Review: Cyberbooks

Posted on 25/08/2011 by


You know that ‘oh shit…’ moment you get when you think you’ve been wasting your time for the past year? Yeah, that’s what I got when I bumped into Ben Bova’s Cyberbooks in a secondhand store not long ago.

The worst of it was, I couldn’t say that I hadn’t heard of it before, I’d looked it up when I started thinking about Bibliotek a couple of years ago. I just hadn’t been able to find it then, and like all too many books (damn there are too many books to get around!), I had promptly overlooked it.

I’m glad I found it by chance (yay for secondhand bookstores, huh?..) Now, having read it, I feel a little better, and I’m going to play about with a review of it here.

Cyberbooks is a 1989 novel following Lori, a frustrated editor at Bunker Books, and her old friend Carl, the misunderstood inventor of the first ever ‘electronic book,’ the titular ‘cyberbook.’

Of course, it turns out that threatening revolution in the publishing industry with his invention isn’t the best idea in the world, even though both really just love books and great literature. The truth of it is, that there are too many vested interests in the print publishing industry for this to happen the way they hope.

While ostensibly about the invention of the titular ‘cyberbook’—a wireless ereader—the book is really more of a dark parody of modern publishing.

It is another one of those books I would have loved to have written (much like–and having a good bit in common with–Doctorow’s recent For the Win). It has a wonderful twist on the cyberpunk narrative which had already begun to wane at the time, picking out the blue collar, 9-to-5ers who would have to implement (or be wiped-out) by the new invention. I say ‘like For the Win’ because of this (to my rather sympathetic mind) ambiguous opposition.

Unlike much of SF, this story is strongly grounded in the impact on individuals directly and not on their metaphysical futures.

Ironically, this facet which I liked in the book is exactly why I’m not likely the right person to have ever written it. It is instead a bit more like a companion book for mine (or rather vice versa, given it’s 22 years older than my now partially blogged text), as I do go into just that kind of examination of ‘what does this invention mean’ to broad categories such as ‘authorship’ and ‘(w)readership.’

All in all, Cyberbooks still feels like a very real story of the business of book publication–with all the dirtiness of a rather glamourless industry.

I do envy Bova’s easy satire, though perhaps it’s my own new author optimism is what holds me back from that more knowing edge.

Turns out, I don’t have to hate and disparage Bova and his book, there’s room for the both of us. Anyone know of other ‘future of publishing’ books? I would love to pick up more!

Be seeing you…

… Grr, now I think on it, Cyberbooks’ hallucinogenic spine glue is reflected by my use of Inspiration in Bibliotek too… aw well!

Posted in: Paul, Review