Wednesday, July 02, 2008

E-Books and the Fictional Future

Love them or hate them, most readers have an opinion about the E-book format. A great many of us like their convenience, but don't think they'll ever replace "real", paper books. We like the tactile presence of the pages turning in our hands. Others say that's because we grew up with paper books and future generations won't have that emotional tie. So let's take a look at two television representations of the future:

Star Trek has always believed in E-books, right from the very beginning. There are still "antique" books around, but otherwise, everyone reads off of their hand-held devices.

Consequently, it truly surprised me when the recent Doctor Who two-parter, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead, had the Doctor and Donna visit a world-size library of the distant future - and it was all paper books! Did the builders realize that if they'd put all those books in e-book format, it might have taken up only a continent instead of a whole world? And then it turns out that the computer which runs the library has access to the contents of all the books. How is that possible unless the books have been scanned into the computer? In which case they ARE available in e-book format. So isn't their paper presence a duplication of labor and space?

Also, I assume none of these paper books can be checked out because if they weren't returned, their knowledge would be lost...except to the computer. Another reason to have e-book copies. They would be far more portable, too. Can you imagine visiting an entire WORLD of books? I check out 60-some books from a university-size library. My space-ship would never be able to lift-off.

Not to mention the un-green-ness of this situation - all the trees that died to make those books! Because it turns out they weren't collected from other libraries - oh, no, they were all printed up new using the wood-pulp from a planet of forests. Lovely. Wipe out an entire planet of forests to build a planet of books.

Now, that is where the writer, Steven Moffat, got clever. Because had those forests not been consumed for paper for the books, none of the terrible things that happen next would have happened. So Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead play very well as a warning about the dire consequences of ignoring ecological conservation practices. Had the library contained E-books, the Doctor and Donna would have simply had a nice visit to a busy library and all the patrons would have lived happily ever after. So I guess you can say that Doctor Who believes in E-books, too.

Now, I know some of you are reading this and thinking, "That's all you have to say about that two-parter? You're kidding!" I must admit that another of my thoughts upon watching it was, "So the Doctor's taste in girlfriends gets even MORE annoying over time??!!"

But I'm not a Doctor Who 'shipper. X-Files? Hell, yes. Doctor Who? Not so much. Probably because I watched Original Who, where sex was no part of the Doctor's - or anyone's - life, I just don't have a place for it in my Who-niverse. So I find 'shippiness annoying, no matter what form it takes.

I can see how the episodes would depress Ten/Rose 'shippers, though, and I sympathize. Technically, if Rose is The One, then having the Doctor fall in love with every other woman he meets just makes him look like a slut. He abandons Rose on a people-eating ship for that French chick, he has a close relationship with Astrid, and he has a terribly close relationship - where he tells her his name (and he hasn't even told Rose that) - with River Song.

I liked the "everybody lives" bit at the end, though. I think you have to have watched Original Who to really appreciate that. I'm guessing that Steven Moffat was, like me, scarred by the original series, in which EVERYBODY DIES. Seriously. The cast of each episode was: The Doctor, the companion(s), and Miscellaneous Red-shirts (to use a Star Trek term).

You'd meet all sorts of cool characters and they'd all be dead by the end of the story. I remember many times thinking, "Please don't let him/her get killed off." while watching the old series. One time the fellow I liked survived and I was elated!!! Note how it was "one time".

So I really enjoy when Steven Moffat figures out how to let everybody live at the end of his stories.

And I hope next time the Doctor visits a library or reads in the Tardis, he will pull out a hand-held device instead of a paper book.


Nancy the Romancechick said...

Oh, come on! Steven Moffat is an amazing writer and even if there are ebooks in the Doctor Who future, that doesn't mean there won't be paper, too. And he doesn't have a relationship with Donna and we don't know what his relationship with River Song is; even he doesn't know. Yes, I love Rose, but come on, Martha was cool and Donna is not a love interest. She is a woman who can put him in his place. And yes, no one "died" but the ones at the end aren't exactly "living" as evidenced by Donna's experience.

I'd love to read a book by Moffat, but he doesn't seem to have any.

Nancy the Romancechick said...

Oh, and I forgot! Rose is trapped in a parallel dimension (with Mickey!). A man has needs.