I was thinking about iPads recently, specifically about how much I want one and how unfair the world is. I was also thinking about how I’d like to take my friend’s fancy new Kindle that he’s been showing off and repeatedly slap him about the head with it. The point is that everyone has an e-reader except me and random acts of violence are how I choose to deal with this fact. When I eventually get some form of e-reader I will do one thing – read heaps of sci-fi on it. Because if you ask me, that’s what it was invented for.
In the sci-fi that I’ve consumed since childhood, e-readers seem to be a fairly standard accessory for your average space explorer. On Star Trek everyone had ‘pads’ on which they viewed information and they even had awesome smart phones with some really useful apps (they called them tricorders). On Deep Space Nine, Jake Sisko wanted to be an author and he did all his writing on a ‘pad’, he even had a futuristic space pen in one episode. Pretty much the only person in Star Trek who was ever shown with a book was Captain Picard, and then it was usually done to emphasise how old school he was. I don’t think Captain Kirk ever had a book. If he saw one, he probably wouldn’t recognise what it was, assume it was a new alien species and then try to either beat it to death or have sex with it.
In Star Trek, the representation of stories was taken even further with the advent of the holodeck. The holodeck was a place where you could put yourself in a story – characters and locations were represented with realistic holograms and you could ‘live’ the story. It seemed that the holodeck had taken the place of videogames, films and television, even to the point where there were adaptations of famous novels that characters like Picard were constantly playing in. But think about the last time you went to see a filmed adaptation of a book you loved. Were you disappointed? Usually the answer is yes, so I can barely imagine how awful adaptations of books would be if I was in there bumping into things, trying desperately to be cool and accidentally killing characters who weren’t meant to die.
Both Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 showed societies in which books and paper were still prevalent. They even had special space-paper in BSG that had missing corners. Adama read octagonal books, but that was also a character trait meant to show him as older, experienced and a thinker. Of course, in BSG the human race and its culture had just been wiped out, so storytelling wasn’t really top of the agenda. But something common to all these shows was that the humble novel seemed to have gone the way of the dinosaurs, or were only read by dinosaurs. Or the commander’s kid, but he was doing it ironically so it was still cool.
Science fiction representations of reading have seemed to emphasise technology as a way of receiving stories, and participating in them. Or maybe it’s just not interesting to watch characters read. After all, when was the last time characters leapt out of a paperback and held the ship’s doctor hostage while Moriarty attempted to pilot the vessel into a black hole?
Written by Mark Harding