So I have loved science fiction since I was a kid.
Back when I was about 12, maybe 14 I first read this amazing story, Return from the Stars by Stanislaw Lem. In the story, Hal Bregg, a cosmonaut returns to Earth after a 10 year mission to space, to a distant star called Formalhaut. But due to relativity, 10 years in space is much, much longer on Earth.
Returning to Earth isn't easy on Bregg. The world has evolved in vast, strange ways that he struggles to comprehend, to adapt to, in order to be able to live happily.
i won't tell you how the world of the book has changed, part of the joy in reading the story is experiencing the bewilderment and delight along with the main character.
I am going to make one exception though. There's something incredibly prescient in the book. It's the description in chapter three of a bookshop.
I spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century. And how I had looked forward to them, after the microfilms that made up the library of the Prometheus!
No such luck.
No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in the hand, to feel their heft the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystal: with recorded contents. They could be read with the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it. But optons were little used, the sales-robot told me.
The public preferred lectons—lectons read out loud, they could be set to any voice, tempo, and modulation. Only scientific publications having a very limited distribution were still printed, on a plastic imitation paper. Thus all my purchases fitted into one pocket though there must have been almost three hundred titles. A handful of crystal com—my books. I selected a number of works on history and sociology, a few on statistics and demography, and what the girl from Adapt had recommended on psychology.
A couple of the larger mathematical textbooks—larger, of course, in the sense of their content not of their physical size. The robot that served me was itself an encyclopedia, in that—as it told me—it was linked directly, through electronic catalogues, to templates of every book on Earth. As a rule, a bookstore had only single “copies” of books, and when someone needed a particular book, the content of the work was recorded in a crystal.
I read that on my opton, I mean my iPad as I sat this morning waiting for my car to be repaired at a mechanic. It was weirdly meta.
I knew it was coming. I have read this book before. The last time was a dog eared paperback book I bought in the only English bookstore I could find in Cannes, France. At the time I was living overseas with my family for the summer, on holiday, and I was absolutely desperate for books. I went to that bookstore several times, and bought a ton of books. I remember thinking at the time how amazing it would be to have such a device, and be able to read and listen to books at my leisure.
And now, it's true.