I guess you can consider this a bit of a rant on those reviewers who smugly put down a work because it uses material that’s gone before it. So the reviewer looks brilliant because, unlike the idiot author/composer/director, they know the previous work and **roll eyes** the author doesn’t or doesn’t want to admit it. Now, clearly, some seriously unoriginal, derivative work exists in books, music and film. However, I have more often than not seen this criticism leveled at thoroughly original work that incorporates elements from a genre.
The latest criticism I’ve seen along these lines is of iD, a [now published] follow-up to Madeline Ashby’s vN in which robots can failsafe to protect humans. “Oh, what an incredible rip-off of Issac Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics; it’s the same rehashed story!“ Seriously? That’s a little like saying Twilight is a rip-off of Dracula because the characters have sharp teeth and suck blood to exist.
First, I would guess that most science fiction writers today incorporate something from Arthur C. Clarke or Issac Asimov, the granddaddies of modern science fiction. Hence the phrase, “standing on the shoulders of giants” Second, it’s not like we don’t have the notion of fail safe already developed for systems. This is simply a logical extension onto systems with AI, namely robots. Third, everything else about the novel is so different, from the way the robots relate to one another and humans to the world around them, to the focus of the narrative and the action that occurs. These robots are so foreign to those of Asimov that they compare less closely than humans and apes. Finally, I understand that the lines between new and old seem to blur a bit in these days of mash-ups fan fiction (an area Amazon’s move is definitely heating up and will result in much debate) and writing within the restrictions of a known cannon such as Star Wars fiction (two of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe, Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn, come from fiction written outside of the movies); it seems like originality can get lost in the shuffle. While Ashby’s work fit none of those categories, the lines do sometimes blur. Incorporating previously used elements can still result in utterly original work. Painters used blue before Picasso, John Polidori’s The Vampyre came out before Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Liszt wrote tone poems before Richard Strauss (such as Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra)
To think that any of us aren’t influenced by those who have gone before us is utter rubbish. It is what we do with the palette of words, notes and images that make it new (or not). Whatever issues one may have with Ms. Ashby’s work, originality isn’t one of them. We’ve all seen the rip-offs, but let’s not try to show our supposed sophistication by giving a drubbing to using anything that’s been done before. It’s not about us, the reviewers, but rather about the author and their work.