Science fiction predicting the future

I’ve had this little thought-worm for a while now, and need to get it out so I can get on with writing my book.

Back when it came out, I read Ben Bova’s Cyberbooks. That was 1989. I thought it interesting and something that might happen “someday”.

Now, Ben missed a bit. He didn’t predict Amazon, basically. Without Amazon I think he’d have pretty much nailed the process.

Oh, you haven’t read it? OK, basically the protagonist thinks up e-books and the e-book reader. The Big Publishers, despising the threat to their existing way of business, shuts him down after a long and convoluted battle the protagonist almost wins. The loophole at the end by which we see the protagonist will win anyway is that he re-releases the readers as toys instead of books.

Actually, I think Sony and Nintendo missed a bet by not putting books on their portable game systems. But that’s a digression.

The thing is, that was 1989. While books in electric format had been around for a bit it hadn’t really taken off.  Voyager, for example, was publishing on CD-ROM since 1985. And Project Gutenberg started in 1971. But it was still novelty and required the Big Heavy (desktop) computer to read.

E-books really started being noticed when truly portable pocket computers – sorry, PDAs – came out. And even though publishers like Baen were doing online books and various companies were creating specialized readers in the late 1990s, it was Amazon that broke the whole industry out from novelty to the new norm – or at least the cutting edge of the norm.

I’m looking at the way ebooks are going now, and the DoJ suit of Apple and its 5 Big Publishers, and thinking how close Bova came to being dead on. If Amazon had started with ebooks instead of with distribution…

If you can find a copy, read it. In addition to the link above, Baen offers it electronically in its book Laugh Lines, something I find ironically enjoyable.


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