Updating “A Logic Named Joe”

Steve Davidson talked to me about the fact that there are many great Science Fiction Stories that are badly in need of a technology update. These are stories written before computers, men on the moon, cell phones or the internet. These stories are not read today because they are so out of date.

He talked about taking a Heinlein Novel, for instance, and updating it so that the future tech in the stories matches the way that technology really developed. This could be done by judicious editing and changing some of the older concepts to real modern ones. For instance, an astrogator plotting orbits using a slide rule would be replaced with an astrogator calculating orbits with a navigation computer program, or even having the navigator be a sentient computer program.

I decided that this would be a fun project, and I picked a story by one of my favorite authors to start off.

A Logic Named Joe, written by Murray Leinster (using his real name of William F. Jenkins for once) appeared in a 1946 issue of Astounding. At that time a computer was a person who worked in an office who did calculations for a living. Leinster used the word Logic to describe what would later become a computer system. He talks about punching things into a Television screen. It is all a little clunky, but the story about what the computer does makes it one of the best short stories of all time.

(Read A Logic Named Joe at Baen.com)

I will spend a few minutes every day to make changes to the story so that a modern reader might not realize that it was written in 1946.

Here are some of the rules:

No part of the story is to be changed other than updating the story for modern readers.

I will attempt to preserve the wording as much as possible, keeping each sentence in its place and only changing words or phrases.

I will try to bring the story into the 21st century by altering references to events, objects and ideas that were common knowledge at the time, but may not be familiar to younger readers. For instance, I can alter references to the cold war by replacing, word by word, the descriptions with current events.

I can replace technology items on a word by word basis.

I can change obvious historical anachronisms by altering key words.

I must avoid changes in the use of language, even if it is dated. If the author uses a phrase like “you’re the bees knees”, I should keep it in the story in unless there is a drop in phrase from modern usage that fits well.

I can alter changes in style, fashion, and mores as long as they do not change the story line. For instance, women will not wear dresses unless in a situation where women would wear dresses now. I will try to remove casual references to tobacco usage. Cocktails will be beer and wine.

Casual sexism can altered if it does not change the relationships in the story.

Statements or attitudes that are offensive or politically incorrect by today’s standards will be changed with as little impact as possible on the story.

I would like to change a few things about characters in old stories. Protagonists in Golden Age Science Fiction tend to be white Anglo-Saxon males.  I would like to do some gender changes and alter some cultural stereotypes. This is going out on a limb, but I think that changing some of the characters to make them more diverse without altering the story line is a good thing for the story.

I made a stab at some changes today. I tried to do a global search and replace of the word Logic with Computer, System, or Neural Network. None of these worked out well. I may leave the word Logic. Leinster explains what a Logic is and I can alter his explanation to make a Logic like a brand name of an intelligent neural network based computer system. I think that I will have similar issues with other concepts and that they all will have to be hand crafted.