ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Coincidentalism - Plagiarism - Or Zeitgeist

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One of the reasons I started writing was because I kept coming out with these great plot ideas. They'd often come fully formed to me. I just had no way to put them down on paper-- or so I thought. Then six months to a year later a book would appear with my exact same plot and even with some of the  same characters I would have written. I was like, WTF? Is someone reading my brain? And it happened over and over and over. And most of these were best sellers. Finally, I was like... if I'm ever going to be able to capitalize on these ideas, then I need to learn how to write; and fast!

James Davis Nicoll pointed out in a recent article on Tor.com that this isn't a new thing. It seems that it happened to icons of Sci Fi Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke.

One of the more remarkable examples of this type of unfortunate concurrence occurred in 1979. Working on opposite sides of the planet in an era long before everyone had email, Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke wrote novels about…well, let me just quote Mr. Clarke’s open letter, which was reprinted at the end of Sheffield’s book…
Early in 1979 I published a novel, The Fountains of Paradise, in which an engineer named Morgan, builder of the longest bridge in the world, tackles a far more ambitious project— an “orbital tower” extending from a point on the equator to geostationary orbit. Its purpose: to replace the noisy, polluting and energy-wasteful rocket by a far more efficient electric elevator system. The construction material is a crystalline carbon filter, and a key device in the plot is a machine named “Spider.”
A few months later another novel appeared in which an engineer named Merlin, builder of the longest bridge in the world, tackles a far more ambitious project— an “orbital tower,” etc. etc. The construction material is a crystalline silicon fiber, and a key device in the plot is a machine named “Spider”…
What blew me away when I read Nicoll's research was that even the name of the machine was the same. And look at the first names and occupation of the main characters. How can these have been so similar in ages before digital anything? You should go read the article. Nicoll does good work.

Another thing Nicoll mentioned that I was already aware of because of my love of late silver age and bronze age comics was that X-Men ripped off Doom Patrol. There I said it. Or did they? Could it have been the same situation as Sheffield and Clarke? We don't even know what that is? You be the judge as you look at the original covers over in Nicoll's article. Note that Doom Patrol came out three months before X-Men. 


Here we have two teams, their leaders in wheelchairs, who are shunned by normal society. On one hand we have mutants who were born with their powers and on the other hand you have mutants who obtained their powers through accidents. This coincidentalism (new word) takes place a lot in comics. What about Black Cat and Catwoman? Or Scarecrow and Scarecrow? Or Boomerang and Captain Boomerang? The one I love is Hawkeye and Green Arrow. It's also a rare piece of coincidentalism that Hawkeye was paired with Mockingbird, while Green Arrow was paired with Black Canary. You can go on over to Screenrant to see more comic coincidences.


Disney conducted a bit of coincidentalism of their own with the Lion King. Feel free to go and read the whole salacious article over on Cracked, but let's see what you think by this image alone. 


Fast forward to November 2012. Two books were published that month. My SEAL Team 666 book and Alex Shaw's Delta Force Vampire. In fact, my book was published 5 days after Shaw's. Does that make me a plagiarist? Is it coincidentalism? Like I could have come up with the idea, written the novel, and had it published in five days.

Then there's Evan Currie's book SEAL Team 13. That had to be a total ripoff. I had a host of fans come shouting to me that Evan plagiarized my idea. After all, it came out almost exactly a year later. Delta Force and SEAL Teams fighting monsters. Holy Fragmentation Grenade, Batman, there's a whole lot of cheating going on. Get the cheating police! Lock them up!

But it wasn't like that. It wasn't like that at all. If you've read Nicoll's article, which you should, you'll see that Clarke didn't think so either. And me, that guy who was WTFing before he knew how to write because something or someone was stealing his ideas right out of his brain, didn't think so either. While the comic industry tries to keep current with each other and commits coincidentalism on occasion, that's not what Me and Shaw and Currie and Clarke and Sheffield did. Instead, we were victims of the zeitgeist.

Or at least that's what I call it. I've heard others refer to it as the universal unconsciousness or the global mind. Whatever you call it, this zeitgeist is out there. It's entirely possible for people to come up with the same ideas at the same time without knowing each other. It's cultural. It's economic. It's scientific. It's based on learning the same information. It's the way our brain works. I'm sure that Clarke and Sheffield heard something or read something new and being sci fi authors, What Ifed it. Although I haven't talked with Currie and Shaw about this, I'm convinced that we near simultaneously thought about how cool it would be to have special military units dealing with supernatural stuff. And we just put our heads down, digital pen to paper, and came out with something that was popular. Zeitgeist.

Look at the 1950s. Where did all the monster movies come from, especially those who became a monster because of exposure to radiation. The zeitgeist. The world was in fear of a nuclear war so they found ways to express this fear in many ways that were similar.

I contend that this is a thing. My wife and I talk about it all the
time. She comes up with great ideas and I tell her to jump on them. Sure enough, if she isn't able to get her creative juices flowing in time, within six months to a year, some short story or novel will come out with her exact idea. As she says, "It's infuriating!"

Writers, artists in general, are a great tribe to belong to. We don't go around stealing ideas, frankly, because there are enough out there for all of us. But on occasion, a good idea presents itself in the zeitgeist. A few of us are able to pick up on it. An even smaller few are able to do something about it. It's what we do.

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