The Trouble with Cool

By | June 18, 2009 | 5 Comments

I’ve never been cool. Going back to my glorious childhood in Jersey City, New Jersey – the city whose current mayor is famous (around here, anyway) for being photographed naked and drunk on his front porch while he was running for mayor, and he won the election) – I’ve never once been cool in my whole life. To be frank it never bothered me much. Despite what Hollywood seems to think my childhood was not a warzone of cool kids calling me names and beating me up; I had a great time despite being a nerd. And here I am, a productive, well-adjusted citizen, contributing quality fictions to a hungry world.

Still: Not cool. Let’s never forget that. Even if you walk into a bar and I am there looking cool, wearing a nice suit of clothes and with a group of people laughing with me and not at me, don’t believe it for a second. I am not cool.

This is unfortunate, because all of the cool ideas in SF/F have been done, it seems. Well, the easy cool ideas. Because I am also lazy as hell, friends. I’d love to write a time travel book, or a zombie book (I did have some zombie-like things in The Digital Plague, but I’m talking about a full-on Night of the Living Dead thing). Of course, I could write these, but the problem is that these stories have become so prevalent that figuring out a way to do them compellingly is almost impossible. That’s the problem with Cool Ideas: Everyone wants to get in on it.

For example, I recently saw a little independent horror movie called Pontypool. It’s not a bad flick, saved mainly by interesting and well-drawn characters. It’s basically a zombie-virus movie, with the slight twist that the “virus” is transmitted via words – when you hear and understand an ‘infected’ word, you start to fixate on that word, repeating it over and over until you can’t say – or think – anything else. Then you start to “hunt” words, trying to literally tear them out of someone else’s mouth, with predictable results.

So, the premise is actually kind of interesting, if scientifically absurd. Actually, if you eliminated the zombie part and just speculated about a disorder that causes people to fixate on words like that, the resulting societal breakdown might be fascinating, the way people would figure out how to communicate despite being forced to repeat “Honey” over and over again, that sort of thing. But in the movie, once you move past the initial infection stage, you just turn into a voice-hunting zombie, with the usual motifs of a) people trapped and hiding from mindless zombies, b) people attempting to fight off mindless zombies etc. It’s been done. A nifty little twist to the vector ain’t gonna make that story more interesting.

So, I can write zombie stories for my own amusement, sure, and if I write it well enough with some good twists and new ideas, I might even sell it and be successful with it. but it won’t be anything new. And knowing that going in kind of deflates me. I know my writing is not always new and fresh, but that’s my intention going in. I need that hope of newness at least to get me going. So until I come up with that twist to the time-travel or zombie idea that I’ve been waiting for, it’s a dead letter, sadly.

It can be done. A fellow writer recently outlined a time-travel concept that was absolutely dripping with originality, and made me very jealous to not have thought of it myself. This happens pretty frequently; I am starting to hate all other writers, everywhere. One of these days I’m going to wake up before noon, put on some pants, and start stealing some ideas, dammit.

5 Comments

  • Time-traveling zombies, dude. That’s where the money is.

  • Dan Krokos says:

    Stuff like this makes me sad, because it’s true. There’s only so many ways to tell the same story, and eventually putting a “twist” on something becomes trite by itself.

    So who is going to think of more ideas we can warp and twist for the next thirty years?

    On the zombie note, Scott Sigler’s “Infected” and “Contagious” are just plain cool.

    And you don’t need pants to steal ideas. Whoever told you that is wrong.

  • jsomers says:

    Deadly,

    But now you’ve put this idea on a public page where I cannot steal it without inviting mockery. Well played.

  • jsomers says:

    Dan,

    Just about any advice that urges pants on us is wrong, I know that. Pants were invented by The Pope in 899 to oppress the people.

    The thing about overused ideas is that a fresh take on them can always revive them. Sometimes that’s an interesting twist, sometimes it’s just letting enough time go by. The Western used to be approximately 75% of all entertainment in the USA, then it got a little stale. 20 years went by, and the Western became something you could do with a fresh perspective. It’s all about timing, really.

    J

  • Simon says:

    Whats funny is that yesterday morning I read this, and then, last night I awoke in the small hours, realised I wasn’t going to be allowed to drift back to sleep and so, stuck in the ear piece and turned on the radio only to find myself listening to this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/2009/03/000000_world_drama.shtml a radio play version of the aforementioned Pontypool. Strangely synchronous no?

    It was quite enjoyable and you can listen to it on line via the BBC site for the next 2 weeks :)

    S

loading