My Photo
Name: Mark Kelly
Location: Woodland Hills, California, United States

I'm the publisher/editor/webmaster of Locus Online, which I launched in 1997 and which won the first-ever Hugo Award for Best Website in 2002. I also compile and maintain the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards as part of the site. For Locus Magazine, I wrote short fiction reviews under the "Distillations" heading from 1989 through 2001. I have a BA in math from UCLA, and have worked, Dilbertesque fashion, for a certain large aerospace concern in southern California for over 20 years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Second Roundtable Post

another block of text as a test post

It's not surprising that near-future novels are much harder to write than far-future ones. There's the obvious problem about having actual events eat your lunch. In my case, since it took so long to write Rainbows End (about five years), not only was there the usual risk that the story would look silly by the time it went out of print, I was also threatened by the possibility that events would make the story silly before I even turned it in!
"That was a very real problem, and there was backing and filling as I wrote, just to stay ahead of what I was reading in the daily news. I had to change some of the emphasis with the library digitization. I retroactively used the standard techniques of 'future-proofing' -- those clever methods science fiction writers have devised to protect against actual events undercutting the story.
"For instance, there's a discussion where the characters talk about the digitization. Somebody says, 'I thought people already did this,' and somebody else explains what the differences are and why it's still a significant issue. I didn't want to do away with the image of shredding books, which has a nightmare resonation for librarians since one of their chief problems is finding the floor space for books. Certainly no real librarian is suggesting what I did with shredder digitization, but the scheme actually has some interesting characteristics. For instance, it does solve one intellectual property issue because afterwards you still have only one copy!
"I'd already been working on the book for some time when I heard of Google's digitization project. I think they are still far short of completion, for reasons of the resources needed, the resources being brought to bear, and (perhaps more importantly) the legal barriers. (Heh. As I'm proofing the Locus interview transcript in November 2008, the Google and Authors Guild agreement is big news. The consequences of that agreement should be momentous, but I suspect there are gotchas and glitches for all concerned, including for the analysis below. Future-proofing is hard to do!)
"Rainbows End takes place around 2025, so it's very reasonable that the entire pre-2000 corpus will be digitized and accessible by then. Even now in 2008.... I did a routine, vanilla-flavored Google search the other day for a mathematical term and got dropped right into a page in the full text of a digitized math book. As can happen with math, the reference was relevant but from so long ago that it was past copyright and fully displayable. This gave me a little frisson of future shock.
"More and more, it looks like the technical and -- more amazingly -- the legal problems in digitizing the past will be solved, and fairly soon. People used to talk about the late twentieth century being the 'end of history'. That is palpably not so. But ironically, if we don't solve the problem of digital access to the past, we might find that our era is the beginning of recorded history! Why? Because if you can't find something with a search engine, who wants to take the trouble to look it up? That means that for shallow-minded persons (such as almost everybody including me) there would be a barrier to the past at about the year 2000.


Post a Comment

<< Home