Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 01:43 on 03-02-2014, Jamie Johnston
People do remakes of films all the time; also TV shows, theatrical adaptations and new versions of songs. Why do books have to be different?

It's interesting, though, how the conventions vary from one medium / form to another about what kinds of reworkings are allowed. Plays and films are a very clear example: they're really quite similar artistic forms, but when you do a new production of a play you're expected to keep the dialogue pretty much exactly the same but change the cast, the style, the blocking, often the setting, and even the whole interpretation and emphasis of the work. But to re-make a classic film without changing the script would be almost unthinkable. With films you sometimes get director's cuts; a stage director will rarely revive their own previous production with minor tweaks (except in the case of some big musicals). In painting you get both approaches: Van Gogh did several different versions of his own sunflower painting, and equally various other people have done their own more or less faithful variations. Pop musicians cover each other's songs all the time, and as with plays it's relatively rare for the lyrics or melodies to be changed but it's expected that the instrumental arrangement and style of performance will be different from the original. Novels seem to be at the more untouchable end of the range in that it's rare for either the original author or anyone else to publish new versions of them, either slightly tweaked or completely overhauled. Though it is becoming increasingly common for someone to write a new addition to a series of novels started by someone else.

I suspect the answer to 'Why do books have to be different?' is that they don't have to be but, for a highly contingent set of historical, cultural, and copyright-related legal reasons they just are. In fact copyright is probably an important part of the landscape because in many cases the law will have taken these rather arbitrary and mutable conventions about who is allowed to mess about with what and solidified them into something rather stricter and less prone to change. But that's rather outside my expertise.
permalink
at 22:18 on 02-02-2014, Michal
I have to say, I would prefer to own the original version of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, except that it's nigh-impossible to find. I often don't like rewrites/updated editions of novels for the selfish reason that it becomes hard to sort out which version of the text you and another reader are talking about. Especially when there's been some fundamental change to the story that, if it was a problem, should have been dealt with before the initial publication and not corrected afterwards.

Then again, there are situations like the second edition of The Hobbit, where most people aren't aware that an earlier version even exists.
permalink
at 22:11 on 02-02-2014, Shimmin
I'm actually kind of okay with authors reworking a book for a new generation, provided they do it properly. Obvs there's some books where it really doesn't make any sense - the kind of fiction that's fundamentally about a particular period, say. But if you wrote something you intended to be timeless, and now it feels incredibly dated, and you feel like the core of the story would still say something if it were just given a revamp, why not?

For example, changes in language. Something completely natural and harmless in 1930 might now read as clunky, stilted and even offensive because the way people talk and the meaning of certain words has shifted. Names (hello there Dick, Fanny and Titty!) can become completely chortle-inducing and distract from the story. It can throw you if you read the original version, but I don't really see a problem with an author changing things like that.

Bigger changes are more complicated. To a large extent I feel that if a book really needs substantial updating to be interesting or acceptable, then maybe you should just write another book. But writing books is hard. People do remakes of films all the time; also TV shows, theatrical adaptations and new versions of songs. Why do books have to be different? It seems like there's an awkward middle space: minor proofing fixes are laudable, rewriting the Mabinogion as an urban fantasy set in a Chicago high school is laudable, but doing a substantial rework of your own book is unacceptable. Unless you give the characters different names, change the set-dressing and call it something different.

I think for my part I'd be somewhat uncomfortable with a rewrite that substantially changed the actual plot and kept the title, but more or less indifferent to a rewrite that preserved the shape of the story but changed specific events, and especially so if cultural shifts mean modern readers will interpret the original events differently and get a different message. But it's going to partly depend on what kind of book it is, and what the reader is looking to get out of it.

There's also a related issue, in that if you care about your posterity and are now embarrassed about your early work, releasing a new edition that's not cringeworthy (for whatever reason) is a way of indicating your changing attitudes and/or improved writing skill, and a much more substantial one than publishing a statement somewhere. The new edition will probably reach more people and last much longer than an interview does, and it lets you demonstrate that you care enough to make the effort.

If it's just that the book is a bit rubbish, then it seems like overkill. But I still don't really see a huge problem with it, any more than with academics releasing a new edition of their book because they changed their mind about stuff. And it's not like the earlier editions are obliterated from the universe. Not yet, anyway... easier with ebooks of course!
permalink
at 22:03 on 02-02-2014, Tamara
Yeah, fair enough - I know I'm at something of a far end of the spectrum on this one. If the author is just participating in the conversation that's one thing, (I don't think i'd mind if she said that she also shipped Harry/Hermoine, for example, even though she'd written something else) but this pointing something out as a flaw, is a little more specific. For lots of people, it isn't a flaw. Ron and Hermoine are great together. A lot of people seem to love that the hero *doesn't* end up with the girl, for example. So now are those readings *wrong*, given that the author had said she wrote that badly?
permalink
at 21:20 on 02-02-2014, Arthur B
If a text suddenly gets weird because an author was indulging wish fulfilment or something, that's for *me* to figure out.

