I have been building up quite a collection of Robert Rankin books on my Kindle. He keeps doing special offers on his birthday or a christmas where one or two are free and others are at reduced price for a short while and I snap them up.
This is not just me being tight, I just don’t want to pay full price for books I already have and have already read several times, but I am OK with paying 99p to have an e-copy I can take with me when I am travelling.
Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I have been re-reading the Armageddon series. These are probably my least favourite of Rankin’s books and I thought I would get them out of the way first.
During the second book I had a feeling that it might have been subtly changed from the old paper copy I have. It was in one of those bits where the characters are taking about the book they are in I think, and there was passing mention of the publishers, Far-Fetched Books. I was fairly certain that was a company Rankin set up fairly recently to buy up the rights to his older books and re-publish them, so it didn’t exist at the time the book was written.
In the third book of the series (The Suburban Book of the Dead) there is passing mention of Lady Gaga, which stopped me in my tracks a bit. When the book was first published Lady Gaga was only six years old.
It now has me wondering what other little changes were made prior to the re-publication. Those two only stood out because they were anachronistic – quite fitting since all three stories feature time travel with some very deliberate anachronisms that get acknowledged openly by the author and also by characters themselves.
I dare say that some obsessives have gone through the versions line by line and put all the differences online somewhere, perhaps even on the Golden Sprout site.
By the way, I am not complaining about this. I’m sure that plenty of books could do with periodic tweaking to maybe update topical cultural references, or embarrassingly superseded technology. I remember reading an EE ‘Doc’ Smith book set in the distant future that mentions the Bakelite control panel of a spaceship for example, and a Harry Harrison book writeen when 386 computers were the cutting edge that mentions a 586 computer to help establish that it is hundreds of years in the future.
Of course there is an argument that these period details give books a certain charm and that you wouldn’t keep re-writing Shakespeare to bring it up to date – though plenty of people do that one way or another.
I’m not particularly bothered one way or another, but it does mean that when I do re-read all those Rankin books on the Kindle there is still the chance I could get surprised, even if it is a book I have read two or three times before.