Source Code, Part One
While thinking about comps, I’ve been tracing my sci-fi lineage. Comps, for those not in the indie cult, are titles that my work in progress might be likened to or compared with. Titles whose readers might like my works. It’s a good idea to collect a bunch of comps because it makes it easier for browsing bibliophiles to relate to my story before they purchase and commit.
Finding comps can be exceedingly difficult for several reasons:
Who am I to compare my lowly scribblings with the obviously brilliant works of these accomplished authors?
MY WORK HAS NO EQUALS.
I haven’t read enough books.
What if I put the wrong book among the comps and scare off everyone?
Who am I kidding (see 1)
The thing is, it’s easy to get distracted by works that have inspired your writing when what you’re looking for are works that could in some sense be like your writing. Two very different things. The list of books and other works that have inspired my writing is loooong. The titles that are like mine? Uhm…
In this exposé I will attempt to pin down a few works that have inspired me and that might work as comps. But I will cleverly split it into two parts—one for the influences, and one for the comps. Because they’re different things, and I want to make that clear. Okay? Good. Here goes.
I’ll start with this book. It’s in Swedish, I know. The title, roughly translated, is Exodus from Earth or maybe less dramatic: Departure from Earth.
This was arguably one of the first examples of young adult science fiction books written in Swedish, and it was serialized in a kid’s magazine called Kamratposten that my brother subscribed to. It’s about a space freighter named Len who gets a mission from a kind of super-being (not a god) in the shape of a superintelligent black hole: he must find a woman and colonize a planet in the Andromeda galaxy, because the Earth is environmentally screwed. No, it's not at all on the nose.
Five books were written in the series spanning several millennia. The author, George Johansson, later rewrote the second and third books and combined them into one book because he felt that much of the second book was poorly written, painfully unsubtle social commentary. It was. The series was recently republished. Too bad the covers of the new editions were so ugly that I had to find the original books through second-hand book shops online instead.
I don’t know exactly what thrilled me about it, but it did. I was 10 or 11 years old, and I was hooked on space. Oh, and this little film trilogy called Star Wars might've had something to do with it too, I don’t know…
Next we have Arthur C. Clarke. Oh, where would I and countless other sci-fi writers of my generation be without Arthur C. Clarke. He needs to further introduction, so let’s just say that Rendezvous with Rama rocked my world. A lot of people have (probably rightly) complained that Clarke’s weakness, like Asimov’s, was his poor characterization. Not going to argue that. But I would like to say that Rama is the exception. Only, here it’s the titular mystery spaceship that is the main character. I still reread parts of it, and I'm both thrilled and terrified of the upcoming motion picture by Denis Villeneuve (though I can't think of anyone better suited to put it to screen.)
You’ll be hearing more about Rendezvous with Rama shortly, because it’s more than just a source of inspiration for The Challenger.
Comic Book Age
I’m a Belgian-style comic buff through and through. Never read any superhero stuff. I wanted bland, realistic pop art. Give me Tintin and Spirou, and be gone with that X-Men crap! And Valérian et Laureline. Oh yes, Valéran et Laureline gave me a hard shove into imagining what science fiction could be. It borders on fantasy, really, but that’s what makes it so exhilarating. One of the creators, Jean-Claude Mézières, passed away earlier this year. Rest in peace.
I think Peter F. Hamilton’s massive Night’s Dawn Trilogy sort of clinched it for me. I don’t know the exact page count, but I think somewhere in the quadrillions. I liked it, but it was like eating a literal ton of whipped cream. After that, I stopped reading sci-fi for a while, and I pursued other literary interests in my writing. This is where the Michael Chabons and Zadie Smiths and Salman Rushdies and Chuck Palanhiuks and Jonathan Franzens came into the mix. Oh, and the one and only Stephen King, obviously.
Grumpy middle-aged man
I came back to science fiction after finding Neal Stephenson. I’ve devoured all but one of his works—I found Anathema to be indigestible—and after Neal, the flood. I do feel I have trouble catching up with the enormous amount of books coming out now, and it’s becoming harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some works that have inspired me recently include Becky Chamber’s beautiful Wayfarer series, Rian Hughes’s XX, and, oh my stars, anything William Gibson. I mean… Gibson! Every book of his that I pick up is like a gut punch from the girl you secretly have a crush on and she might have a crush on you so you let her punch you in the gut in case that gets her more interested in you.
So, there’s a small sample of the works and authors that have inspired my writing. Not spectacularly original, but I don’t see the value in being original for the sake of originality. Besides, these authors are obviously doing something right, or they wouldn’t be on mine and thousands of other authors’ lists.
Stay tuned for next installment in this two-part series: comps and why trying to find them pisses me off.
*It's actually software engineer Margaret Hamilton by a list of software that she and her colleagues at MIT wrote for the Apollo missions (1969).