(Would you trust this crazy lady? Would you? Really?)
From the LongPen Website FAQ:
How can you have a meaningful exchange with a robot that does signatures?
The LP device has an interactive image and voice, as well as the ability to sign. The author will be there, in real time. So the exchange is with the author, not the signing device…In fact, it’s quite possible that the screen exchange will be more personal than what exists now.
Upon reflection, this Frankenstein invention from Margaret Atwood strikes me as a kind of lunacy, the deranged dream of a person who just doesn’t have the fortitude for the litanies of the book tour: long, cramped plane flights, endless hotels, too much crap food, not enough sleep. It sounds, in fact, like a Bad SF idea, the kind of gimmick that might satisfy the techno-geek in some but that would hardly nourish more tactile readers. After all, if people just wanted the signature, they wouldn’t need the author’s presence at all, just the signed copy. Or they could write in for a personalized signature.
In our rush to remove all the visceral and tactile experiences the world has to offer, to simplify by making more complex, to save time by wasting it, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of authors to either get their butts out on the road and meet their readers, or just admit that the thought terrifies or defeats them, and live with that, without demanding a surrogate. I can guarantee you: Atwood will still be a bestselling author without a book tour.
Besides, I remember many, many times when being on the road has given me some of the most amazing and, yes, horrifying, moments of my life, much of which has gone into the fiction. Then there are also the random meetings and the random contacts and extended conversations that have nothing to do with the receiving line at a bookstore.
Of course, the lovely insanity and messiness of the real world will never be enough for some people. They have to come along with their crazy SF inventions couched in the logic of the prosaic and the sane.
Maybe, someday, Atwood will just be a brain in a jar attached to a mechanical arm, and every bookstore in the world will have an Atwood Booth that you can enter and sit there while the crane arm signs your book and the brain burbles a few platitudes, and still you sit there, looking at the video of the brain jar, and marveling the way one does at a carnie sideshow.
Or, perhaps, for a more visceral experience: the infernal claw attached to jarred brain, sent by overnight mail to every bookstore in the world for decades–a complex ballet of jarred brains, every soon-dead author pulling their weight until the end of their copyright, at which time they are decanted and laid to rest.
One can but hope.
(Postscript: Besides, wouldn’t a better application of technology be to allow bestselling authors to provide umbrella protection for lesser-known writers? In a sense, it would be like the affiliate endorsements that celebrities do for local network stations. You’d have a series of readings scheduled across time zones. The big-time author would stay in NYC or whatever. The event would also feature up-and-comers or mid-listers who wouldn’t normally get much of audience. Those writers would read and speak first. Then Mr. Big Time comes up on the video screen and does a reading and answers questions. People come to talk to Mr. or Mrs. Big Time, but it also would allow readers to become more familiar with other writers’ work, given them a boost. It might be a novelty that doesn’t catch on, but in the meantime, you’d get a ton of general publicity….And my fee for that idea is only $1,000,000 and my own…infernal claw.)