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E-Book News

News Blip: Deep Outside SFFH author Dennis Latham announces the publication of his novel The Bad Season, now available in hardcover from brickstores and onlinestores everywhere.

News blip: Clarion West announces their Year 2000 instructors will include John Crowley and Paul Park (team teaching), Geoff Ryman, Candas Jane Dorsey, Pat Murphy, David Hartwell, and Carol Emshwiller. Clarion West is a six-week summer workshop for writers who want professional careers in science fiction and fantasy. Next year's workshop will be held June 18 through July 28 in Seattle, WA. Applications are due by April 1, 2000. Only 17 students will be selected. For info, see CW's website, or write to Clarion West, 340 Fifteenth Avenue East, Suite 350, Seattle, WA 98112.

Observation: We're up to our ears in e-books, and happy about it, though it's like life in a blender. First of all, we're still getting back on an even keel after two months of extreme family adventures including a wedding and a trip to Europe (that would be Brian and Gwen), so you'll note that we've tried to squeak the September 99 ish under the door and probably just barely missed. Oh well, October will be graced with two issues.

Second, due to a casual email between myself and novelist Charlee Boyett-Compo (almost 20 published novels in print and electrons), SharpWriter.Com, our writer's resource page, is suddenly turning into a major e-book resource. In less than 2 weeks, it's gone from a one-man show to a staff of about 24, including 7 editors and nearly 20 reviewers. We should be unleashing a torrent of articles, reviews, and interviews in the next week or two, so please check us out.

Third... well, that's still secret, as I said last month. I promise to break it wide open for you in this column next month.

So, with that, let me break to my own particular vision for e-books. The Web is abuzz with questions about the various new ways to read books. Do you want to read a book in doc or txt format on your PC/Mac? Print one out from rtf? How about a pdf version on CD-ROM? or an HTML variant on a Rocketbook? I could list the explosion of Glassbooks, Everybooks, Softbooks, etcbooks all day.

My own feeling is that the true e-book is still a step in the future. But the step will be short and the bridge to it is clear ahead of us.

Some readers may recall my first column, in our first issue (April 1998) where I predicted the e-book revolution would begin within 5 years. I was wrong; it took 5 weeks. It was already ongoing. Now I'm going to predict that the e-book revolution Part II will happen within the next 5 years. Note that I say within, to cover myself in case it's 5 weeks again.

To begin with, realize that the PC and its variants are borrowings of older technology. Those cars you see with names like Landau, Brougham, etc? Their names are all borrowed from 19th Century horse-and-carriage types, and indeed the first cars were built as if horses would tow them. Likewise, the first steam powered sailboats were built with masts. Putting it very simplistically, the personal computer sitting before you (unless you're a step further along with a laptop LCD screen) has borrowed the tube from the television set, the keyboard from a typewriter, the memory matrix of a tape recorder or variant, and so on.

Whither next? I've long supported the notion that we'll move to network computers (NC's) where you no longer have to be the system administrator of your own toy system. That's like in the first days of automobiles, before Henry Ford standardized parts manufacture for the industry—if you broke an axle, you shlepped it to your village blacksmith, who made you a new one from molten steel while you waited with blackened face. The theory on the NC says that the technology gets pushed to the other side of the wall and you can concentrate on being a user, not a toy admin guy or gal. I think I might quote myself on the advance of technology: "When was the last time you lay awake all night worrying about how to configure your telephone?" Point being that telephones are no longer new, but are old appliances we take for granted.

Which brings me to this point: everyone's talking about the departure of the computer and the arrival of the appliance.

Look for a world soon in which info will be a utility, like gas or electricity or water. A big info hose will run to your home, bringing what used to be radio, TV, internet, fax, telephone—you name it—if it's info, it comes through the hose (or, in rural areas, by satellite).

Now let's look in your home. No PC or Mac in sight. If you look closely, you'll see the muted glow of dozens of tiny red signal lights indicating power is up and info is at your beck and call.

You want to take a call? Walk around and talk—the walls will talk back to you, bringing your mother in law's voice, your son's call from college, your bill collector's persuasive discussion about your recent problem with the info bill.

Want to watch TV? Skip to the next item.

You want to see a movie or the news or 16 ballgames simultaneously. The info wall is waiting to be turned on (mentioned long ago in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and other works). You'll see The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy or Larry King or R2D2 in to-code 8 foot high format. Since the walls will be covered with display-sensitive wallpaper, you can actually go to the bathroom and have the movie you're watching follow you around the house. So, the info wall is not a blob sitting on your living room floor like those erstwhile tvs, but a data allocation. How will they do that? It's called electronic ink, and it's basically a matter of telling the pixels in your wall what color they should be. The first exemplars of this technology will soon be out of the lab and in your local store.

Want to read a book? That's the logical sequitur from the previous paragraph. The true e-book will find its own ergonomic logic. It will probably be a lot more like a paperback than the current crop of hand held devices. I predict a cheap lightweight plastic gadget (same as I wrote in April 1998) whose "page" will look so much like a paper and ink page that you'll want to scratch it to make sure it isn't paper. And, as I wrote back then, the full tsunami of transition will hit when school boards realize they can buy one ruggedized book per pupil to last from K through college, rather than buy dozens of books each year. Although e-books will have some ecological impact, I predict that should be net positive, since it will eliminate the need for paper, ink, and dead horses.

(May I also insert here my pitch that we stop using lumber to build homes? How stupid can we be? Let's let 1,000 year old trees stay alive. Let's use bamboo, which is more versatile, strong, durable, etc. Bamboo is just grass, actually, but it's used in many parts of the world even as scaffolding to build huge skyscrapers.)

Well, now the part I like best. Here's your desk a la 2019: You sit down and say "power." Your desk powers up. Its surface lights up with about the luminosity of a page in a paper and ink book in soft but distinct lighting. Your entire desk top is a virtual surface where you can drag squares of "paper" by the touch of your fingertip. You'll shuffle through your Pending folder without touching paper—just by speaking to the virtual stack of files. You'll write memos by speaking them to your desk's voice recognition; or, if you have a scratchy throat, you'll use a v-pen to write on the desktop and your desk's handwriting recognition will format the ASCII characters.

That's a quick tour of the future. You'll hardly notice your e-book, but it will be an everyday part of your life. You see, they'll have e-books so compact that you'll be able to fold them and put them in your wallet. And, of course, we already have some Dick Tracy wrist watches to call home with. Personally, I can't wait to see it. Join me in the next millennium, just three issues of Deep Outside SFFH away!


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