
to scale up – I get very cranky, very quickly, if I’m trying to read a novel-length work that does not have a novel-sized story.
Most fanfic is short-form: drabbles, vignettes, ficlets, missing scenes, character studies – our realm is scattered with these small bright jewels. We have some of the best ‘sprinters’ around. It’s a wonderful kind of writing, and I wish every writer or aspiring writer would spend some time mastering the drabble, because it’s one of the best challenges there is.
I have no idea why I write almost exclusively long-form myself, except that my brain just works that way. The stories that get their teeth into me are long and complex, and even though I try to write very tightly, it still takes that much space to tell a story that size. My first complete fic (Up a Long Ladder
) was a novella, and I hit official novel-length on the second one, Phoenix Rising
. The last MacGyver novel I did (well, the last so far) was almost 100k words, and none of that was padding.
So. What can you do in a Stargate novel? Build a longer and more complex plot: something that takes more than 42 minutes to resolve. The show actually had the opportunity to do that, between the multi-parters and the story arcs. It’s one of the shining things that made the show unique. Even so – this isn’t Babylon 5
. The writers didn’t sit down in 1997 and say, “Hey, we have 8 (or 10) years to do this show, so let’s tell a story that’s SO BIG it will take all that time to tell it!” They built their long epic structure as they went along, with numerous continuity hiccups, but somehow managing to keep the airplane flying as they built it.
Anyway, back to the notion of the structure of a novel.
In a story of that size, there’s no excuse for leaving out characters. There’s plenty of room to find something for everyone to do, as long as the problem they’re facing is big enough. And if it isn’t big enough, better make it bigger, right?