Ebooks and Flying Cars

There was an episode of The Outer Limits a decade or so back before the show turned to crap. In this one, the people of a future world read all of their books by uploading them directly into their brains.

It wasn’t reading, exactly. Once the book was loaded into the mind, it was instantly absorbed by the memory. A second after the upload, the reader retained every bit of it – the plot twists, the denouements, all the nuances that make books great.

“Wow!” a typical character would express just a second after the gizmo was attached to her scalp. “What a great book!”

In typical Outer Limits style, the story had a point to make. There was a small group of people who were born with defects that rendered them unable to upload information into their brains. They had to actually read books by holding them in their hands and moving, line-by-line, from one cover to the other. It would take hours, even days, to get through an average-sized book.

If you can imagine it.

These weirdos were ostracized by the others. They were laughed and sneered at, and considered freaks of little worth to society. The general tone of the show was that, in spite incredible advances in technology, your average homosapien still has the capacity to be a bastard about things.

That’s what I took from it, anyway.

Mostly, you think The Outer Limits writers are just clever as hell. The concept itself seems too fanciful to be taken seriously. Uploading books directly into the mind! It’s just outlandish.

Then the 20th century turned into the 21st, and suddenly you’re not laughing at such ideas – you’re actively waiting for them to happen.

In the meantime, between the airing of that episode and the point where I started writing just fantastic novels, ebooks have taken off. We all said it would never happen.

It happened anyway.

“I like the feel and smell of a good, old-fashioned book in my hands!” either you, or someone you know, has sniveled. “You just can’t get the same experience reading on a computer.”

Right. And those warped, scratchy albums you listened to as a kid sound better than digital music.

Only, they don’t. And when you get your hands on a Kindle or a Nook and see how they have been designed to enhance the reading experience, you start to understand. You can keep a whole library in there instead of trying to cart your entire Judy Blume collection all over the world. You can be busting down the highway at 80 mph and suddenly feel like you just have to read “Go Ask Alice” one more time – and you have to start right now. A few clicks and you’re there. Like magic. Like something The Outer Limits team might have dreamt up 20 years ago.

For the reader, the choice is still there. You can cling to the notion that hard-copy books just kick the crap out of any e-version, no matter how convenient. And it’s a solid argument – the same offered by those who still read daily newspapers made of actual paper.

But if you’re an author? Forget about it. You have to go the e-route, no matter how powerfully you feel about books in their more familiar state. You can still sell books made of paper and ink, but if you don’t offer electronic versions as an alternative, you’ll probably lose a ton of sales… and die alone in a gutter.

Some authors are eschewing print altogether. They publish directly to Amazon Kindle, price their books at something crazy, like 99 cents, and watch their fan base swell like an overheated kielbasa.

For me, light dawned after the publication of “Box of Lies.” It was my fifth published book and, for the first time, people were asking where they could get it in e-form.

“Dear Dinosaur,” they would write to me, “are you going to make ‘Box of Lies’ available in ebook format, or should I just go read something else?”

“Box of Lies” is now available as an ebook. It’s nearly a third the cost of the paperback, which I like quite a lot. There is no shipping process for the reader to suffer through, no waiting a week or more for the book to arrive. If someone, barreling down the highway at 80 mph, decides he wants to read the mind-blowing stories in “Box of Lies,” with a few clicks, he can make it happen.

Although, please pull to the side of the road first. You’re driving like an idiot.

We’re plucking our music, books and personal files from the sky these days; using hand-held gizmos to control all of those bits and bytes flying through the ether. Is it really a giant stretch to consider that, someday, we’ll use the gray matter inside our skulls instead of those gadgets?

I’m sold. I imagine that, someday, you’ll be able to order a book just by thinking about it. And that will probably come long before we have flying cars buzzing around.

I saw that episode of The Outer Limits, too. It’s just outlandish.

Mark LaFlamme is a crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. He is also the author of the novels “The Pink Room,” “Vegetation” and “Dirt: An American Campaign,” as well as the novelette “Asterisk: Red Sox 2089″ and the new collection “Box of Lies.” Visit his website at www.marklaflamme.com