Bewildering Stories

Steven Utley writes about...

a Scanner in the Works

My computer-savvy girlfriend recently scanned the better part of 90,000 words’ worth of my old typescripts, and I edited the results into a story collection that is destined to take the literary world by storm, or at least by surprise. I could hardly do less than to dedicate the book to her.

Well, she thought it nice of me, but it nevertheless fell short of inspiring her to even greater efforts when I started thinking aloud about my next story collection. Instead, she taught me how to operate the optical scanner, without (this is important) setting it on fire or irradiating myself, then told me, “Fend for yourself, dear.”

With the initial enthusiasm of someone who has just learned how to operate heavy machinery, I got right to work scanning more old typescripts. Yesterday afternoon, I scanned more than 200 pages — 50,000+ words’ worth of deathless prose — and my education continued apace. The 95-page typescript of a 26,000-word story written in the early 1990’s is clean and crisp and reproduced beautifully.

The scans of two 1970’s documents, however — on flimsy backing sheets from carbon sets (oldsters will remember those), smudgy and coffee-stained and heavily emended — look like computer gibberish, which, come to think of it, is exactly what they are. The whole tedious time I have been editing them I’ve kept telling myself, At least you don’t have to retype these puppies.

Kids today don’t believe anybody ever had to retype anything, and many of them aren’t even sure what typewriters are: I’ve known some to mistake venerable Olympias and Underwoods for ornate ashtrays and planters. In all fairness, I can scarcely believe that authors in pre-typewriter times routinely wrote out their great fat works like War and Peace and Nicholas Nickleby by hand and then made fair copies — again, by hand — of those same great fat works for printers.

Thus, I count my blessings, and keep on scanning, and, as I said, my education continues. Anyway, I have little choice in the matter. Just as, a hundred years ago, typesetters began refusing to have anything to do with handwritten copy, fair or otherwise, so, nowadays, are more and more editors and publishers insisting on electronic copies; e-books and print-on-demand are the wave of the future. Science and Technology have marched on and dragged literature along behind, and never mind the wear and tear on anybody’s last-century sensibilities.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley

One can only wish for you, Steven, a keen-eyed OCR and a robust spellchecker.

We can probably thank Balzac and Proust for the typesetters’ revolt. Imagine print shops receiving hundreds — nay, thousands — of pages of proofs, the margins brimming with indecipherable handwritten additions. Always additions, somehow; never deletions. Now why might that be...?

In issue 93’s editorial, The Future of Books, Jerry refers to a very interesting article about books on demand. They would seem to be a godsend in countries where literacy is still low and books are expensive and hard to come by.

Now, doesn’t it seem that roving bookmobiles that print books for you would be a truly populist underground movement? Shortly after reading Jerry’s editorial and the article he references, I noticed a television advertisement about that very thing... by Xerox. Just as the computer created desktop publishing, so will technology create desktop — or tailgate — printing. What will that make the future look like? Would someone like to write us a truly Bewildering Story about that?

Copyright © 2004 by Bewildering Stories

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