When I was sixteen, I wrote a sci-fi short story and sent it off to the American SF magazine Asimov. I never heard of it again.
The story posited a future in which human-beings had become so idle that they’d de-evolved the use of their legs and had now to rely upon being transported on what were in effect robotic floating chairs, whilst being looked after by a variety of other robots; – the plot being, one of these robots went insane and (no doubt, at that time of my development) killed everyone in sight.
Then … earlier this year I found myself happily sitting watching the sacchrine-encrusted but basically quite enjoyable Pixar entertainment, Wall-E, when halfway through, just after the eponymous Wall-E reached the human ark, I suddenly leapt into the air and denounced to nobody, who was watching it with me, that these Hollywood scoundrels had stolen my idea.
Not, of course, that I believed it for a minute – though I did spend a far while fantastising about the chain of events that might have led to parts of my long-lost manuscripts ended up filmed as this prize-winning animation. – No, it seemed to me more plausible that perhaps my idea had never really been so original as at the time I’d imagined; that, even if it had never been written about before – which I considered highly unlikely – it wouldn’t exactly have been strange if someone else had come up with the same thing later. (Aldous Huxley comes to mind: – he was always on about technological labour-saving devices for the leisure class).
So I have read, in the last few years, maybe 8 books that might be called science fiction – and again and again there are cross-overs / recycled ideas. For instance, the difference between robot and human minds: – this single idea appears in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Lem’s More Tales of Pirx and Capek’s R.U.R. That’s 3 out of the 8 books I’ve read! Gene Wolfe in The Fifth Head of Cerberus (early 70s) has a character growing up on an insignificant desert planet, whose parents are murdered, called John Sandwalker. (And oh yes, the robot programmed with the cleaning fetish in Wall-E – undoubtably, I thought, the best character in the film – you can find also in Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, which reminded me too of some of the early scenes in Alien; while, as I’ve mentioned before, Capek’s R.U.R. seemed reminiscent of anything from Terminator to Night of the Living Dead.)
So, I’m not certain it’s originality in sci-fi that may be of any concern; perhaps it’s the use you put those ideas to – the imagination you bring to them. (It’s certainly not the prose style, anyway).