Authors of movie and TV novelizations can often earn big bucks, but as for earning critical attention ... not so much. But even so, there have been quite a few brilliant, award-winning science fiction authors who have written media tie-in novels—and in most cases, their talent has resulted in superior novels regardless of the quality of the source material.
Check out these 13 brilliant SF authors who have also written movie novelizations:
Tie-in Novel: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Theodore Sturgeon is inarguably one of the greatest 20th-century science fiction authors. From the late 1930s to the 1960s, Sturgeon was a singular genius in the field. Virtually all of his best work was short fiction, and his best novel, More Than Human (1953), one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, was actually composed of a series of shorter works.
A few of his most memorable short stories were "Microcosmic God" (1941), "Killdozer" (1944), "Baby Is Three" (1952), "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (1967) and "Slow Sculpture" (1970), for which he won his only Hugo and Nebula awards. All of his hundreds of stories have now been collected in 13 massive volumes by North Atlantic Press, and are must reading for serious SF fans. He also scripted two of the best episodes of the original Star Trek television series, "Shore Leave" (1967) and "Amok Time" (1968).
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a novelization of the popular Irwin Allen movie that later spawned a TV series and is a well-done book that was written based on early scripts and differs somewhat from the film. But it is a minor footnote to a brilliant career that would almost certainly have made Sturgeon an SFWA Grand Master had he not died in 1985 at age 67.
Tie-in Novel: Fantastic Voyage (1966)
The movie starring Raquel Welch was written by Harry Kleiner based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby, but Isaac Asimov, who became an SFWA Grand Master in 1987, reluctantly agreed to do the novelization based on the screenplay. He had to work very hard to make the premise of the film scientifically plausible, and his only partial success led him many years later to write a second novel, Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), with a more scientifically sound premise.
But both novels are eminently forgettable compared to Asimov's Foundation series and Robot novels, as well as the brilliant Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning novel The Gods Themselves (1977) and his classic short fiction. Over five decades, Asimov wrote many of the greatest science fiction stories chronicling the superiority of rationality over irrationality.
Tie-in Novel: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
After starting his career with the original Star Trek television series script "The Trouble with Tribbles" in 1966, David Gerrold reinvented himself in the early 1970s with a series of superior science fiction novels, including When HARLIE Was One (1972)—a Hugo and Nebula Award nominee)—and The Man Who Folded Himself (1973). He has continued to write superior science fiction novels and stories and finally won both the Hugo and Nebula for his novella, "The Martian Child."
But in 1973, he also agreed to novelize Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the fifth movie in the classic series that went at least one film too many. Gerrold actually did a very good job trying to make something out of it, but, alas, it will not be remembered as a high point in his otherwise exemplary career.
Tie-in Novel: Phase IV (1974)
Barry Malzberg began to write SF in the late 1960s (sometimes under the pseudonym K.M. O'Donnell), but his first critical acclaim was in the early 1970s, with pessimistic New Wave novels such as John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner Beyond Apollo (1972) and Herovit's World (1973). His disenchantment with science fiction was chronicled in the brilliant award-winning nonfiction books The Engines of Night (1982) and Breakfast in the Ruins (2007). But he continued to write brilliant short science fiction, including award nominees "In the Stone House" (1992) and "Understanding Entropy" (1995), and a final SF novel, The Remaking of Sigmund Freud (1985).
In the peak of his early career, he did the novelization of the Saul Bass SF horror film about ants conquering the earth, Phase IV (1974). Alas, the movie was a flop and became fodder for Mystery Science Theater3000, and both the movie and its skilled novelization have largely disappeared.
Vonda N. McIntyre
Tie-in Novels: Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: Search for Spock (1984) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Vonda McIntyre demonstrated her genius in 1975 with her Nebula Award-winning story "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand," which she expanded into the Nebula- and Hugo-Award-winning novel Dreamsnake (1978), and other excellent 1970s short fiction collected in Fireflood and Other Stories (1979).
In the 1980s she sought fortune to go with the fame and focused her talents on novelizations of three of the first four Star Trek movies, and did an admirable job. McIntyre then returned to her own fiction, writing four novels in her Starfarers series, and won another best-novel Nebula Award for The Moon and the Sun (1997).
Tie-In Novel: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
William Kotzwinkle became a prolific writer of fantasy and children's literature beginning in the late 1960s, writing dozens of novels and numerous short stories, as well as screenplays, continuing into the 2000s. He won the World Fantasy Award in 1977 for the novel Doctor Rat and has also won the National Magazine Award for fiction.
In 1982 he did an excellent novelization of the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He also followed a few years later with a sequel tie-in novel, E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet.
Orson Scott Card
Tie-in Novel: The Abyss (1989)
The talented and prolific author of Ender's Game (1985) and its numerous sequels has been one of the field's most dependable and prolific authors, with a continuous stream of award-winning novels and short fiction since he won the John W. Campbell Award as the best new SF author of 1978.
