Déjà Vu All Over Again

The other day I ran across a reader comment that said (I kid you not) that the Corean Chronicles were derivative from the Crescent City series (Sarah Maas), which is a little problematical, since Legacies, the first Corean book, was published eighteen years before the first Crescent City book. Even if the reader had meant to say that it felt derivative, that really doesn’t make much sense because the meaning of derivative is “imitative of the work of another person,” and, since I don’t have a time machine, how could I be imitating work that hadn’t even been published, let alone considering the fact that Ms. Maas was all of sixteen years old when Legacies was published.

So…barring that non-existent time machine, either Ms. Maas’s work is derivative from mine or she came up with her concept and stories independently of mine, which is most likely, although given how long my books have been in print, it’s possible she picked up a little from me.

All authors are influenced by what they’ve read, and any author who denies that is either lying or deceiving themselves, but usually, because most authors read widely, the influence of any one author is rather dilute, unless, of course, the author is actively trying to replicate another author’s style. One of the great examples of this is Zelazny’s “The Naked Matador,” in which he offers a modern version of the Medusa myth told in the style of Hemingway.

In turn, some of my books certainly have a hint of the flavor of Roger Zelazny, no doubt because I read a great deal of Zelazny when I was much younger.

This sort of reader misunderstanding is hardly new. More than twenty years ago, I came across a reader who commented that Tolkien had borrowed way too much from Terry Brooks, which is another reason why I deplore blind reader reliance on ratings and on-line comments.

6 thoughts on “Déjà Vu All Over Again”

  1. Lourain says:

    And,sadly, authors have been known to take a body of work, dress it in new clothes, and present it as their own.
    One science fiction/fantasy author took a work by Harold Lamb and turned it into a thud and blunder fantasy. I never purchased another book by that author. Another took a scene from H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mine” almost word for word. Lost my readership.
    Many authors take a good idea and run with it in their own style and direction. A lot of good fiction has come from this. Taking from other authors beyond this is too much.

  2. Hanneke says:

    I sometimes wonder if the persons who post such comments don’t know the meaning of derivative; if they are getting it mixed up with reminiscent, or something like that. Saying it reminded them of that other work only implies the order in which they read those works, not the order in which they were written. But if they go on about the earlier work borrowing from the later one, they are obviously wrong, generalizing their own experience, and clearly didn’t even check the year of publication.

  3. Darcherd says:

    There’s an old joke among musical composers that may have some applicability to authors as well:
    “Musical genius consists of remembering what you hear and forgetting where you heard it.”

    I find it inconceivable that any author could NOT be influenced by what they read and have that influence be somehow be reflected in their own writing.

    1. Tom says:

      I Googled the music quote. Google’s Chatbot said it failed but gave me this one source: – https://www.lemodesittjr.com/2016/01/12/parachutes-and-sir-james-dewar/. Looks as if you originated this quote.

      Neal Stephanson’s novel Anathem describes a collection of intellectuals centered Concents (monastic communities). In order to not waste time and effort inventing or developing what had been done before the Concents had a Committee which had a record of “everything”: all novices had to get their proposed life’s unique expertise authorized before they could pursue it.

      Perhaps as well as the UN guiding the Attention Economics of our planet it should also develop a resource of every subject known to humans so our entrepreneurs will not waste their time repeating and competing? A good reason to separate Research and Development.

      1. Darcherd says:

        I assure you, I didn’t make that joke up, though it’s a good enough one I wish I had.

  4. R. Hamilton says:

    Aside from Brooks writing much later than Tolkien, Brooks seemed to make up new elements in each new book in a series that had no evident history behind them in prior books, while what Tolkien published in his lifetime was based on a larger body of work with layers of revisions giving it the appearance of a great depth of history.

    There are a lot of oblivious folks out there.

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