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Friday 19 May 2006

Can You Read Me Now?

by Paul Di Filippo

     “It's no secret that the mobile phone market is huge, but publishers may just now be realizing that teens aren't the only ones attached at the ear to the devices. Joining publishers like Random House and HarperCollins — which have both arranged mobile content deals to promote their books within the past year — Simon & Schuster is entering the fray with a partnership between Simon Spotlight Entertainment and cellular content provider MobileSidewalk.
     “The deal, which will target 18 to 34 year-olds, will allow the imprint to market a number of its current and forthcoming titles through a subscription-based service that sends text messages, excerpts, previews and cover art to cell phone users. There will be Ďa nominal feeí for the content, with a portion of the revenue going to S&S. The service will launch in May and be promoted online at sites like Yahoo, MSN and various book-centric portals.”
     —“Simon Spotlight Goes Mobile,” Rachel Deahl, PW Daily, 4-18-06.

     Jogging through Penn Station, I was trying to call my wife, but I got Dan Brown instead.
     “Hi there, reader! Iím Dan Brown, best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code. How are you doing today?”
     “Uh, fine, I guessÖ Say, how did my call go through to you?”
     “Donít worry, youíll get to speak to your intended party eventually. But your call was automatically and temporarily rerouted to me by your service provider. Itís all part of the new package you signed up for.”
     I had a vague memory of the salesman at the cellphone store telling me something about this feature of my new plan. But I hadnít paid any attention at the time. Now I regretted this obliviousness.
     “My records,” continued Dan Brown, “indicate that you purchased a paperback copy of my monumentally successful book last week, after enjoying a bargain matinee of the film adaptation, starring Oscar-winner Tom Hanks and the winsome Audrey Tautou.”
     “Wait just one darn minute! How do you know all that?”
     “Access to your credit-card transactions. Didnít you read your provider agreement at all?”
     “Obviously not. Well, what about my purchases?”
     “Youíre in the prime demographic to enjoy the long-awaited sequel to The Da Vinci Code.”
     “The Solomon Key?”
     “Thatís not the title any longer. Recent controversial and potentially lucrative news developments have dictated a change. Itís now The Judas Gospel. And before you ask, more lawyers than are employed by Exxon have vetted the deniability of any connection with National Geographic and all its subsidiaries. Now, can I interest you in a sneak preview of this grippingly esoteric, Opus-Dei-bashing thriller?”
     If I didnít inform my wife soon that the my train was running half an hour late on the night we were due to attend little Lucindaís violin recital, I was going to be in deep doo-doo. I had to get this guy off the line.
     “If I say yes, will my original call go through?”
     “Of course. As soon as you scroll through the entire text that weíll transmit.”
     “Yes, then! Send me the preview.”
     “Thereíll be a nominal fee.”
     “Just send it!”
     “Very good. Thank you for your patronage.”
     Something occurred to me then. “Are you the real Dan Brown, or just a telemarketer?”
     The voice of “Dan Brown” suddenly acquired a nervous Hindi accent. “Um, I have to go now! Gotta write todayís wordage—“
     I lowered my phone from my ear. On the color screen was now displayed the dustjacket of The Judas Gospel. In a few seconds it faded, and the first screen of text appeared.
     Intending to scroll at top speed through the excerpt just to reach the end and contact my wife, I nonetheless found myself reading the sentences with interest as they flowed off the top of the screen. Before I knew it I was caught up in the story, and slowed both my footsteps across the terminal and the pace of my scrolling.
     I barely managed to get onboard my train. Curse that seductively simple-minded prose style!
     Settling into my seat, phone against my ear once more, I soon heard the voice of my wife.
     “Hi, honey, itís me.” I explained everything that had caused me to run late.
     “Oh, thatís a shame! Lucinda is going to be so disappointed if you miss the start of her performance. Sheís at the school now. Youíll have to call her.”
     I dialed my daughterís cellphone number.
     J. K. Rowling came on the line.
     “A cheery greeting from the magical realm of Harry Potter, sir! As his author, I couldnít help but notice that you were calling your daughter, whose blog indicates that sheís read every one of the adventures of my young wizard several times apiece. I note that Hogwarts on Ice will be arriving next week at your local civic center. Wouldnít you be simply the best of muggles if you bought her and the rest of your family tickets to that brilliant event?”
     “All right, all right! Hereís my credit card information—“
     “No need, sir, we have it already on file. Enjoy the show!”
     Finally I was put through to Lucindaís phone.
     “Sweetie? Itís Daddy. Look, Iím afraid Iím going to miss part of your show—“
     “Uh-huh, sure, thatís fine—“
     “Honey, is there anything wrong? You sound kind of distant—“
     “Gee, no, Dad, everythingís cool. Itís just that you interrupted me while I was reading the latest Redwall book on my phone, and Martinís ghost had just appeared!“
     “Oh. Well, Iíll see you after the show. Maybe weíll get a pizza to bring home.”
     “Great. Gotta run!”
     Emerging from its tunnel, the train was out of Manhattan by now, and I could feel my workday cares evaporating. I planned to settle back into my seat and relax. But first I figured Iíd call the pizza place and order the pie to be ready for after the concert.
     And so I did. But not until I had purchased Rachel Rayís newest cookbook and downloaded what sounded like a really wonderful thirty-minute recipe for Andouille Dawgs with Gumbo Sauce.

© 2006 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.