In 1989, Card took time out to write a superior novelization of James Cameron's excellent science fiction film The Abyss. Card's considerable fame will remain tied to his Ender series (which now includes the Ender's Shadow novels) and his memorable Alvin Maker series, but The Abyss remains a positive addition to the Card literary canon.
Neal Barrett Jr.
Tie-in Novels: Judge Dredd (1995) and Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Neal Barrett Jr. is part of a small cadre of brilliant natural-born Texas storytellers that includes Howard Waldrop and Joe R. Lansdale. He entered the science fiction field in the 1970s but is best known for a series of post-holocaust novels that included Through Darkest America (1987), Dawn's Uncertain Light (1989) and the dark comedies The Hereafter Gang (1991), Pink Vodka Blues (1992) and Dead Dog Blues (1994). His fine short fiction, including the Hugo- and Nebula-Award-winning novelette "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus," were collected in Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories (2000) and A Different Vintage (2001).
In 1995, he turned his prodigious skills to writing the novelization to the comic-book-inspired movie Judge Dredd, followed in 2000 by a novelization of the fantasy-game-inspired movie Dungeons & Dragons.
Tie-in Novels: 12 Monkeys (1995) and Catwoman (2004)
Elizabeth Hand established her unique talents with her first three science fiction novels, Winterlong, Aestival Tide and Icarus Descending and has continued over a prolific two decades to become one of the finest writers in the SF/fantasy/horror genre. Award-winning novels have included Waking the Moon (1994), Black Light (1999), Bibliomancy (2002), Generation Loss (2007) and Illyria (2008), and her short stories, including "Last Summer at Mars Hill," "Echo," Pavane for a Prince of the Air" and "Cleopatra Brimstone," have also been award winners.
Hand's first money shot was novelizing the intellectually complex Bruce Willis thriller 12 Monkeys, and a fine job she did. She also novelized the considerably less intellectual Catwoman film in 2004 to mixed reviews. In between, she did a series of Star Wars tie-in novels focused on Boba Fett. Fortunately, it appears that Hand's reputation as a brilliant author remains unsullied.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Tie-In Novel: X-Men (2000)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch entered the science fiction field as an award-winning editor in the late 1980s but soon became a prolific award-winning author, often using pseudonyms when working in other genres. After capturing the Campbell Award for best new author in 1989, some of her best work has been short SF, including the Hugo-Award-winning novelette "Millennium Babies" (2000) and the award-nominated "Gallery of Dreams" (1991), "Cool Hunting" (1998) and "The Retrieval Artist" (2000), which spawned a series of seven novels.
In 2000, Rusch (with help from husband Dean Wesley Smith) did a fine job novelizing the first X-Men movie, bringing their superior writing skills to the iconic Marvel Comic superhero team.
Tie-In Novels: Constantine (2005) and Doom (2005)
John Shirley began his career in the 1980s as one of the seminal cyberpunk science fiction authors, writing such novels as City Come A-Walkin' (1980) and the trilogy Eclipse (1985), Eclipse Penumbra (1988) and Eclipse Corona (1990). He then turned his talents to suspense and dark fantasy fiction, as well as screenplays. His short fiction collection, Black Butterflies (1998), won the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards and was selected as one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.
In 2005, he applied his talents to two different movie novelizations, the comic-book-inspired Constantine and the computer-game-inspired Doom. The momentum he built in those novelizations resulted in three more tie-in novels in 2006: John Constantine, Hellblazer: War Lord, Predator: Forever Midnight, and Batman: Dead White.
Tie-in Novel: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Alexander C. Irvine gained immediate notice in the SF field with his Locus-Award-winning debut novel, A Scattering of Jades (2002) and short fiction collection Unintended Consequences (2003). He continued to write more uniquely imagined science fiction and fantasy novels, including Have Robot, Will Travel (2004), One King, One Soldier (2004), The Narrows (2005), Buyout (2009) and Mystery Hill (2009), but also became involved with Marvel Comics superheroes.
In 2010, his novelization of the Iron Man 2 movie provided complexity and depth to the popular story of Tony Stark and his superhero persona, Iron Man.
Joan D. Vinge
Tie-in Novels: Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and many others
Joan Vinge also demonstrated her considerable talents early, winning the Hugo Award for best novelette in 1979 for "Eyes of Amber" and for best novel in 1980 for Snow Queen. She also wrote in the 1970s-1990s numerous other fine novels in her Heaven's Chronicles, Snow Queen and Cat series, and superior short fiction, demonstrating considerable skill with character-driven hard science fiction.
In the 1980s she took time out for a series of movie novelizations, including Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Ladyhawke and Willow, along with the bestselling The Dune Storybook, which was aimed at younger readers. In 1998 she did a Lost in Space novelization, also aimed at teen readers, but there was a hiatus in her writing career until her return this year with the novelization of the blockbuster movie Cowboys & Aliens. Her many fans are happy indeed that she is back at the keyboard.