Across The Ages

Years ago, I came across someone a little older than my kids who refused to read Heinlein juveniles because “they’re dated.”

Uh… note this was someone in his thirties. There might be some legitimate claim that the language, being dated, would be difficult for new readers, but even that, surely not with a mere fifty years difference.

Meanwhile my kids grew up reading Heinlein juveniles, and Enid Blyton books most of them taking place just before or during WWII in an England that no longer exists, and it never occurred to them that it was wrong in some way.

Note this is not arguing there isn’t a reason for “updated” Heinlein juveniles — not updating the books but writing something like. Jeff Greason and I had talked about them, oh, five years ago, but my life has been in a black hole since. If I can get myself healthy and disciplined, and I’m not too old by then, I’d love to try it because — but that’s because what the juveniles accomplished in terms of getting kids interested in current day space science and exploration might not work too well when the science in the books is outdated and the dates in the past. Now, I just think I’m the worst possible author for them, even in collaboration. Someone like Laura Montgomery would do so much better. But if no one else will step up, I’ll try. And a certain need might be adduced, due to the timing and nature of the books. The juveniles can now be read as alternate universe, but for kids just getting their feet into what reality is, they can be confusing.

And yet, my kids reacted to them exactly the same way kids in the fifties did, and got interested in science anyway. 12 year old younger son insisted on writing lengthy explanations of how our understanding of the solar system has changed and also verifying all the calculations, but that’s because he’s broken in a very specific way.

So, yes, in this specific case updating might be needed for the non literary purpose. And yet, the characters and situations still grab, and still speak to kids today. (And the language isn’t that difficult. If your kids find the language difficult, teach them phonics and give them a dictionary. If your kids taught themselves to read and can’t find things by following alphabetical order get them an electronic dictionary. Either an ap, if you let them have phones, or its own gadget, which they do sell. I know. we had to get it for younger son, or we’d never get anything done answering “Mom/dad, what does x mean?”

However, in most cases, unless you’re so extremely unimaginative that you can ONLY read present day things, set exactly in the time you live in or you can’t figure it out, (this dysfunction must be related to the “I have to have a character I identify with” obsession. Both are unfathomable to me, who have read characters in strange and alien worlds since…. ever.) you can follow along with the story. Even stories from the 19th century or before. Sure, our way of life has changed. but not so much that medieval fairy tales are opaque, so why will other stuff be?

A friend suggested that like all the other year zero stuff it is because the left thinks human nature is so malleable that we become completely other every five or ten years.

This is nonsense. Not only do I read with pleasure books written in the 20s or 30s, but books about writers often give me a sense of commonality with these long-dead people. Until Indie, nothing much had changed in trad pub. Not for us, bottom tier producers — which is what writers are — so, you know, it’s reassuring.

I actually think that’s the real reason for ‘can’t” and ‘don’t’ read old books from all the usual suspects, and some idiots on our side, who go along to be hip.

If you read old books, you not only catch everything that didn’t work, but all the things that did. And you catch the similarities in ideologies being sold as the opposite (no, seriously. read books of the seventies and what the “nice” people in the West thought of Hitler.)

Of course the most insidious betrayal, now being done to every book, but being done Enid Blyton for decades, for “marketability” is the continuous “updating” of books, that show the Famous Five at the turn of the century with cell phones and computers.

This is insulting in assuming kids can’t bridge the gap and also in outright lying to children about how those times were.

They fall under my “stupid lies” ban. So, while I still recommend Enid Blyton, try to find them used and on paper.

Oh, yeah, and all the “bigotry” that they’re now eliminating from her and Agatha Christie’s and all 20th century books: some of it is actual bigotry. There is a massive streak of anti-semitism in great Britain for instance, and it comes through loud and clear in places.

Why it shouldn’t be revised and removed: Because even seeing bigotry that is out of fashion and/or rightfully despised in our time, gives us a feel for how a time or place can fall into unconscious bigotry, how otherwise good people can go around knowing in their heart of hearts that all blonds are whatever, or all people with pink pokadotted clothing are evil.

Knowing this, in turn, will help us realize when our own culture is guilty of demonizing entire groups. It might make us stop before it’s too late.

Because, you know, things change a lot, but human nature is universal and well nigh eternal. Not only can’t we bring about the perfect Homo Sovieticus, we change very slowly and fractionally. And at any time we can go “full natural” again. (Look at the French revolution. Or World War II.)

Reading old books allows us to see our own prejudices through the eyes of the past.

Which is why it’s invaluable.

And why would-be tyrants of every stripe hate it.

252 thoughts on “Across The Ages

  1. C. S. Lewis had an article on “Reading Old Books”.

    IIRC part of what he said was that reading old books gives requires the reader to understand other points of view which are different than “today’s” points of view but may still have something that the reader should think about.

    Sadly, too many “moderns” don’t want to “understand other points of view”. 😦

    1. And if they’re never exposed to them, inside their “carefully curated content by algorithm” bubbles, how are they going to learn?

      1. They won’t. To the Left that’s a “feature”, and they do everything they can to promote it.

    2. I was going to comment on CS Lewis as well. One of his comments was that every era has its errors, things that the people accept without thinking about. And seeing the assumptions of other eras might make it easier to see our own. Also, you need to figure out if an idea was disproven or merely fell out of fashion.

        1. Chesterton, too!

          “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

          1. …even if conditions have changed enough since his time to render his opinions outdated, or irrelevant? Such as believing it’s a good idea to order a cavalry charge against an enemy armed with artillery and machine guns? Or to assemble a sneak attack behind a hill when the enemy has aerial surveillance?

            Times do change, presenting us with choices our ancestors couldn’t have imagined. Like whether ’tis wiser to pick iPhone or Android. 😛

            1. If you are neglecting the view, how do you know it is actually outdated or irrelevant, rather than just in the way of whoever told you so?

  2. Annoy John Scalzi-read the books that he “edited” in their original form.

    And send him a photo on Twitter!

    I’m tired of sad little petty tyrants like this. They don’t have the nerve for real villainy, instead they do this kind of crap.

      1. For some reason, I thought he had rewritten/edited/compliled H. Beam Piper’s “Fuzzy” stories for “modern audiences” or something like that. My bad.

        I know that “cleaning up” older materials has become very popular as of late…

        1. Eric Flint did a lot of those. I couldn’t convince him removing all the smoking was stupid.
          I still think the character smokes in AFGM as a reaction tot hat.

          1. IMO Eric Flint’s edits were somewhat reasonable.

            Especially compared to John Scalzi’s fun-house copy of “Little Fuzzy”.

            IE John Scalzi’s “Fuzzy Nation”.

            1. Flint’s edit of, “Legacy,”(aka, A Tale of Two Clocks”) by James Schmitz, annoyed me, but he and the Finnish editor who worked with him wrote out an explanation of the cuts. I still didn’t completely agree, but the explanation did make sense.

            2. I am fundamentally against the editing of works to “modernize” them, which in most cases is to make them politically correct. The only “rewriting” I consider valid is taking works like Gawain and the Green Knight, written in middle-English and updating it to modern English so that people can read it without learning middle-English, and is thus more a translation than a rewrite or “edit to modernize”

          2. I remember the “Eric Flint, the Butcher of Baen” USENET threads back in the day. The defense given was that it was Jim Baen who ordered “No Sliderules!” and other ‘modernizing’ cuts to the old stories that Baen Books republished.

        2. His “Fuzzy Nation” isn’t a re-edited version of “Little Fuzzy” and he doesn’t claim that it is.

          IMO “Fuzzy Nation” is what he thinks “Little Fuzzy” should have been.

          As far as I’m concerned, it’s a “fun-house” copy of Piper’s “Little Fuzzy”.

            1. Well, I was thinking of the “Fun House Mirrors” that badly distort what’s reflected in them. 😈

              1. The Hall Of Mirrors is only part of a proper Fun House. There’s the tumbling barrel, shifting floors, spinning platform, tilting halls…

      1. Dude who wrote a decently good book way back when, and hasn’t done so sonce

    1. He rewrote his older works? Could he rewrite them into something better, maybe?

  3. I like Heinlein’s juveniles. Good ones, by any author, are readable by junior readers and good enough to be enjoyed by juniors and adults alike.
    A recent one that comes to mind is “Komenagen – Slog” by Rolf Nelson. It feels in many ways like one of Heinlein’s several “coming of age” stories (and indeed the title is a modified version of that phrase).
    I read a lot of old stuff, found on A couple of years ago I read a novel that I really enjoyed. Afterwards, my wife pointed out that it’s a juvenile. I hadn’t noticed. That is a nice demonstration of how to do it right. (The title? “The perilous seat” by Caroline Snedecker — the heroine of the story strives for, and gets, an appointment to the Oracle of Delphi.)

