the Little Red Reviewer

Feeling Dated, and Not So Much

Posted on: January 6, 2019

Hello and welcome to this week’s #VintageSciFi discussion!

Topic for Jan 6 – Jan 12:  I just dated myself. In your experience, which vintage SF books don’t feel dated?  What titles have passed the test of time, and feel like they could have been written in the last ten years? Is such a book possible? What, in your opinion, makes something feel dated?

Anytime this week, post a blog post with your thoughts, and leave the link down in the comments so others can more easily find your post.

Not sure where to start?  Here are my questions and thoughts.

 

What makes a Vintage book feel dated?  

On the hard scifi side of things, whenever I read an older science fiction story and the author talks about “computers the size of a room”, or punchcards, I laugh my head off.  1960 called, they want their room sized computer back!  I do want my scifi to have technology – computers, spaceships, flying cars, but almost the less the author speaks to the specifics of the inner workings of the technology (how exactly the spaceship flies, how big/small the computer is), the less dated it feels.  Vintage Science fiction is more a victim of the “dated through technology” issue than vintage fantasy. In fantasy, a magic wand is a magic wand, you know?

Many readers are turned off and bothered by the fact that older scifi fantasy books tend to feature only white, male protagonists, and that female and non-white characters are built around stereotypes and flimsy characterization.  This can make a book feel not only horribly dated, but also offensive.  In my personal experience, I’ve read some books where this is super-bothersome for me, and other times i am not as bothered. Could be the author, could be the mood i’m in that day, I have no idea.

 

What dated books do I enjoy, even though they feel dated?

 

I recently read Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel (review coming soon!).  It is horribly dated, often to the point of being funny. The main character comes off as a country bumpkin at times, and i’m hoping that was on purpose, actually, and his wife is written as a 1 dimensional cartoon character. More of this in the review, but his entire worldview is just so narrow as to be silly.  So, yes, horribly dated, but more in the review about why I think this is an important read, and how influential the ideas presented were.

 

One of my favorite older short story collections is The Best of Hal Clement, but yeah, in style and pacing, these stories feel really dated.  Lots of hard scifi, good conversations, excellent commentary on communication between humans and aliens.  If you’ve never read any Hal Clement, this paperback is worth hunting for.

 

It should surprise no one that Mary Shelley Frankenstein does feel dated, and in my opinion this is 100% due to the writing style, which was perfectly modern when the book came out two hundred years ago (Yes, TWO HUNDRED years ago!!).  If you’re not sure where to start with historical Science Fiction,  Frankenstein a perfect place to start.

 

What Vintage SciFi Books have you read that didn’t feel dated?

 

I’m really interested to hear what everyone else has to say on this one, because the only ones that quickly come to mind for me are Dune by Frank Herbert,  Nova by Samuel Delany,  Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, and Waystation by Clifford Simak. With the Wilhelm title,  the first chapter or two feel a little dated, but everything after that could have been written last year.

What do Dune and Nova have in common?  They take place in the far future, and the lives and goals of the characters have nothing to do with today’s life on Earth.  In Nova, Earth and Earth based politics are mentioned, but Lorq’s decisions are not based on 20th century Earth.

 

Now it’s your turn to join the discussion!

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15 Responses to "Feeling Dated, and Not So Much"

Well, I have to laugh when you call “vintage” SF that was brand new when I first read it, so I guess I am now vintage.

I think maybe I look at this slightly differently. I don’t mind old technology. 2001 is “dated” in that we didn’t send a crewed mission to Jupiter, we sent two Pioneers, two Voyagers, Galileo, Cassini (flyby), New Horizons (flyby) and Juno. That doesn’t mean I can still enjoy the story.

Alternatively, there’s “dated” due to writing. Writing has, I think, overall gotten better (except for a few stubborn corners of the genre world). Characters are better. A book, vintage or no, with flat characters, overuse of data dumps, etc., is harder to immerse myself in.

I did enjoy my last read of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series. Pulp so thick you can see the wood chips. Corny dialogue and characters. But when “Doc” starts tossing beams and counterbeams around, planets around and even galaxies around, I can still find enough of the thrill I had on my first read through to make it an enjoyable read.

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fwiw, i turn 40 this year, all the middle grade books i loved as a kid are now considered out of date. oh well.

