Same Idea – Different Authors – Different Stories

Whenever people talk about plagiarism and copyright, some one always points out that you can’t copyright and idea. What the author can copyright is how they express that idea in a story. Many years ago, I came across a good example of how two authors took the same idea and did very different things with it.

The first book was one of my favourites 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.

The second book was Space Visitor by Mack Reynolds.

Both of these stories develop from the discovery of an alien artefact on the moon. Very quickly, the two stories diverge. After I read more about the two authors, I could see the reasons for this in the differences between the two.

Arthur C. Clarke’s main interests were in science, technology, and religion. It may seem strange that religion was an interest of his, given that he was an avowed atheist. These interests show up in the story of 2001. Much of the story is about the technological feat of space travel. Scientific curiosity drives the characters to make the space trip. The story ends with what people have described as a spiritual or religious experience.

Mack Reynolds had quite different interests. When I first read his stories, I thought of him as a “social” science fiction writer. When I checked his Wikipedia entry today, I was surprised to learn that he had been an active member of the American socialist movement throughout his life. The focus of Space Visitor is on how society reacts to the news. It has been a long time since I read the book and my memory of the details has faded. There is little attention paid to the nature of the aliens or the artefact on the moon, until the end, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

When I read Space Visitor back in 1977, I recognized the similarity with 2001. I was not all that perceptive at the time, but it did open my eyes to how the same idea can be expressed in different ways. When I look at the stories I have written, I can see how my personal attitudes come through, even though I did not always consciously put them there.

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