Help Please! What if someone beat me to it?

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Bloo

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I've not had a good few weeks. This one got a bit worse while listening to an audiobook yesterday.

It was 80s first-contact science fiction. The story and tech are a bit dated, but excusable given advances in technology. There's no excuse for how dated the characters are (most especially the female ones).

However, pulpy characters or plot didn't ruin my Thursday. A single line of narration did. It matches almost word-for-word a sentence in my novel!

I'm really bummed about this. I thought I created a bit of witty prose. What I actually did was plagiarize it. To hear my words read back to me was a sucker punch.

My question...do you think I should rewrite the passage in question? Here it is...

*****

“Okay, our dish is moving into position. Let’s see what’s out there.” Darryl switched on the radio, tuned to 1420.405752 megahertz, and found…nothing. There was no signal at all, only the hiss and soft static of the universe laughing at him.

*****

Do you think a reader would recognize the last sentence from another work? Does anyone here know which one?
 
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I don't recognise the line but I don't read the genre. I would recommend changing it because readers subconsciously recognise lines they've seen before, and IMHO, you want to offer them something fresh.

How could you twist it? Maybe the universe is crying? Or something else?
 
Thanks a lot, RK...but "crying" doesn't fit the snark I'm trying to do. Here's what happens a few paras down...

*****

A moment later, the radio loudspeaker fell into silence. An unmodulated signal rose from the noise, centered just above the hydrogen line. It got stronger as the dish continued to pivot toward it.

The signal plateaued then weakened as the dish swept past. Darryl commanded the dish to stop and reverse direction. However, a forty-three meter parabolic doesn’t turn on a dime. During the interval, he entered Becky’s range of 0.044 parsecs and hovered the cursor over “track on position”. When the signal peaked, he clicked.

The dish slowed somewhat. Amplitude fell again, just not as quickly as before.

Darryl committed a value of 0.046. The signal wavered briefly then dropped out. The universe was laughing again.

Bite me.

The astrophysicist manually stopped the dish and waited. The signal returned. When the amplitude peaked again, he locked in a range of 0.042 parsecs. The dish resumed movement.

This time the signal did not falter.

Darryl spoke softly, “Forty-two is the answer. I got you.”

*****

See how it connects? I know it's only a couple of lines, but I'm really tired of killing darlings. Any idea how to rewrite this without losing the snark?
 
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I've not had a good few weeks. This one got a bit worse while listening to an audiobook yesterday.

It was 80s first-contact science fiction. The story and tech are a bit dated, but excusable given advances in technology. There's no excuse for how dated the characters are (most especially the female ones).

However, pulpy characters or plot didn't ruin my Thursday. A single line of narration did. It matches almost word-for-word a sentence in my novel!

I'm really bummed about this. I thought I created a bit of witty prose. What I actually did was plagiarize it. To hear my words read back to me was a sucker punch.

My question...do you think I should rewrite the passage in question? Here it is...

*****

“Okay, our dish is moving into position. Let’s see what’s out there.” Darryl switched on the radio, tuned to 1420.405752 megahertz, and found…nothing. There was no signal at all, only the hiss and soft static of the universe laughing at him.

*****

Do you think a reader would recognize the last sentence from another work? Does anyone here know which one?
What was the line in the other work?

I definitely would alter something too close to plagiarism.
 
What was the line in the other work?

I definitely would alter something too close to plagiarism.
Here's the original quote from the audiobook. I'm guessing at punctuation and paragraph breaks based on the cadence of the voice actor...

*****

The big electronics consoles hummed softly to themselves. The tracing pens were strangely still, inking out dead straight lines on the graph paper that unrolled slowly beneath them.

Thompson dashed around the cluster of desks in the center of the room, found a headset, and plugged it into the proper console. He clamped one earphone to the side of his head. Nothing. Only the background hiss of the universe, laughing at him.

The radio pulses were gone.

*****
 
Here's the original quote from the audiobook. I'm guessing at punctuation and paragraph breaks based on the cadence of the voice actor...

*****

The big electronics consoles hummed softly to themselves. The tracing pens were strangely still, inking out dead straight lines on the graph paper that unrolled slowly beneath them.

Thompson dashed around the cluster of desks in the center of the room, found a headset, and plugged it into the proper console. He clamped one earphone to the side of his head. Nothing. Only the background hiss of the universe, laughing at him.

The radio pulses were gone.

*****
Ooh. Definitely change it.
Perhaps "only the mocking hiss of the outside ether." (or whatever the air outside your ship is).
 
