I started reading through Less Is More again this weekend and this time around, I have a different opinion of the book. This got me thinking about the flood of magic effects on the market and how, even in books, I often see identical effects left and right but with just some minor tweak to make it not 100% like the others. Is... is that really a new routine?
Let me start with a little background about my initial impression of Less is More, and how it evolved.
The first time I read the book, I feel like I had a pair of biased "against the content" goggles on. I had spoken to a friend right before reading and he gave me his opinion of Benjamin Earl (the author) and how he thought the writing style was. This left a negative impression on me which, unfortunately, carried over while reading the book. I felt like everything I read was the exact same as the previous routine explained, but with one slightly different variation. After all, that's the basic premise of the book; to keep refining a trick so that less is required which effectively makes it that much more of a trick.
Don't get me wrong, the routines are really nice. Some are hard, but nice. But does replacing a double lift with a double undercut and having the exact same presentation and reveal at the end make it an entirely different trick? No. It's the exact same routine, just done with a different sleight. And this is how I read the book the first time through -- albeit I didn't read past the 3rd (of 5) chapters last time because of this bias.
So this weekend, when I picked up the book I started on the 4th chapter titled Classic Simplicity, my opinion was changed. No, I still think that just replacing a single sleight and having the overall routine be the same makes it the exact same routine. However, Classic Simplicity's context was the exact opposite. Using the same setup, same sleights, and same reveal at the end -- but changing the presentation itself -- does make it a completely different trick.
Finding the four Aces, if presented as a gambling routine would leave a completely different impression than if presented as a magic routine. That is what makes it a different routine. The audience doesn't see the sleight of hand of a routine (or they shouldn't), so swapping sleights but keeping the presentation the same means it's the same trick from their perspective so it should be from ours too. The first chapter of the book, Evolving with Simplicity, presents 4 variations of the same routine. Each, in succession, evolves the one before it to be simpler but to have the same effect by changing the sleights that are required. The presentation persists and the effect remains the same.
This quote is part of Ben's summary of the first chapter. I either skimmed it or ignored it the first time around because this line alone expresses that he understands this too. Even though there are four completely separate routine explanations, they're each the same effect. By making the handling more simple, the overall effect can be more powerful and, dare I say, magical... but, they're still "the same effect."
In the case of Less is More, I originally read it with the idea that I was learning several new routines. Reading it again, I understand that it's way deeper than that. It's teaching how to look at a routine, break it down, and rebuild it with more efficient pieces. Yes, we're getting "how to perform" instructions, but by doing slow iterations of evolution, Ben's showing us how we can do this with any type of routine -- not just cutting to the four Aces. This makes a lot more sense now and I'm far less upset about it.
However, that doesn't change the fact that it happens across the magic industry with routines from other folks. Fortunately, though this could possibly only be based on luck, but fortunately I have noticed that many of these cases the "new" routine gives "inspiration credit" or "based on" references to the original.
I know that you know that all of what I've said so far is purely my opinion, but I'm very interested in hearing others too. Do you agree that changing a sleight is enough to call it a "new" routine? Is only changing the performance enough to call it new? If not, how distant or changed does it have to be to be considered different?