Shared worlds

With A Haunting of Hill House and Julia: A Novel, it feels like we're seeing estates authorizing more authors to play with established worlds

Shared worlds
Image: Photo by Ed Robertson, Mariner Books, and Mulholland Books. Graphic: Andrew Liptak

I saw an interesting piece of news the other day: Stephen King has approved an anthology of horror fiction based on his novel The Stand. It'll be called The End of the World as We Know It: Tales of Stephen King’s The Stand, and will be edited by authors Brian Keene and Christopher Golden.

The table of contents boasts an impressive roster: S. A. Cosby, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Joe R. Lansdale, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, and a whole bunch of others. According to Keene's announcement (via Broaddus on Twitter), the book will also feature an introduction from King, and each of the stories will continue to expand the world a little more beyond King's words. There's no word on when the book will hit stores.

I found this to be interesting, because in recent weeks, we've seen a pair of other books pop up that are following a similar blueprint: Elizabeth Hand's A Haunting on the Hill, based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and Julia by Sandra Newman, a retelling of George Orwell's 1984 from Julia's point of view.

In all three cases, we're looking at an author's estate deciding to bring in another author to continue the story in some way: either as a continuation or homage to the original book, or reexamining the story in some way.

Authors playing in other universes aren't anything new: there are plenty of examples of where the estate of a late author has opted to continue to expand the world of a famous novel by bringing in authors for another take or continuation. There's the 1991 sequel to Gone With the Wind, Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, a series of Foundation novels by Gregory Benford (Foundation's Fear) Greg Bear (Foundation and Chaos) and David Brin (Foundation's Triumph), a sequel to Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain by Daniel H. Wilson, Andromeda: Evolution. And of course, there's the litany of Dune spinoffs from Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. (That's also not to forget the entire industry of writers who've written for existing franchises like Alien, Dragonlance, Star Trek, Star Wars, and so forth.)

But it does feel notable that we have Hand and Newman's books coming out around the same time, and news of the anthology right after. I don't know if that's a pattern in the larger publishing industry or a sign that maybe there are more on the way, but I have to imagine that there are some literary estates out there eyeing the stories for which they own the IP and think "hey, we can do something with this."

Certainly, there are no shortage of authors for which I can see this calculation playing out: authors who've constructed giant worlds like Iain M. Banks or Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, or others could certainly be utilized in this fashion, with the argument being made that by publishing new homages to these landmark authors and worlds, they're bringing new audiences to those original stories.

Thinking about that makes me a little queasy – we're already seeing something of a commodification in the arts world, one where a work of art is reduced down to a salable item that can be replicated over and over. Can you really replicate the insights that made such books so influential in the first place? Or are you just shuffling words around in order to create a viable revenue stream?

I haven't read either book (I admire Hand and her writing quite a bit – I'm planning on picking up her book at some point!), but reading the positive reviews, I have to imagine that these two authors and their respective estates aren't jumping into these worlds to cynically drop in for a cash grab. As with all things, it's hard to make broad generalizations. But I have to imagine that there are plenty of folks in the industry willing to overlook any artistic or moral scruples they (or the people whose estates they're looking after) to give the fans of their works another taste of the worlds they fell in love with.

Looking at the folks involved in this round, it feels like those worlds are in good hands: folks who understand the author's intent with those original stories, and who can meaningfully add something to it. Hopefully, that tendency will continue.