I've seen quite a few people lately reading John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation, and I think a lot of people aren't aware it's a rewrite of a book from the 1960's, H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. Luckily for fans of the woefully little known original, the reboot is really pretty good. Piper unfortunately, fell into the pit between publishers (if I remember correctly, his editor was fired during a publisher takeover, and the replacement wasn't too thrilled with the series, resulting in many years between books, and at one point, two sequels written by entirely different authors that messed up the canon when the third and final book by Piper was eventually published posthumously.) Piper was devastated by the events, and eventually took his own life after a tragic spiral of alcohol abuse and depression.
I, for one, think he was a fine writer, and the Fuzzy books were fantastic, but I appreciate why Scalzi thought a reboot was appropriate. Some books are picture perfect representations of the time and place they were written, and evoke it so strongly they become classics. Others, particularly in speculative fiction, have a problem however: Evoking the time and place they were written, while being set in a far future (or sometimes, the far past) in fact makes them dated and difficult to read for a modern audience. Generally it's societal norms such as attitudes to gender, race, class or sexuality, but sometimes politics too.
It's pretty hard difficult sometimes to take books seriously when they are so clearly steeped in cold war paranoia (unless that's actually the subject). To step outside the spec fic for instance, John Le Carré's books for me fall on the "evoking the time and place" side of the scale, Ian Fleming's Bond books, on the "dated and difficult to read" side.
Some wonderful books fall into this: Heinlein for instance, is a hard sell for a lot of readers these days, which I find a shame. Niven and Pournelle is another, which i personally find less of a shame, but plenty of people hail the Motie books as classics - yet last time they came up in a group read for a group I'm in, the politics and the gender issues caused a massive several-hundred-post flame war.
As more and more books fall into the public domain, this is obviously going to be more and more of a thing. With varying degrees of respect for the original material, and with varying degrees of serious aim. I think, twenty years ago, the idea of a "reboot" would have been unthinkable, but now...
So some thinking points:
- Is there a dividing line between a respectful reboot, in the form of a rewrite to update the attitudes and story in order to make it more accessible to a modern audience, and a rip-off? Or is this a sliding scale?
- Is this just fan fiction gone wild, or is it simply the old trope "there are only seven plots" being put to the test.
- Does a reboot have to be respectful of the material, or does a parody count?
And are there any books (or even authors) you'd be happy to see this done with? Or hate to see?
Personally, I've found a number of books I loved as a child didn't at all hit the spot with my kids. Only a very few deservedly called classics did work. Anne of Green Gables and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are the only two books I can think of that all three of my children adored, and even then my son is a bit 'meh' on H2G2, while I think he's the only teenage boy I ever heard of that loved Anne as much as my girls. And both those two are books that I can't imagine anyone ever rewriting, rebooting, or doing anything other than worshipping. Others though I could see, and for some reason, Stig of the Dump keeps jumping to my mind, despite my not having thought of it for probably fifteen years.