The Novel of the Future

I’ve tried to imagine what the novel of the future would be like. “Novel” means “new” and the form has been evolving since its invention. In fact, I am still trying to figure out who invented the novel; was it the Greeks, the Icelanders, the English, or the Japanese? Depending on which source you read, all of the above nations make that claim, due in part to the novel’s amorphous and ever-evolving form that fits any work having some kind of a narrative. But the future novel? A daunting task to conceive, yet one that every novelist tries to invent, if he is to gain immortality.

I looked at trend lines. Readers are consuming the following in plenty these days: feel-good stories, short works, long works, fantasy, crime (the puzzle), female themes, teen romances, and series (the latter, thanks to Netflix, I think). Weighty literary tomes, where the accent is on lyricism not brevity, character not plot, are attracting shrinking audiences, despite best efforts by arts organizations to elevate literary fiction with prizes, grants, and snob value. How do readers want novels to be presented; i.e. in prose, pictures, video, on paper, or electronically? Even though e-books were once touted as the emerging standard, their first iteration has not gained much ground, for three reasons: (a) their audience has come from a paper background and is required to change, (b) the devices and content are still pretty “old world”—our first generation of e-book is just another mousetrap, not necessarily better (c) publishers and e-tailers have gotten greedy and are pricing e-books closer to that of paper books to subsidize the paper that they are dumping at fire sales.

From the above I concluded that the novel of the future (and I’m talking 10-plus years from now, when the first kids to get an iPad on their fifth birthday become serious book buyers) would have to be story-driven, fast-paced, eventful, continuous, loaded with pictures and interactive video—and delivered electronically, of course.

And what would happen to the current crop of writers? Would they phase out like silent movie stars after sound entered the film industry? Or would they collaborate with illustrators, videographers, and techies to produce composite works, like the movies? Would the cost of a book therefore increase? After all, illustrations, video and sound must cost money. And these new collaborators will want a slice of the creator’s royalty pie as well, wouldn’t they ? Would we therefore have to be selective in the production and consumption of new literature due to its high cost of creation? Would advertizing become a standard appearance in novels to defray expenses? Would sponsorships be de-rigueur? And wouldn’t the older reader (i.e. my demographic) also gravitate to this new novel out of necessity as eyesight deteriorates, and a manipulatable book with the assistance of pictures, audio and video become more accessible? Too many questions…

There are more: Would I still play in this new environment? Me, who came of age reading words and conjuring up the rest (pictures, video and sound) in my imagination? Would I be happy being just a scriptwriter, for that’s what I would be reduced to (movie script-writers, please do not be offended, but novelists are the masters of their universe, editors notwithstanding)? Or would I continue writing my novels in the traditional manner and morph into an epicurean artist, like a calligrapher or a hypnotist?

Or could I depend on teachers and parents to continue reading to their children before these future readers are bestowed with iPads on their fifth birthday, thus ensuring that the tactile connection with books is still paper for generations to come? There are more questions than answers at this time when it comes to envisioning the novel of the future. And there is hope too, I think. In the meantime, we continue to write…

The Savage within us

I get sent “interesting” videos by friends, fans and strangers, but a couple I received recently turned my stomach.

One was of a raid by soldiers on a village in a country that will remain unnamed; the soldiers—for they were uniformed—arrived in this dusty main street of the village on a busy market day, disembarked from their vehicles and promptly went about shooting every man, woman and child in sight who were going about their peaceful business. The grim footage was covered by a handheld camera that traversed every slumping body until there was no more movement; if a limb moved, it was machine gunned into submission. The lack of sound made the film all the more ominous. For a while I wondered if this was a staged video, but the graphic looks of surprise and horror on the faces of the attacked would have challenged even the most brilliant Hollywood movie studio. The soldiers then nonchalantly got back into their vehicles and drove away. But wait – the camera man was still alive – I was watching his film. He must have been planted there ahead of time to make this record. They (whoever they were) wanted the world to see this! And the video was serving its purpose, making its rounds. It had landed on my laptop.

