Literature Reflects Our Digital Age

I love pre-20th-century fiction, but I’m going to ignore it today. That’s because I’ll be talking about literature featuring computers, email, cellphones, social media, and other manifestations of modern technology.

It’s a subject Jane Austen probably didn’t discuss on a smartphone, Charlotte Bronte probably didn’t text about, Mark Twain probably didn’t tell a Facebook friend about, and Tolstoy probably didn’t tweet about. Heck, the War and Peace cast has more than 140 characters…

Digital devices can appear casually in literature — a character writing something on a laptop, another character taking a photo with an iPhone, etc. — or they can be important to, or even central to, the story line.

Modern technology can certainly affect a plot. For instance, mystery authors of decades ago took advantage of the fact that potential crime victims might find themselves in very isolated situations. Now, potential victims could very well be toting a smartphone that could help them avoid mayhem.

While we might think tech began appearing in lit when the Internet became a mass phenomenon during the 1990s, computers of course were found in fiction — and particularly science fiction — well before that. A prime example is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — in which HAL the computer plays a memorably important role. Computers are also in decades-ago books aimed at young readers, with one example being 1958’s Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine by Jay Williams and Raymond Arbrashkin. Man, that homework-helping computer was HUGE!

But the digital age especially permeates literature of the past 10-20 years. This is mightily apparent in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) and the two other Stieg Larsson novels that feature major computer hacking by Lisbeth Salander, online research by her and others, and investigative stories and investigative books written on laptops. Tech stuff is almost as important as the human element in driving the story lines of Larsson’s page-turning trilogy.

Modern technology is also prominent in Lee Child’s riveting series of Jack Reacher crime thrillers. Worth Dying For, to name one title, has a pivotal scene where Reacher goes outside to retrieve a cellphone he had earlier grabbed from a bad guy — only to find himself in mortal danger from that bad guy’s just-arriving “boss.” Later, a cellphone conversation plays a crucial role in the 2010 novel’s shattering climax.

J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy (2012) includes cellphones, texting, and computers, too — making for a digital landscape that’s at first a bit jarring after reading Rowling’s magic-filled but almost tech-free Harry Potter series.

Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005) opens with transcripts of emails that “introduce” readers to various characters. We learn something about Jerome Belsey (the emailer who’s staying with the Kipps family in England), about the Kipps (who will figure prominently in the novel), and about Jerome’s Massachusetts-based father Howard (including the fact that he’s too distracted, embarrassed, and self-involved to answer emails). Later in the novel, Howard the professor is very reluctant to switch from an overhead projector to PowerPoint — which symbolizes his becoming a has-been. (Not that he was ever much of a “was-been.”)

On a more positive note, Dellarobia Turnbow getting a job that includes some computer work is one example of how that rural, working-class, former stay-at-home mom gains confidence in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012). Also in that novel, computer modeling and online research help scientist Ovid Byron learn about the way climate change is hurting the monarch-butterfly population.

Another 2012 novel, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, includes a satellite-technology element crucial to the effort to try smuggling a prominent North Korean actress out of that authoritarian country.

Moving to the apocalyptic, we have Stephen King’s Cell (2006), in which cellphones don’t come off well. Neither does that novel; it’s one of King’s few mediocre efforts in the wireless or pre-wireless eras of his glittering career.

Last but not least, digital devices can also be a vehicle for humor. In Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company, for instance, protagonist Daniel Pecan Cambridge muses that his name is “D-control/spacebar” in the computer records of his therapist Clarissa — who, incidentally, once had her cellphone battery die at the same time her car battery died. What are your favorite literary works with modern-technology elements?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area β€” unless you’re replying to someone else. Also, please feel free to read through comments and reply to anyone you want; I love not only being in conversations, but also reading conversations in which I’m not involved!)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

198 thoughts on “Literature Reflects Our Digital Age

  1. Dave, I just had to mention the book by Frank Herbert, “Dune” once again. I’m not sure why it’s so much on my mind, except that it’s one of the novels that B&N have in their collectable editions that I have such a fondness for. It takes place in a world 21 thousand years in the future, where AI and personal computing is illegal, so all of that has now been taken over by humans, known as mentats, who are helped by the spice melange. It’s such an interesting concept and goes against the digital age, taking it to the next level. I know you haven’t read this book yet, but it is very fascinating.

