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The distinction between tribute and theft?

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  • The distinction between tribute and theft?

    This is a question that I've been struggling with for some time, so, I thought that I should post here and ask for everybody's opinion on the matter:

    Where does one draw the line between a nod to an author in one's own literary endeavours, and the theft and use of that author's intellectual property? More importantly, how does one ensure that one does not cross that line? How great a role does the author's intent play in the matter; will any attempted tribute to an inspirational and influential author merely be perceived as the prostitution of the original author's ideas? Is the scale of that tribute important? [I.E. should any attempted homage be kept well away from main characters and important plot points?]

    Thank you for reading; hopefully you can share your feelings and/or experience regarding the subject as well.

    ~Ribbit

  • #2
    I would imagine that the major distinction is that tribute is acknowledged and theft is not.

    Originally posted by Khorghakh
    I.E. should any attempted homage be kept well away from main characters and important plot points?
    I don't see why. Certainly if one was attempting to pastiche something, one would go straight for the main characters, etc.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Khorghakh
      Where does one draw the line between a nod to an author in one's own literary endeavours, and the theft and use of that author's intellectual property?
      Take cover while I crack this open and stick it on the stove:




      _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
      _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
      _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
      _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

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      • #4
        Theft is wholesale and unacknowleged. Tribute understands its origins. Gloriana is, in part, a tribute to Peake. Most literary albinos with soul-sucking swords are rip-offs.

        To me, it really comes down to doing something new. I don't think anyone would accuse Mieville of stealing from Harrison or Peake, but both show up clearly in Perdido Street Station. However, no one would confuse New Crobuzon and Gormenghast.

        Then there is Cross Plains Universe, which is intentionally a tribute. Mike shows that Rackhir can be a tribute to Howard. That is original. To continue to use Mike's work to make my point, his story in Paraspheres honors Kipling without watered-down derivation.

        When Carter Kaplan's excellent novel is published we will have a great example of how someone can occasionally use another author's ideas and premises to advance an original story and set of ideas, while giving a fresh take on the influences he acknowleges.

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        • #5
          I think the safest thing would be to do what Mike does in his books; basically, at the beginning of the story say "I've been influenced by X, Y and Z". Of course, Mievielle doesn't do this, but as Doc said, you couldn't accuse him of ripping off Peake, etc. While New Crobuzon is in many ways Gormenghast crossed with London, it is too original to be a mere rip-off.

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          • #6
            China's always full of praise for Peake and Harrison (and Lovecraft on occasion) and doesn't need to mention his influences his books. I didn't much in my early editions.
            It's the sort of thing you do in 'special' editionss like the omnibus series. And it's interesting to note how increasingly assured and UNLIKE Peake and Harrison his work gets. Some of the early passages were almost parody of Harrison, for instance. No longer.
            I agree about Carter's originality in his use of characters of mine.
            Of course, Mike Harrison did exactly the same in his Jerry Cornelius stories which were so good, so original, that they in turn influenced me! That's altogether a different deal, I think.
            I know who pinches from me, after all, and who actually improves on me!

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