SF&F Corner: A rip off of a rip off is my friend

At some point, we all have to come to grips with the fact that Pride & Prejudice & Zombies sold 100 million copies–and we didn’t write it. Such is the lot of the creative writer in the era of the mashup, when concept is king. You and I have to sleep nights despite the persistent feeling that each random, insane idea we’ve casually discarded might actually have been worth a fortune, especially if said insane idea involved plagiarizing one or more public domain works.

I must admit that I’ve resorted to snobbery to protect my fragile ego. “Sure,” I tell myself, “I don’t have a half-plagiarized work gracing the displays of most major bookstores. But I didn’t want to be rich and famous anyway” (beep beep goes thelie detector, but I ignore it and press on) “I want to write something really important and moving, something that says a lot more than you can say with a dead British woman’s words and a little B-movie make-up.”

But oh! how my comfort has been shattered since I picked up Plagues & Prejudice (& Zombies), a graphic novel by B. M. Brar which retells the Exodus with upperclass British zombies as the Egyptians.

I was initially impressed only that someone had been so brazen as to rip off a bestselling rip-off. But that alone wouldn’t have been enough to shatter my world. What did me in is that somewhere in the middle of the book, jumping between the Austenian romantic twists and turns unfolding in Zombie-Pharaoh’s court and the vaguely post-Apocalyptic feel of the Jewish slaves’ struggles against the living dead, I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t in Egypt or England or Kansas anymore at all. Somehow, Brar’s wild remix started putting me in the real world we live in, the one where we ought to be wondering not only why God allows third-world suffering, but also why God allows first-world excess. It’s one thing to spice up a classic with a few zombies, it’s another to begin suggesting that we are the zombies.

When the plagues came and the zombies didn’t notice them I didn’t know whether to laugh at Brar’s twist on the classic stories (why should zombies be bothered by a plague of flies?) or cry–because Brar seemed to be hinting that we, too, have strayed too far from natural values to recognize the plagues that come down on us–and because I have a strong suspicion that he’s right.

I often recommend books I can’t put down, but here was a book I found I had to put down, again and again, to stop, think, digest. This double or triple mashup, this paragon of postmodern flippancy, had turned dead serious in my face and demanded that I deal with it.

That’s when my comfort died. Here I’ve been, sticking to the high ground and waiting to write the great and pure Mormon novel someday, and in an apparently absurd book I picked up out of sick fascination, I find exactly the kind of literature I didn’t know I’d been longing for.

So here’s my question: if Brar’s idea wasn’t too crazy to get published, what’s your insane idea–and does it, too, have more than its share of surprising heart?

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6 Responses to SF&F Corner: A rip off of a rip off is my friend

  1. Lee Allred says:

    Nice essay, James. Let’s see … ideas too crazy to get published?

    • Retelling Milton’s Paradise Lost using Robert E. Lee as Adam, Abraham Lincoln as Christ, and Sherlock Holmes’ smarter brother, Mycroft Holmes, as the Serpent in the Garden? Nope, that one got published.

    • Turning Abraham Lincoln’s penning the Gettysburg Address into a ghost story … only without a ghost? Nope, published, too.

    • Saving the universe with an old 1950 LDS hymnal? Published, too.

    • A cage-match between Loranzo Snow’s "As man is" couplet and Nietzsche’s superman? (Bonus points for including Jaredite undersea barges and a cameo by Nevil "On the Beach" Shute.) Published.

    • An eigh-page superhero comic book story created solely for the purpose of inserting a one-panel Johnny Lingo joke. Published.

    I guess one of the reasons I like working in the science fiction/fantasy genre is that my "insane" story ideas fit right in. As to whether any of these stories have "surprising heart," I’d like to think they do, but that’s best left to the readers.
    :)

  2. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I’ve always yearned to see a massive musical production number about the moment Brigham Young learned about polygamy. Comedy of course. Unfortunately I’m not capable of writing it. Tin ear, lead feet.

  3. Th. says:

    .

    Willie Shakes stole everything.

    Lest we forget.

  4. Moriah Jovan says:

    I am a shameless ripper-offer. My next ripoff is [b][i]Tale of Two Cities[/i][/b]. You heard it here first.

  5. Annette Lyon says:

    I’m a ripper offer too–[i]Spires of Stone[/i] is Much Ado set in 1860s Salt Lake. Many people say it’s their favorite of my novels. I love that–and wince a bit, because a lot of the great stuff came from the Bard.

  6. Eric Samuelsen says:

    Hey, Annette, steal from the best. Shakespeare was the worst thief of all!

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