Saturday, January 28, 2017

Continuity Games

To my knowledge, the stories of Sherlock Holmes are the first that attracted organized fan scrutiny of the series' continuity.  I could be wrong - as far as I know Victor Hugo got angry "Well, actually," letters sent to him on a regular basis.

Called the Sherlockian Game, authors and critics would try to explain away various continuity errors in the series, as well as create a biography of Holmes as if he was a real person.  Later works added details and characters to the Sherlock universe.

Marvel Comics may have the gold standard for continuity, with over 55 years of non-rebooted continuity over tens of thousands of comics.  Of course there were errors, and Stan Lee was probably worse than most.  The fans could be savage with the corrections, but it was turned into another game.  If a fan could explain away the error, he or she would receive a "No Prize".  Sometimes these kinds of explanations could be the source of new plot lines.

The Wold Newton Family is a concept created by Philip José Farmer in 1972 in Tarzan Alive.  In his fictional biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage, Farmer created an incident in 1795 in which a meteor strike gave a group of people exceptional abilities which they passed down to their descendants.  This was expanded by Win Scott Eckert in 1997 to the Wold Newton Universe.

The basis for both is that all fictional characters, or at least the pulpy/nerdy ones, are not only in the same universe, but are blood relatives of each other.  Nero Wolfe is Sherlock Holmes son, Lara Croft is James Bond niece or something, etc.

Of course, none of this is true.  Not even fictionally true.  Many series aren't even in the same universe as themselves from episode to episode, and you can't even pretend that these vastly different worlds are the same without a healthy amount of spackle to paste over the glaring contradictions.

There are evidently rules to this and essays and lively arguments - whatever keeps them off the streets.  It has produced a great deal of crossover fan fiction, some of which I've read and enjoyed.  It does get in my craw as I enjoy reading about these fictional characters, but don't enjoy so much when the original information gets mixed in with fan theories.

We've got fictional character biographies - think Wikipedia entries.  These stick with the texts and leave in all the inconsistencies.

We've got No Prize style discussions of continuity errors, with readers talking about things that may have happened off-page.

We have authors adding supplements to the original texts, either details or entire works of fan fiction, then pretending that it's in the same continuity.  It isn't, but I'm not going to get too worked up about whether the pretend thing about the pretend thing is real or not.

And then we have the unforgivable - re-writing the original text as a piece of fan fiction and then selling it to the public under the original author's name and title.

Which brings us to the 2003 edition of Doctor Omega by Arnould Galopin, "Adapted and Retold" by Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier.  Doctor Omega was originally published in France in 1906, and is a tale of a mysterious scientist who flies a spaceship to Mars.  He is not the Doctor from Doctor Who.

Or is he (he isn't)?  The Lofficier version has some winks and allusions to Doctor Who, as well as French pulp characters of the day - not so much subtlety weaved into the narrative as hammered in with a mallet.  Without the additions, I think the word "Doctor" may be the only commonality.

I got as far as a striped scarf reference before giving up.  From other reviews, it looks like some scientific concepts were updated and the entire ending was rewritten - Omega originally brought back some Martians and sold them in true colonial style.

If the additions weren't so glaringly obvious, there was no other way to determine that the text had been drastically altered.  The Amazon and Black Coat Press website descriptions have no notes of the changes outside of the "adapted and retold" byline, and the foreword doesn't explain things either.

And what is the point?  If your only hook is that the characters have vague similarities, most of which you invent yourself, why bother with the entire exercise?  If you want to write fan fiction of a public domain character, have it at, like the later Doctor Omega and the Shadowmen.

I think the Lofficiers did the same with Doc Ardan and Doc Savage, but hell, they're probably both Doctor Who as well, why not?

A presumably un-retold version is available in ebook from Baen, though the Amazon comments all seem to refer to the Lofficier version, half from disappointed Doctor Who fans.  And look for my retold adaptation of the works of Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the precursor of the A Team.  At least he will have once I give Perry Mason some gold chains and a mohawk.

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