Monday, May 03, 2004

I received a bound galley today of a book that I definitely have mixed feelings about: The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader. "Hmmm," you might be thinking to yourself, "Didn't Robert Ludlum write a series about a character named Bourne?" He did, indeed. A trilogy, in fact: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The first two were terrific books; action-packed, paranoid thrillers of the kind that the late Ludlum did so well. (The third one wasn't nearly as good, suffering as it did from the character's advancing age and weariness, both of which were reflected in the book itself.)

Of course, Jason Bourne has become something of a cottage industry over the past few years. In addition to Ludlum's original books (and the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith), we have Matt Damon appearing as Bourne on the big screen, first in 2002's The Bourne Identity and later this summer in The Bourne Supremacy. It's an overdose of Bourne!

At least the movies are understandable; such adaptations are a regular part of both the movie and the book business. Even if the filmed versions are not particularly faithful to their literary predecents, they are respectable efforts in a new medium. That's all kosher.

A new book, though, is a very different thing. As you probably know, Bob Ludlum died 3 or 4 years ago. So what the hell is this Bourne Legacy? Well, as the ARC loudly splashes across its front cover, it is "Robert Ludlum's Bestelling Character Jason Bourne in The Bourne Legacy -- A New Novel by Eric Van Lustbader." Definitely a mouthful, although it does a good job of spelling out the basics.

Van Lustbader is a somewhat well-known author in his own right, but apparently he has fallen on hard times since the dying out of the whole ninja phenomenon of the 80s, which he benefitted from in slew of novels with names like The Ninja and White Ninja. (I read one or two of them, back in the day, and found them to be decent.)

According to the press materials, Van Lustbader and Ludlum were good friends and admirers of each other's work. I'm sure that's true, but the whole project is still rather unseemly and desperate. If Van Lustbader's writing was worthy of Ludlum's admiration, then surely it deserves to flourish on its own.

It's like people who spend their time writing "fan fic," using characters from Star Trek or Buffy or some other cult production. If something is worth writing, it's worth using your own voice, your own ideas, your own characters. It might be fun to write a story using other people's characters, but in most cases it's little more than literary masturbation.

Probably the worst example of this in recent years was the disgusting graverobbing that John Gregory Betancourt inflicted on the great Roger Zelazny. (That case was particular noxious, as Zelazny had been adamant during his lifetime that he never wanted anyone else to write books set in the world of Amber that he created.)

I don't think I'll be reading this "new" Bourne. I prefer to let the memory of Robert Ludlum, a writer for whom I had a great deal of respect and affection, rest in peace.