  4. I love reading older stuff. I’m more a non-fiction reader than fiction, but my favorite book is The Gulag Archipelago (I’m weird) and that is NOT easy sledding to work through no matter the translation from the original Russian. It is weird and idiomatic and jumps all over the place and I LOVE it. Reading work from 100+ years ago really brings out the stark changes in language and education over that time (sadly, mostly negative).

    1. I meant to add an “Also” before “Reading work from 100+ years ago….” I know quite well The Gulag Archipelago is not that old. 🙂

    2. Back about 25 years ago I tried to read “Tom Jones” and couldn’t handle the old language (1749). A year or two ago, after reading 100+ old books I figured I’d try again. No problem at all. It’s very good.

      1. Oh my … I grew up devouring the Little House series, and a lot of Louisa May Alcott’s juvenile adventures, and classic kid literature; the Jungle Books, Peter Pan, and all … I swear, I thought they were closer in time to me … that they were only a couple of decades in the past, instead of almost a century, if not more.
        Read Vanity Fair, in high school, thought it was an absolute riot – no problem with the language and vocab. I guess that I had become accustomed to the 19th century, and felt quite at home there.
        Currently, reading through a lot of American Civil War memoirs and letters, as research for the W-I-P .
        Agree about CS Lewis – seeing through assumptions.

        1. Mom’s parents would give me editions (possibly abridged) of classic books when I was young, early to mid ‘1960s. Robinson Crusoe was one of them, not sure if Huckleberry Finn was; I believe I read it before Tom Sawyer.

          Not sure how many of Heinlein’s juveniles I read as a juvenile; two stand out: Starman Jones, slightly tough vocabulary for 5th grade RCPete, and Farmer in the Sky, which I read (possibly a few times) in 7th grade. The town’s public library had a kid’s section, and I believe all the RAH juveniles were stuck down there. By 7th grade, I was reading upstairs, with the adult SF in a comfortable corner. The junior HS had FitS and a fair amount of the other golden age authors. I didn’t realize I was missing out on the juveniles…

          My brother’s future BIL gave me his old paperbacks when he went off to grad school. These had about all of the RAH adult books. The Man Who Sold the Moon and The Door into Summer really struck me, with the latter likely responsible for putting me into engineering. The remaining juveniles I picked up in college; the U had a recreational bookstore in the student. They allowed reading before/without purchasing, and when the budget said “no buying”, I took advantage of that.

          Not the previous century, but I caught all (at least all in paperback) of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories at that bookstore.

  5. Well, I wouldn’t call people with pink pokadotted clothing evil, but I would definitely say they have execrable taste and it’s a benison to let them know it, in as loving a way as you can. Maybe something like “bless your heart, you really CAN be picked out of a lineup, can’t you?”

  6. Hmmm … It seems to me that entering into the “world” of one of these “older” books requires the same skills and mindset used to enter into the foreign worlds of good fantasy and science fiction.

    So it’s really bad when people who say they like/”support” SF won’t put any effort into trying.

  7. I love old books, I am more apt to browse a used book store than a new one. I find old books from the past masters gems worth savoring. I also hit the public library sales as well, you can get wonderful books at them for almost nothing, some with their original covers on them. Who doesn’t like Have Spacesuit Will Travel?

    1. Unless the new book stores have changed a lot, I know pretty much what I’m going to find there.

  8. I come at this from two directions.

    First, I grew up reading The Three Investigators mysteries from my local library. The initial gimmick of the first… thirty-ish books or so? was that at the end of each case, the trio, Jupe, Pete and Bob would report the case, in person, to Mr. Hitchcock, the famous movie director. Then after Alfred died, they did a quick changeover so that the boys were reporting to the fictional internationally famous mystery author Hector Sebastian (complete with references to his books that never existed). That bugged me even as a kid, because the later books were inferior, and having a not-well-developed mentor show up once per book only served to emphasize their shortcomings. I got it, even then, because Hitchcock was dead, but thought it was a bad idea anyway.

    Second, because I publish public domain pulp fiction, I sometimes have to decide whether or not to do some rewriting to soften the racism or not. I’ve only done it a very few times, two or three, and only one of those was more than a few words.

    I take these on a case-by-case basis, and my rule of thumb is “how hard is this going to throw modern readers out of the story, and will changing it harm the story?”

    The extensive one was Ironheart by William MacLeod Raine, and it wasn’t very extensive. I think I rewrote a couple of pages’ worth of story in two chapters toward the end, simply because there was a minor character, a large black woman of course, who in the climactic crisis became a minstrel show frightened darkie who kept exclaiming “oh lawd” and the like and being utterly useless. My rewrite basically took out the minstrel show dialogue, and tried to dial back her histrionics to something less theatrical and more believable in the situation. (And I included the original text in an appendix for anyone curious as to how overwrought it was.)

    The other change that comes immediately to mind was a single word that I changed. This was also from a climactic sequence in a western. The villain has lit out with the heroine as his captive, and he is being pursued by the hero, who grabbed a black horse to give chase the moment he realized what had happened. After pursuing their trail for dozens of miles and several hours, they crest a hill and finally can see their quarry in the distance. The hero pats his black horse on the neck and says “We’ve got them, N——!” While clearly not meant to be derogatory in any way — the horse was noble and true — I just couldn’t leave that in, so I changed it and included a note at the end about the change.

    In another case (from the same author), I left the n-word intact. It was a villainous character’s nickname, and interestingly, the book makes clear both that the character is not black (his ethnicity is ambiguous even to the characters who know him), and that the nickname was applied as a judgement of character, not race.

    I’m a preservationist by nature, I don’t want to make changes. But I also want readers to keep reading the books I publish, rather than getting yanked out of them. It’s a judgement call I don’t have to make too often, but when I do, it’s never an easy one.

          1. C’mon. Don’t self censure. Bad for the blood pressure and digestion.

            How about “self-lobotomized turd-burnishers”?

          2. And better than certain. Writers of nonfiction. The author of the classic “Black Elk Speaks” inserted passages attributed to Black Elk that were the author’s own editorializing. Thank God for the annotated edition that honest scholars who marked up to note these instances, and the editors and publisher who let us know.

    1. ” I think I rewrote a couple of pages’ worth of story in two chapters toward the end, simply because there was a minor character, a large black woman of course, who in the climactic crisis became a minstrel show frightened darkie who kept exclaiming “oh lawd” and the like and being utterly useless.”

      Sir, having been in many, many black homes during severe crisis, this was not “minstrel show” dialog. This is how people in urban black households talk, especially older urban black people. People are also generally useless during a crisis, and most of them are obstacles more than anything else. Useless is actually better than most people are in a crisis. I have said on many occasions that the single most important thing to do in a crisis is to look calm and look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t know and you are terrified. If one person looks calm and looks like they know what they’re doing, they can save a metric fuckton of lives purely by giving people instructions to go do things. You would be amazed at how much you can calm down a panicking person by calmly, clearly telling them to go get some towels and some water.

    2. I also come at it from two angles. First, I like reading old books. My Mom taught me to read in English. (My Grandmother did the same for German, but that’s another story.) She also let me read the books of her childhood, The Bobbsey Twins series (1930s) was wonderful. Also a lot of Louisa May Alcott, and Black Beauty, and My Friend Flicka, and Thunder, son of Flicka. I loved them all. I could see where the “good people” would call racism on some of it. I figured that was just the way it was then. I would never do that now.

      The second angle is in the movies. I love me some black-and-white, grade B sci-fi movies. But the science, oh yeah, the science! In the textbooks I could scrounge from my older cousins, gradualism seemed to rule the day, and no one knew why earthquakes ha63ppened at all, let alone why they happened where they did. In the early 60s my mother showed me a newspaper article about a ‘crazy idea’ from some dead guy named Alfred Wegener, I was intrigued, because the illustration for the article showed South America and Africa and how they fit together. So I went to the library to see what I could find. (This is another story, about Libraries and Librarians and my Dad telling them off..) But yeah, in 1963, it was just another piece of fluff on page 32 of the newspaper. It wasn’t until the mid to late 70s that plate tectonics came to be accepted as a theory, and taught. (So don’t tell me any science is settled!)

