I was quite pleased to receive a positive review of my forthcoming (Sept. 14) novel, Bridge Across the Ocean, from BookList, the reviewing service from Publishers Weekly. The reviewer thoughtfully included two “Great for fans of” similar titles.
The nonfiction book was New Yorker staff writer Evan Osmos’s Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (2014). Not exactly certain why this book was recommended, since it’s about China and the theme doesn’t reflect current events or policies in Taiwan, the country where my story takes place. Perhaps its relevance is in my descriptions of Chinese food.
The fiction title was A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (2013). Now, I’ve read several of Eggers’ novels, but not this one, so I scratched my head and keystroked my way into this book via the internet. The New York Times review described it as a “parable of America in the global economy. . ..” OK, so I chugged on to the book itself (and, full disclosure, the movie). Then I began seeing, not parable, but parallels.
- Eggers’ story is set in Saudi Arabia; mine in Taiwan, a country I’ve visited five times. It’s certainly possible Eggers has been to the Middle East.
- Both of our protagonists have business with bicycles. Alan Clay worked for Schwinn. My Jedediah Smith and his company, Smithworks, seeks to a business partnership with Joyful Bike in Taiwan.
- Both Clay and Jed (and Luke Lin, one of his partners, who is run down and killed while riding his bike) are into high technology. Clay is trying to install a hologram-based IT system in the King’s new city, while Jed and his partners are intent on installing the Spinner, an energy-producing drive, on Joyful’s just-emerging city bike. (As Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)
- Clay falls in love with Zahra, a local female doctor; Jed falls in love with Jung-Shan Lai, Joyful’s head of international business development.
- Both novels have more or less upbeat endings: Bridge Across the Ocean more so; A Hologram for the King, not quite as much.
- Bridge has more character-driven drama and business intrigue and suspense than Hologram, although both are a good read.
For me, Hologram was an interesting experience in my own book-building. Authors are always asked what other titles are “like” theirs. In comparing Bridge to Hologram, for every point on which they are similar or alike, they’re also quite different. Why? Because they come from different experiences, perceptions, writing intents, different minds. There’s no way they could be any more alike than they are. I could in no way have read Hologram and copied it. Ditto for Dave. You can’t plagiarize ideas.
What’s more, characters develop their own personalities, irrespective of the author’s perception of them or the way they behave in the book. For example, I didn’t know Jed had been injured by an IED in Afghanistan until I “learned,” while writing, that he had joined the Army after graduating MIT.
I enjoyed reading Dave’s A Hologram for the King. I can imagine him enjoying reading Bridge Across the Ocean. For you, the reader, needless to say, I heartily recommend both.