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    • “Dune” is definitely still “active” on my lengthy to-read list! One of the novels I vow to get to in 2015! Thanks, Kat Lib, for describing its “post-digital” aspect; I wasn’t aware of that. Sounds absolutely fascinating.

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        • Thanks, Dave! My laptop is back in action, and it’s what I usually use in the morning to early afternoon hours. At some point in the afternoon I need to relieve my back and leg pain, so I get more comfortable and switch to my tablet. It’s the reason why I got it last fall; although it was actually free with my phone upgrade through Verizon. I started up with physical therapy again a few weeks ago after the small tear in my calf muscle healed, so I hope to see some improvement this year!

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  2. A half-century ago, I was among that happy band of Weekly Reader subscribers who owned that book about the homework machine, impressed for a lifetime since, as I was meant to be, by how the work of programming the computer to do the homework had, though the boys had not anticipated the outcome, made the would-be loafers competent at every subject and lesson– they might have actually had to work harder while programming than they would have had to work had they only decided to do their homework by traditional analog methods. Pretty sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere for somebody. Which is: if you’re in the class below, buy the machine from the programmers. Or better yet, steal it, as theft remains the most efficient form of work.

    I’m still waiting for anti-gravity paint. But that’s another book entirely.

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    • Ironic, wasn’t it? Just goes to show that when students are excited and interested in something, they’ll work harder — and often learn more. A lesson for the education “reform” people trying to foist the mind-numbing Common Core curriculum, more standardized tests, etc., on teachers and students.

      (But a lesson many of those “reformers” stubbornly ignore, because there’s money to be made by private education companies/private testing companies, because less-creative learning can lead to more docile corporate workers in the future, etc.)

      End of rant. πŸ™‚

      Those “Danny Dunn” books were fun! And anti-gravity paint? Bring it on!

      Thanks, jhNY, for the great comment.

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      • Theft, as I said previously, is the most efficient form of work– a pile of money waiting around for somebody to make off with it is how those reformers see American education. And they’re determined, with much corporate backing, to be those somebodies who get that pile, even if it means pretending to care about the kids or pretending to wish to improve educational standards and practices.

        It is my firm belief that, of all political slogans there might be, the truest one, if only pols were honest, would read:

        Let me stand next to the money. I can take it from there.

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        • Theft has indeed become an art form for the powers that be, jhNY. Small-time theft by the non-rich is often prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, while big-time theft (by bankers, corporate execs, etc.) is practically a sacrament. Everything, even the most basic human rights such as education and health care, has to be monetized to the max. Disgusting.

          “Let me stand next to the money. I can take it from there” — SO spot-on! That’s indeed most politicians. New York’s ultra-corrupt Sheldon Silver is just the latest of zillions of examples.

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  3. When I was a younger fellow by far, and the ’80’s were present, and not past, I made a fair amount of music with synthesizers and drum machines. At the time, these production values sounded very futuristic, if not like the future itself. Nowadays, when I listen to my music from the time, I am reminded of a rusty spaceship ride at a street fair. It pointed to a future that never precisely was, a future that went elsewhere, and now, even as an idea, was past.

    This week’s topic caused me to recall reading what I think is still considered one of the prototypes of the cyber-punk genre, William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I read it about a decade ago and so, refreshed my recollection of the plot– which was minimal– by reading a summary. In it, a mention was made of one of the novel’s supposed shortcomings– the author had not anticipated digital cell phone technology, and thus, had created a future world more or less without it. Which is presently unthinkable. See also Bladerunner, Total Recall, Terminator.

    Computer interfaces generally– I hope I’m using an acceptable phrase– are very difficult to anticipate, if the past is any guide. Many movies set ahead in time suffer, to the point of being laughable, from the paucity of imagination visited on screens and keyboards, etc. Often, everything else in the scene still looks fresh as tomorrow, but already, the computer stuff is hopelessly dated, yet the date of the story is dozens of years from now.