      Back to the movies; most of which were made in the 50s. Yeah, the science was oh, so wrong compared to what we think we know now! Even Around the World Under the Sea, which is one of my favorites, was made in 1966 and had no clue of plate tectonics.
      I just look at my movies as an alternate universe with different science.

        1. It took decades for Wegener’s observations to become accepted theory. Simon Winchester [geologist and writer] lived through the transition as a student and talked about it in some of his books.

        2. It took decades for Wegener’s observations to become accepted theory. Simon Winchester [geologist and writer] lived through the transition as a student and talked about it in some of his books.

      1. In a science text from the 50’s, the accepted theory, was ‘expanding planet’. That is, each planet would expand as it got older, though the mass remained the same. This explained the gas giants in the solar system. Tectonics came about in the 60’s. Now the ‘expanding planet’ theory is pretty much completely forgotten.

        1. The public library had a book (read in the ’60s, no idea when published) that ridiculed the idea of tectonics completely. “Balsalt doesn’t move, shut up”, they explained. No comments whatsoever on the curious similarity between eastern S America and western Africa.

          That might have been my first clue that the more strident the denunciation, the less there was to support the denouncer’s theory. And then a few years later, it was Global Cooling!!!11eleventy!

          Reunite Gondwanaland!

        2. “Steady State Universe”

          Sometimes, as I see yet another adjustment/fudge* added to the “Big Bang”, I wonder if Fred Hoyle might have been on to something.

          He was the one who figured out stellar nuclear synthesis. Also derived an energy state of carbon in the fusion chain. If the universe has the observed carbon, fusion has to favor it, which requires an energy state x that is favorable in reactions.

          He was quite correct on that one.


          “Dark Energy” so far undetectable force needed to make the theory fit observations

          “Inflation” where the universe expansion radically accelerates, then slows.

          I tend to think “your observations may be wrong” or “one of your assumptions is wrong” is the problem.

          We tend to assume a great deal from radioactive decay residues. But if the expansion of the universe isn’t constant, how is decay constant? Or gravity? If the rules can change, why are the changes always towards a particular functionality?


          If a single massive singularity can spontaneously expand to form a universe, why not a whole bunch of small ones to form individual hydrogen atoms? The microwave background could be noise from that mass of “little bangs”.

          And if the bang rate varies, doesn’t that cover the variable expansion?

          Also note that “both” is a possibility.

          1. You can speculate about exotic phenomena all you want, but until they are observed and tested they can only be wild-ass guesses. Just as we have found that gravity is a constant, and radioisotopes decay at a constant rate — through observation, testing, and by comparison with other phenomena.

            Wild-ass guesses that upset the whole of established science have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do before they can be taken seriously.

            1. I have personal and theological reasons to like the Big Bang, but I roo find the “dark matter/dark energy,” concept something of a “fudge factor.”
              I also find the multiverse theorizing amusing because it strikes me as a perhaps desperate attempt to hold on to a “random chance,” explanation of, well, everything.

              1. There is a recent theory that information has mass and is matter, thus the observer effect, and that it is the dark matter.

                “Mommmmmm!!! Make him stop looking at me!”

              2. I think we missed something.

                And some observations would fit a “multiple bang” scenario. It gets weirder when you look at the potential for a black hole at extreme deep time to spontaneously discharge. Now where have we before contemplated a sudden expansion from single-point infinite density? And if these are not all universe sized, then we might have some really tangled loopiness.

            2. We lack direct evidence that gravity and decay are constant over long periods of time. (Limited observation). We assume they are constant. Big difference.

              The changing rate of universe expansion would be explained by variable gravity. Or an occasional add-on that is effectively the same. “Dark energy” is an effort to avoid “something isn’t really constant”.

              Also assumption is the start state of isotopes that decay. If the start ratio is significantly off, the elapsed time can be off by orders of magnitude.

              Carbon 14 dating makes assumptions about the rate of C14 input to Earth’s biosphere. Between burning fossil carbon with essentially no C14, then setting off several thousand nukes that made gobs of C14, we have totally changed the background signature future folks will try to use.


              But at least we have some ready legacy data on old tree rings and some cave accumulations.

              Longer term isotopes lack the detailed records and include much more assumption. But we do occasionally find some wild-ass knuckleballs like fossilized natural reactors in Africa. Freak of billion year old nature mixed U235 rich ore with ground water, burning up the U235. Someone tried to enrich the ore and got “nuh uh” result. Can’t happen today. Not enough 235 left for natural water moderation to go critical at anything close to STP.

              The consistency of the clock tick is essential the longer it runs. Thus, 19th and 19th century ship chronometers had to be wound to exact specifications of stem turns at exact times. It worked well enough. But any tick deviation played havoc.

              1. Again: present evidence that justifies overturning nearly every established theory of nuclear physics, mass, inertia, gravity, thermodynamics and cosmology. “It mighta coulda!” does not constitute evidence.

                Really, do you believe that no scientist ever has noticed the C-14 anomalies of the last 50 years, and taken them into account? Or resolved any of those other questions? Hell, CO2 vented from volcanoes is even more depleted of C-14 than coal and oil, and there have been volcanoes for a really long time.
                Long ago, when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks they called it witchcraft. Now they call it golf.

  9. Nancy Drew and, I believe, The Hardy Boys go through this with some regularity as well Enyd Blyton’s works. I grant the versions of Nancy Drew I read were “updates” for 1960s readers, but I never had a problem with the fact that she lacked a cellphone or had to scream to prove to a guy that she wasn’t lying about being a girl (the villain had locked her in a closet and the bystander discovered her but was unsure she was who she claimed to be, so she screamed to prove she was female; I thought “That’s a clever trick, need to remember that,” and read on). Dang it, I wish they would leave the older material alone. :grumbles under breath:

    1. Chuckle Chuckle

      Off Topic, but I’ve read some older books where the “story plot” would have to be massively changed if the characters had cell-phones. [Crazy Grin]

      1. :points upward: Exactly! I don’t want the plot changed, or the original language lost, or anything carved up to make the book “relevant.” Write new stories for Nancy if you wish where she has cellphones and an iPod (they’ve done this) – I don’t mind that. Leave the older versions alone. They’re fine the way they are. Grrr…

      2. Computers/calculators, so much of early Sci fi (including E.E. Doc Smith and Heinlein) still has slide rules in use in the future. Things that are just so unpredictable are unsurprisingly hard to predict 🙂 . Early Cyberpunk is often just as weird when read from almost 40 years later.

        1. Who can forget the ‘memory tubes’ in ‘The Door Into Summer’? A.E. Van Vogt wrote of hundred-foot-long slide rules and vacuum tubes the size of zeppelins.

          Although, I have seen a real-life ‘tumblebug’, a motorized unicycle as seen in ‘The Roads Must Roll’. Looks like the back wheel of a motorcycle with a seat on top. It must be dynamically balanced, like a Segway.
          There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.

          1. “A good SF writer might have predicted the automobile. But it takes a great SF writer to predict the traffic jam.”

            And I do recall the prediction of ‘flash crowds’ with teleportation and a popular event… we don’t have teleportation, but a popular web page/story can generate a severe load on the server. Back when, this was the “Slashdot Effect.”

            1. Ah yes. Now it’s Instalanche. [Remembers trying to do some /. moderation and running into the goatsex link. Brain Bleach, STAT!]

              And now we have flash mobs IRL, with social media and antisocial mobsters.

            2. Larry Niven was remarkably prescient in some things.

              We don’t have teleportation, but his flashmob world didn’t have smartphones, so I think it balances out.

            3. When Instapundit started causing that effect by linking to small blogs ~20 years ago the term Instalanche was coined. Still happens from time to time.

        2. And a couple decade later, mentions of tons of computers aboard spacecraft. That didn’t sound too crazy in 1960, but by 1975 it already seemed anachronistic.

          1. “Starfleet has used this short layover to install an additional 80 terabytes of storage in the Library computers. I want to come home with that memory full. Be advised.”

