I decided to read Richard Levesque’s Take Back Tomorrow* because of its engaging blurb, even though science fiction is not a genre I typically enjoy. The implausible scenarios, such as time travel, alternate universes, and aliens, are particularly challenging for my doggedly analytical and realism-loving personality to accept. By choosing Take Back Tomorrow, I stepped out of my comfort zone with positive results. I appreciated the novel’s intriguing plot, interesting setting and characters, and clear, no-nonsense prose.
Levesque’s novel focuses on Eddie Royce, a science fiction writer in 1940 whose plagiarism of Shakespeare’s plots goes unnoticed until Chester Blackwood, an established science fiction writer, calls him out on it and divulges that plagiarizing Shakespeare is nothing compared to Blackwood’s source of (let’s just call it) “inspiration.” Blackwood’s revelation and subsequent disappearance force Royce and Blackwood’s daughter to, as the blurb says, “defy the laws of the universe.”
Eddie Royce is a likeable character, even if not the most original science fiction writer. Technically, Royce knows that borrowing ideas from Shakespeare, who himself borrowed ideas from other writers, is not illegal. This type of “plagiarism” is quite common (and Shakespeare’s works are too old to be under copyright anyway). In general, the law in the United States has never afforded copyright protection to ideas; “protection is given only to the expression of the idea — not the idea itself,” Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 217 (1954). The Courts have frowned upon the notion of copyrighting general character traits and plot lines. As Judge Learned Hand described:
If Twelfth Night were copyrighted, it is quite possible that a second comer might so closely imitate Sir Toby Belch or Malvolio as to infringe, but it would not be enough that for one of his characters he cast a riotous knight who kept wassail to the discomfort of the household, or a vain and foppish steward who became amorous of his mistress. These would be no more than Shakespeare’s “ideas” in the play, as little capable of monopoly as Einstein’s Doctrine of Relativity, or Darwin’s theory of the Origin of Species.
Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119, 121 (2d Cir.1930); accord Gaiman v. McFarlane, 360 F.3d 644, 660 (7th Cir. 2004) (“As long as the character is distinctive, other authors can use the stock character out of which it may have been built without fear (well, without too much fear) of being accused as infringers.”).
Whatever the law (and the history of “inspiration”), Royce feels like a fraud: a writer, not a creator. I’m sure most of us, if not all of us, have wondered at least once in our lives when people are going to “figure out” that we are just pretending to be competent at whatever it is that people think we do best. While the protagonist’s flaws made him feel very human to me, I can’t say the same is true of the primary villain. I could not understand his motivations. For example, I wondered why such a ruthless man, one who resorts to threats of violence, would negotiate so much with the protagonist rather than take what he wants by force?
Overall, though, the novel was a fast, fun read with interesting characters and an engaging plot. It would be a nice selection for others who are not typically inclined to read science fiction. I doubt I will read much else in this genre, but, at a minimum, I am looking forward to reading Levesque’s other work.
*Purchased from amazon.com