Then a few days ago I received a video (why do they pick me?) of a young girl in another unnamed, fundamentalist country being stoned to death by a bunch of bloodthirsty men. This clip included sound, and the fury of the mob was blood•curdling. I had to delete this file the moment I figured out what was going on, it was just too savage. But not before I saw this young man in the foreground taking pictures of the incident on his cell phone, very deliberately, finding the right angles for maximum coverage, going about his business in a routine fashion—another reality video in the making.

I tried to put these incidents out of my mind and prided myself that I now lived in a civilized country, with layers of moral conduct so thick that none of this shit oozed out here, that my escape from the Third World once upon a time had been a Great Escape indeed. And then I read about the gang rape of a 16•year old in BC, in my Civilized Canada, which was videotaped, You Tube’d and Facebooked, and my desolation was complete. I desperately tried to rationalize that maniacs worked in mobs in the lesser developed world and only as isolated freaks in our “civilized world”, and so from a numbers standpoint, we were still better off. But then I realized that beyond the act itself, there were millions of voyeurs watching these incidents (over and over again sometimes), continuing to assault and insult the victims, and that they lived in every part of the world, developed and underdeveloped alike. I quickly descended from my moral, civilized•world high•horse and realized that we are indeed in bad times—all of us.

Please – friend, fan, or stranger – if you are reading this – do not send me this stuff again! I get your message. If you intended me to blog my condemnation about these incidents, I am doing it right here, so don’t send me any more of this human detritus which only serves to remind me (and you) that deep down we are still a bunch savages, some of us coated only a smidgeon more with layers of civilized and socialized behaviour than others. William Golding, you were so damned right when you gave us The Lord of the Flies!

The Facebook Family

I remember the old days when we wrote letters to relatives and friends in distant lands, when we phoned the ones nearby to “keep in touch” and when we read the obituary notices to find out who had died.

I have to admit I do not do any of that today. All my friends and most of my far•flung family are now on Facebook. If I don’t see them on the newsfeed, there must be something wrong. Time to “poke” them. Now, you have to be worried if your “friend count” suddenly drops – did someone die? Or did they “un•friend” you because of something you said (or did not say) on your wall or heavens forbid) on his wall? Have I overstayed my welcome by posting my gossip and self•promotion on my friend’s walls? Click – and I am history!

I find out about new births when baby pictures start appearing on my friends’ Facebook pages; or of people moving homes when the backgrounds of those pictures change. “And why are you putting on so much weight, guy – sitting in front of the computer too much?” “What’s with the glasses? Eye strain?” Join the club.

Do I need to send greetings cards anymore? How about a poke instead • “Happy birthday, man, how’s it hanging?” Simple! No need to go to a wedding or birthday party any more – just have my friends upload grainy photographs from the party, captured on a cell phone camera, so that I could check them out and “be there.” No need to come to my parties either, I’ll just post pictures of myself on my Facebook page, blowing out umpteen candles on a $10 supermarket cake, with only me in attendance.

You know, despite all this networking, it feels kind of lonely out in Facebookland. We seem to have networked ourselves into obscurity. To feel guilty when you phone someone and get the real person instead of his voice mail is now becoming a common human reaction. Who would rather be sitting with their spouse or significant other on the same couch and texting each other instead of conversing? I mean, we do it at the office, why not at home? We may get some peace and quiet after all (other than for those tic•tic sounds of keyboards or phone pads). And in ten years from now, our vocal chords would have atrophied and we will have ended up with a circumscribed vocabulary heavily populated with “LOL, Hi, OMG, Hi5” and other acronyms that I am trying hard not to learn.

I don’t know, man – especially in these days of cheap long•distance phone calls and free video conferencing, I think we need the face•to•face more than the face•book. I wonder when the tide will change; when our keyboarding fingers will ache for a rest, our vocal chords thirst for exercise, and our souls hunger for the presence of other souls to remind us that we exist, and are defined, only in relation to community