            Oh, you don’t have to go that far back: in Diane Duane’s “Doctor’s Orders” from 1990, this passage indicates that

            1) 80 terabytes of memory is a LOT since a survey of an unknown planet will take extra effort to fill it.
            2) It’s a major enough upgrade that it requires a special set of skills found by a visit to a separate repair facility.

            This was the 23rd Century viewed from 1990. We are working in petabytes and up 30 years later, and it’s viewed as a normal onsite day’s work to add that, the equivalent of sending up a package and instructions.

            1. I recall an early 1990’s SF short story in one the still-barely-readable mags… with a story about some small spaceship and this silly (even THEN!) exchange…

              “The ship computer has 128 Meg-”
              “That’s not much memory!”

              1. In H. Beam Piper’s “Cosmic Computer” (published in 1963), the characters spent hours translating a question (for Merlin a super-computer) because Merlin didn’t “understand human-talk” and once Merlin answered (a matter of seconds) it took hours to translate Merlin’s answer into human-talk.

                IIRC even at the time of writing, most computers could “understand human-talk” and the answers were human readable. 😆

          2. Someone put out a role-playing Lensman game a while back and they included a fan fix for why the Lensman universe stayed with tubes. Essentially, Mentor caused the inventor of the transistor to encounter an accident scene where he saved the life of a pretty young woman….and afterwards was too busy being a husband and father to follow up that weird idea he’d had.

            1. Shockley? Bardeen? Brattain?
              As if that would be enough to stop it…. delay, sure, but… a world with the crystal set WILL get it, eventually, unless there’s some HUGE reset.

              1. Yeah, that would take a LOT of match-making, with a LOT of would-be semiconductor inventors. And only one of them would need to divert some spare time away from the family to work on his (or her) invention…

                “What’s that funny gadget you just made, dear?”

                “Hmmm, it’s like a transconductive resistor…I think I’ll call it…a ‘transistor’!”

                Mentor: [face-palm]


              2. There was a web comic (AfterY2K was the strip, still available at geekculture dot com) that posited “The real millennium virus”, created by one Arthur C. Clark. (Silly? Yep) This took out semiconductors via handwavium, while vacuum tubes still worked. Some gloriously silly consequences came out.

                There were also bits like the Abacus World Expo, and the tubes had a motto: Tubes Rock.

                I had a couple of AWE tshirts and a Tubes Rock one, all long since gone.

                The strip went dormant after a few years, and the people doing it now do The Joy of Tech comic.

              3. When the solution is supersaturated, the particular jog that causes crystallization is not important.

            2. Yeah… but most of the tubes Smith mentioned directly were handling megawatts or gigawatts. And then there was the Sunbeam, of course. You don’t handle that kind of power with silicon; good old thermionic valves are the answer.

              Asimov once mentioned that dozens of science fiction writers – himself included – had written about planet-sized computers, but nobody had foretold the pocket calculator.

              1. Usually, for those kinds of power levels, we use mercury-ion tubes like Ignitrons. Need to switch 80,000 amps? No problem, just use a D size Ignitron.

                SCRs were originally called ‘thyristors’ because they were seen as solid-state replacements for gas-ion thyratron tubes.

                I have also seen some very tiny vacuum tubes, not much bigger than a TO-5 transistor. I think, if we had been denied the use of semiconductors, we could still have made some remarkably sophisticated computers. Although a cell phone would still be the size of a house.
                Delenn: “Why do your people always ask if someone is ready right before you’re going to do something massively unwise?”

                Sinclair: “Tradition.”

                1. Thyatrons, heh, I have one that came out of one of the old 20MW radar systems I worked on. It’s about 24 inches long and eight inches in diameter. We used to open them up and install small florescent light/systems in them and use them as table lamps, heh.

                  1. Errr, I think you mean a Klystron, or maybe a Traveling Wave Tube. Thyratrons aren’t much use in radars, because the cathode-plate voltage has to be reduced to zero (or reversed) to switch them off. They also take a long time, in the millisecond range, to switch on or off. Works great for switching 60 cycle AC, not so good for signals in the megahertz range.

                    Low-power radars, up to maybe 30 miles range, commonly used Klystron tubes as oscillator/amplifiers. Bigger radars generally used Klystron oscillators, then fed the transmit signal into a Magnetron final amp stage.
                    Hard work and sacrifice pays off at some indefinite time in the future. Laziness pays off today.

        3. Neuromancer and its plot-critical pay phone scene.


          Which come to think of it is a bit odd even considering it was published in the early ’80s. Personal communicators have been a staple of science fiction for who knows how long. And the first analog cellular phones were already available when the novel was published (though not in common use, iirc, so perhaps not surprising if Gibson wasn’t aware of them yet). It would have made plenty of sense for Gibson to stipulate that the characters had something portable that would work for that scene, even if they didn’t have full smart device functionality. But instead the novel has pay phones.

          1. One of the early Superman movies had a sight gag where Clark Kent is ready to change clothing, but looks at a payphone kiosk and winces. (Anybody remember payphone kiosks?)

            I got my first cell phone in 2005 after I spent too many hours trying to find a pay phone in Flyover Falls.

            1. I don’t remember Clark “wincing” but I remember that scene. 😆

              Oh, off topic but there was a short comic showing aliens invading IIRC London and a man ducks into a British Blue Policebox.

              It’s the Doctor’s Tardis and the man is Clark Kent wanting to use the Policebox to change into Superman. 😉

              1. got my first cell phone in 2005 after I spent too many hours trying to find a pay phone in Flyover Falls

                I know where you can find working payphones, with instructions on how to use them. Tuoluomane Pass, Madison WY, Grant WY, Bay Bridge, WY, Tower WY, … Why? Because cellphones will not work. Might get a text out at Madison. First one is the campground near the east entrance to Yosemite, latter are in Yellowstone. I am sure other national parks, especially in the west, some of their bigger campgrounds have them too. Note, the phones are near the entrance. Because if there is any power, at all, that is all the further most campgrounds have power (not even bathrooms, even if flush and not pits).

                1. There used to be a huge bank of pay phones at Twin Oaks rest stop off the Garden State Parking Lot (aka the Garden State Expressway). We stopped there one night after an SCA event because it was late and we were all tired. “We,” being my beloved (the Baron), the Baroness and the Baron’s mistress (me). We had a cop check on us because one man and two women weren’t normal: Twin Oaks was where gay men came on a Saturday night to make hook ups. They’d answer any phone when it rang and set up an assignation.
                  One reason for my enduring cynicism about, “Oh, no, gay guys all have long-term stable relationships, just like straights!”
                  I wonder if the pay phones are still there.

                1. Clark definitely looked at the phone banks and appeared to think “no way I can change there”. 😀

            2. That was Superman: The Movie. He does use a revolving door to change (at superspeed) in that one, which is somewhat similar to the classic phone booth…

      3. You don’t have to go back too far for story plots like that.
        There’s a song written around 1995 that starts:
        “Every time the phone rings, I wonder if it’s you.
        I’ve about worn out those records we used to listen to.”

    2. Nancy Drew lost me when I read that she was wearing pumps (High Heels!) on a camp out and going down a muddy trail. I walled that book so hard and never picked up another.

      1. Have you ever seen pumps from the 20s/30s when Nancy Drew was originally written? Not saying it would be fun but the heel is short and very broad. Not really much worse than men’s dress shoe. And honestly look at sports shoes for men in the 20’s and 30’s they’re essentially dress shoes with softened uppers and scuffed up soles. A boot would be more appropriate functionally for our heroine or perhaps a penny loafer? And by the rewrites at least some young ladies were wearing Ked’s style sneakers/trainers. But the boot would be far less common in any middle or upper class young ladies wardrobe in the 20’s’30s time frame, not sure about loafer/dock shoe type things. The past really is a land that we don’t quite understand.

        1. Sperry Topsiders date to 1935. Loafers seem to be present around 1910 or so, with a claim of bespoke versions in 1847. (Wiki for both references.)

          And yeah, I recall pumps to be a moderate, fairly wide heeled shoe.

            1. Agreed, 🙂 🙂

              The most extreme camping clothing was the trio, er, skyclad. OTOH, they didn’t come to watch the stars. A little bit awkward since they set up close enough to our site (a buddy of mine) so we would get an eyeful. At least they skipped Mosquito Lake, where the bugs would hover and wait for the DEET to fade. That would have been amusing.

