When, exactly, is it plagiarism?

  • Apr. 20th, 2011 at 10:53 PM
beth_shulman: (tv: cj cregg)
I finally read Matched by Ally Condie today. After initially feeling repulsed because of all the comparisons to The Giver, my friend read it and told me she had no quibbles with the world. (She did have other quibbles.) So I put a copy on hold and read it for myself.

Yes, the world-building is shockingly reminiscent of The Giver - dystopian society in which everything, including jobs and marriages, is controlled by the government - and yet that didn't bother me while I was reading the book. It was only when I considered those common elements once I finished reading that I was annoyed. I think it's because the writing is so, so different - so drastically different - that the two books do not seem at all similar to me. Lois Lowry is a good writer. Ally Condie has a smattering of good plot between the gaping plot holes, but it's swamped beneath the (at best) mediocrity of her writing.

So when, exactly, is it plagiarism? The Hunger Games, to me, was more reminiscent of The Quillan Games by D. J. MacHale than Matched was of The Giver; The White Darkness uncomfortably reminded me of L'Engle's Troubling a Star, but Matched didn't disturb me like that. (If it must be compared to another book, I'd put Matched down as oddly akin to Scott Westerfeld's Uglies.) Is that a tribute to Suzanne Collins' and Geraldine McCaughrean's writing skills? Or is it that I think of plagiarism as more than genre similarities - as an atmospheric similarity, a writing similarity as well?

And there's a difference, too, between plagiarism and genuine tribute. The Name of the Wind reminded me of A Wizard of Earthsea and Eon evoked Alanna, but despite the plot and writing similarities, those books came across as acknowledgements of their roots rather than as slyly copied material.

It's difficult to distinguish when genre books are characteristic of the genre and when their ideas are plagiarized. Of course there will be similar elements; it is those similar elements that comprise the genre. I think it's when the entire package - premise, world-building, writing style, characters - reminds me of another author's work that I'm most compelled to point a blaming finger.


On first sentences: a few examples

  • Feb. 27th, 2011 at 9:37 PM
beth_shulman: (book: meg powers)
Inspired by this Richard Peck quote, I pulled a few of my favorite books off my bookshelf to see if his statement held true. I love these books so much, especially the ones I grew up on, so I honestly don't care if it holds true; then again, I do want to see if I was hooked from the first sentence or if I gave any of them more time to develop. Here goes:

"a few examples" may have been an understatement )


On Epilogues and Ambiguity

  • Feb. 10th, 2011 at 7:11 PM
beth_shulman: (tv: cj cregg)
I've been thinking about this for a long while now, probably since reading Mockingjay last summer. I still haven't expressed what I mean very well, but I wanted to say it.

Spoilers ahoy )

There's been an odd finality to the epilogues of fantasy series recently. I think it's what accounts for the polarized reactions. Spelling out for readers exactly what happens years later is frustrating; it is bound to disappoint someone. It robs the readers of the limitless possibilities that result from ambiguity. It limits the impact of the author's theme because readers can no longer draw their own conclusions about the outcomes of the book's conflict - because the result of good versus evil is specified play-by-play.

Specifications )

Question of the Day

  • Jan. 27th, 2011 at 7:17 PM
beth_shulman: (tv: cj cregg)
So I saw this movie... 

...and I have to say that it is the most understated movie I have ever seen. It isn't conscious of its own grandness (though it is grand) and it doesn't flaunt excellence (though it is excellent). It is deliberately quiet and simple. It is slow-paced and it is lovely and what's more, most people seem to recognize that.

So why is it, then, that understated wonderful movies are called "quietly brilliant" while understated wonderful books get called "boring"?

Yes, it's a bit hard to prove a point using one movie as an example, but the thing that struck me most watching The King's Speech was the deliberateness of the pacing and the construction. It was built slowly on purpose. It is quiet on purpose. And yet no one that I know called it boring. There are so many books structured the same way and yet so many people I know consider them boring. Is it the movie's visuals? Is it some sort of inherent fascination with period drama or the British monarchy? Because all I know is that the Printz awards have passed and The Cardturner was robbed. (And yes, I'm still a little annoyed at that.)

