Thursday, June 22, 2017

Updating Older Books

When a book published years or decades ago and set in the "present" gets reprinted in a new edition, should the technology and cultural references in the text be updated so that the story will still feel as if it's set in the present?

My vampire romance CRIMSON DREAMS has just been re-released by my new publisher:

Crimson Dreams

At the editor's request, I revised scenes that included computers (and inserted mention of cell phones into places where they'd be expected) to avoid having readers distracted by outdated references. The story was contemporary when first published, and there was no reason it shouldn't feel contemporary now.

Diane Duane's Young Wizards series has been around for decades, beginning with SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD (1983). She has self-published new editions of the earlier novels in the series, collectively labeled Millennium Editions, explicitly set in the twenty-first century, with the technology updated. She believed that the obsolete references in the original editions were confusing to the contemporary YA audience because their time period isn't far enough in the past to feel like historical fiction, just enough to feel outdated. Also, the revisions eliminate the anomaly of having the characters age only a few years over a much longer real-time span:

Diane Duane's Ebooks Direct

Some authors tacitly modernize their worlds while the characters age slowly or not at all. The BLONDIE and BEETLE BAILEY comic strips, for instance. The creator of FOR BETTER OR WORSE took an interestingly different approach when she concluded the comic series a few years ago. She started over again from the beginning, reprinting the original strips with additions and revisions.

There are some works in my Vanishing Universe vampire series that I wouldn't update if I were re-publishing them, because I had a good reason for the original dating—specifically DARK CHANGELING, its immediate sequel (CHILD OF TWILIGHT), and a couple of novellas dependent on them. DARK CHANGELING had to be set in 1979 because the then forty-year-old, half-vampire protagonist had to be born in 1939 to make his backstory plausible. My quasi-Lovecraftian novel FROM THE DARK PLACES, due to be re-released by Writers Exchange E-Publishing eventually, presents a special problem. It's set in the 1970s, and its next-generation sequel (currently a work-in-progress) focuses on a twenty-one-year-old heroine who was born at the end of the previous book. How can I set the sequel in the present (to avoid confusing readers with an unnecessary 1990s setting) and have a heroine who's twenty-one when she should be middle-aged? I plan to revise FROM THE DARK PLACES to remove blatantly specific 1970s references but have it set in a sort of "indefinite past."

Do you think it's necessary or desirable to update re-released older novels with settings that were contemporary-present when first published? Does the answer vary on a case-by-case basis for you? Authors of historical or far-future fiction have it easy in the respect. (Writers of near-future SF have a slightly different problem; their settings soon become overtaken by events and transformed into alternate history. Think of Orwell's 1984.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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