Watchmen & the future of Highway Virus

March 8, 2009

There is a fourth Highway Virus story. Its composition is ongoing – but I hit a stumbling block. About halfway through it, as I was trying to turn my rambling notes into a coherent narrative, I realized it had many of the same themes as Season Four of Battlestar Galactica – mainly androids struggling with their identity.

My notes predated the time I watched  that season. Maybe there is something to this notion of Morphic resonance, and I plucked my thoughts from the Noosphere. Should I really worry about the connections to my own story if it is part of our collective consciousness? Regardless, the similarities were enough to prompt a retreat, a reorganization, a rethinking, on the fourth Highway Virus story. I want to be at least a little interesting, if not somewhat original, in my writing. The BSG writers have a TV show watched by many people – I don’t – so they get dibs on androids. No matter who was “first,” it would look like I was following behind, picking up thematic scraps in their wake.

Of course the creators and writers of BSG regularly channel Philip K. Dick (but hey, who doesn’t?). They cannot be considered wholly “original” in their work either. But is this debate even useful anymore? Is it possible to be original when there’s always someone who comes before you? Perhaps this whole concern with who owns an idea is a remnant of the cultural revolution in the U.S. – one which ended (hopefully) with the election of Obama.

This topic is appropriate on the weekend that Watchmen opens. The original book, the basis for the movie, is a historic, vastly influential work – and rightly so – but it sure has a lot in common with The Outer Limits episode “The Architects of Fear,” which itself is similar to Theodore Sturgeon’s earlier story “Unite and Conquer” (of course everything goes back to Sturgeon). The Watchmen book even acknowledges this connection near the end, with the episode playing on the TV in the background.

Alan Moore says he had not seen the episode when he conceived the book, a claim I have no reason to dispute. The dude is brilliant – so he gets plenty of slack. Maybe he was floating in the Noosphere too. Fortunately the awareness of the similarity with The Outer Limits did not stop him from writing Watchmen. (Unfortunately it did not stop Zack Snyder from making a movie out of Watchmen.) Of course, as Studio 360 rightly points out, the Watchmen book has been so influential, we have been reading and watching the fruits of that work for years now – just as the influence of Philip K. Dick and Theodore Sturgeon still reverberates long after people are aware of it.

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