Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Robert J. Sawyer's Reused Joke

I'm a bit of a fan of science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer. I often don't agree with him politically, but he's always got interesting ideas and seems like a really smart guy. I've read several of his books, and I recently noticed that he used a joke mentioned in one book in another book. I understand that he's a fan of this joke, but it really seems uncreative to use it twice, especially in different books.

The following quote comes from Hybrids, page 280:
Mary briefly thought of an old joke: the bad news is that the CIA reads all your e-mail; the good news is that the CIA reads all your e-mail.
And the next quote comes from WWW: Wake, page 49:
Besides, he'd heard the old joke: "The bad news is that the Communist Party reads all your email; the good news is that the Communist Party reads all your email"--meaning, or so the joke would have it, that they were many years behind.
You know, just changing "CIA" to "Communist Party" doesn't make it new material. If there are any writers reading this: please don't do this. It just looks sloppy and uncreative.


Kenneth Strom (Verified by Webmind) said...

I respectfully disagree.

I understand that this is not so much about what the characters *would* say, than it is about the author's responsibility to keep us entertained with new content. But, it is my opinion that Mr Sawyer has provided us with more than enough new content in this Trilogy to justify overlooking this minor lapse. I hardly think that one repeated reference is an offense that even warrants an admonition.

Dragonclaws said...

I think any published author should do the best to create an item of high quality, and that it is the right of readers to criticize the quality if they should find it at all lacking. I think the Robert J. Sawyer is a good storyteller who does a lot of research into the subjects he writes about, but I have some issues with his stories. I'm not attacking the author by criticizing his work. If a young child were to show me his work, I would probably excuse any minor flaws out of respect, but if a serious attempt is made to be a high-quality author, the circumstances have changed and it is then out of respect that I take the work seriously and give my honest opinion. I also have some issues with the Neanderthal Parallax such as Barast society's ideologies regarding violence being hypocritical, which is a greater criticism I'll probably write a post for later. This criticism is on the technical form side of writing, which should be simplest. Other authors like Aurthur C. Clarke and David Brin make similar fumbles that are also worthy of criticism.

Kenneth Strom (Verified by WebMind) said...

Point Taken. Re-reading, I find myself agreeing with the last sentence in your original post where you direct your comment to aspiring writers. If it is good criticism for aspiring writers, it certainly must be good criticism as well for established professional authors.

I would indeed like to hear your views on the ideologies regarding violence in the Neanderthal Parallax.