Tuesday, 26 February 2013

not-so-original premises: book ideas already written

Remember everyone heralding Across the Universe as a supremely original sci-fi with an unguessable twist?

Meet Dom Testa's Galahad series, the first of which was published in 2004 -- seven years before ATU came out. Compare the summaries of Across the Universe and The Comet's Curse, and you'll see immediate similarities. And having read both, I can tell you that the similarities run true in the book. Teens get launched into space, in charge of a spaceship being sabotaged, while in the background medical science is developed.

And yes, I guessed the true antagonist from the moment he was introduced.

I'm not bashing or defending the books; my goal here is to point out that no idea is truly original. So when you're lauding a book, saying it's got a fabulously original premise is not the way to go.

Some more examples:

Veronice Rossi's Under the Never Sky (2012) and the MG dystopian A Crack in the Sky (2010) by Mark Peter Hughes (click titles to see Goodreads summaries).

I've read both these two as well, and I can tell you -- the worldbuilding (which was one of the main the selling points of UTNS around the blogosphere) is almost exactly the same: protected pods amidst a barren wilderness, using a grand disillusionment on the protagonist's part to fuel the central conflict. Click through the links up there to see the summaries, guys. See for yourself.

And finally, one forthcoming book that I haven't read compared with a classic: Eve Silver's Rush (2013) and Monica Hughes's Invitation to the Game (1991).

Click through, read the summaries, and tell me if you don't see a resemblance.

From my perspective, these matching premises are usually only a big deal or worth noting if the book is high-concept; contemporaries, for example, often bear similarities, which is to be expected. But the trouble starts once a premise's apparent originality becomes a selling point of a novel. In the end, we need to judge and promote books based on their actual quality. After all, a good premise never makes up for poor execution.