Wednesday, 11 May 2016

nods and winks

All writers do it.  Inside jokes and appreciative nods.  In my last book, my wife inspired the name for a grand airship.  The scientific theory explaining the root of the tale is named for two of my favourite classic SF authors.  One of the businesses on a bustling street is apparently owned by a good friend (or his alternate Earth counterpart).

But, musing off the top of my melon here, when do "nods" become some flavour of "plagiarism"?  I recently heard tell of an author that named a planet "Trantor", supposedly as a nod to Isaac Asimov and his "Foundation" works.  My first kneejerk reaction was "nice".  Then I began to wonder.  Naming a planet after a famous planet has a whiff of someone attempting to bask in reflected glory. Even if the moment is "lampshaded" between the characters, referencing Asimov and explaining the name choice, it still feels a case can be made of the author glomming a little free street cred from the SF Grand Master.

Is that what I did when I cited the "Laumer-Leinster Theory"?  It wasn't my overt intention.

Or am I making far too big a pile of rocks from a few pebbles?

Another aspect of sly references and nods is whether they are plot-crucial or not.  Well, they certainly should not be crucial.  Nobody had to be familiar with the works of either Leinster or Laumer to understand the flow of my book.  I hope this other author wasn't so crass as to expect every reader to immediately recognize "Trantor" and therefore be able to appreciate subsequent plot points.

I recently read a pile of skunk vomit disguised as a book.  My great guilt is that I finished the thing.**  This author does nothing but reference other works; songs, movies, books, games.  A paragraph does not go by without such a mention.  I guess these weren't "nods", per se.  This guy hung his entire story on the reader being as savvy as himself for 1980's (predominantly) pop culture.  Damn, it was bad writing.

I reckon, whether it's a clever inside joke or wholesale borrowing, as long as the oblivious reader's experience isn't diminished, then the reference is probably A-OK.  A baseline of enjoyment has to be maintained.  Every reader should hopefully get an "A" experience.  The reader who gets the nods and winks has an A+ ride.

**I won't go into names and titles, to keep the discussion on track.  Someday I may start reviewing books here.  Then names will be named.

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