Adi Tantimedh writes,
The latest sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is out, and that's the other major publishing event this season after Go Set A Watchman, and like the latter novel, it's not a clear-cut good thing as the publishers would like you to believe.
In The Girl in the Spider's Web, journalist Mikael Blomkvist and outlaw computer hacker Lisbeth Salander reunite to protect the autistic son of a scientist from a conspiracy that's after his father's research in artificial intelligence, putting them against Salander's evil twin sister who now heads the criminal empire their father built, and even the NSA. In a post-Buffy age of pop fiction, Salander has become a new female superhero for millions of men and women to fall in love with. A producer friend of mine considers her an archetypal dark avenger not dissimilar to Batman, and that's part of her appeal. The popularity of the novels certainly bear that out.
Steig Larsson, the creator and author of the first three books, died suddenly of a heart attack in 2004 just as the first book was hitting the bestseller lists, and since the signature of his will wasn't witnessed, rendered it invalid. Under Swedish law, his next-of-kin, his reportedly estranged father and brother, inherited his property, including his intellectual property by default. He didn't marry Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of 30 years, and since there are no laws in Sweden with provisions for common-law partners, she was left out in the cold, despite the fact that she was his sounding board and collaborator – possibly even his co-writer – on the books.
The Girl In The Spider's Web is written by David Lagercrantz, a journalist and writer previously known for biographies and some novels. He was hired by the publishers and Larsson's estate to come up with a completely new story independent of whatever Larsson might have originally planned for a fourth book. Larsson had said he wanted to write ten books and reportedly had the manuscript of a fourth book, probably unfinished, and copious notes on his laptop that Gabrielsson has refused to give to his estate and the publishers. The first three novels had sold 82 million copies worldwide and had movies made. It's a major franchise and the only reason to continue the series without its original writer is money, after all.
As far as I'm concerned, any story not by the original author, written without the approval or wishes of the original author, is fan fiction. Lagercrantz has spoken in interviews publicising the new novel about how he re-read and absorbed the characters and ideas of Larsson's original novels in order to put him in the right mindset to write Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander in a new plot that captures the feel and complications of Larsson's books. From the reviews and what I've read so far, The Girl In the Spider's Web is a very competent and perfectly entertaining act of literary mimicry, recreating the feel of the characters and the world of the first three books as well as the technothriller procedural plots. But the question is, is there more than that to it? Does it have Larsson's undertone of political anger and activism against injustice, misogyny and corruption, or is it just a fun pulp romp for the beach? Is it more than just fan fiction? Is that all the fans want? How does it feel to read this knowing that had he lived, Larsson would almost certainly have written a fourth book completely differently?
The other question is whether we should support a book that might have been published for cynical reasons that screws over the author and his partner? Larsson had said one reason he started writing novels outside of his journalism work was to provide financial security to Gabrielsson. Is it enough for us just to want a fun thriller to read with that at the back of our minds? If you love the original books and respect the author, can you buy or read this new one in good conscience? If Eva Gabrielsson had entered a partnership with Larsson's father and brother and the publisher, and approved of the new book, then that would cast a different light on the situation. That they went ahead and commissioned this new book against Larsson and Gabrielsson's wishes makes it feel shady.
Man, fan fiction is so much more complicated than we think.
The Guy Who Reads Too Much at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture, stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.
Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh