Saturday, 24 September 2011


There are many good reasons for reading, and one has just entered my head. If someone don’t read while a-living, someone certainly can’t when a-dead. Anonymarr (circa five minutes ago)

My first and last attempt at poetry, I promise ya, folks. Painful, eh? I wasn’t cut out to be a poet. Or a castrato singer, come to that.

But this nonsense rhyme (adapted from a be-whiskered English joke about drinking and that’s even older and less witty than I am) brought on more thoughts about ‘the book’ itself.

Love, the songs rapturously advise us, lasts forever and a day (divorce is not an option in love songs, it seems). But how long can words survive the death of their author: A century, a millennium, three millennium before the last copy crumbles to dust … or for infinity, complete and fresh as a daisy in a digital ebook form – millions or even billions of them as time goes on and on and on, classics of old and classics yet to be born? Even countless books of more minor or niche importance right down to an in-the-family memoir by some obscure Joe or Jane Doe in Podunk could live forever (give or take that extra day).

Julie Christie in Fahrenheit 451
And how much precious printed work was lost forever in the fires at the Great Library of Alexandria and by book-burning religions and extremist political regimes over the centuries? Never let Ray Bradbury’s magnificent Fahrenheit 451 Science Fiction warning be forgotten. A scarily close to home story in which books are illegal and mass incinerated by a brutal government with a vested interest in popular ignorance. (Not that anyone could easily forget that with the gorgeous Julie Christie in the movie version’s lead role).

There are many good reasons for e-reading, and they enter my head daily. And they enter the head of top-flight Science Fiction author Robert J. Sawyer, who’s offered us his own good reasons for a decade-long love affair with the unprinted word … for words that will exist as long as there’s a virtual cloud adrift in our planet’s skies. And maybe an information-seeded cloud that can travel light years and into the darkest reaches of the universe as long as electricity is a part of cosmic nature. Who knows what intelligent life form billions of years and galaxies away on Planet Xzog may read one of Rob’s already far-reaching stories of the maybe and the probably-will-be?

Rob, 51, switched from non-fiction success to Science Fiction dreams thirty years ago, and with two of the field’s most coveted awards – the Nebula and the Hugo – standing as bookends to his twenty-plus published, hugely popular novels and three short story collections, his name is honoured by SF aficionados everywhere.

He’s born, bred, educated, writes full time and is married to Carolyn Clink in Canada. Currently he and Carolyn live in Mississauga, Canada’s newish but fastest growing city; one of its very greenest, and proudly boasting a multi-cultural population and passion for the arts.

Perhaps all the qualities of his adopted home town explain this eager embracing of the ebook concept when he moved in – ebooks, after all, are the fastest growing area of publishing, the greenest, the most multi-cultural and, without a doubt, a passionately artistic literary advance: The greatest giant leap since Gutenberg knocked out a flat-bed printing engine from an old wine press in his cellar 600 years ago and made the book available to the common man for the very first time.

Rob also finds time for public readings and lectures and teaches writing at university level. He judges serious writing contests, has served as writer-in-residence and as book critic; and his books are part of major university and high school literature curricula in Canada and the US. He’s made more than 150 TV appearances, hundreds of radio shows and featured in countless newspaper and magazine articles.

And somehow he still squeezes in the hours for A HELPFUL AND FASCINATING BLOG  and to informally mentor writers in development. No wonder Rob is a popular and well-loved star in the literary galaxy.

And here’s what he has to tell us about ebooks:


Author Robert J. Sawyer
This week marks my tenth anniversary as a reader of ebooks. I got in early because, as a science-fiction writer, I’d long been expecting this technology. After all, Captain Kirk read reports off a wedge-shaped device back in 1966, and the astronauts in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey used tablet computers for viewing documents.

I tried lots of devices early on: Palm OS personal-digital assistants with tiny screens, early dedicated devices with monochrome LCD screens (such as the long-gone Franklin eBookman and RCA REB-1100), and later, first-generation e-ink devices (such as the iRex iLiad).
Several things immediately convinced me this was better than reading on paper.

First, even early on, most ebook systems offered built-in dictionaries. In the days of paper books, I rarely bothered to haul a dictionary off the shelf; now, whenever I encounter a word whose meaning I’m not exactly sure of, I effortlessly look it up.

Second, ebooks let you set the font size to whatever you’re comfortable with. As your eyes get older, you’ll find e-reading is much more pleasant, since every title is automatically available in a large-print edition.

Third, having an infinitely big library without it taking up any space is great — and to have that library be portable is fantastic. This year, I’ve travelled through all 24 time zones — right around the world. Having hundreds of books with me on that trek was heaven for a compulsive reader.