(Then again, it is up for discussion in SLJ's Battle of the Books! The list is fantastic.)

I think it's interesting to note that I knew exactly what would happen going in (in one line: king overcomes stammer to lead people) and yet the movie still wasn't boring. I think it's because despite [livejournal.com profile] jade_sabre_301 saying that idea > plot > character, I still look for character first. The King's Speech is populated with real people. You never see the acting. Even Geoffrey Rush with his over-the-topness never descends to caricature.

See it! It is absolutely worth it. (Oh, and read The Cardturner. That's worth it, too.)

ETA: From page 223 of All Clear: "After dinner, they listened to the King's speech on the wireless. 'This time we are all in the front line and the danger together,' he said in his stammering voice." Oh how I love you, Connie Willis.

On Science Fiction

  • Jan. 9th, 2011 at 9:10 PM
beth_shulman: (tv: cj cregg)
Something I realized recently: "anything can happen" is pretty frightening to me as a reader. It's why I don't really appreciate the genre of science fiction. Science fiction to me means that the author asks me to suspend disbelief, to accept whatever outrageous occurrences take place. It means that the author creates a new set of rules for the book's setting yet is free to change those rules at any moment. Sci-fi as a genre is by definition implausible, which is something I can't stand in books. Add to that a preoccupation with germs or advanced technology (both topics that aren't really my thing), and it's understandable that I've never read a science fiction book I've appreciated.

Science fiction in theory, though, is something I love. The recognition of the vastness of the amount undiscovered. That the imagination - no matter how wild - may never be able to fathom it all. That the moment of discovery can change everything.

Yet somehow, I've never read a science fiction novel that captures that immenseness and strangeness and uncertainty. (See: preoccupation with diseases and computers.) It's the good fantasies that seem to capture that, maybe because the stakes are higher in fantasy. Maybe because the implausibility of "anything can happen" is limited in fantasy, because the worlds, while different, have rules, and they follow those rules. Magic has rules. Countries have borders. Not that plots cannot have twists - of course they can - but the twists need to make sense within the context of the story, not occur simply because they can. In those cases, twists come across as cheap manipulation.

Opening a science fiction novel, in that sense, is a big risk for me as a reader. It's like asking me to walk a tightrope without a safety net, to risk caring about characters who by definition are never safe. Because when anything can happen, no one is safe. And while that bears a frightening similarity to life, it's not why I read.


Author Intent, or Two A.M. Ramblings

  • Dec. 10th, 2010 at 2:36 AM
beth_shulman: (book: meg powers)
I've been thinking about this recently because of a post by [livejournal.com profile] calico_reaction over here. She was talking about authors having a presence online, especially in regard to reviews - of their own books and of others'. I somehow came away thinking about what authors might really mean and how that can be completely misinterpreted.

Have you ever read an author interview, thought, "Wow, that sounds interesting!" and then read the book - only to discover that you did not see what the author was talking about? At all? The most distinct one that I remember is Mockingjay - I read an interview on School Library Journal (it was a great interview) and then I read the book.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement, especially magnified because I was expecting the book to be good.
So, to start with - how I judge a book: )


Emotion in Writing

  • Dec. 1st, 2010 at 12:12 AM
beth_shulman: (book: meg powers)
There are a few books that are perfect. Perfect. They have complex characters and uncontrived, clever plots, just the right pacing, and maybe most importantly, pitch-perfect prose. As I write book reviews, which forces me to give concrete reasons for liking or disliking a book, I’m starting to realize that there’s something else that’s needed for a book to make it onto my (short) Perfect list. It’s an extra something something tied up in the characters and the plot and the prose that makes me care. Something that gets me invested in the author’s world, that makes me hold onto that book instead of putting it down in favor of another.
I don’t know how to label that ingredient. I do know that I’ve read two books recently that had stellar plots and pitch-perfect prose that didn’t have it, or at least were missing it in parts. I think it’s an emotional resonance somehow bound into the prose, and I’d love to discuss that, which is why I’m making this post.

Slight spoiler alert )



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