03 September 2010

Evil Comparisons! (Part II)

Finally the summer spell is broken: a thunderstorm followed by a cold front blows through during the evening!  So I can return blithely to the subject at hand.

When the idea for the first volume in The Dream Land series came to me during a dream, I rushed to craft the storyline, drawing partly from my childhood fantasies and partly from my [then] modern sensibilities with regard to plotting.  I was careful not to drawn from any sci-fi on TV or film. Of course, I believed my own idea was unique and did not want to dilute it by making allusions to other sources, or by borrowing any ideas, no matter how minor. However, just as I was completing the manuscript in 1993 and revising it for submission to publishers in 1994, I was suddenly bombarded by the trailers of a new sci-fi film coming out: Stargate.

One irony of this event was that I had already had my characters speculate what to call this portal they had discovered. While I settled on tangent as the main reference and "tearing the curtain" as euphemism, my protagonists, Gina and Sebastian, also tried the name "stargate". They referenced Watergate, a common shared experience in the '70s, but ruled out "stargate" because it referred to transportation to a star--where a voyager might "burn his ass off" [sic]. (In the last major revision, this phrase was sanitized, along with the change of the "stargate" reference to sci-fi usage in general.)  But there was the film, seen by millions, and which eventually even spawned a TV series on the cable TV's Sci-Fi channel.

Stargate (1994) follows the adventures of a team of mercenaries and a scientist as they travel through a "portal" that leads to a quasi-Egyptian landscape ruled by a kind of pharoah/alien character with special powers. Much is made of the similarities of this new pseudo-world with Earth's ancient history. Obviously, knowing Earth's ancient history makes it easy to create a world that approximates that ancient Earth history, all the more to compell discussion of who or what gave rise to the first civilizations on Earth. Theories of ancient astronauts, advocated by Erich von Daniken and later Zecharia Sitchin and others, seemed to fit some of the quirks and curiosities archeaologists have found, as well as references in the Bible.

I did not have any concerns about ancient astronauts in relation to the plot of Dream Land.  In the back of my mind, however, I had ideas. I had read Von Daniken's first book Chariots of the Gods and was intrigued enough to consider the possibilities. Readers of science-fiction regularly consider possibilities. I had no intention of deliberately working some of those ideas into the plot. My focus was on two young people randomly discovering a portal to another dimension--which according to the laws of astrophysics must be located on a valid planetary body somewhere. The focus was on their relationship, and what they do to try and stay together, then find each other, then live together on that other world.

(Note to self: you focused on the adventure in the original writing but after many years and two major revisions, you now accept that the story is, at its roots, a love story with elements of adventure, rather than the reverse.)

I did not whine too much at the time about the unexpected hijacking of my interdimensional doorway motif by Stargate.  Instead, I sought ways to exploit that similarity. Things usually come in threes in Hollywood and perhaps also in the book publishing business. So if people were excited by the Stargate film, perthaps they would grab a copy of my novel which had similar elements (though much different in focus and style, closer to what I like to call "literary sci-fi"). I marketed Dreamland (never considering a sequel) as another Stargate-like story. I got encouraging feedback and a few compliments on its style and scope, but ultimately I did not make a sale.

Time passed and I started other projects. Meanwhile Stargate: SG1 was showing on the Sci-Fi channel. I caught a few episodes by chance but never intended to become a fan. I felt that it was the enemy--though they had no knowledge of me or my universe. After several years the series ended. After several years I finally completed the second book in the series. The second book did draw on some elements that had, by then, entered the common sci-fi lexicon, notably the time-travel aspects of interdimensional portals (e.g., enter at a slightly different angle and you arrive in the same place but at a different time or in a slightly different place in the same time).

Nearing the completion of the second Dream Land book, I began to feel the continuation of the story into a third book. The idea was already there, having been stuck in my subconscious since just before the Stargate film was released, the idea of how this all got started. That is the reason for the third book's title: Diaspora.

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