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Google E-books: The future ain’t what it used to be.

December 8, 2010

Golden Age sci-fi: Better than drugs any day.

Google opened its long-awaited e-book store on Monday to much fanfare and media attention, but now that a few days have passed and smart observers have had chance to play with the thing, it doesn’t look like the Amazon-killer many had hoped for.

I’ve tried my hardest to shirk my journalistic duty by ignoring the whole thing, curling up instead with a print edition of a new novel called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by wunderkind Charles Yu. The book is a bust, for reasons I may explain elsewhere, but the title is possibly the most clever and also the most relevant of the decade, if not the entirety of human history.

When I was a child, I not only spake as a child but I also loved all things science fiction. I longed for the time–almost within my grasp! — when I could zip around the stars with Kirk and Spock, or traverse galaxies via a Tunnel in the Sky, or homestead the Red Planet during the era of The Martian Chronicles, or participate in the next step of human evolution at the foot of a monolith on one of Saturn’s moons.

At the very least, I’d be talking with my mind, commuting in a flying car, living in a house designed by Richard Neutra, relaxing with an after-work cocktail served by a servo-butler and smoking vitamin-packed cigarettes.

The sci-fi reality turns out to be a lot less glamorous, stylish or interesting. And we do live in a science fiction reality, thanks to the dazzling capacities of digital technology — which is busily destroying, supplanting or eating everything I hold dear, and without giving real value in return.

For example, the Internet has blasted newspapers and magazines into obsolescence, yet remains, apart from speed, a vastly inferior source of news and journalism. Here’s another blog IOU: Someday I promise to explain why newspapers are a superior news source to the Internet. It’s not, let me assure, just because I personally prefer the feel of newsprint.

Although I do. My preference for printed books over e-books is, I’ll admit, largely a matter of aesthetics. The idea of reading a book off a screen makes me itch all over and incites a desire to shout and throw things this way and that, which would be dumb as I’m sitting at a desk in my own apartment and there are no robomaids around to clean up after me.

I also harbor a secret suspicion that e-books are actually Mimzies sent from a future time to corrupt our minds for the betterment of our dying descendants by sending them samples of our unsullied DNA (the joke’s on them — too late!).

Okay, okay, I digress. Over at Salon.com, Laura Miller, a much more diligent journalist than I am, and probably a better all-round human being, has conducted a thorough examination of the Google store and found it wanting in comparison with the evil Galactic Empire — er, I mean Amazon.

You can see her reasoning here. She also, to my chagrin, explains clearly why she sometimes prefers e-books to printed ones (et tu, Laura?!?). Her biggest problem with the Google store? Amazingly, given what, you know, Google is famous for, it’s how clumsy the site’s search function is.

Ryk Myslewski also examines the Google store at The Register, a U.K. site, and his conclusion: “Google Books Spanked by Amazon Kindle.”

One unmitigated boon of the Google store (and there are others, for those who give a sh–, oops, sorry — a hoot) is its partnership with independent book stores, which can now sell Google e-books and get a sliver of the digital pie. Not surprisingly, then, one of the best basic primers on the Google store can be found at the website for The Tattered Cover, Denver’s outstanding downtown independent book store.

Now please excuse me while I go reread The Voyage of the Space Beagle. I feel a need to indulge some future nostalgia.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 12:43 pm

    Something to warm the cockles of your heart, Chauncey:

    From Publishers Weekly today: e-book sales posted their slowest growth rates in 2010 in October. Still, sales jumped 112.4%, to $40.7 million, from the 14 publishers who reported results to the AAP’s monthly sales program. For the first 10 months of the year, e-book sales from the 14 houses rose 171.3%, to $345.3%, 8.7% of the trade sales of reporting publishers. The three adult categories all had declines in October and for the 10 months of 2010 adult hardcover sales from 17 reporting houses fell 7.7%, and sales from 9 mass market houses were down 14.3%. Sales of trade paperbacks from 19 publishers were flat.

    Après nous, le déluge.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 8, 2010 1:30 pm

      I saw that immediately after posting this blog, PJ. While I smiled at the news, like Aaron Sorkin when he hears of a hunter getting shot, I also have mixed feelings: Does this mean reading is down in general? One of my fears with e-books has always been that they may actually be trojan horses, their real purpose to wean people away from reading and ever more toward screen-based visual entertainments.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:09 pm

    You’ve outdone yourself this time, Luddite–you had me giggling profusely at this one.

    You may take heart in this: I spend about three hours four nights a week at the local YMCA and have yet to see even ONE person reading from a Kindle or Nook. I know I couldn’t. I’d be electrocuted by sweat dripping onto the device. But most of us do read real newspapers, magazines and books.

    As for living in the age of science fiction reality, a human resource manager for a local dentist here is having a hard time finding a entry level administrative assistant because the young candidates cannot even tell time from a clock that is not digital.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 8, 2010 1:32 pm

      Why, thank ye, ma’am. Your amusement is the meaning of my life. And I say that with no irony whatsovermore. I see the same at my gym–very few Kindles. I love the dentist story, in a sad, head-shaking kind of way.

  3. John Karwacki permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:24 pm

    “We are living in the future
    I’ll tell you how I know
    I read it in the paper
    Fifteen years ago
    We’re all driving rocket ships
    And talking with our minds
    And wearing turquoise jewelry
    And standing in soup lines
    We are standing in soup lines…” John Prine

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    December 8, 2010 1:32 pm

    Oh, Karwacki: You see right through me.

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