At least books don’t get cancelled

Posted: January 29, 2014 in watching
Tags: , , , , , ,

Did you ever watch The 4400? How about Space Above and Beyond? I expect most people reading this watched Firefly, right?


Television is increasingly seen as the home of deep visual story telling. HBO and its imitators have created shows with the depth and passion of a great novel, things like The Wire, Deadwood and Damages. Even science fiction and fantasy are having a resurgence and upping their game, with Game of Thrones being compared to the non-genre greats and new arrivals like Helix offering up the promise of something a bit different. Sure it’s not all brilliant – I didn’t get past the first episode of Falling Skies – but it’s fair to say that TV can now do deep, credible fiction on a par with novels.

But television does something that novels don’t. It gets cancelled.

I never found out why the 4400 were really sent back. I never knew which of the Wildcards made it through the war. And the fate of Serenity, while resolved in the film, still left much tantalising potential untapped. Whereas authors, barring death or distraction, will make it to the end.

So hooray for novels. And hooray for television. And hooray for the fact that at least one of them regularly offers us closure.

And if you haven’t seen it then try to get hold of ‘Who Monitors The Birds?’, Space Above And Beyond’s twelfth episode. That show might have had some bum notes, but that one episode made it all worthwhile.

  1. Novels don’t get cancelled, but I have heard stories of series being cancelled, sometimes leaving the plot hanging. Nowadays, of course, if a series is cancelled by a publisher, the author might be able to self-publish the remaining books (depending on what the contract with the publisher says).

    • Fair point. I suppose cancellations like The 4400, Space Above And Beyond or Deadwood are more like getting a series cancelled between seasons – if each episode’s a chapter, each season a book, at least you got to the end of volume one. Whereas Firefly… sigh.

      The point about self publishing is an interesting one though. Not quite the same thing, but when DC Comics cancelled The Boys they let Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson take it to a different publisher instead, presumably to keep on good terms with those creators, and it became a success. Authors can do the same thing by going indie. I imagine that, for TV shows, the rights issues and budgets make it much harder to go indie.

      I think that there’s some really interesting stuff going on at the moment, as technological changes democratise the processes of production and distribution and the feudal barons of big industry try to find ways to retain control. There’s probably some mythic metaphor about order vs freedom to be drawn out here, but I’ve only had one cup of coffee so I’ll leave that for another day.

      • It’s interesting that DC allowed Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson take a series to a different publisher. Presumably, as you said, those creators were important enough to DC that they wanted to keep them sweet.

        I get the impression (no direct experience) that at least some publishing contracts wouldn’t allow an author to self-publish more in a series that the publisher has cancelled. Publishers seem to be reacting to self-publishing by trying to grab more and more rights, and hang onto them more tightly. I think that’s a mistake – it’ll make authors more, rather than less, likely to go indie, and if enough authors do that, publishers won’t have anything to publish.

        • I think that this thing with publishers hoovering up rights is part of a wider trend around intellectual property. As it becomes easier and easier for people to produce their ideas outside the structure of big companies, or to copy the things others produce, the companies are going on the defensive. You can see it in some of the big battles over patents and file sharing, as well as the tighter contracts some creators are facing. Many companies are using the law to try to prevent social change undermining their profits, but in the long run I expect that to be futile. The ones who’ll win in the end will be those who adapt to these changes by becoming more creative themselves.

          I’m not sure of all the implications for authors – I’ve been viewing it with more of a scifi ideas eye than a career-shaping one – but it’s going to be hard to ignore.

  2. skudssister says:

    You could read the stuff Hugh Howey writes about self-publishing on his blog – change is happening and, potentially, the future is a lot more collaborative!
    We do have a publishing code at work, alongside the ones that you will probably know like O/P or R/P, which is AB – it means publication abandoned and it makes me sad….But not as sad as waiting for the final volume of stuff that keeps getting put back further and further (Robin Jarvis’ Fighting Pax being a case in point….)

    • I’ve been keeping half an eye on what Howey says since you mentioned him a month or two ago. Particularly impressed that he’s actually looking at the hard data, rather than just spouting opinions. And if he’s even just one tenth right then things are really going to change over the next few years.

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