Bibliotek Special! Chapter Five.Two

Posted on 15/09/2011 by


“I didn’t mean to…” Started Robert. But didn’t seem to know how to finish.

Emlen narrowed his eyes. “They’d send me to the Library, Robert, and you know what that means. For both of us.” Robert looked back at him desperately. As if with no way out. Emlen continued. “You wanted into this, and I got you what you needed, don’t think you can play both sides of it now.”

Robert’s face literally crumpled then, as if his tension had been giving him a temporary facelift. He moved slowly, bringing the pistol up onto the counter, and weighed it flat on his palm.

Emlen shook his head sadly, “Oh Robert, you wouldn’t have wanted to fire a chemical round in here anyway, how would you have explained that to your clients?” He seated himself again. “I’m going to need passes out of the country and in to a Retreat. And equipment.”

While the two of them negotiated—Robert now only weakly—Graham realised that he could do whatever it was he liked, knowing now, that they were both under Emlen’s power. To do anything he liked, while trapped inside the shuttered three-by-four, barely able to get around the four head-height shelf dividers. The store itself was dry, almost arctic, in that way cheap bounds sucked moisture from the air—from his throat. Graham struggled with the thought of how rude it would be to wrap his shirt around his head?

Oh right, fuck it! He thought, in for a penny-dreadful… So instead, he wandered, sniffing along a shelf, the sharp volumes of scent variegated like piano keys. The bounds were just enormous odour-eaters. He wondered why anyone would buy these decrepit things, when the publisher’s texts were so easy to find online—albeit encoded with advertising. Heh, maybe that was just it, an old ideology of being ad ‘free’. There was nothing new; cheap paperbacks like those of new texts would’ve had to have been pulped after their thirty days. Looking at a shelf, he scrunched up courage, and squeezed out a particularly nasty piece. Its spine glue was yellowed with a previous reader’s grime—their greasy spoor. Sniffing it like a cigar, he actually smelt something like chewing tobacco—now dried and brittle of spit.

“This is old hardware.” Its warped pages crackled like cartoon fire; a sound effect which in cinema would be made of screwed cellophane. He hadn’t mean to interrupt them, but Robert took the excuse.

“They’re still good!” Graham looked over at them, where they stood by what looked like a sheet of slate and chalk. “The ‘hardware,’ as you say, might be old, but the print is still clear.” It was clear that he had the statement made, ready to fire.

Emlen laughed at his fervour. But then admitted. “He’s right, you know.” He went over to look at the bound, taking it from Graham and riffling through the bond. “It’s old, it’s grotty,” he looked over at the owner accusingly, “but even given that, the bound has an incredible resilience. It’s a very clever technology. Print has always only been a representation of the virtual text after all, but the way it’s pre-loaded and tied to this hardware… with the bound… readers are tricked into equating the text with the ‘ware. The beauty of that is, while print and bond is old, the bound is still the best form of DRM ever invented.”

Graham found himself laughing along with him. He knew that after they’d opened the Metatext, that had actually been the Houses’ finest selling point; that books were the better buy, because they’d never suffer access problems—drop your feeder in the bath? Sign on to a friend’s feeder: there’s your collection. Try doing that with a bound.

“Where does that put you and your ‘cultural capital’ Emlen? If that’s all the bounds are to you. If that’s the best you can say. That they’re just another form of licensed technology, locked-down in their own ‘hardware.’” Robert reached out for the bound in Emlen’s hands—and surely he would have snatched it, if he could’ve known it wouldn’t have damaged the old binding even further. Robert turned it in his hands.

“That’s precisely why I’m so interested in the bounds—in the same way you think of them as a memory institution Robert, as a catalogue of their own living readership—giving it away is a one-off transaction. You can never be certain you’ll get that same experience again. Even if the text is replicable, the historical confluence of text and hardware isn’t. It’s once off.”

Graham couldn’t look to either of them, and said, “yeah… I don’t know about that, shouldn’t books be social? These bounds are so lonely by themselves, I mean I can appreciate the sense of control an Author… an ‘Auteur’ would have over them…” Of course he could! “But with books, you can comment on the atomic pieces of it… follow along with the trending annotations… all the skins over the living text itself. It’s like being a part of a club.” It was. He knew. He smiled ruefully.

Emlen nodded and said sagely, “writing ecology.”

But Robert only laughed bitterly at Emlen. “Ha! ‘Social.’ Just the way the Houses made it after they’d gone and alienated everything else they had. Before the Amazon Standard Catalogue, and selling metadata.” He shook his head, and said to Graham. “You would have been too young, but my parents owned an old store, they used to tell me about it. They were worried no one would want bounds anymore, and so they supported the publishers. Tried to poison the uptake of book technology, worked underground with the printers, planted books with viral loads onto the peer networks, and over-charged for digital copies while cutting themselves raw on print margins. They only ended up driving their own customers away. That’s why it’s all about the ‘social’ now. Houses figured they couldn’t convince the public texts were worth anything in themselves. No one believed them, no one trusted them.” No, who does? Thought Graham, you trusted other readers, and what they said of texts, not in how it was published, right? Graham sneered—gently—he knew about that!


By Paul McLaughlan


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Initial ‘I’ used in The folk-tales of the Magyars, Jones, W. Henry; Kropf, Lajos L., 1852-; (ed., transl.) Kriza, János, 1811-1875 London : Pub. for the Folk-lore society (13) by E. Stock.

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