    Sometimes, even the most forward-thinking among us, writing as far ahead in time as they can imagine, miss the future almost entirely, or miss what, amongst all the stuff surrounding them in the present, will survive and transform in days to come, to the point, occasionally, of transforming even the future itself.

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    • I hear you, jhNY. What seemed futuristic in the past can now seem retro — whether that kind of future came about or not.

      Not anticipating certain technologies of the future is totally understandable. Authors are obviously not seers, though — with the help of some knowledge, research, and luck — they sometimes “score.” But more often they don’t.

      Heck, the brilliant writer Mary Shelley set “The Last Man” (1826) in the late 2090s, and the fastest transportation alternative she came up with for the novel was the hot-air balloon, which had been around since 1783.

      I don’t think I’ve read any of the cyber-punk genre, unless I did so without realizing it.

      Thanks for the eloquent, thought-provoking, philosophical comment!

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      • I thoroughly enjoyed Neuromancer– there’s a world, in fact, a couple of worlds lurking between the covers, and they intermingle freely. There’s much palpability resident in the virtual, where the symbolic has transformed itself into something somehow real– so lots of jockeying and derring-do and counter-measures and bot-defenses, etc., while in the real(er) world, much decadence and betrayal and subterfuge and corporate power and drug addiction and all grades of amoral criminality. The pace is first-rate, the lingo easy enough to catch on to– recommended.

        I read another of his books, set also in a cyber-mad future world, but found it a bit too much like Neuromancer to read another– but there’s always tomorrow and the possibility of a change of heart.

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        • Thanks, jhNY! I may give “Neuromancer” a try after seeing your richly detailed description.

          I hear you about authors who write another novel that evokes a previous novel a bit too much. But, as we know from the Jack Reacher series (obviously a whole other genre), that’s not always a bad thing. πŸ™‚

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        • Interesting! I’ve never read “Atlas Shrugged,” but I guess there was no hint of “The Jetsons” in it. πŸ™‚

          If I ever have a huge swath of free time I might get to Ayn Rand’s book, but there are hundreds of novels I want to read first — including ones you’ve recommended.

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          • My recommendation: if you ever have that much free time, read Proust.

            “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

            β€” John Rogers

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            • I did read a chunk of the “Swann’s Way” section of “In Search of Lost Time.” Greatly admired it, but didn’t find it compelling enough to continue. That was 10-15 years ago. Maybe I’ll give Proust another try one day. I take it you liked “In Search of Lost Time” a lot?

              As for your second paragraph, jhNY, I LOVE that quote. What a hilarious smackdown of Rand!!

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              • I like reading Proust, but like you, I never felt compelled to finish– but I do plan, someday, to return… I suspect Proust is the repository of a great many good intentions of the readerly sort.

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                • Yes, sort of an “obligation read” for literature lovers, who may or may not find Proust ultra-riveting.

                  I also feel obligated to eventually try a couple of James Joyce’s most challenging works. When, I don’t know. I did love his relatively straightforward/very evocative “The Dead.”

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                  • Exactly– an obligation read, though one, if my mood is right, I will enjoy– as for Joyce, I’ve read Dubliners, and have recently acquired it for a re-acquaintance, and read Portrait of the Artist up to the fiery sermon, after which, it seemed to me, i could see our hero’s life lay out in ways I didn’t care to explore as a young man of twenty myself– but will, eventually, if I live. The there’s Ulysses, which can be excerpted, and has been, in such a way as to make one eager to read the thing, only to find it’s often rough going and long between those attractive excerpts– I have it, and have dipped in and out fitfully over the years, but one day…..

                    Then there’s Finnegan’s Wake. The song says there’s lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake, but I suspect the author had more fun than his readers can get out of it.

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                    • Thanks for the great James Joyce wrap-up! I’ve indeed heard that “Finnegans Wake” might be the toughest Joyce of all. πŸ™‚

                      Maybe the next time I try Joyce I’ll just read the rest of “Dubliners” — which, of course, includes “The Dead.”

