I have this problem.
There’s this story, which we shall call A. And there’s this other story, which we shall call B. Some time ago, I encountered A, and lo, I did enjoy it and did see that it was good. Some time after that, I was introduced to B, an ‘old story’ which had been undeservingly overlooked. And I did enjoy it and did see that it was good.
And time did pass.
I returned to both A and B periodically, as you do, and I began to notice more and more similarities between the two. They sort of grew on me, over time. A character quirk here, a choice of words there. A little one-off comment in A that looked like a tip of the hat to a famous line from B.
And, since A was much more up-to-date and I knew that B was an ‘old story’, that was pretty cute. You build something on something else and make something different and more awesome and maybe drop in a little wink here and there. That’s kind of how culture evolves.
And time did pass.
B is famous now, and A has largely been forgotten, as far as I can tell. And one day I happened to make some comment or other about the similarities between them, and how it was cute that A had referenced back to B. And the person I was commenting to said ‘but I’m sure A came out first.’
And I was gobsmacked.
Turns out it’s true: A was first. There’s a good two years in it, maybe more, I can’t remember. Somehow, that changed everything. It turned it all on its head. The little things that I thought had been references? A single one-off amplified into a catchphrase. The character trait similarities, instead of taking from one thing and making a new and better thing, now went the other way: taking from one thing and making something a little bit worse.
Before, it was always okay that B was worse, because (I thought) it was older and many of the things in it that are bad are things that have changed with time. Go back 30, 40, 50 years and attitudes get really different. Go back just five or ten and it’s still pretty visible. So sure, of course it would be that way. Lensman doesn’t need forgiving, but it would if it was written now – and if I found out that it was in fact written during my lifetime rather than long before, I’d be rather annoyed.
So here I stand, mildly annoyed every time I encounter B, because A was better dammit, and also mildly frustrated that I can’t just enjoy B any more. There are a lot of things I don’t see, and a lot of things I make an effort not to see – because once I have, I can’t unsee them. And I can’t unsee this. I can’t make things go back to the way they were, and I can’t just uncomplicatedly enjoy B as the old story I once thought it was.
Incidentally, here’s a pick list I constructed. The characters in A and B are constructed from between one and three elements from this list. No element is duplicated across characters in the same story (except for the “fighter” and A’s “philosopher”), and the primary characters have the same main element. It may be a complete coincidence, but it matches the way that I think to the point where I find it obvious despite never having generated a role list like this before in my life. If I was writing disguised alternate universe fanfic for A… I would have written something very much like B.
The Noble Veteran (Whose Side Lost) [A1, B1]
The War Buddy [A2, B2]
The Genius Engineer [A3, B4]
The Priest [A7, B8]
The Happy Fluffy One [A6, B4]
The Seer [A6, B6]
The Fighter [A5, A2, B5, B2]
The Philosopher [A5, A7, A1]
The Pilot [A4, B3]
The Medic [B7]
The Socially Unacceptable One [A4, B9]
The Smartmouth [A3, B3]
The Reliably Self-Interested One [A5, B5]
The Flesh-Eating Menace
The Decayed Civilisation