Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Am A Time Traveler

There are many moments when I doubt the ever-rising technology of my (our) time is fulfilling the potential, the promise, I expect.

For instance, the marvel of the smartphone I use is diminished as my hands crave a keyboard to type on. I'm no Luddite - I'm just getting old, Time's revenge on the once smart-assery of my own youth.

I was put in this train of thought thanks to writer Stephen King's recent interview on "Fresh Air" as he spoke about his new novel, "Joyland" and his decision to publish it via Hard Case Crime, in paperback. He says:

"Hard Case Crime is a throwback to the books that I loved as a kid,” King said. “We lived way out in the country, and my mother would go once a week shopping, and she would go to the A&P to pick up her groceries. And I would immediately beat feet to Robert's Drugstore, where they had a couple of those turn-around wire racks with the hard-boiled paperbacks that usually featured a girl with scanty clothing on the front.”

I indentify too well with that kind of book action. Spinning wire racks of pulp books and the other rack holding comic books. King's book is set in 1973, the same time when I had the same  limited access to books. Sure, a bookmobile came to town every two weeks, but no pulp was found there, and precious few new books. Like the rest of my family, I read the way an alcoholic drinks whiskey.

Just after I heard the interview I read Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai talking about his company and King's book - linking memory and the tech of publishing, a retro invocation of a craft of ink and paper.

I don't wallow in nostalgia - I am eager to move forward, not back. But Ardai is right that the past - the recent past - is easily forgotten in our InstaWorld. While there exists hundreds and hundreds of podcasts and e-books to be found, you do have to find them. Good sources of new sci-fi and fantasy back in my youth existed too, but finding a copy of Galaxy or Worlds of If or Analog magazines took weeks of hunting. Word of mouth and help from friends remain vital links.

The tactile handling of a book or magazine is vastly different from a digital broadcast or pixeled sentence - not better, just different.

And yes, thanks to digital publishing, you can read what I am writing and thinking now. We live in a world that is different now. And I am oddly realizing I am straddling timelines which are disappearing. If all this seems old fashioned to you - then you missed something amazing.