I can sort of appreciate the sentiment, on the other hand if you take it that far then suddenly it becomes increasingly difficult for authors to say much of substance about their work at all aside from "please buy it, I worked very hard on it".

I think if you're dealing with a matter which you'd never have gotten from the text then the author should refrain from comment because you're shutting down the interpretive space, but if it's an aspect where people have actually said "hold on, there's something off here" I think it's fair to comment, otherwise you end up excluding authors from the conversation surrounding their work entirely (which is an extreme that I don't think Barthes intended*).

* Irony of citing Barthes' intentions is 100% intentional.
permalink
at 20:04 on 02-02-2014, Tamara
I have no problem at all with an author looking back on their work and saying "actually, in hindsight, I should probably have done that differently."

I am less bothered by this that I was by Gay Dumbledore and the like - insights into writing process are fair game, I guess - but it's still stuff being...blurry. If a text suddenly gets weird because an author was indulging wish fulfilment or something, that's for *me* to figure out.

I *am* bothered by edited versions, actually. There's no good reason for it, I just feel like a book should stand as what it is. If X was flawed, than it was flawed, and reading those flaws is part of the authentic experience of the thing and that's that. Any post-publication editing is cheating. It's more of an idiosyncracy than any firm opinion, but there it is. I also realize that in some ways "publication" is an arbitrary cutoff for editing, but it has to be something, and it's also a function of a book standing for it's time.

I was very annoyed by a copy of Childhood's End I found once where the cold-war prologue had been re-written for something more 90's. That was just wrong to me. Childhood's End is a product of 1953, and the assumptions of 1953 were cold-warish. Wiping that away did a disservice to the text. Likewise Moorcock - he was willing to put out a book in the 70's with a cure!rape, and then times moved on and he took it back? Not allowed, in my book. It happened, you were sexist and wrong - apologize, by all means, but don't try to wipe the slate clean or "fix" the story.

This was a story that was originally written as leading up to a rape. Childhood's End was rooted in Cold War logic. I think it's not just a disservice to the experiences of a contemporary reader in experiencing 1953 or 1978, the bits that are change are a disservice to the rest of the story, *even* if they're bad.
permalink
at 19:39 on 02-02-2014, Arthur B
Moorcock releases revisions of his books sometimes for understandable reasons ("Whoops, perhaps I shouldn't end Gloriana with rape curing her") and sometimes for irritating ones ("I'll change everyone's surname to a variation of "von Bek", that'll rake in the nerd dollars!").

On the whole there comes a point where you have to stop fiddling with a piece because you're wearing down whatever made it good in the first place.
permalink
at 19:23 on 02-02-2014, Danielle
Sometimes authors do release edited versions; Ray Feist did it for Magician, and I'm pretty sure Stephen King did the same with The Stand and the first one or two Dark Tower novels. Personally I'm ok with authors releasing revised editions, but when it's just to add scenes I suspect it would be a lot like the "extended" editions of films where you can generally see why the scenes were cut in the first place. I submit the epic mistake that is "Human Again" from Beauty and the Beast.
permalink
at 19:03 on 02-02-2014, Daniel F
That makes me wonder, actually: why the problem with releasing an edited revision of a novel? It strikes me that releasing altered versions of a work isn't controversial in other media, such as when you have a director's cut release of a popular film. I think I would be bothered by an attempt to suppress the first version or to declare that the first one never happened, and the revision is somehow more true; but in principle, I'm not sure I mind an author releasing altered versions of a text.