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                • Not to boast but I took five months out of 1999 to read the complete ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ interrupting it only to keep up with the latest New Yorker magazine (I had a subscription at the time). I think the decision as to whether it’s worth that much time invested in reading is up to the individual. It wasn’t more difficult than ‘Ulysses’ although it was more time-consuming and I needed to abandon my usual expectations of chapter breaks which actually adds to the effect of searching for lost time that is one of the themes of the novel. It does have breaks but they might be 400-500 pages apart. There are a few section breaks i.e. extra space between paragraphs. It’s like traveling on an Interstate for about 200 miles or more before you find the next exit (which actually describes my journey through much of Arkansas). So you’d better get your bathroom break out of the way at the beginning. While I admired ‘Ulysses’ and its ambition I was less emotionally involved with it than with Proust’s work and so I will someday re-read ‘In Search of Lost Time’ before I decide to repeat the experience of ‘Ulysses’. I’m also something of a Francophile and Proust is about as French as you can get (not that there’s anything wrong with Dublin, mind you).

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                  • I think I remember you mentioning that over at HP, and I am VERY impressed that you read all of Proust’s opus. Thanks for describing the experience, and for your thoughts on “In Search of Lost Time” vs. “Ulysses.” More emotionally involving is a huge thing when it comes to literature.

                    Like you, I’m a lover of French literature. A lot to love! Stendhal, Balzac, Dumas, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, de Maupassant, Colette, Camus, etc.!

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  4. Dave, for technology to play an important role in the book rather than be part of the world can be interesting. I think of “Jurassic Park” as a prime example. Not only is the dinosaur cloning the central theme, but there is also the young girl in the book who is a hacker and is surprised by the Graphic User Interface and touch screen the park uses for its operating system. At the time of the book being written Windows was just taking off and DOS was needed to even run that.

    The multitude of modern devices appearing in books is interesting, but perhaps a different look at it is web comics. The stories that take place in “real time,” even if they are a fictional world, show the shift far faster than novels can. I’ve seen characters go from no cell phone to a smart phone over the course of 10 years, kind of like me.

    An alternative is a book like “13 Reasons Why” which I can’t recommend enough (I advise reading it all in a day). The author intentionally removed as much modern technology as possible. Using a tape player and tapes and calling them old and outdated, to create a feel of being in the present even if the story is read by someone years from now.

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    • Thanks, GL! I see that “Jurassic Park” was published in 1990, which put it right on the cusp of the Internet Age. I haven’t read the book, but from what you say it seems like Michael Crichton was advanced and prescient in the digital knowledge central to his novel’s story.

      Very interesting observation about web comics! (An observation that can apply to print comics, too.) Those comics that have at least some narrative line are like long-running novels, and the strips not “frozen in time” can indeed gradually incorporate modern technology (as you note). One of many examples would be “Doonesbury” character Rick Redfern becoming a blogger after he was laid off from his reporting job at The Washington Post.

      “Thirteen Reasons Why” sounds VERY intriguing. On my to-read list — which for some reason I keep on paper rather than online. πŸ™‚

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      • I’ve always enjoyed the changes in “Doonesbury” over the years. The constant updates to keep up with both tech and politics makes it one of the most relevant comics. Another good one for that was “For Better or For Worse.” It was a sad day when Lynn killed the family dog.

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        • GL, I totally agree that Garry Trudeau has kept his comic up to date in all kinds of ways — for nearly 45 years now! And you’re right that Lynn Johnston did the same with her less-political “FBoFW.” Farley’s mid-1990s death was indeed sad, and Lynn got thousands of angry letters from readers. But since her characters grew older in roughly real time, the pets grew older, too.

          Lynn once told me that her friend “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz was so furious about Lynn’s plan to kill the aging Farley that he threatened to kill Snoopy, too! So Lynn kept the timing of Farley’s heroic death (saving April Patterson from drowning) a secret. I doubt Schulz would have offed Snoopy. πŸ™‚

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          • I don’t think he would have offed the “Whirly Dog” either. I had not heard that Schulz had threatened that when he found out. I suspect its because I haven’t read your book yet. That list never gets smaller.

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            • The “Whirly Dog” — great description of Snoopy! Unfortunately, that Farley anecdote didn’t make my book because I didn’t hear about it until after the book was published.

              “That list never gets smaller” — I know. Only bigger. 😦 I’m trying to read five or six books a month rather than four or five, but I can’t always pull that off. How many books do you try to read a month?

