Feels like deja vu all over again. My readers have been emailing me that the plot of the new movie “Life” sounds awfully similar to my novel “Gravity.” While I haven’t seen the film yet, here’s the IMDB description of “Life”:
A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form (single-celled organisms), that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
– Written by Sony Pictures
And here’s a description of my 1999 novel GRAVITY:
A mission aboard the International Space Station turns into a nightmare beyond imagining when a culture of single-celled organisms begins to evolve and infects the space station crew with agonizing and deadly results. The contagion now threatens Earth’s population, and the astronauts are stranded in orbit, quarantined aboard the station — where they are dying one by one…
The major difference seems to be the source of the single-celled organisms. In both stories, the cells are extraterrestrial. In “Life,” they’re harvested from Mars where they have been dormant because of a lack of oxygen. In “Gravity,” they’re harvested from an asteroid that landed at the bottom of the ocean, where they have been dormant because of the pressure of deep water. But in both cases, the organisms are brought aboard ISS, where they become multicellular and begin to evolve into something dangerous that kills the astronauts in gruesome ways and threatens all of earth’s population. (In my book, the alien cells infect a mouse, integrate mammalian DNA into their genome, and rapidly evolve.)
In my novel GRAVITY, the ISS crew of six is made up of two women and four men. They include a Russian, a Japanese man, an Englishwoman, and a Black astronaut.
In “Life,” the ISS crew of six is made up of two women and four men. They include a Russian, a Japanese man, an Englishwoman, and a Black astronaut.
It’s mathematically improbable that the near-identical national make-up of these two crews is merely coincidental. Really, Hollywood? You didn’t bother to change one of my characters into someone different, say an astronaut who’s Indian or Chinese or Hispanic or French? With so many nationalities of astronauts to choose from, you just happened to go with the exact ethnic and national mix of my fictional crew?
Does this feel like a giant rip-off of my novel? Yes.
Am I going to do something about it? No.
The film rights to my novel “Gravity” are still held by New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., so they are the only ones who can sue for copyright infringement. After my breach-of-contract lawsuit about “Gravity” the movie, I know that no lone writer can win a lawsuit against a Hollywood studio. Fifty writers over twenty years have tried to sue– and failed in the Ninth Circuit. (Although there’s one plucky screenwriter who’s trying to find justice, and I hope you all give him your support as his lawsuit progresses.) There’s nothing I can do about this, even though it certainly feels like my novel was the inspiration for two films, now. The movie “Life” has the same plot as the first 3/4 of my book, with an alien organism evolving into something deadly aboard ISS, resulting in the gruesome deaths of astronauts. The plot of the movie “Gravity” comes from the last 1/4 of my book, after all but one astronaut is dead and that lone surviving woman, now stranded on ISS, fights to survive. My book had a lot of plot — enough to be scavenged for two films.
A pity no one thought to give my novel at least a little credit.
It’s more than a little grating to hear the filmmakers tout their story as the first to be about real science aboard ISS, the first to look at true microbiological horrors that could threaten earth itself.
My novel was published in 1999. They’re eighteen years too late.