May 1, 2014

“Wait, ‘Gravity’ grossed HOW MUCH? Yeah… I definitely wrote that one.”


Sandra Bullock and  George Clooney in the award-winning 'Gravity', probably.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in the award-winning ‘Gravity’, probably.

The author of a novel titled Gravity has decided that her book was, in fact, the inspiration for the film and she’d like credit for that. Yes, credit in the film, but also, you know, credit at the bank.

As The Guardian‘s Ben Child reports, novelist Tess Gerritsen had previously denied any connection between her 1999 novel and last year’s film of the same name.

“Gerritsen previously distanced her novel from [Alfonso] Cuarón‘s film, and some plot details do appear to differ,” Child writes. Gerritsen’s heroes, for instance, must deal with a deadly microorganism in their isolated space station. Another difference: Gerritsen’s novel hasn’t yet grossed the $716 million that Cuarón’s movie has brought in worldwide.

Gerritsen is suing for $10 million plus damages, 2.5% of net, and a credit in all copies of the film. Setting aside previous claims about the connection of the book and the film her suit doesn’t seem entirely groundless. According to Deadline, Warner had previously optioned her novel but asked her for revisions, revisions which were strikingly similar to the plot of the award-winning film.

Gerritsen’s attorneys may not want to lean too heavily on the similarities in plot, however. How many potential plot points could there be for near-future orbital stories? There’s basically debris, fire, heat shields, science banter, and that thing where you can’t hold on and a person flies away I won’t let you go you have to oh god and then the fingers slip or something. Oh and not enough air. Gerritsen’s recombination of those details predates the film Gravity? Because so does 1986’s Space Camp, widely hailed as the third best piece of cinema ever made after Andrei Rublev and Short Circuit 2. I’m not saying that Gerritsen or Cuaron ripped off Space Camp, just the opposite, I’m just saying that the Vanilla Near Earth Orbit Thriller is so limited that it’s essentially impervious to the claim. Cliches aren’t theft. In the hands of an expert Science Fiction author, on the other hand, the imaginative flourishes would have been unmistakable. I’d like to see a director try to claim he’d coincidentally written some of the same plots as Cordwainer Smith, for instance, or Paul Varley, or Walter Jon Williams.

There are two lessons here: first don’t rip off novelists, but if you do at least change the damned title, you goof; second, novelists, the road to riches is paved with a limited plot palette. Stick to stories in the jungle or space, or on a boat. They’ll be predictable, but, once your lawyer steps in, so will your income.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.