Like the old saying goes, a book is never completed, only abandoned. Some science fiction authors take this maxim to heart, rewriting their books even years after their first publication. Here are 10 perfectionist authors whose works were never done.
Note: This list doesn't include "fix-ups," or novels that are collected out of previously published stories that were edited together — that was a super common practice back in the day, and not quite the same thing as publishing a novel, then publishing a severely revised version of the same novel later. It also doesn't include short stories or novellas that were later expanded to novel-length, for the same reason.
When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold (1972)
The original version of When HARLIE Was One was a finalist for the Hugo award and coined the phrase "computer virus" for a program that runs on computers without permission. The 1988 version, When HARLIE Was One Release 2.0, was revised to include more accurate information about computer science.
Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke (1948)
Against the Fall of Night would go on to become the more well-known The City and the Stars in 1956. Unlike many other rewritten novels, the first version did not fall out of print and both are still around. Both books follow the story of Alvin as he makes his way out of the domed city of Diaspar. Though there are somewhat different characters in each book, the primary difference seems to be that in Against the Fall of Night Alvin is the first child born in 7,000 years in a city filled with exceptionally long lived people. While in The City and the Stars, the city's inhabitants have their memories stored and are recycled into new bodies. In this version Alvin is a Unique: a new person born into an adult body with no past lives to remember. This single change adds depth to the fictional city; apparently the city planners created such Uniques to eventually encourage the people of Diaspar to leave their city and explore the world. Clarke also added more technological updates, including a Central Computer that doesn't just control the city, but is actually a self-aware A.I. He also adds the ideas of Sagas, virtual reality-like storytelling devices that are completely immersive.
The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (1955)
Jack Finney's 1955 The Body Snatchers was "revised and updated" for its release in 1978 as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to coincide with the release of the new movie version. While the plot remains the same, this newer version includes newly added references to events that occurred in the 1970s.
Ground Zero Man by Bob Shaw (1971)
This book became The Peace Machine (1985) after a revision that included more cultural updates, like mentions of current television. As the book is about the Cold War arms race (and about how it cannot end, no matter what technology is invented) a 1985 reissue makes a great deal of sense as the book can be read as a comment on the "Star Wars" program.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
After the success of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien toyed with revising his earlier book to make it fit in with the Rings saga better. He sent a sample chapter of the revised version, "Riddles in the Dark," to his publishers, Allen & Unwin, to see if they were interested. He heard nothing more, and assumed they'd decided not to pursue the matter — until he received galleys of a new edition that incorporated the revised chapter. In the new version, the biggest change is that Gollum is much less eager to bet his ring on the outcome of the riddle game. Thanks to CarrierCrytharis for reminding us of this one!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
The version of this seminal science fiction novel that most people are familiar with is actually the 1831 edition, which Shelley rewrote and added a new introduction to. Professor John Harcourt of Ithaca college explains the difference between the texts, "Victor Frankenstein is no longer the child of a decaying Genevan family. His early readings in the alchemists seem harmless enough, and it is a visiting stranger, not his father, who introduces him to the power of electricity. It is at Ingolstadt that the "angel of destruction" takes effective and permanent control of his life: everything thereafter would seem to follow as the inevitable consequences of his decision to create life. His intensified religious awareness is powerless to alter the course of things. Walton is younger, more than ready to take Frankenstein as his model. Elizabeth is no longer a first cousin: the hint of incest removed. Cierval is preparing to join the British ruling class in India. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley now distances her characters from the realities of life so effectively perceived in 1818."
The Stand by Stephen King (1978)
When The Stand was first released, it was a mere 823 pages long. But in 1990, King put out a much longer version, called The Stand: Complete and Uncut, which restored a lot of scenes that he'd removed in 1978 for length reasons. But King also made a number of other changes to the text, updating the story so it took place in 1990 instead of 1980 and revising several pop culture references to fit this new version. Unfortunately, the change resulted in some anachronisms — including a character who was "in the war" despite being much too young, in 1990, to have fought in Vietnam.
The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle (1987)
This one hasn't appeared yet — but Beagle is reportedly working on a revised and expanded version of this urban fantasy novel in which the Society for Creative Anachronism suddenly does have the power to recreate bygone times. The revised version will be known as Avicenna, for the name of Beagle's thinly disguised version of Berkeley, and we can't wait to see it.
The Alternate Asimovs by Isaac Asimov (1986)
There comes a point in the lives of truly famous, successful, critically beloved authors when they become more powerful than their editors. Who knows when Isaac Asimov reached that point, but we know he exercised that power in 1986 with the publication of The Alternate Asimovs. Included were versions of Pebble in the Sky, The End of Eternity and the short story "Belief". But these are not rewrites of the published versions — these are the original UN-published versions. He included the 20,000 word novella that would be expanded into The End of Eternity, with a slightly different ending, two different versions of the short story "Belief", and Grow Old With Me, which would become Pebble in the Sky. Neither The End of Eternity or Grow Old With Me had appeared in print in these versions before.
Tons of books by John Brunner (1959 onwards)
But the crown of rewriting, just for the sheer number has to go to Hugo and Nebula award-winning author John Brunner. He revised and republished ten novels in his career. This seems to have started in 1963 when he revised 1962's Put Down This Earth into The Dreaming Earth. In the following years Brunner would rewrite books that he'd written as early as 1959 and continue rewriting until 1982. He also republished a handful of other novels under second titles without revising them and wrote under multiple pseudonyms, making the Brunner completist a rare member of fandom. Here's a complete list of his revised/republished books:
The 100th Millennium (1959) (revised in 1968 as Catch a Falling Star)
Echo in the Skull (1959) (revised in 1974 as Give Warning to the World)
Slavers of Space (1960) (revised in 1968 as Into the Slave Nebula)
Put Down This Earth (1962) (revised in 1963 as The Dreaming Earth)
Secret Agent of Terra (1962) (revised in 1969 as The Avengers of Carrig)
The Astronauts Must Not Land (1963) (revised in 1973 as More Things in Heaven)
Castaways' World (1963) (revised in 1974 as Polymath)
Listen! The Stars! (1963) (revised in 1972 as The Stardroppers)
Endless Shadow (1964) (revised in 1982 as Manshape)
The Day of the Star Cities (1965) (revised in 1973 as Age of Miracles)
Top image: cover art for The Stand comic book from Marvel Comics.