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Reading Anxiety

Joe Scalzi: Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War

Every time I’m reading a book that’s thematically close to what I’m sketching, I fear I’m about to discover that all my grand ideas are just yesterday’s news.

During the last five years or so, I was rather busy reading stuff for my doctoral thesis and trying to keep me up-to-date concerning my more money-generating activities. After I had handed in my thesis’s first draft in March, I immediately tackled the large pile of hard sf that had been quietly growing on my shelves, forbidden fruit for so long.

The problem is, when certain basic premises in a book are similar to those from my own writing projects, there are these constant Oh Noes! events in my head when certain keywords pop up. This was especially frequent while reading John Scalzi’s science fiction novel Old Man’s War, not least because of the military setting.

But, as they say, it’s all in your head. Of course, similarities are always there, but what makes me think someone would have written a novel about the same array of ideas and with the same focus? Of course, if it were not an array but just only one single idea, it would become much more likely that it’s been used, or is in the process of being used, by someone else.

But focus and execution would still be sufficiently different. The likelihood that someone wrote something, even with this one idea at the center, in the same form, in the same genre, from the same perspective, and around the same theme and motifs is statistically negligible. But of course, there always is a certain likelihood, however tiny, and if you wait long enough before you put your ideas into writing and your writing out in the world, the odds won’t go in your favor.

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