On several occasions I have wondered how unique or generic my literary ideas are, and today it is time for it again. A couple of weeks ago I finished reading a book which sported several scenes resembling those descript in a story of mine (all in the same chapter, actually). To make this absolutely clear right from the start: I do not believe that the author has read my story and taken notes. And even if, it would not be plagiarism in any way, nor would I be pissed off – quite to the contrary. I would be intrigued by the rather absurd idea that somebody drew inspiration from my writing. However, since this is in all likeliness not the case, I am left in awe of the uncanny resemblance of scenes written separately by two different authors.
The book in question is “The Machine” by E.C. Jarvis (not to be confused with E.L. James), copyright 2015 (1). Following I shall compare a number of passages from it to lines from chapter 6 of House of Cthulhu, first posted on 26th October 2014, at WordPress.com(2).
(Page numbers are referring to the paperback version of the second edition, 22th January 2016, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, ISBN 978-1523642007 (3).)
In the book, Jarvis has one of her characters search his way through a strange monastery of some sort:
“The pictures of the Spirit of Beasts in the glass windows above turned ever darker in theme as he walked along – images of animals ripping apart human bones and feasting on young babes as they were wrenched from their mothers’ arms. The glass coloring turned red, casting eerie light down the corridor.” (page 182)
In HoC, Andrus follows Sibyl into an old bath house and down a creepy spiral staircase:
“As they descended, he observed the continuing wall picture with growing unease. Had it shown fishes and mermaids, ocean turtles and shells at first, its motifs became more and more twisted. He hadn’t given thought when he had seen a particularly ugly fish, not unlike a placoderm, amidst the arabesque coral décor. Then strange serpents replaced the common sea dwellers, their winding bodies reaching out to the ceiling. Around them the once bright-blue tiles symbolising water took ever darker shades as misshapen squids wielded their far too many tentacles in the eldritch light. They made way for creatures Andrus could not assign to any real phyla, which in turn were followed by forms he couldn’t even surely describe as creatures at all. They were but bizarre entities, grotesque leviathans from beyond the natural realm.”
Within the monastery Larissa, the book’s heroine, and her small fellowship encounter one of the friars:
“‘I was following you,’ Narry said.
‘Really? So how’d you end up in front?’ Goodson asked. The others all stared at him. He’d barely spoken two words this whole time, and it seemed an odd moment for him to find his voice.
‘It is quite a skill to master, one of many I possess.’
‘Magic?’ Goodson said, his voice almost a squeak.
‘That’s not how we refer to it, young man. They’re called skills and illusions.’” (page 192)
This is a weaker one, and I wouldn’t have brought it up if this analogousness had been the only one. Prior to this scene Sibyl has asked Andrus to throw a coin down a wishing well. Upon entering the town’s underworld via aforementioned staircase, they find themselves confronted with the well’s bottom.
“‘The well is at least half a kilometre away. How can we be standing underneath it?’
‘Ever heard of non-Euclidean geometry? Angles that have characteristics of both acute and obtuse ones? Straight lines between two points that are longer than curved connections, concepts like that?’”
To see through certain illusions, Larissa’s crew performs a makeshift vapour deposition on a number of goggle lenses:
“Rounding the corner, she found Cid and Goodson huddled together over a small fire which burned with an unnaturally red flame.” (page 200)
Before entering the creepy staircase, Sibyl makes some preparations as well:
“‘Found it!’ she declared as she surfaced again. What Sibyl had found was an old lamp, and when she shook it, the splashing of petroleum could be heard. She struck a match on the stone bench and brought it to the wick. It took some time and another match, but then a strangely cold light came to life that made Andrus wonder what was actually being burnt in there.”
Larissa makes her way to the villain’s lair, which is cloaked by the illusion of an estate.
“On either side of the balcony stood two large, orb-like stones, different in color and texture than the structure above. Without the goggles they looked like two sculptures, but with the goggles she could see some form of aura emanating from them, projecting towards the building, she bent down beside one orb and reached out, tempted to touch it. Something made her snap her hand away as she thought better of it.” (page 207)
Deep beneath the city Sibyl and Andrus reach a formation of sinister standing stones, and the male protagonists also finds himself in a “to touch or not to touch” pondering:
“Andrus turned his attention towards the central stone. Not only was it larger than its acolytes, it was also significantly darker in colour. The mineral it was made of was alien and utterly indeterminable.
Maybe that was obsidian?
He reached out to run his fingers across the ornamented surface and pulled his hand away with a squeal. The stone was cold to a degree that Andrus first thought to have burnt his hand.”
Sure, I am biased, but for me the similarities are striking. What makes it even odder is that all of my paragraphs listed above are from one single chapter. At this point I would like to use the opportunity to get in a few words about Jarvis’ book itself. “The Machine” is amateur writing, in its most positive meaning. One can see that the author was interested in putting her ideas to paper, not in making money. With the book in essence being a steampunk bodice ripper, the reader is presented with an array of generic characters (damsel-in-distress turned adventuress, tall dark stranger, mad scientist, grumpy mechanic), but also with surprisingly harsh stuff I haven’t expected in this kind of novel. Style and word choice are remarkably good, and more than just a few fresh ideas pop up in the course of the narration. There are also two or three twists and behaviours I call bullshit on – I don’t want to spoil, so see for yourself.
Although being the first part of a series (“Blood and Destiny”), the book does work on its own as a smooth and entertaining read.