Wednesday, September 21, 2011

By The Time You See This, It Will Be Out Of Date

But it's a fascinating speech, so you should read it anyway. Ben Hammersley spoke to the IAAC a couple weeks ago about, among other things, how we're becoming increasingly comfortable trading personal information for personal service.

I was going to post about that, but already had my blog for that week finished, and wanted to sleep rather than double-post and not have anything lined up for the next week. Which got me thinking about the length of time it takes to get a book from concept to reader.

Aside from the time it takes to actually write a book, it takes a while to produce. If it's a first book, there's finding a publisher and that whole process, but even if you have a publisher and a deal, there is the editing process, the design, the cover, any pre-launch marketing and the arranging of launches and signings, and the printing time itself. So even if a reader picks up a book as soon as it is available, there's still a lag time of, usually, several months.

This can lead to a bit of a disconnect. I find myself slightly confused when I pick up ostensibly modern mainstream fiction and characters aren't visibly using cell phones, or all their phones do is call people: and this is as someone who does not own a cell phone. That's just on the narrowest scale, though. The television show Combat Hospital is explicitly dated 2006, which gives the writers plenty of time to research what exactly is going on before trying to translate it to an audience, but also keeps the audience reminded that this is not supposed to be real-time, so there's no subconscious expectation of the things we see about the Middle East on the news to be reflected in developments on the show.

The second part of that is most relevant to what I'm trying to get at: in 2001, all the books that came out that fall that were set in New York had major discrepancies. It's a problem that authors will continue to face as the world insists on changing, and there aren't any really neat solutions. Dating everything gets tedious, and never lets the reader feel they're reading anything truly modern, and trying to push through faster publishing turnaround leads almost inevitably to more mistakes in production. Narrow scope works well, but leaves one with, well, narrowed scope. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files gets around rapidly evolving technology by having a main character who destroys technology by his mere presence, which leaves a narrative vaguely disconnected from the present. It works, as the world is full of magic and vampires and things that go bump in the night, but I think it says a lot about either technology and society or my particular technological addiction that the lack of cell phone stands out more than the rampaging werewolves.

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