You Can't Be A Fan Of [Sci Fi] And Lament The Rise Of Ebooks

The title says it all. You just can’t. I won’t allow it. I hear it so often and I find it baffling. I know what it means to love books. I love books to a degree most would consider unhealthy. I’m a bibliophile of the highest order. The feel, the weight, the smell, the sound of a page turning. Awesome. And there will always be books. But they will be less and less common, as I’ve said here so many times before, and ebooks will be the mainstream before much longer. And that’s okay.

You know what I like more than books? Stories. I love stories. I love to read the tales of others, to marvel at a great writer’s turn of phrase, to be transported by a great author’s incredible ideas. Rarely do I ever find that sense of wonder so much as I find it in science fiction and fantasy.

Now, I know there are fantasy fans out there who don’t really like sci-fi. They’re the kind of people who wish we all lived in castles and rode horses and wore sack-cloth vests and said things like verily and thou art. I get that, I really do. Those people lamenting the slow demise of books as a mainstream delivery system for stories is fairly understandable. The hardcore fantasy fans lament all technology and yearn for an older, more agrarian society. Of course, they also yearn for magic and dragons, which is fine, but unlikely. About as unlikely as them surviving in a truly medieval world. Even the most hardcore fantasy fans would be chafing at the bit for some modern technology when they badly needed a bath to wash off the flea bites and smallpox.

But I digress. On the whole, most fantasy fans are sci-fi fans too. You don’t have to be into hard sci-fi to qualify. That really scientifically accurate stuff you need degrees in maths and physics to really understand is very cool, but there’s other sci-fi out there too. The softer, more accessible stuff, like Star Wars or Serenity to offer some mainstream examples. There are equally un-dense sci-fi books and short stories out there too – all the sci-fi I write is very light on the sci and heavy on the fi. But regardless of your particular flavour preferences, you can’t be a fan of science fiction and then sit there all miffed and put out at the rise of ebooks.

It happens so often, people that are such big reading fans saying, “Gods, no, I’ll never read an ebook! You can’t curl up with a good ebook!” Bollocks, of course you can. Curling up with a Kindle or Nook is easier than reading an actual book, in fact.

“I like the feel and smell of a real book.” Yeah, so do I, as I said before, and an ereader doesn’t have those attributes. But not everything we read has to be a tactile, olfactory delight.

Let’s be honest about this. Why is an avid reader really an avid reader? Do they like to go and buy a new book every week and run their fingers over it, sniffing deeply? Maybe. But is that the primary reason for buying it? No, of course it’s not. You’d have to be pretty fucked up to prefer the smell of a book over its contents. People buy books because they love stories. The delivery system is hardly relevant – it’s the content we want. We want that transportative magic of well-crafted fiction.

And in science-fiction we’ve been reading about technological advancements since… well, since there’s been science fiction. When I read a book on my iPhone, which I regularly do, I’m living something that just ten years or so ago was still science fiction. The phone in my pocket does more than most of the gadgets on Star Trek – even Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that’s only twenty five years old.

Only? Merlin’s Cock, that makes me feel old! Star Trek: TNG ran from 1987 to 1994. If you watch repeats of it now you see how far we’ve come in that time, not only in television and production, but in ideas too. Though some of those shows had awesome ideas that are still fresh now. Even Classic Star Trek had ideas like that.

But I digress again. I do that.

My point is this: If you’re a fan of science fiction, you have to be a fan of ebooks. Because a pocket- or handbag-sized electronic device that stores thousands of stories, that you can wirelessly connect to other devices or locations to get more stories, IS science fiction.

Get over yourselves, people that don’t like ebooks. It’s all about the story, the wonderment, not the delivery system. Also, if you’re sitting there saying, “But, but, but!” and you have all these reasons why ebooks are shit, let me see if I can address them first:

I don’t like reading off a screen – Then buy a Kindle or Sony Reader or equivalent that uses e-ink and is essentially just the same as reading off a printed page. And before you crap on about it, have you actually tried a Kindle? They’re amazing.

I don’t want to spend money on a reading device – What, like you spend money on books? With the cost of ebooks being lower than most print editions, you’ll get your money back and then start making savings in no time.

I like the smell and feel of real books – So do I. See above. Buy a special edition hardback once in a while and get your touchy, sniffy fix. Then carry on reading on your chosen e device.

I don’t want to see real books disappear – They won’t. There will always be real books. Just fewer of them and mostly in special editions or collector’s editions. But I bet most books will be available POD as well as ebook, just for folks like you.

You have to remember to charge up a reading device – You have to remember to pick up a book. What’s your point? The Kindle, even under heavy use, has a battery life of at least two weeks. You can cope with that, surely?

Ereaders are heavy and cumbersome – No, they’re not. They used to be, but the Kindle, Kobo or Sony Reader, among others, are lighter than most paperbacks. Sure, iPads and stuff like that are heavier, but they’re electronic devices that also have the ability to deliver stories, so it’s a different situation. My iPhone is like that as well and is far lighter and smaller than any paperback. There’s lots of choice.

I like to read in the bath – Good, so do I. Go for it. You’re really careful not to drop your precious book in the water, right? Just do the same with your ereader. And if you’re worried about being electrocuted, I suggest some basic science lessons to ease your fears.

Did I miss anything? If you have some other reason to stand against ebooks, put in a comment below and I’ll address it.

I understand that some people are complete paper book purists, and I get that, I really do. Although it’s an anachronistic and soon to be redundant position. But if you’re an SF fan, I don’t get it at all. Get over your elite self and embrace the future, or forever hang up your SF fandom.

Stop struggling, all you ebook haters – in a few more years everyone will be doing it. You can’t stop change or hold back the future. If you’re an SF fan, why would you want to?

This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.