A dear friend asked if the character who ‘disliked cutting up frogs at school’ was a reference to a reference to the biology lesson scene in ET. That led to a long think about influences.
At one level, the answer is no. I did not consciously use that phrase thinking of ET. Molly is a nurse, not at all squeamish about the bloodier side of nursing. Although, she likes her meat and fish not to remind her they came from living beings. For her, inflicting suffering is different. Molly subconsciously links the danger to her alien son Cory to cutting up frogs, in part because he reminds her a bit of one. (Long limbed, hairless, loves the water…)
But there is a link. With a deft touch, ET presents dissecting the frogs as cruel, and Cory is sometimes very confrontational about human cruelty in all its forms. Cory is often seen as other, and as fair game, a means to an end. I think the link was Cory’s appearance, not ET, but the subconscious is not straightforward. It’s my view that ET confronts human frailty cruelty and power less than Our Child of the Stars does, but my friend’s question shows a counter-example.
Some references in Our Child of the Stars are deliberate, even knowing (‘Easter Eggs’).. Some I made and only later recognized the origins. The Meteor for example I knew was a lift from Superman/ Smallville, although there are also major differences. And much of it swam into my head ready formed.
One of the most amusing things is the long list of influences, which are books and films I haven’t seen, or saw after the book was written. After all, a helpless child turns out to have strange powers goes back to Hercules, if not before.
There is an increasing tendency to reduce a book to the author’s biography. People do borrow from their lives and interests – there is a tapestry of these in my book – but often emotional truth rather than hard facts. And an author subjects it to the comic book transforming radiation of the imagination.
The British Fantasy Society just reviewed Our Child of the Stars warmly. I wrote it in part as a love letter to science fiction, but also to fiction in general. I really want to bring in a broad audience, and certainly the audience has been broad, if not vast.
I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I would manage to alienate both SF readers and general readers. But I had considered less the SF v fantasy argument. The marvellous pair Sue Tingey and Juliet McKenna who blurbed my books, and in Juliet’s case reviewed it for SF magazine Interzone, are fantasy writers.
Many people like both, and most people accept the boundaries are a matter of opinion. Attempts to produce rigorous definitions flounder, in part because some things like time travel machines and faster than light travel are not currently believed possible but look ‘sciencey’ enough to pass.
Ray Bradbury’s books are full of things which include star ships, Mars colonies, and time travel. Yet he claimed that all his work was fantasy except Fahrenheit 451. I’m amused to see genre powerhouse Forbidden Planet list Our Child of the Stars as fantasy, and I can see their point.
I think some of our choices are based on the aesthetic. Bradbury’s dreamy prose, and limited interest in the nuts and bolts, makes his work more like a fantasy.
Stories exist. Genres are helpful, by hinting what the ground rules are, and where to shelve it in the bookshop. Science fiction in particular is vast spanning books which are SF but also allegories, Westerns, Gothic horrors, war stories, satire and social commentary, detective stories, heist movies, dystopias and utopias, coming of age stories… and family dramas.