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Where's My Ebook? by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Column  ISBN/ITEM#: 0749301317
Date: January,1 2006 List Price NA Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

I suspect that a lot of you remember Elisha Cook Jr. as Samuel T. Cogley in the Star Trek Original Series Episode "Court Martial". Possibly not so much for his brilliant court room defense of the Captain, because it wasn't especially brilliant, but for his book rant. By the way, it was CSI Spock that saved Kirk, showing that the computer records had been tampered with. Hmmm...CSI Star Fleet...maybe there's a series there. (Not) Anyway, back to Cogley and his book collection.

    Cogley: What's the matter? Don't you like books?

    Kirk: Oh, I like them fine, but a computer takes less space.

    Cogley: [Scoffs] A computer, huh? I got one of these in my office. Contains all the precedents, a synthesis of all the great legal decisions written throughout time. - I never use it. - Why not? I've got my own system. Books, young man, books. Thousands of them. If time wasn't so important, I'd show you something-- my library. Thousands of books. - What would be the point? - This is where the law is, not in that homogenized, pasteurized, synthesized-- Do you want to know the law, the ancient concepts in their own language, Learn the intent of the men who wrote them, from Moses to the tribunal of Alpha 3? Books.

Yeah. OK. Chill dude. I like books too. I like their sensuous side, the smell of fine Corinthian leather and the look of crisp Palantino type. I've even got an almost complete set of Easton Press Masterpieces of Science Fiction with ridged leather bindings, gold edges, and silk bookmarks. They're in storage at the moment, but I'm looking forward to seeing them again someday. Books are just not much use as information storage and retrieval devices, and ironically, they suffer from the exact complaint that people used to use about the Internet. You can't take them with you wherever you go. At least not more than a few. My luggage tends to get heavy pretty quickly.

Cogley was as wrong about books as he was about everything else in the episode. In fact, if he hadn't been so compuphobic maybe he would have considered that someone might have tampered with the the records without Spock having to figure it out for him.

The death of books by computer is a crime we fear far more than it warrants. In truth, the assimilation of books by computer gives them more power and accessibility than letting them mold away in libraries, and we should be stamping our feet and demanding distribution of everything by ebook.

I should talk. WSFA Press just published an anthology I edited, but except for making sure it was mentioned in the contract, we haven't done anything about an ebook version. I'll have to make a point of taking my own advice as soon as I get this finished.

But to return to books on computer. I've got a collection of computers, mostly because I write reviews on the things, and I have to say that I find them easier to read on than books, and far more portable. Not that I think ebook software is especially good...I think there's vast room for improvement. I've yet to see a handheld or dedicated ebook device that matches a paperback for portability and readability. And I'll concede that you wouldn't want to leave one on the beach, any more than you'd want to leave your cell phone.

What really bugs me is that the technology is lagging, undriven, I'm certain, because nobody is out there screaming for good cheap readers. Well, here's a challenge. Go find a copy of the first SF book you read on your shelf and look up any fact you remember from it. Knowing the contrary nature of the SF clan, I won't be surprised if you can actually do it, but if it had been an ebook, you could have done it a lot faster, and been certain of finding the passage you wanted. Cogley's rant that the law is in books missed the reality (not then present) that computers can provide just the opposite condition...all the books on law at your fingertips.

You might ask me to cut the writer some slack because the episode aired back in 1967...but as I recall there were a number of authors that grasped the notion of computerized libraries before that. Including Harry Harrison, who has a character conquering a planet only after sitting down with a computer library and taking its massed knowledge to heart (Deathworld).

Ben Bova's Cyberbooks, published in 1989, took a pretty good look at the subject, and while it's out of print, you can find used copies at Amazon. It's not available as a "cyber" (or e)book though.

I know there's a lot of resistance to ebooks out there, but for every con, I can give you two pros...and here's the big one for the aging SF readership. You can make the letters as large as you want. This isn't a pretty thing to come to grips with, but as fans get grayer, and books get thicker, fonts get too small for them to read. For the blind, turning ebooks into evoice is a simple trick, and though making it pleasant is ILM worthy stuff, it's hard to imagine that it can't be done.

I've got a little 20 gig gizmo that has all, or a lot of, my music on it. I take it with me when I travel. I listen to it when I'm home. All I'm asking is the same for my library. Is that so much to ask?

Well, I'll be going to Las Vegas to see the Consumer Electronics Show next week, and I'll keep my eyes open for progress in ebooks. Now, where did I leave that copy of "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" I wanted to loan my nephew to corrupt his golden age (12) brain?

Ernest Lilley
Editor - SFRevu

By the way...Happy New Year to All...and to all a Merry Recent Holiday.

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