Author Self-Referencing in Fiction?
April 22, 2014 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Can you think of examples of a work of fiction directly referencing its author's prior but unrelated work of fiction, when these works do not take place in the same fictional universe or contain any characters in common?

I was recently reading a novel called Love, Dad by the author Evan Hunter, who also wrote the novel The Blackboard Jungle. In Love, Dad, one of the characters is described as reading...The Blackboard Jungle (the actual book, not a different book by the same name). To the best of my knowledge, these works are set in completely different fictional worlds, with no characters in common (i.e., this is not like one Nancy Drew book describing a past caper Nancy's been on, a novel in which the real-person author includes himself/herself as a character in the same universe, or a work of nonfiction that describes a real person reading a fictional book by the author).

The Blackboard Jungle was sort of a zeitgeisty work, and Love, Dad is set in the '60s, so it makes logical sense that a character in the latter would read the former, but I still found it a bit strange and don't recall seeing this before. (I do have a vague memory of hearing that Kubrick would include movie posters from his earlier films in his later ones, which would qualify, unless that was intended to suggest all his work took place in one coherent fictional world.)

Can anyone think of any other example of whatever this is, or anything close? (I'm placing this in Writing & Language, but happy to hear examples from other mediums too.)
posted by sallybrown to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One of Heinlein's later books (I think it was "Number of the Beast") has one character make disparaging comments about "Stranger in a Strange Land". The book isn't explicitly named but in context it's clear which book is being referred to.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:22 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For reasons unknown, I once checked out How Stella Got Her Groove Back from my local library. Although there were other semi-ridiculous moments during the first half of the novel, my personal breaking point occurred when the main character, Stella, is on vacation and reads Waiting to Exhale, another book by Terry McMillan. During the passage, Stella has a running dialogue with herself about how much she enjoys McMillan as an author.

(In other news: the copy of the book I borrowed was hard cover, and I incurred a truly unfortunate $13.00 in late fees when I finally remembered to returned it.)
posted by WaspEnterprises at 9:26 PM on April 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but pretty close.

In Gary Shteyngart's novel Absurdistan, one of the characters references the author "Jerry Shteynfarb," who has written a novel called The Russian Arriviste's Hand Job. This is clearly a play on Shteyngart's own novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook.
posted by number9dream at 9:34 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Pretty sure Willo Davis Roberts had her character Katie in The Girl with the Silver Eyes reading Roberts's previous, unrelated book The View from the Cherry Tree, among other books.
posted by asperity at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the first examples (I think) is in Don Quixote. People are concerned about the old man's books about knights being a bad influence on him, so they are going through his library and choosing which books to throw in the garbage. Then they find Cervantes's previous book and decide it's mediocre but worth keeping.
posted by johngoren at 9:40 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I can't recall the details, but Isaac Asimov had a book late in his Robots-Empire-Foundation books called Forward the Foundation (1993), in which the central character of the Foundation novels, Hari Seldon, relates his hope for the future of the new empire may rest on locating and developing the talents of human telepathy. (Forward is a prequel; we know from previously-written Foundation novels that this did come to pass.)

Seldon refers in this to a book he read that was 20,000 years old (i.e. before mankind left Earth). The book was a story about a girl who communicates with a telepathic planet that orbits a star called Nemesis. This refers to the plot of Asimov's book Nemesis (1989).

Wikipedia reports that Asimov explicitly claimed that the books are not same-universe, but reserved the right to change his mind on that.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:00 PM on April 22, 2014

Stephen King had a couple of characters talk about a Stephen King-type situation in Thinner (originally published under King's Richard Bachman pseudonym).
posted by infinitewindow at 10:01 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

David Brin's excellent SF novel Existence, which ranges from near-future to the near side of a post-humanity future, includes a subplot that was previously published in short-story form as Aficionado (link goes to text). In the original story, the protagonist discovers the defunded "Uplift Institute," which he eventually resurrects. This originally amounted to a genesis for the "Uplift Universe," which comprises six novels by Brin, beginning with Sundiver, stories of upstart humanity trying to earn its stripes in a universe that's populated and largely civilized by a multitude of aliens.

