I really didn’t want to do a rant

I really didn’t. It’s Sunday and I have work to do, much too much of it. But what’s a gal to do when one of the first things she sees, even before her first cup of coffee has finished brewing, is a note from someone hoping that a publisher would go back and edit a work by one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction because — gasp — there was a scientific error in the text. It didn’t matter that the author of the work is long dead. It didn’t matter that there might have been some controversy over the science in question at the time the piece was originally written. All that mattered was that it was wrong now and it was the publisher’s responsibility to go in and change the text.


This is so wrong on so many different levels. But it all boils down to one simple thing: you don’t go around changing what books say because they are no longer scientifically accurate or because their language is no longer politically correct. End of story.

Unfortunately, the precedent has already been set for this sort of thing to be done. There are “sanitized” versions of Mark Twain’s work because of the use of words now considered offensive. The children’s book, Little Black Sambo, has been adapted and altered and renamed a number of times so that it isn’t deemed “offensive”. The Uncle Remus tales have been sanitized as well and all in the name of making them less offensive to the public.

Now, before anyone gets their panties in a twist, I will admit that, based on today’s sensitivities, each of those titles — and many more — are racially insensitive. However, they were reflections of the world at the time they were written and how are we to know what our past was like, how are we to learn from its mistakes, if we sanitize those mistakes out of existence? There is a very real level of truth to the adage that if we forget the past we are doomed to repeat it.

But that’s all for another post. My issue and rant is with going in and rewriting classic science fiction to match tech or biology as we know it now. If you do that, you are changing the original work. It doesn’t matter if the tech has evolved the way the author foresaw. As Heinlein stated, and I am paraphrasing, edits after a work has been out for awhile won’t save a bad work and why do them on a good one? In my opinion, that means you leave the work alone. Period.

Let’s quit worrying about whether or not books written 50 years or more ago are scientifically or socially correct. Instead, we ought to be worrying about writing books readers want to read. If, however, an error is so egregious that you just can’t look past it as an editor or publisher, do a foreword or afterword. Explain, even debate if you want to. But leave the original text alone.

End of rant.


  1. Agree completely. Besides, if you edited Heinlein, what would you call “Slipstick Libby”? [Wink]

    On the other hand, for the book in question, the publishers will be adding an Afterword that comments on the current science involved. That IMO is the proper response to Heinlein’s mistake in that book. [Smile]

    1. I agree. I have no problem with something like that happening. I just tend to get a bit exorcised when folks want to change the text of the original simply because tech or social “conscience” has changed.

      1. Tech, I can see making a note– especially if it’s something now obscure. (like when I read something– I think it was Heinlein– and he mentioned his sliderule, and I assumed it was made-up technology….)

        For seriously, someone needs a freaking footnote to realize the past was different?

        1. Apparently. Oh, and the past has to conform to what is politically correct now — or be used to show how evil those who aren’t SJWs are in the here and now because, gasp, we aren’t condemning the past at the top of our lungs.

  2. Has anyone read the Lamb versions of Shakespeare? A couple of the plays, when I read the (mostly) original version , I thought it was a different play. Talk about slash and burn.

  3. I challenge any of the SJWs to read Uncle Remus in the original. It is NOT easy, and they’ll probably give up before they actually got to what a modern reader would take offense at.

    I just did a review of a classic aviation book over at my place. I note that the book is 60 years old, and our knowledge of meteorology has increased a great deal since 1954. It’s still a magnificent book, well worth reading. You just don’t use it as an aviation weather textbook. Navigation textbook, yes, but not meteorology.

    1. You are so right about how difficult the original version of Uncle Remus is to read. When I first tried, I had to read it aloud and even then I had to think about what I was saying. But as a sketch of the time, of dialect and such, it is a masterpiece and it shouldn’t be lost.

  4. Even Baen does this occasionally. Eric Flint took out the smoking sections from one of James Schmitz’ Telzey stories. He also took out a digression that I particularly liked.

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