Wunderkammer Seeds: A Fantasia
Here's what tomorrow's bookcase will look like:



Within each of these objects will be a flash drive containing every possible electronic version of a book, including the page layout of every known edition for the purposes of on-demand printing.

These sculptures will be gateways to both print and electronic versions of literature. They will be exquisitely crafted objects that remind us of the unquantifiable worth of the contents.

Each sculpture in this bookshelf will represent a different novel or set of novels. These book sculptures will become the new iteration of the book cover. To truly own a book, one will own a physical curio that represents all the contents and ancillary materials, conveyed in three discrete dimensions, dimensions that cannot be erased, deleted, or altered.

A talisman, disconnected from the net, that can be buried, stored, collected, hidden, and loved.

Like seeds.


***


Knowledge is fragile and we human beings are weak guardians. We don't even know what we've lost when it comes to the burned, misplaced, and forgotten works of our past. We call the scanty tomes that we've managed to preserve "classics" and we walk away whistling.

Are things changing? Do we now have the power to archive every piece of human writing for later analysis, entertainment, and edification?

Perhaps.

But eventually there will come a time when a power rises up with the intent to alter, control, or destroy the knowledge to which we are heir, and electronic books that feed from the web could be hunted and purged with a single program designed to annihilate them.

Or even worse, the contents of these books could be changed without anyone noticing.

As books molder and rot in our blood-clotted libraries, the librarians of the future will be charged with instead protecting the discrete, physical digital forms of our heritage. These tiny mundane objects will serve as repositories for absolute texts which can be used to fix or replace any lost or vandalized work. "Save" files for literature, seed collections will be able to be broken apart, pocketed, and hidden.

And so, despite the best efforts of the power-hungry, it will remain impossible for our knowledge to be gathered in one place where it can then be destroyed in one cruel and cunning blow.


***


And these seeds will be wonderful items to have.

Imagine, each sculpture will contain not only every possible version and every available electronic format for a given novel, but it will also contain an electronic version specific to the seed itself: an application crafted by programmers (the new publishers) that displays and showcases texts in a well-designed, beautiful frame that contains audio for the blind, animated illustrations, soundtracks, movie versions, critical reviews, and all manner of useful and related materials.

Someday, perhaps, the seeds will even have a projection device that will allow you to read the text along a wall like a laser pointer or to enjoy a holographic slideshow of the contents.

Oh sure, people will steal parts from each seed. One person may steal the audio files, another may steal the text, a student may steal a critical essay for their homework assignment.

But publishers (gardeners) will still profit, despite all the rampant piracy. When you buy a seed, you are buying the permanent object that can be GIVEN AS A GIFT.

You are buying the reminder of the story that changed your life. One of Matthew Arnold's literal "touchstones."

You are buying a permanent object that can be collected and cherished, yet can still be swept into a shoebox when it is time to move and carted from apartment to apartment without breaking your back.

You could print this book ten times in your life from the seed and read it in book form from an on-demand press at your local coffee shop. You may never print it and always read it from your ebook reader or netbook, uploading each seed to a new device as computers become more and more powerful over the years.

Publishers will dutifully create new versions of books for new formats that will be available for download to these seeds (for a fee, of course).

But if you need to make space on your reader for later, or if you fear that your computer will be stolen, lost, or broken, you will always have the book.

The object.


***


The seedshelf of a science fiction and fantasy fan:



The seedshelf of a romantic:



The seedshelf of a scientist:



Inside the seedbox of an avant garde poet:



A seedstore:




***


Stories are not paper. Stories are not anything at all. So if they must be something, they should be the most beautiful thing they can be: a thing of value that exists for its own sake, an essential memento that can be held and cherished.

An object that will acquire value over time with each new edition.

An object that will last.

Cheap books will go inside of cheap sculptures. Plastic. Rubber. Expensive books will be lodged inside precious stones.

Perhaps one day we will be able to fit every book ever written within an object you can hold in your hand.

But writers will still write new stories!

And they will need to sell them!

They will need to keep their stories discrete from the massive blob of the past and ensure that their work cannot be so easily assimilated into the canon.

These writers of the future will have to embed their texts in the future's beautiful objects and peddle them. Marbles that contain clockwork universes. Provocative accessories for android sex slaves.

Inventive creators will play with the seed form as with every other medium.

You may finish your novel and want the seed of it to be the old coffee mug that you drank from every day while writing. Molds will be cast. Your reader will plug their computer into the same coffee mug that touched your lips every morning (your only constant lover) and read the story that the coffee mug contains.

You may want your whimsical romance to be lodged inside a hat that people can wear. Or a beautiful ink pen.

Do you want permanence? Do you want to shock? Do you want to provoke disgust or evoke despair? Or do you simply wish to cause people to pick your book up and wonder about the story that lies within?

Perhaps you want the seed of your book to be lodged inside a good old fashioned paper book. If people want the electronic edition, they plug into your hearty, classic leather-bound volume and get it from there.

You old curmudgeon.


***


Publishers will maintain databases of every electronic version complete with secondary materials in order to publish new seeds in new editions as demands and markets fluctuate.

Popular designs will remain iconic. The Bible will always be sold as a cross (or an apple).

The text editions of books will be stolen and will circulate for free. People will be able to read what they want when they want it. There's no stopping them.

But the book will still be sold as a seed, because the need "to have" is as strong as the need "to experience." Without having, there is no giving. The seeds will be purchased, traded, collected, gifted, and shared. They will be loved.

We all need something to love. And the object that contains a great story should be as beautiful and strong as a great story itself.

Seed artists of the future will ask themselves:

Is an object worthy of the story within it?

And:

Is the story worthy of the object's expense?

As future readers lock up their wunderkammers before dreaming, they will smile in the darkness at the past when a book meant a square block of paper that slowly fell apart in your hands every time you enjoyed it.

We enlightened moderns have the fruits of literature at our everyday disposal, but readers of the future will have something better.

Posted by miracle on Sat, 11 Jul 2009 19:22:08 -0400 -- permanent link


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