In Existence, however, the story turns out differently; the Uplift Institute is still there, as are the many aliens... but gone are the faster-than-light drives of the Uplift Universe, and the book presents a wholly different idea of what alien contact means.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:11 PM on April 22, 2014

Also, Donald Westlake wrote a Dortmunder novel, Jimmy the Kid, where the criminals base their plot on a fictitious Parker novel, Child Heist, by Westlake's pseudonym Richard Stark.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:11 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Richard Adams has some characters allude disparagingly to Watership Down-eqsue fiction in his later novel The Plague Dogs.
posted by phoenixy at 10:14 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The computers and game consoles in The Sims come with other EA games on them and there's an easter egg that allows them to get computers with The Sims on them. A lot of games have this kind of thing, often as an easter egg; the only one I can think of off the top of my head is the original Animal Crossing, which had previous Nintendo games available to play in-game. It makes sense to do with video games, since most developers have a lot of old games from older equipment that often aren't selling, and so they might as well include them in other games as a bonus. (This is done less and less as people are doing micropayments and buying old games for mobile devices, though.)

The TVTrope Console Cameo has some more examples of something similar, which is game consoles appearing inside of games, which isn't exactly what you're looking for but is kind of related.
posted by NoraReed at 10:18 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General", from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance, contains the lines:

Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.
posted by baf at 11:19 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In the board game Agricola, some of the wooden and clay hut tiles have little pictures of tables on them with the designer's earlier game Bohnanza laid out. The tables on the more advanced stone hut tiles have a game of Agricola itself.

Later the same designer made another game called Le Havre, that takes place in the port city by the same name. The cover art depicts a dock worker unloading a crate of Agricola games from a ship.
posted by aubilenon at 11:30 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Kubrick would include movie posters from his earlier films in his later ones, which would qualify, unless that was intended to suggest all his work took place in one coherent fictional world

This does not make sense - if every film takes part in the same fictional world, this fictional world does not contain the previous films or posters of previous films, it contains the actual events.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:20 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "In Sabrina, also directed by Wilder and released a year prior this film, the character of Humphrey Bogart tells his brother that he went with Audrey Hepburn's titular character to see The Seven Year Itch, which was at that time, not yet released."
posted by iviken at 2:14 AM on April 23, 2014

Martin Amis has a character named Martin Amis in "Money: A Suicide Note."
posted by kinetic at 4:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

When James Blish wrote the short-story versions of classic Trek episodes (collected in volumes like 'Star Trek 5' and 'Star Trek 2'), his version of 'Tomorrow is Yesterday' had Spock refer to 'the Vegan Tyranny', an empire that existed in Blish's other science fiction (the 'Cities in Flight' series), but nowhere else in Star Trek.

(Vegan = 'from Vega', not 'eating only vegetables')
posted by Mogur at 4:19 AM on April 23, 2014

In Ascendancy, there is a structure you can build called a "Logic Factory".
The company who produced the game is The Logic Factory.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:51 AM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: In another Stephen King example, in the Tommyknockers, someone makes a reference to Jack Nicholson in the movie of the Shining, and as Stephen King wrote the novel, I think that that counts!
posted by firei at 4:52 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stephen King also did a thing in The Tommyknockers where somebody talks about the protagonist being a writer of Westerns, not (paraphrasing here) "trash like that fella up in Bangor writes".

Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night, a Traveler mentions itself, but that's not really what you're looking for, either, is it?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:58 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Almost all of Stephen King's entire body of work does this, including having himself the writer as a character in one of his books (I won't say which as it would spoil a plot twist).
posted by mazienh at 5:33 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Paul Auster's "New York Trilogy" fits the bill.
posted by jbickers at 5:35 AM on April 23, 2014

In one of Arthur C. Clarke's later novels, possibly Ghost of the Grand Banks, he gets into a discussion about when the millennium will actually begin, 2000 or 2001. It is concluded in the discussion that the millennium will, of course, begin on 2001, but since humans like round numbers it will be celebrated on 2000. He then says something to the effect of "When 2001 came around, it was ignored by everyone but a few fans of an obscure science fiction novel."

I also remember another one of his books where he says something like "Someone once said, any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.", which is, of course, his own famous quote.
posted by bondcliff at 6:03 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don Giovanni does this. In act 2 the Don is home enjoying a great meal and has a chamber ensemble playing instrumental versions of arias from contemporary (at the time) operas, ending with "Non piĆ¹ andrai" from Le Nozze di Figaro. Both operas had music by Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.

