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SF Tidbits for 11/19/07

  • Free classic reads: “Unwise Child” Randall Garrett (1962) at Also, Quasar Dragon points us to The Time Axis by Henry Kuttner (1948)and Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham (1936).
  • Brian Aldiss discusses global warming and environment in Our Science Fiction Fate in the Guardian: “Science fiction writers find difficulty in dealing with the global threat, never mind recycling. There has always been a journalistic flavour to science fiction.”
  • The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Michael Berry names the best SF books of the year: The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker, One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak, Territory by Emma Bull, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff, The Terror by Dan Simmons, and Halting State by Charles Stross. [via Locus Online]
  • The Kansas City Star‘s Top 100 books of the year includes SF titles: The Guild of Xenolinguists by Sheila Finch, The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer, Halting State by Charles Stross, and Ha’penny by Jo Walton. [via Locus Online]
  • By way of Amazon List, Lou Anders offers us a sneak peek at Pyr’s 2008 Spring-Summer Season.
  • Geekerati podcast interviews Tim Minear (Angel, Buffy, Firefly) about the ongoing WGA strike.
  • The CBC’s November 16th episode of Sounds Like Canada featured a smackdown between Star Wars and Star Trek. Robert J. Sawyer speaks for Star Trek. [Podcast link via Bloginhood]
  • The latest issue of Newsweek features the cover story The Future of Reading which talks about Amazon’s recently-announced eBook reader, Kindle and the future of paper books. “Microsoft’s Bill Hill has a riff where he runs through the energy-wasting, resource-draining process of how we make books now. We chop down trees, transport them to plants, mash them into pulp, move the pulp to another factory to press into sheets, ship the sheets to a plant to put dirty marks on them, then cut the sheets and bind them and ship the thing around the world. ‘Do you really believe that we’ll be doing that in 50 years?’ he asks.”
About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

12 Comments on SF Tidbits for 11/19/07

  1. And would it be better to burn oil and change oil and use all sorts of rare metals to make a device that will be purposefully made obsolete in a couple of years…or chop down a tree (which can be replanted) or recycle existing paper to make a book that will last fifty years or more?



  2. Fred,

    If you truly believe that, why are you using a computer? Same principle applies, doesn’t it?

  3. I use a computer because work requires me to. I also work at home, so I have a computer at home. If it weren’t for that, we’d probably still be computer free (just as we are “gaming console free”).

    On the other hand, we, as a family, get more mileage out of such devices than the industry would like us to. I have a couple of PDA’s…all “obsolete”. I have a cellphone…that is older than my daughter (no color screen, even!). Our television is about 15 years old. Our microwave is older than our marriage.

    If it ain’t broke, we don’t throw it out and buy a new one. Books ain’t broke. So we’re not tossing them out to buy this gadget. We’ll continue to march with the gadgets that we have and the books we own.

    I do read eBooks, BTW. About 1/3 of this year’s 70+ books were read as eBooks, on one of those obsolete PDA’s. I just think it is hilarious to brand a technology (if you want to call books that) as some sort of environmental danger when you are toting a gadget that will contribute a lot more to the toxic landfills…

    (Besides, that is one ugly-looking gadget. The one that the Baen folks are distributing is much nicer. Heck, even the DRM-laden Sony reader is nicer. What ever happened to “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? Why do you need keys on a book reader? Why all the other bells and whistles?

    A book. Let’s see, paper and some sort of material for covers. No keys. No wireless connection. Gosh, it works. Engineers making an eBook reader should think “iPod”, not “PeeCee”. Keep the price down. Go for a “blade and razor” approach, not a “let’s rip off the consumer with a over-engineered gadget” approach.

  4. If they can come up with a reader that’s integrated into something else I have to carry around (I’m not overly fond of carrying a PDA around, but will eventually get an iPhone or similar item) and feels a lot like reading a regular book in terms of ease and convenience, I think it would be great to use fewer resources to read books. If you need some sort of specialized device (in which case you get to Fred’s argument about simply using up different resources—not really an issue, though, if it’s just integrated into something else you’d already carry around anyway, IMO) then I’m not really interested. And so far I’ve resisted ebooks for the most part because I don’t have a hand-held reader, and I often want to read away from my computer.

  5. I agree with Fred’s asssessment of the new ebook reader – butt ugly and unwieldy. I too read ebooks on an obsolete PDA. Why not put out more ebooks for the devices that already read them? By the way, Heather – you CAN read books on the iPhone. I don’t have one, but have read articles on this feature and can point to one website ( ) where you can download them.

  6. The Kindle is pretty ugly, but at least Amazon is doing the right things with the Kindle: Ebooks are lower price, in-line dictionary, annotation, search (Fred, the annotation and search functions require a keyboard), free access to Sprint’s online (it better have free access for $400), blog support, newspapers, magazine. And there’s Wikipedia, if you like Wikipedia. It has doc support, but I don’t see support for PDFs or other formats. Future firmware upgrade?