        2. Note the heels on proper cowboy boots.

          Which is why I wear “ropers”.

            1. Those heels keep your feet in the stirrups. Just as the pointy toes help you put your feet in the stirrups.

              Addendum: Those heels keep your feet in stirrups and let you get out of stirrups not trapping you halfway off a runaway. One does not want their foot to slip a foot to the heel in a stirrup. OTOH those boots are not made for walking, very far.

              Also note. Good timber worker boots also have heels. Good ones have a wedge, toward the toe, and are a good one inch high. Allows the heel to dig into down slope dirt, vegetation, and debris. I could never wear boots with those type of heels. My feet are too small. These boots are made for walking … hiking for miles and miles.

      2. If they said boots, with a girl of the ’20’s, they would have been thinking cavalry-style riding boots. Otherwise it’s rubber boots, barn boots, fishing boots, that kind of thing.

        I think hiking boots were invented in the 1930’s or late ’20s?

    3. ….That is clever.
      The only folks I can think of who could pull off the “is that a guy or girl” voice AND do it in a scream would be that guy who sings for Beast in Black, and he doesn’t sound… right when he does the metal scream, for a girl. It’s super freaky in the “it… might be?” zone.

      Example, don’t watch the video until at least one listen through, to avoid suggestibility:

      And then do, because it’s cool. 😀

      1. He’s got the oddest falsetto-like register I’ve ever heard. It’s not like Christian Eriksson/Hedgren’s counter-tenor (AKA “Yes, you can, but you shouldn’t” notes) on the first Twilight Force album. It’s perfectly controlled, straight-tone, but done by an adult male.

        1. It doesn’t sound like he’s got a falsetto at all, it sounds like he’s got a mature different range than simply… sounds more female. (I understand that it IS probably in all technicality falsetto simply addressing the sound and tone quality.) I wonder if it’s akin to what some of the better voice actors can do to make themselves sound genuinely like someone else so you can’t tell when they are having arguments with themselves in the show.

          1. :cheery bouncing:

            The way it was explained to me is COOL.

            It’s basically “pinching the vocal cords in two.” So only half of the length is vibrating. (Which is why some guys doing it will grab their throat.)

            I THINK with him it works because he’s naturally got such a range, but the sound is just so interesting and I totally thought “that is a weird sounding woman.”

          2. I can hear the point on the scale where he switches register, but I’m listening for it. The music is written so he can jump that shift point, making it harder to catch. 🙂 He’s also got a lot of natural resonance in his upper register, which makes him sound more like a woman with an extended “chest voice” range than the usual counter-tenor.

            Now I wonder if he’s like the American counter-tenor who has made a good portion of his career singing what were originally castrato roles. He’s got an extensive counter-tenor range, but with the power of a mature man. Shrugs It’s a cool sound, and the group makes the most of it. 🙂

          1. Some very good Tribute bands use a female vocalist to sing Rush tunes.

            YYNOT covers Bastille Day, live
            (May contain ad at start)

            (She nails it)

      2. And I must admit, the middle of the video irked me so much that I’m writing a novella (short story that growed) to “fix” the plot. Love the song.

        1. Good!

          I mostly love the video because it spent so much time going “K…that’s a girl sing– a scary looking bald guy with a biker beard?!?

          1. I’m trying to! It’s not my fault that they are related to the Killer Rabbit’s scapegrace cousin, Rapid Rabbit. (“I run away, I run away, I flee to the hills!!!”)

            1. sigh
              I know, and I can’t fault you in the slightest, not when you’d be perfectly right to display a few claws and reply “Turnabout’s fair play!”

              wanders off, humming

  10. Love me some old fiction. Some of the Heinlein juveniles are still regular reads, Citizen of the Galaxy, Have Spacesuit will Travel, Farmer in the Sky, Time for the Stars, Spaceman Jones. Others i enjoyed but haven’t gone back to read. Yes things like the nature of Venus and Mars are just dead wrong given what we found with probes, and yes I wouldn’t be surprised if RAH cut corners a bit to get the right things to happen (Although if Virginia caught the inaccuracies I bet they got fixed 🙂 ). And yes some of the even older SciFi has period consistent biases. Just find original sources for Skylark of Space and Skylark Three and cringe at the portrayal of the Japanese butler. And of Course E.E Doc Smiths science is almost as bad as light sabers and matter teleporters. Agatha Christie as noted has some severe antisemitism embedded, and is pretty hard on the occasional Asian characters. But that too can be a learning experience for a more advanced (high school or late middle school) reader.
    And some stuff I loved as a kid just doesn’t work. The Tom Swift Jr. books were a go to of mine in 3rd and 4th grade. Have run into copies of them at used book stores and after some brief skimming man they really stink on ice 🙂 . Daughter has original Nancy Drews that were bought for her (NOT the 50’s rehash but the original sources reprinted) and they are only slightly better and period biases like in Dame Christie’s stories sneak in.

    Over time things like that will need footnotes, heck without the footnotes you miss 90% of the more subtle humor of Shakespeare as the language has shifted so much in 500 years. Without understanding Regency period manners much of Ms. Austen’s fiction is incomprehensible. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read Shakespeare or Austen just that it means you need to invest a bit more time. You get a feel for another time from that kind of exposure.

    As for not being able to read the words if the kids are on a kindle it has a built in dictionary. Highlight the word and voila definitions and pronunciations at your fingertips (quite literally). In general I have a LARGE vocabulary but sometimes even I run afoul of archaic words. Only once has the kindle failed me it was a word in Moby Dick for which it had NO idea. Searched on the internet and ultimately found it referenced at the Mystic Seaport website. Mystic Seaport shows the various skills needed for Whaling in the 19th century peak and the word was whaling specific. Though darned if I remember it and I am not going back. I can see why the literary types love Moby Dick, but that is probably one of the hardest slogs of reading I have ever met.

    1. I Love Heinlein’s juveniles. I have them all in paperback. My favorite used to be Farmer in the Sky. Until I started scuba diving. Diving with Enriched Air means you have to learn about atmospheric gases and partial pressures and oxygen toxicity so you don’t kill yourself underwater. Afterward, I have to skip the part where he is talking about Ganymede’s atmosphere, because my brain won’t accept it.

      1. Yeah like the differences in planets its Revcent knowledge. Scuba was only very recently invented and not well known until after WWII. I don’t think oxygen narcosis was well known, certainly not as well known as the bends in the 50’s.

    2. Really? Jane Austin is incomprehensible? Maybe I am a Regency throwback or something.

      And some of the better SF/F today requires wading through the first few chapters to decode what’s happening. And the same could be argued for Shakespeare, Melville, and a host of other fine old authors.

        1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – terrible movie, great fun. And almost my only exposure to Austen. My high school tried to inflict Wuthering Heights on me.

            1. Yeah, any time you have an introduction where the writer says he wants to “fix” a classic, it’s a good chance there will be sneering.

              On the other hand, I did enjoy his Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Maybe because it wasn’t stomping on the source material.

      1. I find Shakespeare more incomprehensible than Austen. Of course, Shakespeare is better watched than read.

          1. I found most of Shakespeare to be a timeless example of human nature which holds true no matter the time frame.

      2. Let me count the ways that someone born in the 90’s might fight find Regency period fiction confusing that are in some way important to plot points:
        Only the eldest male heir inherits
        Many parts of the inheritance of a upper class (titled) person may be entailed, that is you cant sell it so its just a money sink
        Tenants may farm land they don’t own paying rent to the lord, These were often the main basis of a lords income.
        Businessman are considered common if not vile. Titled folks do NOT partake in it
        Engagement is VERY serious. Once a gentleman has offered engagement reneging on it makes him dishonorable
        Similarly once married divorce is VERY hard to get for the gentleman almost impossible for the lady
        Marriages are often to keep inheritances within the family or to gain additional power
        Male adultery and oat sowing is often expected/ignored. Ladies may participate in adultery but getting caught (or heavens forbid pregnant) will ruin you, if unmarried in the upper class and pregnant you are utterly disgraced as is your family.
        It is hard to understand what 1000 or 5000 or 10000 british pounds a year represents, also hard is the pounds shilling pence thing (let alone some of the OTHER units used) This is made worse by the modern relation of pound to dollars and by the fact that British money was decimalized over 50 years ago.
        Being in the Army with a Colonelcy or so is considered proper for a second or third son. Naval positions are somewhat more dubious below flag rank. Another high prestige position is a Vicarship.

