Moderator’s note: Garson’s essay is timely, given that Publishers Weekly is zapping online archives of E-Book Report and two other blogs. E-text is like Silly Putty—endlessly malleable. You can even go beyond that and delete it.  – D.R.

image While listening to an audiobook of a well-known multi-award winning novel I was surprised to find that the story seemed different from the story that I read many years ago. Major events in the book that critically defined the mental state of the main character had somehow been significantly altered. I wondered how my memory of the plot and settings could be so faulty, and I was surprised when I discovered the truth. The text of the book had been altered substantially by the author, and the narrator was reading the revised novel.

Curious provisos on cover

The Amazon Web site displays the cover of the book which is emblazoned with the words “Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of the Year”. But the cover has another curious proviso, “The Author’s Preferred Edition of the Seminal SF Classic for All Times”. However these two statements are contradictory. The prestigious awards were not given to the “author’s preferred edition”. The awards were given to the edition that was actually originally published. The science fiction fans who voted for the Hugo award might have loved or hated the author’s preferred edition, but that is impossible to say because they never saw it before the balloting had ended.

The comments above are not intended as an attack on the novel. The revised version is not as strong as the original in my opinion, but both versions are very impressive, and I enjoyed them both. The main fault lies with the confusing and misleading marketing. The issues raised are pertinent to TeleBloggers because the increasing popularity of easily transmutable electronic text may exacerbate the problem. Authors, publishers and marketers may be tempted to release multiple versions of e-books. Yet reviews, comments, and awards typically apply to exactly one version of the work. Positive reviews and awards earned by one version do not really apply to another extensively modified version.

Natural solution for E’s malleability challenge

Although the malleability of the e-book format may intensify the problem, the format also provides a natural solution. If an author or publisher wishes to significantly alter the text of an award winning book then he or she can include the complete unmodified original text in a package together with the revised version. In the electronic realm this is easy since text files are small and the added costs are negligible. Readers could even be allowed to compare multiple versions side by side.

The book that evoked the discordant memories was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman originally released in 1974. Haldeman, a Vietnam War veteran, crafted a superlative story about the alienating experiences of soldiers fighting a confusing and controversial war in interstellar space. The psychological dislocations endured by the troops in the novel are heightened by a fascinating and potent science-fictional conception. The war is fought using spaceships traveling at relativistic speeds.

Time travel

High speeds lead to Einsteinian time-dilation and this causes friends, foes, and the home front to be separated by scores of years. The adversary in a hostile encounter might have access to military technology that is many years ahead or many years behind. Thus combat encounters are often lopsided and absurdist. A soldier returning home after a handful of subjective years might find that his closest relatives died hundreds of years ago, and the civilian society has evolved toward unrecognizability.

Joe Haldeman and his editor, Ben Bova, disagreed about a long section of the work that concerns the return visit to Earth of the main character, William Mandella. In the original award winning edition Haldeman deferred to the wishes of Bova. In the new version the section conforms to the wishes of Haldeman. This is explained in an “Author’s Note”, so the paper book reader is notified that the text has changed. I did not hear the author’s note when listening to the audiobook version, since it is apparently omitted from the narration. There is no commercial e-book version of the text yet. At least I cannot find one. Perhaps if it is released in e-book form in the future all the variant versions can be packaged together.

Image: CC-licensed, from PuttyMan. Actually the putty shown is Thinking Putty.


  1. I’m glad you posted this, because it’s an issue that I face myself. I have an e-book coming out that includes a story of mine that won an award when it was originally published in an e-zine. I’d planned to have the story at the e-zine (which is linked to by the awards site) replaced with the version that appears in the e-book (which has minimal stylistic revisions), but now I think I will simply provide a link to the revised version, leaving the original version where it is.

  2. I am pleased that you found the article useful, Dusk Peterson, and congratulations on your award winning story. Your suggested solution to the dilemma discussed that provides access to the original and the revised versions of your story is excellent.

  3. This happens a lot with film, where the director re-releases a film with edits and changes. It’s always interesting when the director makes a significant change. In one film, the VHS version showed the character being killed at the end; in the DVD version, the character was not killed, just roughed up a little. This edit totally changed my overall opinion–it wasn’t better, just different.

    With books, it happens less frequently although I suspect with ebook formatting issues, enhanced capabilities and self-publishing makes this possible. For my main fiction project, I release a story when it’s finished, and edit it several more times over the years. ( makes it possible to track those changes).

    Version management software will make this even easier, although we’re not there yet.

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