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  5. On [digital] technology IN writing…apart from cyberpunk (where digital technology is central) and military-focused SF (Scott Card, Heinlein etc) I don’t think I even remember technology. In fantasy (and steampunk), technology is often infused with magic (Harry Potter, and others; perhaps beginning with H G Wells) – a way of drawing attention to its “magical qualities” perhaps? But this is, again, non-digital technology. Robotics also don’t really count (Asimov etc.) – it’s not day to day tech shown in those books. Everything else: mobile devices; tablets, phones; consoles; social media…and so on – do not really register. For me as a reader these have as little impact on the characters as, say, the vehicles used to get protagonists from A to B or the weapons used to eliminate antagonists etc. As for plot: Chekhovian devices (attractors of attention for later use), but essential? Did Hedda Gabler kill with a gun or a knife? (It was a gun, I think, but does it matter? And the terrorists in Dostoyevsky’s “Demons”: grenades? Pyrotechnics?). In my own writing, I have (not by choice) eliminated technology, perhaps too much so… Avoiding it seems one way of transcending one’s own time. Maybe too trivial a pursuit. When I was younger, technology was absolutely key to my pleasure: Verne, Wells, Lem…all enjoy the technology, but on a grand scale, proportional to the dreams of the protagonists (Nemo; the Time Traveller etc). Now I look for it in a non-literary genre that still is about writing: RPG, role-playing games (like “Dragon Age Inquisition” which I’ve been playing lately…very impressed and attracted by the in-game-writing). OMG, I do ramble, don’t I ramble. (Always a good sign that you struck an important chord!) Good luck with the ice storm! β€”

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    • Thanks, Marcus, for another eloquent and interesting and thought-provoking comment!

      Unfortunately, I haven’t read much (if any) cyberpunk. Great point that modern military novels often have major technological elements — with America’s overwhelming technological advantage disturbing, to say the least.

      I realize that digital devices can be minor elements in a lot of recent literature — just part of the wallpaper, so to speak. But, as I noted in my column, I think those devices can at times be fairly prominent “players.”

      And thanks for your last line! Fortunately, the storm that hit America’s Northeast was much less severe than expected in New Jersey. Other places got it worse. 😦

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  6. Hi dave…Reacher…roaming around with no clothes, no phone just an ATM card…and he sees 1030 deposited by Neagley..he recognizes the army help code..10-30. realizes one of their elite member of nine was missing and then found dead. The elite members were being eliminated one by one in ” Bad Luck and Trouble” by Lee Child. They looked for his widow and child.

    They found out Franz the dead team member kept his home life completely separated from his business, leading Franz to mail any dangerous computer data to himself, with triple backup of refreshed computer USB flash drives on rotating day.They find his flash memory sticks in his business post-office box and try unsuccessfully to crack the password.

    The tiller continues on……enough said on this book.

    Jack Reacher is an endearing character who posses only a toothbrush, his passport and small amount of cash, but he is fanatically interested in codes, fractions, cube roots and probabilities and the man has scruples.

    Makes me happy to see you hooked on Reacher too πŸ™‚

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    • “Bad Luck and Trouble” sounds like a great Jack Reacher book, bebe! Definitely some technology involved there! Thanks for the intriguing description.

      I’m happy to be hooked on that series. Reacher is indeed a memorable character. I realize the stars of crime thrillers, mysteries, etc., need their quirks, and I love the “quirk” of Reacher roaming around, without a home or car, trying to save the day in various locales. I also like that violence against women infuriates him — one example of the scruples you mentioned.

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      • And computer hacking by Lisbeth Salander..she had friends ( hackers) in the right places to crack the codes for good reasons. J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy I never finished dave, I got bored perhaps i should give it another try.

        Tomorrow going to the show, sold out even after weeks, the show was going on I am sure since 2008 all over the Country. Several artists are from Nashville and i know one or two.
        http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2015/01/23/review-ring-fire-revue-entertains-tries-hard/22227615/

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        • Hi, bebe!

          I loved the network of hacker friends Lisbeth Salander had in Stieg Larsson’s novels. I’m forgetting all their screen names, but one was “Plague,” wasn’t it?