        Much of this is because there are effectively false cognates. If you don’t look into the history you don’t understand these things and view them with a modern eye. As history is taught weakly and badly to todays kids their understanding is confused. Good news is 20-40 minutes or so with a good source on Youtube or similar will sort you out.

        1. And cheating at cards is a very serious offense. Enough so that a man changing his name and going into exile after being accused was not unheard of.

        2. “Entailment” was to ensure that large estates would not be broken up piecemeal to be given to multiple sons. It was a multigenerational legal hassle to break them, hence the Bennets of Pride & Prejudice wanting to have a son to “join them in cutting off the entail.” If an estate was entailed, it would go to the nearest male in the inheritance line in its entirety.

          Georgette Heyer is a decent entry into Regency customs, though obviously very wrong on the romance front (because she was writing romances, where unlikelihood was not an impediment.) Since she was writing a century after the fact, she becomes a nice bridge. (But again, don’t believe what her female protagonists do.)

          1. Breaking up the lands between sons was a IIRC a Frankish tradition which applied to royal lands as well as lesser land owners.

            Charlemagne’s kingdom was divided between his three sons.

            1. Celtic land law went from “the tribe owns the land, and there’s a grazing land lottery every year for individual nobles and tenants” to “equal sharesies of land for every heir.” (Because cattle was wealth, and crops were just backup.)

              Equal shares are not really that different from the lottery, because eventually one guy was farming and everybody else just got shares of the proceeds.

        3. The way for ladies to have flings is to ensure they are already pregnant, then have them.

          Later in the 19th century, it was considered all right provided she had produced the heir and the spare, and one upper-class girl was sent off for her Season with the sole advice from her grandmother being “Never comment on a likeness.”

    3. I enjoyed the CraignKennedy series, also on Gutenberg (though I got part of it in hardback from a neighbor). Gee-whiz, “marvels of modern science,” mysteries, set in the early 1900s.
      In those, it’s rather common for an Asian minor character to turn out to be a good guy, rather than a villain.

    4. $HOUSEMATE gave/lent me The Man Who Sold the Moon and I just could NOT get into. I expected the tech to be dated. I can deal with that. But the idea that space overflight rights had to be bought/negotiated weirded me out so much I never got past that part. I couldn’t get through that insanity. Yeah, I know, just go on, but… that’s what I tripped over.

        1. But you do NOT need that for satellites or anything once in space.

          Though I do recall at least one claim that Ike purposely delayed things so it might NOT be the USA to establish “overflight happens, deal.” Though how accurate that claim was… no idea.

          1. Entirely accurate. America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, was a rerun of a test Wernher von Braun ran in September,1956. WvB was going for orbit on that one. It was his life’s goal. But he was working for the Army, and …

            President Eisenhower knew that aircraft reconnaissance of the Soviet Union would only be viable for a few more years (and indeed, it ended when Francis Gary Powers was shot down in 1960). He knew that satellite reconnaissance was not just theoretically possible but already in the planning stages, and could continue indefinitely. And he knew that the USSR would raise a propaganda stink about satellite overflights if we did it first, even though orbital mechanics just works that way. But if he let the USSR go first, then they couldn’t complain about satellite overflights. So …

            Eisenhower ordered the Army to ensure that the fourth (orbit) stage of WvB’s 1956 test did not reach orbit. I’ve heard that they replaced the fourth stage with a mass-equivalent dummy whose solid rocket motor was filled with sand, and then posted armed guards to make sure WvB didn’t change it back. The test went off perfectly, and WvB knew that he could have reached orbit — and tasted ashes when the Soviets did it “first”, a year later.

            Eisenhower got exactly what he wanted, but the Sputnik propaganda coup was a much bigger deal than he expected. After the “civilian” Vanguard launch failed, he told the Army to go ahead and rerun WvB’s 1956 test. And the Army reached orbit in 60 days from a standing start, which showed intelligent observers that they already had all the hardware lying around to do it. (If any such observers wondered why they hadn’t already done it, they were smart enough to keep such observations private.)

            The backlash from Sputnik in America drove great improvements in the teaching of what we now call STEM. It can be argued that the success of the moon landings, as well as rapid developments in technology from the ’60s through the Reagan years, are traceable to the STEM boom after Sputnik. “Oh, yeah? Watch this!” is a powerful component of the American character.

            WvB may never have been told why Ike made him let the Soviets go first. Spy satellites were a deep dark secret in those days. But with six decades of hindsight, Ike might have made the right decision for the US.

            1. Not sure I buy that. The Explorer I was launched on a Juno rocket (a derivative of a Redstone SRBM/Jupiter MRBM). It was meant for the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958) and ultimately launched in February 1958. The Juno was a marginal device for orbiting the >20KG Explorer 1. The Sputnik 1 was about 80KG and actually light for its hardware a missile based on the Soviet SS-6/SS-7 ICBM (its descendants still carry modern Soyuz to orbit). As it was Explorer 1 was plan B the Eisenhower administration had favored the Navy’s Vanguard rocket but that had been failing miserably (out of 11 attempts it succeeded 3 times, the first well after Explorer). Explorer was fast tracked after sputnik surprised the Eisenhower administration (as usual the intelligence folks got caught sleeping).
              The Soviet rocket head Korolev seems to have been quite brilliant. The thing that saved us was Soviet manufacturing REALLY strained to make the precision hardware and in some cases (e.g. rocket engines) just never were even close creating issues like the N1 moon rocket which tried to use 30 very questionable engines instead of the Saturn V 5 immense F1 engines. It would have been interesting to see what Korolev could have done with better manufacturing. Perhaps a thought for an alternate history of some sort where Korolev defects and Von Braun and Korolev get to work together ? Although the little I’ve seen of real geniuses two of them rarely get along well…

    5. I have an annotated Sherlock Holmes (annotation done by some serious SH geeks, down to arguing about the weather for the supposed date). Some of the non-American concepts are really helped by the annotation. This is a 1967 edition, and the stories were not edited; the Doyle estate seems to have had firm control over them.

    6. I will say the Kindle’s built in dictionary did not help that much when I was reading Tales of the Dying Earth. That’s just Jack Vance though.

      1. Vance footnoted the words he made up. The others are usually real, though obscure, and maybe not always English.

        Vance’s wordplay annoys some readers, but I think it does a lot to set the mood of a story.

    7. Even within an author’s works — I think Andre Norton’s Ice Crown is marvelous, but Forerunner Foray, I was ticking off the weak points. (Did no one even notice how the artifact was making people OBSESSED with it?)

  11. I skim-read some Heinlein juveniles a year or two back while picking them up on ebay for a non-ebaying relative to pass along to the youngsters in the family. There were places where the differences in tech or geopolitics might give someone pause(1), but I didn’t think the language was all that advanced. Heinlein used a very direct style in those, you don’t really have the philosophical asides of Starship Troopers, the argot experiments of Harsh Mistress or the meanderings of his later works.

    Anyway, TPTB need to stop revising the oldies. As in Jasini’s CS Lewis quote, it’s useful to see what people thought “back then,” even/especially when we disagree with them.

    (1) Although, strictly speaking, a future that never was shouldn’t be any harder for a specfic reader to get into than a plain past-times setting, but people tend to act like it is.

    1. Younger Daughter tried to read Rolling Stones back in 6th or 7th grade. Language was no problem but she felt the description of the tech went on WAY to long. Even in Info Dumps RAH was first having beat Mr Weber by 30+ years 🙂 .

        1. Never minded the infodumps, but congenital engineerosis (totally a word) has something to do with it. 🙂

        2. Does he also like Victor Hugo? Because that man is the King of Digression. I mean, fascinating stuff, but I don’t really need thirty chapters on a blow-by-blow of how Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo in order to understand that Thenardier is a battlefield scavenger.

          1. Tristram Shandy is a 500 or so page digression. I got a copy because Lewis and Dorothy Sayers seem to have regarded it as comfort reading but when I realized the narrator was never going to get back to the alleged plot, I put it down. Grrrrrr.
            (Honestly, everything Lewis says he loved, or which influenced him, is either unreadable to me or just not even close to anything I like).

      1. I ground through “The Rolling Stones” once, and never had any urge to read it again. “The Star Beast” was bo-ring and didn’t make a whole lot of sense; I gave it another try a few years ago and didn’t see any reason to change my opinion.