After the aria is played Leporello remarks "Questa poi la conosco pur troppo" (something like 'I know this one all too well'), as many basses who have sung Leporello have sung that aria as Figaro, including Felice Ponziani, who sang Leporello at the premiere.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Omar Tyree does this in Boss Lady, his infinitely inferrior follow up to Flyy Girl.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:33 AM on April 23, 2014

In the Vicky Bliss novels by Elizabeth Peters she at least once asks for a book by Barbara Michaels, another pseudonym for Elizabeth Peters (real name Barbara Mertz).

In The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie, a kid interested in murder mysteries claims to have the autographs of both Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:48 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As the players are getting ready to do their show-within-a-show in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius discusses having performed in Julius Caesar.
My lord, you played once i' th' university, you say?

That did I, my lord, and was accounted a good actor.

What did you enact?

I did enact Julius Caesar. I was killed i' th' Capitol. Brutus killed me.

It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there.
posted by HeroZero at 7:32 AM on April 23, 2014

In his first SF novel, Neuromancer, William Gibson coined the word "cyberspace." In his more recent present-day novel Spook Country, he used that word to describe the Internet that is now all around us.
posted by adamrice at 7:38 AM on April 23, 2014

In Neal Stephenson's REAMDE one of the characters is a developer on a video game, and in the start-up sequence for that game there is a moment where you see the video game planet from afar and then zoom into it until you see where your character is. And the character in the book says that he stole that trick from Google Earth, but doesn't feel bad about it becuase Google Earth stole it from some old Sci Fi book. The old Sci Fi book was Stephenson's Snow Crash.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:50 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

The newspaper Mr. Fox is reading in the movie version of Fantastic Mr Fox is filled with excerpts from the original Roald Dahl Fantastic Mr Fox short story.
posted by NoraReed at 10:39 AM on April 23, 2014

Paul Theroux's fiction often talks about people meeting Paul Theroux, the author of [his] non-fiction books. It was most pronounced in The Dead Hand.
posted by JMOZ at 10:45 AM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: A copy of The Runaway Bunny shows up in Goodnight Moon, as I recall.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like Barbara Stabenow has done this, but I can't think which books specifically -- doesn't Kate Shugak read one of Stabenow's SF books? If you wanted to pursue this, Stabenow is on Twitter and seems approachable.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:36 AM on April 23, 2014

Nabokov plays with intertextuality a lot in his fiction. The forward (or a note to the text? don't remember exactly) to Lolita is written by John Shade, a character from Pale Fire, and that's just one example.
posted by mmmbacon at 11:38 AM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: Goodnight Moon features a page from The Runaway Bunny as art on the wall. (It's the page where the mom is fishing in the river for her child.) Weirdly, the book by the bed is actually Goodnight Moon.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:11 PM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

In the The Wire, one can occasionally spot the characters reading novels by George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane, both of whom were writers on the show.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 1:06 PM on April 23, 2014

There is a lot of leakage between The Simpsons, Futurama, and Matt Groening's comic strip, Life In Hell.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:20 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Animal Man, a character in the book somehow meets the writer of the book (who, being the writer, is something of a godlike figure). In this way, Grant Morrison, (writer of Animal Man) appears in the pages of Animal Man as Grant Morrison (writer of Animal Man).
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:05 PM on April 23, 2014

Response by poster: These are great, thanks all. (And now I know How Stella Got Her Groove Back: by namechecking herself in her own book.)
posted by sallybrown at 4:06 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Cougar Town (created by Bill Lawrence) they are watching Scrubs (created by Bill Lawrence) in the background of one episode. (I think the episode is season 3, ep5, "A One Story Town", because they have even more guest stars from Scrubs than usual on that episode.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:45 PM on April 23, 2014

Heh. I'm just reading Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and something akin to this happens. The main character is a crotchety bookseller, and at one point he decides to read something from his pile of galleys:

"The top one in the pile is a young-adult fantasy novel in which the main character is dead. Ugh, A.J. thinks. Two of his least favorite things (postmortem narrators and young-adult novels) in one book."

I'm sure this is a sly reference to Zevin's young-adult novel Elsewhere.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:36 AM on May 2, 2014

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