          People have very mixed feelings about “The Casual Vacancy.” I ultimately liked it, but it wasn’t an easy read and it certainly had little of the humor and whimsy of the first few “Harry Potter” books. Not sure “The Casual Vacancy” is worth another try; I know you have many other titles on your list. πŸ™‚

          I just read your link. That show sounds excellent, and it’s great you know one or two of the artists! Johnny Cash was a superb musician, and I’m also a fan of his daughter Rosanne Cash.

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  7. This topic is a total win. Time prevents me from having fun with it this week, so I’ll be brief. First genre that automatically pops in my mind when I think of technology in literature is sci-fi/fantasy. Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, H.G. Wells, and John Buchan are some of my favourite sci-fi authors who made nice use of technology in their writing.

    I also like Adam Troy-Castro. He wrote a sci-fi detective series. Book 1, Emissaries from the Dead, introduced some spidery, sloth-like creatures that were created by special computer software and codes. These creatures built their own society supposedly where they and humans could co-exist, but that experiment failed.

    Power and greed took over, then a violent crime was committed on the separate colony where humans resided. I didn’t really care for the violent nature of the creatures; however, they certainly added intrigue to the setting and plot. With the twists and turns, this book almost reads like a psychological thriller. I’ve also read Book 2 of this series, but haven’t gotten around to Book 3.

    And even though Alistair MacLean is technically not a sci-fi author, some of his characters used different types of sophisticated maritime and surveillance equipment that were crucial in their secret missions.

    It’s a shame I have to cut this short because I can easily start up a separate/side conversation comparing old school video and multimedia technology with what we use today. Dave, I am sure you and a few others still have 2-3 floppy disks stashed away somewhere, so be honest about it. If I still have my Viewmaster w/ the reels in a box in the garage, I know someone somewhere still has floppy disks…or cassette tapes…or remembers playing Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and Frogger on the Atari game system. LOL.

    Have a good day.

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    • Thanks, Ana, for the great comment! Glad you like the topic!

      Sci-fi definitely has plenty of technology, and it’s fascinating, when reading older sci-fi, to see what tech eventually came true and what didn’t. This isn’t tech per se, but Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian/time-travel novel “Looking Backward” included the concept of a debit card. πŸ™‚

      That Adam Troy-Castro series sounds amazing. “…spidery, sloth-like creatures that were created by special computer software and codes” — wow!

      Loved your paragraph about “old school” tech. When I moved last year, I found an ancient word processor stashed in the basement — from the 1980s or early 1990s, I’m guessing. And I have a number of ancient cassette tapes on which I recorded songs and some sports off the radio way back when. One tape, now nearly 45 years old, is of the New York Knicks winning the NBA championship in 1970.

      Have a good day, too!

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      • I enjoy observing changes in technology too, maybe not so much in sci-fi, but in other areas like film. Have always been a fan of black and white and silent movies. Despite its controversy, I really admire Birth of a Nation because of its history of being the first movie to use technology in the cinematography.

        Lots of camera effects, fade outs, close-ups, split screen techniques, and tinting all added to the value of the film. D.W. Griffith used what was considered as cutting edge technology at that time. Billy Bitzer made those techniques very popular as he was the first person to discover them during his career as a cameraman, and later on as a cinematographer.

        Now compare that to what we have today: claymation, anime, 3-D graphics, computer animation/Pixar-type films, special effects, modern camera equipment that can pretty much create any scene you want (so many of my concert pics look like I’m in the front row. 90% of the time I’m in the cheap seats in the back or balcony, but you can’t tell I’m so far back because my pics are always crystal clear). These advancements probably wouldn’t exist without the innovative methods used in the early 20th century (and before). Each generation improved upon the last. It’s cool to see how the technology has evolved.

        Did you label your cassette tapes? Having them doesn’t count unless they’re properly labeled…

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        • Technological change is indeed fascinating (though sometimes daunting) and, as you say, one development often builds on another.

          I agree that “Birth of a Nation” was VERY pioneering in film technique while horribly racist, as you allude to, in content. Making slavery benign and the KKK heroes? What was D.W. Griffith thinking, even 100 years ago. Thanks for all that specific information and your expertise about the effects in that movie!