        1. Yeah I found Star Beast is a kind of funky read, but one does have to love Lummox and its wanting to raise more John Thomases.

          1. Lummox Was Female and she wanted to raise more John Thomases. [Crazy Grin]

            1. Lummox was an Alien Princess! 😀

              And her people were…concerned about how big she’d grown during her little hundred-year vacation on a primitive planet.

              1. Yes, the John Thomases had overfed her. Especially when she got out and ate the neighbor’s Buick.

    2. Soon it will be like making a movie reference that goes over someone’s head. Then you find out they only know the remake, and never saw the real one.

  12. “…this dysfunction must be related to the “I have to have a character I identify with” obsession. Both are unfathomable to me…”

    Oh, thank goodness, I’m not alone in this. I hear and read about this phenomenon all the time and I just don’t get it. Probably the result of some mal-educated nonsense.

    1. I have a canned rant on how child characters get pushed in children’s books by editors, parents, teachers, and writers, even though children don’t particularly want that, and (if offered a choice) would prefer, e.g. 50-year-old pipe-smoking bachelors as protagonists.

      And I wrote it years before seeing Terry Pratchett’s “… similarly, Moby Dick is popular among whales” snark.

      1. I tell youngsters nowadays that back when I was their age, I didn’t read YA but juveniles, and the difference was that in juveniles the main character could be an actual adult. Young, but adult.

        As in, I was once in a discussion of Catseye by Andre Norton, and people were commenting on how oddly mature it seemed. I pointed out that unlike Katniss in Hunger Games, Troy’s looking for a job to support himself was just looking for a job, not so much a tragedy. Yes, his life had been tragic, and it was unfortunate what jobs he could get, but he would have worked regardless.

        Nowadays, the only way I’ve seen is for the adult main character to be military, which doesn’t actually solve the problem because then they have unnatural responsibilities that should go to someone higher in rank.

  13. Edit the past, control the present, rule the future.

    The unwritten sequel

    2084: you fools didn’t listen

  14. “…not arguing there isn’t a reason for “updated” Heinlein juveniles…”, Horror, blasphemy, crime against humanity, be still my poor heart!

    “— not updating the books but writing something like. ” Oh, that’s what you mean, OK, let me catch my breath, I feel much better now. -grin-

  15. I don’t know how this slipped my mind, but Jerry Pournelle, Charles Sheffield and James Hogan (and possibly a few others?) attempted a series of modern juveniles in the Heinlein mode in the 1990s, I believe they were published under a series title relating to Jupiter, and they were put out by Tor when it didn’t completely suck.

    Pournelle and Sheffield co-wrote the first, Sheffield wrote at least three more, Pournelle did one on his own, Hogan had one. The ones I read were nifty, if a bit uneven across the series. They were mostly hard SF, but had interstellar travel via wormholes, which might have been the only stretch. Titles included Higher Education, Starswarm, The Billion Dollar Boy.

    They weren’t a patch on Heinlein, but they weren’t bad. And the science was only front and center when the story demanded it. (Like pounding into the head of a juvenile delinquent the importance of spacesuit integrity, if he wanted to keep breathing.)

    1. The Billion Dollar Boy is a direct rip off of Kipling’s Captain’s Courageous . There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that but it amused me no end when I read it. IMO both are entirely accessible to modern day readers

      1. You can’t “rip off” what is in the public domain. It’s no more a rip off than Citizen of the Galaxy is a rip off of Kim or Double Star is a rip off of The Prisoner of Zenda.

        1. Billion Dollar Boy is an almost exact retelling of Captain’s Courageous only in space – Citizens of the Galaxy is more “inspired by” Kim IMHO. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it is worth pointing out

          1. Yet you still cannot “rip off” what is public domain and freely usable to everybody. And the opening stages of Citizen are, well, HEAVILY “inspired”, before it goes off in a different direction than The Great Game.

          2. “Almost an exact retelling of X, but Y” is probably the largest chunk by weight of all Asian-area stories.

            (Journey to the West and then the stories that were “JthW, but fill-in-the-blank”.)

      2. Had it been early, and I’d found, I might have read that. Somehow the Great Sea Tales are… well, they fail to me (NOTE: to me, before some Utter Dolt goes on a tirade). But a Space Tale, well now, that at least has a chance.

  16. Reading older books, warts and all, is a very educational experience (in the fun way, not the school way). I learn so much about what the knowledge and attitudes of an era were.

  17. This is nonsense. Not only do I read with pleasure books written in the 20s or 30s, but books about writers often give me a sense of commonality with these long-dead people.

    Worse, NOW you can actually look up some weird reference made.

    I can’t remember what it was exactly, but in one of the Peter Whimsey books it was mentioned that he looked like a specific sort of caricature of exactly what he is; I was able to ask on facebook and not only get it explained, but get an example of actual pictures they would’ve been going off of. (Big nose, no chin, kind over done hair)

  18. Why wouldn’t the Mackey Chandler “April” and “Family Law” series be a good substitute? I consider them as good as the Heinlein juveniles and they do have a lot of juvenile characters.

    Also, although I don’t like what I know of her politics, Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” books are excellently written and her magic sounds EXACTLY like programming. They also feature adolescent protagonists dealing with enormously serious problems.

    1. No near-future, really, and not (as heinlein’s were) hard sf.
      The same with fantasy, of course. It’s not going to interest kids in science.

      1. Why is April less hard sf than the Heinlein juveniles? He goes into quite a bit of detail about the future technology technology although some is very speculative, but that’s true of pretty much all sf. I’m pretty sure x-head missiles would actually work, and the political/economic/public health aspects make a lot of sense. The Mitsubishi habitat seems pretty reasonable to me overall too, as does Central.

        Let’s compare with the Heinlein juveniles. Could we build either of the alien spaceships in “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”? Can twins really communicate via telepathy? Can we build single-h rockets?

        I’m not seeing a big difference here.

  19. I kept a copy of Alas Babylon for years, not just because I enjoyed the story but because it gave a realistic portrayal of a time and place where real bigotry thrived.

    I wish i still had it. It got lost somewhere. I probably loaned it to someone.

  20. My ‘rereading for pleasure’ has largely been sacrificed on the altar of more technical reading to keep up with. But I still manage a little. Heinlein, of course. Conan Doyle’s original Holmes. I used to reread “The Odyssey” every few years, but it’s probably been ten since I did that. Read Robinson Crusoe last year (a surprising book that I thought I’d find familiar from cultural osmosis — not at all. The tone of the book was very different than I expected). On the other hand, I’m still eagerly awaiting “Monster Hunter Memoirs: Fever” and trying hard to make it to Suarez “Critical Mass”, so I still read some things from Current Year

    Now back to “Introduction to Plasma Physics” ….

  21. Oh, yeah, and all the “bigotry” that they’re now eliminating from her and Agatha Christie’s and all 20th century books: some of it is actual bigotry. There is a massive streak of anti-semitism in great Britain for instance, and it comes through loud and clear in places.

    Although anti-semitism was not at all universal. Britain also had plenty of generally respected Jews too (see Benjamin Disraeli), a significant chunk of people liked the crackpot British Israelite hypothesis that claimed the British were descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel and Tottenham Hotspur football supporters call(ed) themselves the Yids even when they weren’t of the Red Sea Pedestrian persuasion. And so on.

    Plus if you weren’t a London dweller you probably had zero encounters with Jews (or for that matter anyone not British (or Irish)). Hence while people might speak insultingly of Yids they’d do the same about Spics, Wogs, Frogs, Huns, Dagos, Nips, Chinks and so on. And in almost all cases if they actually met a Yid, Spic, Wog, Frog, Hun, Dago, Nip or Chink would treat the person entirely respectfully.

    Mind you late 19th C and early to mid 20th C British had a severe case of believing themselves to be superior to all others which comes out in lots of literature (see Kipling for ex). There was also intense anti-Catholic bigotry too. Catholicism being a religion of the Spics and Dagos (and Irish) who had previously been enemies and were now just inferior beings. That too comes out in books and always surprises me when it does.

    1. The antisemitism of some European Christians is one of those historical ironies that always perplexes me, how they revered one set of Jews while condemning the ones who lived in their midst.