This may be an unhelpful thing to say, so please ignore me if it is, but the metaphor seems a little odd. There's an astrophysicist trying to make contact with alien life and a metaphor that anthropomorphizes the universe. I wonder if at this point a metaphor that riffed on emptiness and lack of life would be more powerful (and snarky – what's more snarky than being made to feel alone and irrelevant?).
 
I agree with Rich.

The universe can't actually laugh. To me this is one of those moment when you're better off to kill a darling.

I know this isn't the writing groups where we critique, but to me the sentence is overwritten and 'authorly'. Instead, let us feel how the person feels when s/he hears nothing but static in space which is (as far as we know) endless.
 
Oh...bring on the critique. I don't mind.

It's such a downer to find out I'm not nearly as creative as I thought. I wish I hadn't picked up that title. I'd not even heard of the author, but the audiobook came with my subscription, so I clicked.

I'm writing first contact, so I wanted to see how others did it. So much for that idea.

About anthropomorphizing...I do even more of it in other chapters. I employ a strong Omni narrator throughout the story. Darryl (the AP the universe laughs at) has had a year filled with loss. The hide-and-seek radio signal is just another insult in a string of cosmic insults. Life has made him bitter.

His Australian colleague has also had it rough. Yet she handles it in a completely different way. When her hubby cheated on her, she took their bed mattress outside and set it on fire. After the divorce, she hit the dating scene. She doesn't fight adversity, but rolls with the punches.

Anyhoo...I'm trying to show how these two people react differently. Darryl hears the universe laughing at him. Bakana would hear "have a go."
 
Hmm. I guess I just thought that astrophysicists are generally rational types, at least when it comes to their work, and the story is first contact – hard sci-fi, I'm guessing. So, why is the omni narrator anthropomorphizing the universe? Does the narrator know something the physicists don't? Is the universe not a rational place after all?
 
I don't know many (any) astrophysicists, but as far as engineers go, we crack terrible jokes and are sometimes irrational with our emotions like anyone else. I didn't mind the metaphor, but it could be worded differently. "To Darryl, the static could have been the universe taunting him--daring him." (this is only from the excerpt I've just read above. Not sure if it fits)
 
Yes, in terms of jokes, it works a treat – at least it would if it were a colleague making the joke. I just wondered why the narrator was being snarky, that's all. It's not a criticism. I haven't read enough of the story to offer much of that! :)
 
Yea, I don't know much about Darryl, but at the end of the excerpt he talks back to the universe. I definitely spend an unhealthy amount of time speaking to inanimate objects. I guess if this is something Darryl does regularly, it would make sense for him to personify the universe, as well.
 
Darryl certainly knows his comedy sci-fi...
Forty-two is the answer.
So I guess if he's channelling The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, he's familiar with snark and irony! But because of this comment...
About anthropomorphizing...I do even more of it in other chapters. I employ a strong Omni narrator throughout the story.
I thought it was the omniscient narrator who was the snarky one, not the character Darryl.

Sorry, @M. Dupré! I'm probably tying my brain in knots over nothing. I'll shut up now :)
 
Sorry for the confusion, guys. Both Darryl and the Omni narrator have snark. Darryl coz he's bitter; Omni coz it's me.

I sprinkle sci-fi Easter eggs throughout my prose. I hope readers appreciate them more than my comp science professor did. He found an Easter egg in my C code, and told me I'd lose points next time I did it.
 
I hope readers appreciate them more than my comp science professor did. He found an Easter egg in my C code, and told me I'd lose points next time I did it.
Oh my goodness.... I'm judging your professor severely right now. My comp sci professor had us run tests on our coding assignments that would print a full screen unicorn made out of symbols when our code passed everything... and the dreaded Fail Whale when it didn't. Loved that guy. Any code he wrote and demoed in class was full of references to D&D or quokkas, because why not?
 
Sorry for the confusion, guys. Both Darryl and the Omni narrator have snark. Darryl coz he's bitter; Omni coz it's me.

I sprinkle sci-fi Easter eggs throughout my prose. I hope readers appreciate them more than my comp science professor did. He found an Easter egg in my C code, and told me I'd lose points next time I did it.
Easter egg in a C code? Now, this conversation has lost me. Way over my totally non-computer-science head.
 
Oh my goodness.... I'm judging your professor severely right now. My comp sci professor had us run tests on our coding assignments that would print a full screen unicorn made out of symbols when our code passed everything... and the dreaded Fail Whale when it didn't. Loved that guy. Any code he wrote and demoed in class was full of references to D&D or quokkas, because why not?
I know what M&Ms are, but D&Ds and quokkas? I think if I walked into a computer science class, I would fail at hello.
 
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