Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2006


The More Things Change

(A Prequel) See “Not a Moment Too Soon


Taral Wayne

Some time in the middle of the next century, two book collectors meet. They were born well after the baby boom, and have no old fashioned notions about their hobby. Most likely they wouldn't recognize collecting as we know it. For the sake of argument their names are Sidney and Floyd, and they're in their middle fifties.

"Siiiiid! Hi!"


"Great to see you. So this is the apt. Too good of you to let me invite myself over."

"Well, you'd dropped enough hints that you wanted to see my collection. Could I refuse you?"

Sid ushered the other into a modern state-of-the-art, urban multi-occupant standard three room res. (UMOS/3) Although a confirmed bachelor, he had all three hundred and seventy-five square feet of it to himself.

"How could I not drop hints? You only have the best collection of fantasy literature and kiddy porn on the East Coast."

"You flatter me Floyd. There are at least three larger collections in institutions. Two of them better than mine in their own way. Can I offer coffee? Soft drinks? Drugs?"

"Hell no, dude. We can observe the amenities later. There's WWF Championship Mud Wrestling on the wall screen at seven, too. Now I want to see... The Collection!"

"I'd be disappointed in you otherwise Floyd. C'mon."

Sidney closed the door behind Floyd, reset the alert-sensors and armed the doorway mine again. Ten steps took them through the UMOS to the spare room entry. (Eighty-one square feet, no window, $900 a month extra.) Against the far wall was a plastichip-board cabinet, waist high. A smart new computer library array with quad-drive and chargers held up to six handheld readers. There was a four by three wall display as well, across from a comfortable looking chair.

Sid opened the cabinet. Floyd squeezed into the room and watched respectfully as Sid removed a soberly hued plastic snap-lid box about eight by eight by two. (Inches. First quarter of the 21st. century or not, this was still America after all.)

"Here it is." Sid flipped the top, exposing a two and a half inch square blue wafer with some minute black arabesques in one corner: the contact head. "I've spent half my life compiling this. Isn't it a beauty?" He fingered the aluminized read/write slide like a metal panty covering great treasure inside.

"Awesome Sid, totally awesome. Looks like the original peel-off 3M-brand label too. Not a scratch on the case. First scannings and virgin downloads? All?"

"Everyone of them, f'sure. No later posts or pirates, no reverse translations, nothing but the original legit sites."

"You know, I hear some people say there were hard copies of some quite famous books before the text tiles. How do you like that for a chicken or the egg puzzle. Ever thought of that?"

"Sure. I suppose there has to be some sort of raw input before you save a text file, sort of like a rough draft except on paper rather than a note-pad, y'know? Doesn't matter to anyone but academics or museum curators, who seem to have a hard-on for paper copy, just as an object. Couldn't care less about using text like it's meant. Instead of the plasticity of the data, they only seem to care about the stone or parchment or whatever it's put on, y'know?"

"The scholarly mind, I suppose. To be fair, it isn't just the medium, they're hung up on one supposedly more authoritative version, as though no one should change a text to suit themselves! I'm satisfied to leave obscure questions of derivation to semanticists or whoever. I'm satisfied to be a simple bibliophile."

"Just takes the touch of smooth plastic and that vague staticky feel to take me back to twelve, Floyd, when I read Harry Potter And the Satanic Rapture for the first time. Everyone's Golden Age is twelve."

"True, too true." Floyd handed back The Collection. "It brings back memories every time I hear the *snick* of the disc when it goes in the drive." They sighed together.

Sid woke from the reverie first. "Here, let me call up Neuromancer and show you how I've reformatted it. You'll like my choice of font and chapter breaks. I mapped in illos from a Japanese edition as well."

The disk slid with smooth precision into the drive slit. An LED flashed as it read. Then Sid took a reader from its plug and called up a display for his friend.

"Hey, love that light Neo-Uncial. Minimally traditional, but modern. Is it an import or a default -- "

Abruptly the lights dimmed. Then flared as an upstate nuclear plant went on line to take up the slack.

"Fucking hell!" screamed Sid. "The filter'll be saturated! Get the disk!"

It was too late. The drive whined like a drunken banshee and the reader blanked. In the time it took to blink an eye, 30,000 volumes of hard to find fiction vanished.

"Oh well," said Floyd after a moment of stunned silence. "You can always upload most of it again from the public library net. I'll copy for you what I got, and maybe you can get the rest from those institutional collections. Or a payload from a dealer-site. You'll be up again by the end of the week, right? You can reformat and accessorize in your spare time later."

"No," he sighed, "won't need to. Only a momentary scare. I have all my first editions and custom add-ons backed up. It's not as though I lost anything with value, like property or something... "

Don't you love a happy ending, dear reader?


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