      1. When Christ said “Don’t weep for me. Weep for yourselves and your children,” it was a warning, not permission.

        And unfortunately it is still very real. They don’t even see it as racism.

      2. how they revered one set of Jews while condemning the ones who lived in their midst

        …how is that confusing?

        It’s not even as tough as tribalism– you have two sides of a disagreement on if the ultimate religious promise has been filled, and there was quite a bit of yay let’s do a murder involved, there, at the start. Including by one guy who got a Godly Gibbs-smack and changed his mind.

        Something can be wrong while making perfectly rational sense, given their assumptions.

        (And that’s before any of the normal, human issues come up– remember that various neighboring countries often didn’t like each-other, heck not our town could be and was a big deal, and was justified because you actually couldn’t trust them. )

          1. :shrug: Your failing.

            It no more protects you from being precisely like them than folks insisting Nazis are uniquely evil protects them, and leaves a very large gap in your defenses.

  22. You also need to leave the bigotry in place in older works to show that it WAS there and it WAS real. Dorothy Parker has a very good Peter Wimsey mystery with a display of “soft” bigotry by an otherwise admirable character (of the sort “aren’t we blessed to not have dark skin”) as well as a “white slavery” scare (which we would now refer to as human trafficking or sex trafficking.) Those attitudes existed, and they were real, and pretending that they didn’t gives us a false view of the culture of the day and its motivations.

    Anyway. I like a large range of reading, to the point where I took The Silmarrilion in stride. (That sucker is raw myth. If you’re not used to reading that, you will bog down.) I recommend it. There are so many gems out there, and surprises, such as the sympathy that Wilkie Collins displays towards the servant class in his 19th-century novels. (He treats them like real people, which is not something you’d expect from a gentleman of the time.)

    1. Unnatural Death? There’s a poor African preacher who turns out to be related to a wealthy (and murdered) woman through an, ahem, indiscretion by a male forefather. So of course the killer tries to make him a suspect based purely on his skin color.

      1. That’s the one. And it’s Miss Climpson (who I like for the most part) who goes off on the “good for a darkie” letter that makes me cringe every time I come across it.

    2. It also serves as a calibration so you can show people that A, it wasn’t as bad or as universal as they think it was (temporal bigotry being a thing), or B, how bad it was then to show how much we’ve advanced/changed (catastrophism also being a thing.)

      If you lose the details, then everything is always as bad as it ever was, while simultaneously the ancestors were always evil and their descendants should pay the cost.

  23. One thing I do have a problem with is books that were obviously set in another time but have modern technology. Or books that are supposed to be “current” but they’re still using manual type writers or pay phones.

    That throws me right out.

    Another is cultures that are supposedly alien but hold to our own cultural expectations.

  24. I had to re-read Witch World many years later before it registered that Simon Tregarth had survived WWII. Recently.

    A guy, a war, guns, the underground market, and then the Stone that transported you to other worlds… it needs no updating!

        1. Yes, but

          A guy, a war, guns, the underground market, and then the Stone that transported you to other worlds

          sure reads the same.

    1. ‘Migrants’. ‘Asylum seekers’. ‘Migrants’. 😦

      Bullshit! They are F*ing illegal alien invaders, enabled by the traitors in power. Deport them all and make them apply to get in, like the law says.

  25. I recall a Summer, or two, where I went through almost all the local library’s Mark Twain collection. Other Summers, other authors, other genres.

  26. I’m thinking of Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Sure you could turn the expensive slide rule into a calculator and such but where do you stop? At this point Heinlein’s juveniles are no longer outdated, they are historical. You get a good sense of America when there were soda jerks but no Netflix, etc. That has become an actual selling point. IMO. But I read and reread Kipling.

  27. I read Doc Smith’s Lensmen, Heinlein’s Juveniles, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and even Asimov by the armful.

    Reading things that might have been or might still be is important for the young. Offering it to them can get you marked as counterrevolutionary, tho’…

  28. Ooh, ooh! I’m thinking Sarah could totally riff on an Expanse-like future with the latest science for a whole series of young adult sci-fi. But no cute Disneyesque AI animal companions, please. However, space cats would certainly be acceptable.

  29. You have possibly missed somethig vital that differentiates the really great authors from the merely good or mediocre. Austen’s writing could be called “self-contained” in that many things about Regency are explained quite clearly within the story itself. It is not necessary to be versed in the period because Austen explains it all in the story. Perhaps you weren’t “reading between the lines” but it’s all there.

    Really? 30 minutes of YouTube? How about reading, actually reading the books carefully enough to absorb their meaning.

    1. ?????????????????
      WHAT in heck is that all about? I DID read Austen and in fact have written Austen fanfic.
      I’m…. completely puzzled at this rejoinder. WHERE did you get the idea I don’t know/read Austen?

      1. That reply was for tregonsee(?) Who replied to me that Austen could not be appreciated by modern readers who did not know about how things were during the regency and condescendingly suggested doing a little research via YouTube (!). I implied that treg hasn’t really read Austen which was a little spiteful on my part. My reply was clearly intended for treg but it (WP delenda es) got appended to the end of the comments instead. Kinda how this reply was intended for you personally but Lord knows where it will land.

        1. As platforms go, WordPress is a bar of very good soap,

          thoughtfully left on the floor of a crowded shower.

          1. “All are sane save me and thee,
            And I’m not sure of thee.” To paraphrase the Kingston Trio, among others.

  30. Re: ‘Years ago, I came across someone a little older than my kids who refused to read Heinlein juveniles because “they’re dated.”’

    I can actually see that, in a way. A twisted way, to be sure. And not just because of the technology. All of the Heinlein juveniles I’ve read (along with a lot of other SF from that period) have a spark (some might say a raging bonfire) of unspoken optimism about the future, a belief that humans are generally good and the future will be a great place to live. That all went out the window in the late 1960s and 1970s, mainly because of the postmodernist belief that humans were inherently corrupt and would always screw things up unless government prevented it. (See: the Star Trek Prime Directive and similar ideas.) The postmodernists never did cotton on to the fact that government is made up of people too.

    On the subject of “revised” versions of old books — when I was a kid I got large-print “for kids” versions of Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan. Years later I bought new paperback copies of both, and found that while my treasured read-to-shreds copy of the first had been more or less faithful to the original, the “for kids” version of the second had left out the first six chapters. Completely. Cut, whacked, gone. As a result, later in the book Tarzan’s great enemy Rokoff simply appeared out of nowhere with no explanation of how they knew each other or why Rokoff hated Tarzan. Talk about screwing up the story…

  31. A very good attempt to write a modern Heinlein juvenile is Hadrian’s Flight by J. Daniel Sawyer.

    The same author wrote a good book analyzing the juveniles and what makes them special with an eye to helping people write similar books.

  32. A very good attempt to write a modern Heinlein juvenile is Hadrian’s Flight by J. Daniel Sawyer.

    The same author wrote a good book analyzing the juveniles and what makes them special with an eye to helping people write similar books.

    1. I just read John Varley’s “Irontown Blues”. Very good cross of a Juvenile and “Friday”.

      1. Does the Varley book make sense if you haven’t read the first three books in that series, since it is book 4? If so, I’ll buy it.

  33. I still love the Heinlein Juveniles at age 62. Yes, they are dated but, so what.

    1. BTW, my favorites are “The Star Beast” and “Citizen Of The Galaxy”. “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” is almost a juvenile.

  34. I like old books because of what they accidentally tell me about ordinary life back then. All those little details…

  35. Here’s a puzzler: I just saw a pitch for a local food bank — and all of the ‘starving poor’ they showed were fat. They could stand to miss a few meals. Wearing new clothes, too, with cell phones and jewelry. I should donate…why?

    1. Our local (small town and rural) food bank sees its share of skinny, badly dressed folks. Some of them walked there and we wind up hauling them and their food home. One guy’s home recently was his car -yes, we didn’t have to drive him.
      Honestly, I’m glad when the count is low. It’s boring as a volunteer, but if it means peop.e don’t need the food (yet)…

  36. Varley’s “Red Thunder” is clearly and unapologetically a pastiche of Heinlein Juveniles. Although can we still call published in 2003 “modern?

    My favorites were of course Starship Troopers, followed by Tunnel in the Sky. Farmer in the Sky is also up there, but it suffers from being serialized (for Boy’s Life), and honestly a good editor would have cut the chapter where they find the alien centipede vehicle.

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