    In the end, ebooks have their advantages and print books have theirs.

  7. “And so far I’ve resisted ebooks for the most part because I don’t have a hand-held reader, and I often want to read away from my computer.”

    Take a look at eBay. You can buy second hand or discontinued PDA’s that work perfectly well for some cheap prices. I bought a couple of “hardware spares” that way and spend way less than a new unit.

    “Ebooks are lower price, in-line dictionary, annotation, search (Fred, the annotation and search functions require a keyboard)…”

    My PDA’s have a “virtual keyboard”, tap on the screen on an icon, get a keyboard. Saves space, works just as well (I can tap pretty fast). Lower price (less hardware), smaller unit (easier to store, carry), etc.

    The Sony Reader is the right size–a paperback book, but is laden with DRM and a high price. We’re getting there. We’re just not there yet. Until then, my obsolete PDA’s will soldier on.

  8. I find it hilarious that Amazon has over a 150 “reviews” for the Kindle when nobody has one yet. I hate reviewers on Amazon sometimes, they can be so stupid. “Well, I don’t have the thing, but I’ll still review it.”

  9. If you want to know the real reason this technology ultimately fails, it is the fact that it requires power to be useful. The device will need to be recharged at some point and that makes it less than useful to me. I love technology and have worked in the handheld space for many years, but they will never replace a real book. The tactile feel of the paper and the simple fact that you don’t need to plug the thing in makes it better. Maybe some day they will have super long life devices that can be used when planes are taking off and landing – then maybe this type of device will mean a change in how we read books, but not today. It will be a niche item at best…

  10. I was an eBook-reader naysayer for a long time, but after trying it out, I found that I liked some of the features after all (portability, in-line dictionary, searching).

    If I had to choose, I’d pick a physical book; echoing Tim, there’s satisfaction in the tactile feel of a book. But thankfully I don’t have to choose one over the other. I can use both. I just read a short story on my smart phone – the perfect format for this a story I wanted to read that was only available online.

    The right medium for the right time and place. That’s what I always say. (Well, actually what I always say is: “Not in the face! Not in the face!”, but you get my meaning.) 🙂

  11. I’m probably the only Canuck that reads this Blog but the Kindle isn’t available in Canada and like the Tvo and Iphone most likely won’t make it to my nearest Future Shop anytime soon. Even though our dollar is higher then the US dollar :-S

    The thing is a book will always be here in Canada. Take the mass market paperback for instance: The format will always be in the same familiar format we’ve seen for the last 100 years. No doubt it’ll be around for the next 50 years. Fred’s right we can recycle trees and even computers for that matter but it costs more resources to recycle a computer then it does a tree.


  12. I tend to agree with John and Tim that some people, including many of us on this site, will continue to read good old-fashioned paper books. You can’t simulate the feel and smell and comfortable weight of the things. But, as John points out, many of us will also read electronically if it’s easy and cheap.

    The real problem with these readers isn’t the hefty pricetag itself, there are plenty of expensive electronic toys on the market (game consols, etc) that people are willing to shell-out for. The issue is whether the technology in question will become popular. If it doesn’t, then it will be phased out by lack of demand and the expense. If it does catch on, the price will come down as manufacturing and competition increase. We’ve seen this with VCR’s, DVD players, cell phones – add pretty much any successful consumer electronic example of your choice – over the years. That’s just how the market works.

    The recycling issue probably won’t be an issue for much longer. There are plenty of companies now in the business of recycling materials in electronic components, and other (admittedly a much small niche) companies which resell old electronics to charities or the Third World. As the push for environmental friendliness escallates, there will be more of these kinds of businesses, as well as tougher environmental laws likely prohibiting willy-nilly garbaging of electronics (many municipalities have strict recycling bylaws to minimize or prevent paper waste, it’s not a big step to see that electronics will be next).

    Add to that a possible drop in price if the technology catches on, and even perhaps an argument that it’s better for the environment to make a one-time buy of a reader than lifetime support of the forestry industry, and the very real possibility that forests may become more valuable as carbon sinks than pulp crops, and if batteries become more efficient (which is a major focus of R&D), then suddenly the readers are looking good. Yes, there are a lot of “ands” in that equation, but many are becoming local, national and international priorities for governments, NGO’s and corporations as we speak. But it hinges, to a large part, on the initial popularity/economics factor.

    That being said, paper will always have its market. Mass market or fetish property (to borrow from High Fidelity), books will stay around.

    PS: Jim: there are other Canadians on this site (myself included). It’s a nice international community that SF Signal has built. Hence the cool tidbits from countries all around the world, the Great White North included.

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