CANON, CONTINUITY & CONTROVERSY

Here’s the thing: A good story is a good story, regardless of context. That’s why you can enjoy a Lovecraft story without being a frothing-at-the-mouth, anti-semitic, homophobic racist. But this opinion piece isn’t about the separation of art from artist, that’s for another time. Today I want to talk about canon.

The 2015 release of The Force Awakens, effectively wiped out the Star Wars Expanded Universe. ‘Effectively.’ Because although they are no longer canon, the books still exist. You can still go into charity shops, second hand bookstores, and pick up copies. Some of them have even been reprinted under the ‘Legends’ banner. You can still play the games, read the comics. Disney hasn’t destroyed anything, they’ve just created a new ‘official’ storyline. In a lot of cases, the older material and the new can exist side by side. After all, the rise of the First Order hardly affects the plight of Darth Revan and the Old Republic. If there’s an EU story you want to relive, then go ahead and do it. It’s still there. And if you’re concerned that the new canon has rendered the old one obsolete, here’s something to consider:

None of it is real. It is all fictional.

For the past two years, I’ve been reading the Dune series. If you’re reading a blog about science fiction, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of it. Frank Herbert’s six novels tell of the fall of a galaxy-spanning Imperium. But sadly, he died before it was finished. Years later, his son Brian Herbert found the notes for book 7 locked away in a box, and resolved to finish the series himself. Bringing on renowned SF author Kevin J Anderson as a co-writer, the Dune series continued. The difference in writing style is obvious, but the characters, setting and themes are all continuations of Herbert Sr’s. For various reasons, Herbert and Anderson wrote two prequel trilogies before tackling book 7 itself (which was eventually split into books 7 and 8). As you can expect, allegations are still ebbing thrown about ‘disrespected legacies’ and ‘milking the cash cow’. There are literally hundreds of reviews that pour hate on these new instalments simply because they were not written by Frank Herbert.

That’s something I just do not understand. Obviously, the original author would have written a book more in line with the others in the series, but that is no longer possible. So why not just enjoy the brilliant books we do have? Or if you don’t like them, why not keep quiet about it? Not liking a book because it is badly written, or not to your tastes is fine. Hating a book’s very existence because it contravenes your personal idea of canon is just moronic. The ending of Dune is about as fitting as I can imagine, and the prequels expand on the mysteries of the series in ways that are both cleverly original, but also seem organic. Of course Herbert’s notes alone are not enough to publish. The books would have been far worse off were his successors not able to embellish here and there, to add their own distinctive flair to the universe. But the whole Dune series, now seemingly complete at nineteen novels and an anthology, is now more than Frank Herbert likely imagined. And better for it. And again, if you don’t like the continuations, the original six novels still stand alone.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I all but idolise Isaac Asimov, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out about The Second Foundation Trilogy, a trilogy licensed by the Asimov estate and written by a trio of highly respected SF authors. The series, admittedly, varies in quality, and is strikingly different from Asimov’s own work. But while it is inferior to to what is possibly the greatest SF series of all time, I refuse to dismiss it out of hand just because it was written without Asimov’s involvement. Even a casual read of the Robots/Foundation universe will reveal that Asimov himself pulled his narrative together from disparate elements and unrelated series. Perhaps someday another author will take up the challenge and create an in-universe reason for the discrepancies. I would be first in line to buy it if they did.

There is an exception to my open approach to fictional universes, and that is fan-fiction. I can see the benefits of it, from wish-fulfilment to writing practise, but I disagree with it in principle. Not because the writing is worse (it often isn’t), or because of a deviation from the original, but because it is knowingly outside of canon. The writer writes there own version of events or characters, in the full knowledge that what they write could never be the ‘real’ version.

Having said that, there is an exception to that exception. Next year sees the release of The Redemption of Time, by Chinese fan fiction writer Baoshu, and I am planning to buy it. Why? Because Cixin Liu, the author on who’s work it is based, has deemed it legitimate, and it will be published by the same houses that took up the trilogy on which it is based, even translated by the same man. Remembrance of Earth’s Past is my favourite SF series of the 21st century. If this new instalment is good enough to please Liu himself, then surely it’s good enough for me.

At the end of the day, Science Fiction is fiction. So long as the storytelling is consistent, the situations gripping and the world enticing enough.go ahead and dive right in. I know I plan to.

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