Fourth, searching: when I’m doing research, the ability to search in a book for the specific term I’m looking for is indispensable.

Fifth, free public-domain classics: maybe there’s an irony in using twenty-first-century technology to read nineteenth-century books, but I’m way better read today because of PROJECT GUTENBERG.

I heard Margaret Atwood pooh-poohing dedicated ebook readers a while ago, saying you can’t use them in the bathtub. Actually, Margaret, you can: just seal them in a Ziploc bag, and you’re good to go, and if you drop it, you’re fine – whereas a paper book is ruined if it gets soaked. (Yes, you can put a paper book in a baggie, too – but you can’t change the page once it’s in there; you easily can with an ebook reader.)

One constantly hears people saying they don’t like reading off computer screens and so will never read ebooks. Well, yes, it’s true that you can read off such screens – but you can also read ebooks on devices such as the Kobo Touch, Kindle 3G, Sony, and Nook and a host of others, which all have modern e-ink displays that are as easy on the eyes as printed paper. As I’ve often said, the single biggest barrier to widespread adoption of ebooks is that most people still haven’t seen a dedicated ebook reader.

I very much like e-ink devices, but I also do much of my reading on my iPhone 4 (where, in my opinion, the Kobo app runs circles around the Kindle app – and not just because Kobo recognizes that full justification looks awful on narrow screens, and so gives you the option of turning it off).

One of the biggest pluses of reading ebooks on smartphones is that you can do it in the dark. I turn the brightness way down on my iPhone, switch to the Kobo app’s night-reading mode (which gives me white letters on a black background), and read to my heart’s content.

Books are my life. And I’m proud of my Canadian heritage. But I’ve got to say that when fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan said ‘the medium is the message,’ he missed the boat on ebooks. The medium – paper book or ebook – is irrelevant. It’s the message – the content – that matters, and for me, for a full decade now, by far my favourite way to enjoy that content has been electronically. Give it a try: I bet you’ll become a convert, too.


And if the medium is the message, why are newspapers in their death throes and online news sources in their ascendency? Why has TV and cinema replaced the artificial setting of the traditional live theatre and music hall? Why do so few people visit classical and rock concerts compared to those content to listen to recorded works on tiny little electronic devices? And why do latest published statistics report the ever-increasing popularity of ebook reading in the face of print book reading’s decline and fall and with brick and mortar bookshops now proving about as popular as pork pie stands at a bar mitzvah?

Take a look at this par I included this week at our new Limitrophe Publishing imprint ebook website: Publishers Weekly noted on September 12, 2011: Ebook sales rose 167% in June to $80.2 million at the fifteen houses that reported figures to AAP’s monthly sales report and closed the first half of the year with sales up 161% to $383.8 million. The major trade segments took big hits in June. Trade paperback sales had the largest decline, down 64%, while children’s hardcover sales were off 31%. Adult hardcover sales fell 25%, mass market sales were down 22% and children’s paperback was off 13%. Sales in all the trade segments were also off by more than 10% for the first half of the year.

I’d highly recommend you take Rob’s sage advice and give ebooks a chance. You’ll never look back. 

And if you don’t like ’em, I’ll guarantee to immediately send you $1,000,000 or a free ebook to try again (choice of compensation at the discretion of BeWrite Books’ accountancy department).

You can find Stephen’s Website HERE 

His latest book is WWW: WONDER.

And just for fun (c'mon it's weekend -- time to sparer) here are a couple of short videos. 


In the Second, BeWrite Books' Technical and Design Director, Tony Szmuk, DEMONSTRATES JUST HOW GOOD EVEN ECCENTRIC POETRY LAYOUT LOOKS ON A TABLET DEVICE. (And accompanied by some relaxing JS Bach trumpet work to make the experience even more delightful.)

So have a happy weekend – and curl up in bed or your favourite comfy chair or even take a long and lazy bubble bath with an ebook – preferably one of Rob’s or ours – and tell us all about it next week.
And to brighten up your weekend even more, here’s another James Whitworth cartoon strip for you that sums up Rob’s attitude perfectly.

As well as covering a series of humorous novels by Peter Maughan for BeWrite Books, James also produces a weekly 'Rudge' strip for A SITE FOR US OLD SCHOOL FLEET STREET STEET ROGUES AND GENTLEMEN RANTERS WHO WIND DOWN OUR FRIDAYS AT THE LAST PUB IN THE STREET.

That Website is also the home for Revel Barker Publishing and a catalogue of fascinating and hilarious print books BeWrite Books is releasing in all ebook editions at regular intervals under the new genre title, Hack-Lit.

 Love, luck and happy weekend. Neil et al at BeWrite Books and, of course, Rob J Sawyer

No comments:

Post a comment