          Fortunately, I did label those cassette tapes. πŸ™‚

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          • Remember I took photography classes last summer, sooooooo….that info is still fresh in the ol noggin.

            “Birth” does make one glassy-eyed, but the techy-girl in me can look over that and admire the various firsts in film production the movie accomplished.

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            • Then those photography classes were great on many levels, Ana!

              I can understand admiring “Birth of a Nation” for its techniques (and its dramatic storytelling) while despising its warped view of history. I did watch the whole movie once.

              Come to think of it, that film will be 100 years old this year.

              I remember reading that President Wilson saw “Birth of Nation” and enthusiastically said it was “like writing history with lightning.” Of course, the “liberal” Wilson was as backward on race as D.W. Griffith was. 😦

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                • Loved your droll yet pointed second paragraph, Ana! Wilson was definitely inconsistent with his so-called “idealism.” And in his 1916 campaign he said he’d keep America out of the worthless carnage of (what’s now known as) World War I. Another presidential promise broken…

                  But, heck, at least the soccer ball in Tom Hanks’ “Cast Away” movie had the name Wilson. πŸ™‚

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          • I believe most of the technological advances and conventions such as the close up and the dissolve were already in Griffith’s arsenal, having come to him and his production crew while making earlier pictures.

            DW Griffith was a nostalgia peddler, who knew his audience only too well. I believe it was the great Democratic president, Virginian Woodrow Wilson who in regards to to the movie supposedly remarked: “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

            One of the biggest box-office successes ever– till Gone With the Wind. See the pattern? Turns out one of our old time favorite stories involved the recounting of the sufferings of slave-holders.

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              • No problem, jhNY. Sometimes it’s hard to immediately see everything in longer threads!

                And I hadn’t remembered the “terribly true” part of Woodrow Wilson’s quote, which makes it even worse. Along with those slave-owning “founding fathers” George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, “idealist” Wilson is up there in the ranks of most hypocritical U.S. presidents.

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                  • Those prominent racists might have seen themselves as “correct” rather than hypocritical, but they sure seem(ed) hypocritical to others — those others including people today and even some people back then (such as John Adams in Washington and Jefferson’s time, and NAACP members in Wilson’s time).

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                  • I was referring to GW and TJ, should the above reply seem odd. One of the more depressing things about this subject is the sincerity of slaveholders in their belief that blacks were intrinsically and irretrievably inferior to whites– it’s real, and unmovable by means of argument. Whether or not slavery was a morally sound practice might be debatable, but not the superiority of whites. That’s why nearly nobody who fought for the Union 80+ years later did so because they believed in racial equality per se, though tens of thousands might have joined up to end slavery, and nearly nobody, therefore, fought for the purpose of securing civil rights for blacks.

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                    • Thanks for the clarification, jhNY. Great points. The superiority belief could have indeed been “sincere,” or a psychological self-delusion in order to “sleep at night” and justify all the money being made with the labor of slaves, or perhaps a combination of both.

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            • Great observation, jhNY, about the box-office success of “Birth of a Nation” and the “Gone With the Wind” movie. “…the recounting of the sufferings of slave-holders” — brilliantly said! Those poor, beleaguered oppressors…

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        • As you are among the few that can sit through a silent movie, I’d like to recommend: Foolish Wives, directed by Eric Von Stroheim– I’ve seen it five times, and was never bored, even for a moment, and it’s 3.5 hours long, in the KINO release. Von Stroheim worked on some Griffith pictures before striking out on his own….

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          • Wow! That must be an amazing film. I don’t watch silent movies often, but once a person gets into a pre-“talkie” mental zone, the better ones can be quite absorbing. And of course some of the Charlie Chaplin movies are great.

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            • Yep, it’s a good one.

              Others to try– a monstrous list:

              Phantom of the Opera
              Nosferatu
              The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
              Metropolis

              two thrillers by Fritz Lang:
              Spionen (spies)
              Mabuse the Gambler

              And yes, Chaplin is great, though to modern eyes, a but Dickensian in sentiment. He, like Harold Lloyd, retained ownership of most of his movies, and in the 30’s repackaged the shorts, adding music of his own composition– which is pretty good music!

