TT: One Plus One Makes More?

ALAN: A lot of people have been posting their thoughts about the recent death of Jerry Pournelle. A common theme that runs through the comments is the suggestion that he will be remembered more for his collaborations with Larry Niven than he will for the stories that he published under his own name. There’s probably some truth in that – several of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations are generally regarded as classics of the genre.

Working (on naps) Together

JANE: Certainly the two Pournelle novels I recall reading – A Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer – were both collaborations with Larry Niven.  I can’t remember if I actually read Footfall, but I heard a lot about it.

ALAN: I enjoyed those – but my very favourite of their collaborations was Inferno. Such a clever, subtle and funny book.

Collaborations seem to be very common in the SF world. Without even thinking about it, I’m sure I could reel off a dozen or more famous collaborations. And if I put my thinking cap on I could probably come up with at least a dozen more.

But I’d be hard-pressed to name many collaborations in other genres or in the mainstream of literature.

I wonder how collaborations happen?

JANE: We must shop in different bookstores.  Where I shop, increasingly, the shelves are full of “collaborations.”  Many of these are what I have heard called “junior/senior” pairings, which in some cases seems to be a polite way of saying “Big Name Writer” and “who the heck is that…”

ALAN: Or perhaps “who the hack is that…”?

JANE: Ouch!  That’s what’s so sad about these pairings.  Often the “junior” writer is viewed as just that – an opportunistic hack.  I’ve talked with several novelists, however, who have taken on such jobs in the hope of opening doors that will enable them to see their own beloved works published.

ALAN: To that extent such exercises are probably a good thing – anything that opens previously closed publishing doors has to be taken seriously. But nevertheless I remain dubious about both the morality of it and the quality of the work. I certainly don’t regard these as being collaborations in the true sense of the word.

JANE: I know what you mean.  My nephew enjoys both Tom Clancy’s and Clive Cussler’s works, but I’ve given up on buying them for him because so many are these sort of pairings.

ALAN: Ah yes – those… I don’t really consider those as collaborations at all. Clancy actually died in 2013, so clearly his contribution to the books that are still being published under his name has been minimal. So-called collaborations like these are really just cynical marketing exercises designed to keep famous names on the book covers so as to (hopefully) increase sales.

I think the only real collaborations are those where all the writers named on the cover have had a significant input to the story being told.

JANE: I agree.  When an author or an author’s estate starts franchising a well-known name, then any sense of collaboration vanishes.  I’ll avoid naming some obvious examples because I don’t know the circumstances firsthand and don’t want to risk maligning someone…

But there are many authors who appear as “senior” author on books that I suspect they’ve never even looked at.

ALAN: I’m absolutely certain of it. And the phenomenon is not a new one; it’s just that these days the publishers are rather more blatant about it than once they were. It used to be that the junior author got no credit at all, even though they’d done most, if not all, of the work!

A good example would be the Saint novels. They were all published with Leslie Charteris named on the cover as the only author. Nevertheless many of the novels were ghostwritten with little or no input from Charteris himself. Vendetta For the Saint (1964) was actually written by the SF author Harry Harrison, though his name appears nowhere in the credits. Harrison told me that Charteris just left him alone to write the story – though presumably Charteris did approve the final version since he was putting his own name on it!

JANE: I had no idea!

ALAN: Proper collaborations, such as the Niven/Pournelle books, are a completely different kettle of fish. In an interview published in Fantastic Reviews in 2009, Niven says that he and Pournelle would talk the story out between themselves until they knew it by heart. In that sort of circumstance it really doesn’t matter whose fingers actually hit the keyboard, the story belongs equally to both of them.

JANE: I agree.  I also think that the best collaborations are those where each author has something special to bring to the project.  My first collaboration with Roger Zelazny was like that.  He’d been asked to come up with a story for a computer game, but he knew nothing about either computers or gaming.

However, he was always intrigued by a new challenge.  He said he’d take the job if I could come on board as his collaborator (because I was a gamer, and somewhat familiar with computer games), and so Chronomaster was begun.  Sadly, Roger was gone before it came out.  He never would have agreed to what the publisher did – putting his name big and mine small – because we worked the story out together.

ALAN: The game itself is still available for download from obscure corners of the internet, though you will need some kind of MS-DOS emulator if you want to play it – it won’t run on modern computers.

There’s lots more to say about collaborations, both proper and improper. Perhaps we can continue the discussion next time…

JANE: I’d like that!



7 Responses to “TT: One Plus One Makes More?”

  1. James M. Six Says:

    Do you consider two authors writing a book but putting one pen name on the cover a collaboration, or do you define that as something else? Those folks are harder to spot in the wild unless you research an author before/after reading a book, and not always then.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      I’d certainly consider it a collaboration. A good example would be Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore who collaborated on many excellent stories, most of which were published under a single name (Lewis Padgett was one of their pseudonyms).


    • janelindskold Says:

      I second Alan’s opinion. Definitely a collaboration. What would be very cool would be to have two authors create a collaborative identity, complete with bio, and then try to create an author’s style to go with this fictional persona.

  2. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    I love this topic. I always enjoy your discussions.

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    I suspect that collaborations are much commoner outside SF than they appear to be, but much less likely to be labelled as such. Why that should be, I’m not sure, but it may have the same roots as – or even be rooted in – the common use of “house names” in certain genres that AFAICT was done largely for branding purposes. Not to confuse the readers, IOW.

    I get the impression from her biographies that Georgette Heyer’s husband was much more involved in some of her work that, say, Jim is in Jane’s, although whether it ever went to the point of really being collaboration isn’t clear. Dick Francis, OTOH, was reported as saying he wouldn’t be writing any more after his wife died because she had been half the authorial team. And never credited. I would lay odds on there being many more ‘authors’ like that couple who for apparently social reasons never let it be known. SF, in fact, has been much more open about such things, probably because the writers have been much better known to fans.

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