I agree completely that in most arenas, writing in general has improved. How authors communicate a character”s backstory, world building, how to infodump without it feeling like an infodump, that has gotten way better.

dated technology in older scifi books – no cell phones, we hadn’t been to the Moon or sent out probes yet, in a way, that doesn’t even matter for me. Sometimes dated tech feels cute, cozy, kinda fun. But so long as the writing is enjoyable (and even in a few cases when it isn’t), I still enjoy the story, for the writing, or the ideas, or questions the author was asking.

LOL, it goes both ways – there is plenty of flat, info-dumpy, garbage being published right now, with boring ideas and even more boring ways of writing about them.

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For me, there are different ways for a book to feel dated, with different reactions from me. Dated technology, as Fred says, isn’t such a thing for me, because I’ve lived through much the same ground as he does. Consider Vinge’s “True Names” or even Neuromancer, which is not how the Internet turned to be at ALL.

However, social customs and assumptions that so egregious today that I can’t ignore–sexism, racism, et cetera that are so present in the story that I can’t ignore them, that makes a story dated and not in a good way.

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” I can’t ignore–sexism, racism, et cetera that are so present in the story that I can’t ignore them, that makes a story dated and not in a good way.”

very much agreed! I’m working on a review for something right now – so much sexism and closed minded-ness that I can’t even. But so many good ideas and questions that needed to be asked!! (and i think some of the closed minded-ness was a plot point, so there’s that). I cringed through a lot of the dialog as i was reading this one.

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I’m also bothered the most by racism and sexism. In fact, 25 years ago most of the translated SF books were so sexist that they turned me off reading SF for many years.

I’m still planning on reading Wells’ Time Machine and one Jules Verne this month.

I read the Frankenstein some years back and I don’t remember it feeling dated. But that’s because I read the Finnish translation; clearly it had been modernized. Then again, the translation itself is from 1973. Maybe a reread is in order.

Yes, floppy disks and huge computers are now laughable. Admittedly, I haven’t read much vintage SF in recent years but I agree that the vintage SF which doesn’t feel outdated doesn’t really deal with tech. We’ll see how Wells holds up. Verne does feel dated because he focuses on tech, not characters.

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I’ve been reading the ‘world’s best SF of 1973’ collection and last night the story by James Tiptree, Jr. (“The Man Who Walked Home”) struck me as not dated at all. It was just an interesting story — set a couple hundred years in the future. The Poul Anderson story “Goat Song” also didn’t seem dated. I think for me a lot of it is the writing style, plus the obvious elements of racism/sexism and the tech not being too intrusive.

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I’m reading Heinlein’s Space Cadet now (to cover next week), and it feels remarkably undated all things considered. The cosmopolitan Space Force, the use of psychology by the military, the orbital mechanics. One thing that did jump out at me was the reference to the Sears catalog–only circa 2070 it is the Sears & Montgomery catalog!

I like the square-jawed spacemen of vintage SF (as long as they aren’t participating in 1950 gender roles decades in the future). The Isaac Asimov stories I’m covering Thursday had a bit of both.

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A great discussion article! I also find a significant amount of the early science fiction graunches due to the inherent sexism – C.J. Cherryh, who is still writing now, started in the 1970s and I find both her style and her subject matter very contemporary.

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I’m in agreement with mervih that focusing on tech rather than characters can date a story. Frustratingly, I love to read scifi for the tech side of things, which fascinates me. On the other hand, punch cards and giant computers can be kind of charming too. So I guess it’s all down to how the story is told in the end. 🙂

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Alfred Bester holds up well especially The Stars My Destination. I find a lot of Philip K. Dick holds up, especially his stuff after 1961. Childhoods End by Clarke dates well. John Wyndham and Jack Vance also. Any Robert Silverberg after the mid 60’s too.
My reread of Caves of Steel found the same flaws you did. But I find most Asimov dates badly. The Mote In Gods Eye also dates poorly, a lot of misogyny there.

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i cut my scifi teeth on The Mote in God’s Eye when I was I dunno, 15 or so? Read it again a few years ago, could barely get through some scenes.

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Does The Coldfire Trilogy count as vintage?

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was it written before you were born?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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