Updated Books: Cool, or Fail?

I’m currently working on revising Time’s Fugitive, my second time travel romance, and sequel to my upcoming release, Time’s Enemy. Like Enemy, the first draft of this book was written a few years ago. What’s surprising is how many things in the world around us have changed since then – things that now need to be changed. For example, I have a scene where a character’s car breaks down, and the young driver and her passenger need to walk for help. Yes, they have cell phones – it wasn’t written that long ago – but what I now need to account for is the fact that many late-model cars (including the one they have) now come with some kind of navigation system, which also includes a way to call for help. This needs to be revised so that there’s a good reason they can’t just press the red button on the rearview mirror and get help from OnStar. Another book of mine features computer technology – including national security-sensitive software that goes missing. In the original book, written over ten years ago, the software was on a removable disk cartridge, like a Zip Disk. (Anyone remember those?) In a recent revision, this needed to be changed to be on a USB flash drive.

This reminded me of Stephen King’s The Stand – which I first read in the late 90’s, after it had been updated from the original version published in 1976. Definitely a book I enjoyed, despite a few details where not enough attention was given to updating. In the original version, characters drove across a post-apocalyptic U.S., preferably in the largest vehicles practical – in most cases, station wagons.

In the 90’s version, these characters were still taking station wagons.

Huh? In the 90’s I remember, there were a heck of a lot more minivans and SUVs than station wagons. Not to mention, a 4WD SUV would be much more practical than a station wagon, especially for driving off road. And cell phones? I don’t remember if they were mentioned – they might’ve been, and there was no power, hence no operable cell networks. But the characters used CB radios to communicate – which hit their heyday in the mid-70’s.

So think about those updates when you’re revising an old novel – I still enjoyed The Stand, but little details like this did take me out of the story, and remind me I was reading. So if the contemporary American heroine in the book you’re reading is in trouble and she’s not using her cell phone, you might flip to the copyright page, and see if you’re reading an old book. Otherwise, there’d better be a good reason that heroine can’t just call for help, or you might have an Update Fail on your hands.

Does it bother you to read books where the details are outdated? I’m willing to forgive it if it’s an old book, but otherwise, it might just be sloppy writing. What do you think?

7 Responses to \

  1. I read The Stand back in the mid-80s. At the time, none of it seemed outdated because it hadn’t been that long since it was written. I never did read the update. (Shame on me.) I find it amusing when I watch older movies and realize how much we use technology now. I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

    In one of my early books (that will never see the light of day), my protag loses her cell phone and has no idea how to contact people (even though she has access to a landline) because she doesn’t know her contacts’ phone numbers. Back in the day, I had all my friends’ numbers memorized. Now, I know my husband’s and my mother’s number…and that’s it. LOL

    As for being thrown off by out of date stuff, I recently read Deeper than Dead and its sequel by Tami Hoag. The books are set in the late 80s. Ms. Hoag when to a *bunch* of trouble with her 80s research. I didn’t catch the first slip into modern day technology.

    Now, if a book was supposedly present day, I’d expect everything to be up-to-date. However, that’s difficult with how quickly technology is evolving. If you have a two year lag between writing the book and pubbing it, you might be in trouble.

    Thanks for the though-provoking post. πŸ˜€

  2. Too funny about the contact numbers – I was just talking with my family the other day about how none of us know as many numbers as we used to because of our cell phones’ contact lists!

  3. I wouldn’t worry about the OnStar thing. We have new vehicles and neither one come with any navigation or OnStar. I believe OnStar is on GM cars only.

    And getting a signal on a cell phone in the middle of nowhere is almost impossible. Heck, you can lose the signal in your own home. So I don’t see where that’s an issue, either. Better yet, have he/she forget to charge the cell and the battery dies. See, lots of technology fails when you need it the most in real life, so why not in your book?

    As for The Stand, I read the first, original, version back in 1977, and I wish I still had that paperback, too, but nope. So reading the updated version didn’t throw me at all. I fully expected to read the original added with those scenes that were cut previously. And it’s still my favorite book. Now, you want dated – try reading The Bourne Identity. That one really is a blast from the past!

  4. @Stacy – yep, OnStar is GM – and that’s what these girls have. But I don’t think it works at all if you haven’t paid the bill :). And yes, these girls are in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains in N. Tennessee, so even if they have satellite phone, they might not get a signal (much less for cell phones). The tech itself isn’t a problem, it’s just that if they’re not using it, we need to say why – whereas, in decades past, no one had it. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I actually dislike updated books (with The Forever War being an exception). It kind of stomps all over what made the original appealing.

    I also don’t like updated movies. Han shot first, dammit! I don’t care if you put Hayden Christenson at the end of Return of the Jedi, Mr. Lucas, but Han shot first!

  6. So true, Jim – the original movies are almost always better! And it seems all Hollywood’s putting out anymore are remakes. πŸ™

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