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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Updating science fiction for republication

I read something over at Dear Author that got me thinking:

I was reading the Jennifer Greene books which are being re-released through Carina Press and I was struck by the small ways in which the book details were being updated. One character refers to text messaging another character. Another character was watching CSI and the kids were listening to Lady Gaga. These Greene books were originally published in the 80s when CSI, Lady Gaga, and text messaging were in someone’s deep subspace, not having come to fruition yet. I actually thought these were nice touches and that Greene was making good use of opportunities afforded through a republication.

The thing is, as the article goes on to note, you can't just update the details; sometimes the attitudes need serious adjustment. This is especially true of romance novels published decades ago. Women's social and sexual roles and attitudes have come a long way.

Updating science fiction is just as tricky, perhaps more so. In 2004, when three of my stories (that is, two stories and a novella) first published in the early 90s were collected by Aqueduct Press and published as With Her Body, I had to take a hard look at the fiction. I didn't have to worry so much about "Yaguara," a shape-changing tale set in the jungles of Belize. Or "Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese," set in a gently post-apocalyptic Atlanta. But "Touching Fire..." Oh dear: laser discs and Fairlight synthesisers and having to go to the library to do research.

So I made some cosmetic changes: to DVDs, and laptops with faulty batteries and storms and power hits (this actually happened a lot in Atlanta when I lived there, so I didn't feel as though I was exceeding the bounds of credulity). I think it works okay, because the point of the story isn't the thrillery what-happens-and-who-knows-what-when event series, it's the emotional impact of same. Also, given that all this fiction was about dykes, and none of my dykes have ever worried about what people think, I didn't have to take into account changing attitudes.

So why am I thinking about all this now? Because With Her Body will soon become available as an ebook. (In a variety of platforms, with and without DRM, depending on the retailer--which which will include nifty new stores like Wizard's Tower as well as Amazon and others.) So soon, hopefully, my stories will be reaching a new audience--only I haven't looked at those stories for years. And I'm wondering what I've forgotten.

In fifty years, of course, none of those details will matter. Readers will just smile nostalgically and glide past the lack of cell phones with a fond smile, the way I can happily read 1930s space opera with their vacuum tubes and busbars and not blink. But right now I'm just feeling thankful that most of my sf still works. Mostly.

What do you think? Do you think work should be updated or left alone?

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