Saturday, April 16, 2011

Elizabeth Bear stole my idea

This is one of those cases where I think I finally really understand something that I've known intellectually for a long time.

A while back, I had the kernel of an idea for a story (or perhaps a game). I'm not sure where the idea came from. It was about a generation ship which had undergone some calamity on the long voyage to a new star. Knowledge was lost, either due to damage or the passage of a large amount of time, so that perhaps the original purpose of the mission had passed into myth. I hadn't got very far, but possibly the story would be about the people trying to rediscover, and perhaps resurrect, that mission.

Then I read Elizabeth Bear's Dust, and realised she'd already done it. And done it really well. And that's fine -- I certainly don't feel like I have some sort of privileged ownership over the idea, and there are plenty more where it came from. Besides, Elizabeth Bear is a much better author than I almost certainly ever will be. It pleased me to see an idea that I thought was cool turned into such a fun book.

That's probably where my thinking on the issue would have stopped, but I've just started reading Greg Bear's latest book, Hull Three Zero, and you know what? It's the same idea. The execution of the two stories is obviously completely different, but one could even imagine that both Elizabeth Bear and Greg Bear had been given the same writing prompt before they wrote their novels.

So, today's lesson: it's not the idea that counts, it's what you do with it. I mean, obviously I always knew that, but I don't think I really knew it until now. And if anything, this makes me want to go back to that idea, and see how my own version turns out.

Do you think this is what they were talking about at the "Has SF eaten itself?" panel?

1 comment:

  1. It occurs to me that this idea (generation ship meets disaster) might actually be a really old one. Maybe there's even a whole sub-genre. Does anyone know any other stories on the same theme?