It’s ALL Been Done Before

By Gabriel Connor Salter

Science fiction movies are dead. At least that’s what Ridly Scott said in 2007.

At the time Scott – who has directed four sci-fi films, including the classics Alien and Blade Runner – was giving a speech at the Venice Film Festival, and he argued that when the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968, it topped what you could do in science fiction films. Every science fiction movie since then has either imitated or referred to 2001, but none of them have ever beaten it.

“There’s nothing original,” Scott said of the current sci-fi films. “We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it.”

In a sense, Scott was exactly right. I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey and read the book version which was developed at the same time, and it is pretty near impossible to top. It’s a story that starts in the unrecorded past when apes started to become human, shows us humanity’s pinnacle, and then shows us what humanity may become in the future. It’s literally about humanity’s creation and about humanity’s place in the universe. If you want big ideas in a story, 2001: A Space Odyssey found the biggest ones possible and played them in ways which no one can beat.

At the same time though, that doesn’t mean science fiction films are really dead. Because the dirtiest little secret about writing is as follows: writing good stories is not really about the ideas.

It’s important to have a good idea for a story, and you should absolutely be excited about your idea if you’re going to write about. But if writing was about finding the one great idea no one has done before, then writing has no point – because everything has been done before. Usually in a way so good you can’t top the sheer concept. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke wrote the ultimate evil artificial intelligence story in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Robert Heinlein did the ultimate time travel paradox story when he wrote the 1958 short story “All You Zombies.” No high fantasy writer in the last fifty years has managed to top J.R.R. Tolkien’s level of detail in Lord of the Rings.

What writing really is about is saying, “Alright, I have this idea. How do I make it my own?”

Good writers take their ideas and they use their own experiences and perspectives to put new spins on them. No one has managed to be Tolkien and write Lord of the Rings again, but one writer put his signature voice into a high fantasy story and wrote Lord Foul’s Bane. Some years later, another writer gave his own take and wrote The Belgariad. In the same decade, another writer decided to parody all the wannabe Tolkien movement and started the massively successful Discworld series.

As filmmaker and author Drew Daywalt commented in a Writer’s Digest interview, “While every story has been written, there is only one you. We are unique snowflakes. Be yourself. Tell the story about the teddy bear who can talk, but give it your voice. Don’t try to make it Corduroy or Winne-the-Pooh. Make it your teddy bear. That’s what you can give the world – give the world your voice.”


Not Stated. “Ridley Scott: ‘After 2001 -A Space Odyssey, Science Fiction is Dead.’” The Daily Galaxy, 10 July 2009. Web. Accessed May 2, 2016.

Moss, Tyler. “The WD Interview: Drew Daywalt.” Writer’s Digest, February 2016: 44-47. Print.

Heinlein, Robert. The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag. First published by Gnome Press in 1959. eBook.

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