It’s a phenomenon well known to writers and other creative types. You have an idea clattering around in your brain, but you haven’t actually written/sculpted/programmed/filmed it yet. Then you discover that somebody somewhere is getting paid to make your idea. It’s not a case of plagiarism, simply a reminder that ideas are a dime a dozen; it’s the actual execution of them that counts. There’s a kinder version of that sinking feeling, as well: seeing how someone has executed one of those ideas and thinking, man, I wish I’d thought of that.
io9 decided to explore that second phenomenon by asking well-known science fiction writers which novels they wish they had written. You can click over to io9 to see all of the responses, but we’re including a few of our favorites below. For the record, my list is topped by Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life and Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I’m always getting to the ends of novels and realizing they’re uncomfortably similar to Snow Crash. I think it’s because that novel has a thousand ideas in it and I think they’re all brilliant. It’s just as well I never notice the similarities beforehand because I would never write anything. As a particular example, my next novel Lexicon has brain-hacking via carefully crafted language, and I seriously got all the way through that before thinking a minute and saying, “Oh goddammit.”
I would wish that I had written John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. I deliberately aimed for that book’s sweeping view of our near future, in both Earth and Existence, so to whatever degree I failed in those, I would have failed in writing SoZ. A fellow’s got to admit his limitations. Other perfect books that I both admire and envy include Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Silverberg’s Dying Inside. Or almost any story by Alice Sheldon. I could then die happy.
That’s a question I’m unable to answer, offhand. I sometimes wish I could write something *as good as* but never imagine having written another’s book. The books I most love and admire, it’s *because* I could never have written them. They open my head as my own work can’t. Offhand, Womack’s Random Acts, Crowley’s “Great Work of Time,” Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor… A few minutes later, three others.
I’m allergic to Best Ofs, canon of all sorts, rankings, comparison. I love the bottomless Borgesian library.
Kim Stanley Robinson
As to SF books I wish I had written, Lord, there are so many. Start with The Time Machine and We, and go forward from there…. if choosing just one, I guess I would say Dhalgren, or Wolfe’s The Book of the Long Sun…. it would change every day. Although I’m also happy to have avoided all the work those other books would have required. Doing my own has been enough, in terms of the work load!