Well, actually, I might dislike it for the money-grubbing aspect. That's not essential to a re-release, though.
permalink
at 19:01 on 02-02-2014, Arthur B
Yeah, "Dumbledore was actually gay" would have been vastly less infuriating if she'd pitched it as "Dumbledore was actually gay, but I don't think that ever came across in the series and in retrospect I wish I'd handled it better".
permalink
at 18:06 on 02-02-2014, Dan H
Perhaps surprisingly, I'm remarkably *un* bothered by it. It bothers me when JKR makes pronouncements about What Happens After the Books Finish, because I don't see that as her job, and I'd have been deeply annoyed if she'd stood up and said "actually, Ron and Hermione get divorced some time after the Epilogue and she gets together with Harry", or if she decided to release an edited version of the books where Harry and Hermoine get together instead, but I have no problem at all with an author looking back on their work and saying "actually, in hindsight, I should probably have done that differently."
permalink
at 13:41 on 02-02-2014, Tamara
I am incredibly bothered by this. Not from any particularly investment in the shipping angle, but just because it messes with my sense of the borders of fiction and reality - always a little fragile, if we're being honest - and ability to be be both analytical about a work and just immersed in it. Just stop it, authors. Be metaphorically internet dead. Please.
permalink
at 07:41 on 02-02-2014, Daniel F
J. K. Rowling is apparently not done second-guessing the Potter series.
permalink
at 00:30 on 02-02-2014, Arthur B
I'm pretty sure the editor received something like that a year or two ago so yeah, utter disinterest at our end, anyone else gets similar mails please do not engage.
permalink
at 20:30 on 01-02-2014, Robinson L
@Sonia: Yeah, that's it. And I suppose it's a plausible explanation for how they got my e-mail - there's a link to my livejournal account in my contributor profile (although I don't think I advertise my e-mail address on my LJ profile, so I guess they'd either have to do a little hacking, or possibly use the Wayback Machine).

I figured it was probably spam of some sort, and even if it wasn't, something the editorial team here would be completely uninterested in. But since I didn't know for sure on either count, and the message clearly isn't intended for me, I should at least pass along the gist of the message before relegating it to the dustbin.

So long, Slap Up Media.
permalink
at 18:58 on 01-02-2014, Sonia Mitchell
Huh, I got one of those for our domain at work. Sounds like the exact same wording. Subject line "A quick question about sponsored content for ___.com"?
I'm not going to reply.

It is odd that they linked your personal email to FerretBrain, though. Maybe through your LJ somehow?
permalink
at 18:51 on 01-02-2014, Shimmin
I wouldn't, to be quite honest. A glance at Google Plus will trawl up people complaining about SUM spamming them and stealing email addresses. I've no reason to think they're legit in any meaningful sense and I don't propose to visit their website if they have one. And even if they were genuinely a legit company making a serious proposition, you aren't actually interested in their service. So not worth it.

Responding to spam email is a bad idea because it confirms that an email address is useful, and anyway I value your writing time more highly than that.
permalink
at 18:06 on 01-02-2014, Robinson L
I got a pretty strange e-mail the other day, from a representative of "Slap Up Media," asking me if I "would be interested in accepting a sponsored article for your site ferretbrain.com," and encouraging me to write back if I have any questions.

These "Slap Up Media" people have an online presence, where they bill themselves as "a different kind of digital marketing agency," so they at least appear to be a legit operation. But how they got the impression I am in any way party to the running of the site - or, for that matter, my e-mail address - I haven't the foggiest.

Any ideas for how I should respond?


Also, reaching back a bit, @Adrienne: I've read that Foz Meadows article on men impersonating women in online gaming. Very eye-opening; thanks for sharing.
permalink
at 12:09 on 29-01-2014, Tamara
I can't figure out if it's valorizing or mocking programmers. Also, I am clearly thinking about it because of my deep interest in the fascinating subject of comparative exkaysediology, and not because I'm really, really bored right now.
permalink
at 10:15 on 29-01-2014, Arthur B
Today's XKCD, meanwhile, is impossibly oblique.
permalink
at 23:24 on 28-01-2014, James D
In the last panel of that comic, it would've been way better if the other guy said something like "there's a reason you're still unemployed."

But of course that would be poking fun at Randall Munroe's worldview, so he'd never do it.
permalink
at 20:45 on 28-01-2014, Tamara
I just spent fifteen minutes looking for a worse XKCD, and I am now willing to accept your premise. Very well, this one is the worst.
permalink
at 20:30 on 28-01-2014, Dan H
That's the thing, I think the trace of absurdity just makes it *worse*. It's like a perfect storm of things that annoy me about XKCD. Self-consciously quirky non-humour, fetishisation of innocence and childishness, and delivering a poorly exposited smackdown to a faceless strawman who has the temerity to question the author's oh-so-quirky worldview.

At least the straight-up sentimental ones are just straight-up sentimental.
permalink
at 20:23 on 28-01-2014, Tamara
Now obviously I can't think of a worse XKCD off of the top of my head, but you know, all those ones about finding love and enjoying nature and what have you. This one has some trace of absurdity, at least.
permalink