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              • All great titles, jhNY (though I hadn’t heard of those two Fritz Lang ones). And, yes, Chaplin was often too sentimental. That’s one reason I prefer the (talking) Marx Brothers movies — especially the earlier, more anarchic ones without the sappy, secondary love stories in some of their later films.

                Another interesting silent movie is 1925’s “Body and Soul,” starring a young Paul Robeson and directed by pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

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                • Don’t think I’ve seen it– but just last week, I discovered a Micheaux novel, The Wind From Nowhere, on a closet shelf– don’t remember when I acquired it, and it looks to be very close to a vanity printing, published by the Book Supply Company, 40 Morningside Ave., New York, 1944. Doesn’t appear to be much beyond a potboiler on the subject of race-mixing, but I doubt there are very many laying around….

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                    • I didn’t know who Oscar Micheaux was, period, when I picked up the novel, I’m almost certain– don’t think I knew about the man before a few years ago. The subject alone caused the book to crawl into my hand– plus the two sorta provocative illustrations….

                      He has advertised another of his novels in mine, however: The Case of Mrs Wingate, 519 pages, $3.00– Postage 8c.

                      “A daring and sensational novel, involving a Hush-Hush subject. Terrific drama– with a love story to remember until the longest day you live!”

                      That last phrase is a bit of a puzzler….

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                    • Totally understandable not to have known about Micheaux. “The history books,” and many books on film, don’t mention him or barely mention him. I happened to learn about him in college when taking a black studies course, which showed “Body and Soul.” Appropriate, given that I went to Rutgers and Paul Robeson was an alumnus of that state university.

                      Fascinating ad in that book (including the prices back then) — and the “longest day you live” phrase you quoted is indeed a puzzler. Perhaps a massive grammatical snafu. But I like it!

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                • Many thanks to you two for listing these great titles. I just ordered them all from Turner Classic Movies.

                  And bonus points to you for mentioning the great Oscar Micheaux. He was like a combination of Nat Love and Richard Wright. Richard Wright because of his passion for writing, his home life, and the various odd jobs in similar fields he took as Wright did. Nat Love because of his business acumen, love of travel and adventure, and his career as a Pullman’s porter.

                  Within Our Gates was one of the first films that made me start watching silent films. PBS ran a silent movie series some years back, and Within Our Gates was the first one featured for that week. Been a fan of silent films (and Oscar Micheuax) ever since.

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                  • Nice, Ana! I hope you enjoy those movies!

                    And I’m not surprised that your knowledge of many things includes knowledge of Oscar Micheaux — who, as I mentioned before and as you know, was a genius now woefully under-known.

                    Loved your descriptive likening of him to a combination of Richard Wright and Nat Love!

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                    • My Paypal and Visa accounts have been quite active this week thanks to you, jh, and Kat Lib:)

                      I would love to see someone in the arts/film/history do a documentary on obscure American figures such as Micheaux. There is a treasure trove of research and knowledge just waiting for intellectually-thirsty people to drink up and expose others to.

                      We are coming upon another Black History Month. Who will be profiled? The usuals: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman. Who WON’T be profiled? Nat Love, Biddy Mason, George Edwin Taylor, Johnnie Mae Chappell.

                      I mean no disrespect to the pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement, but I’d like to see other black historical icons be given the spotlight too.

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                    • Well, anything to stimulate this country’s pokey economy. πŸ™‚ But seriously, Ana, you purchased some great stuff.

                      A documentary on Micheaux would be riveting. And you make an excellent point about how some people get remembered a lot more than others during Black History Month (which I have mixed feelings about because African-American notables should be remembered all 12 months). I’m going to look up some of those lesser-known names you mentioned. I can also think of a couple of superb African-American cartoonist pioneers — Jackie Ormes and Oliver Harrington — who should be a lot better known.

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                  • I will be on the look-out for Within Our Gates and Body and Soul–
                    and I heartily agree: it would be wonderful to see additional names in focus during Black History Month: Madame CJ Walker and daughter, Phyllis Wheatley, Memphis Minnie Douglas come immediately to mind…

                    And the last three names on your list– I will look them each up, as I do not know them.

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    • Ana, I realized for not the first time that I have to keep checking back on Dave’s blog throughout the week. I just finally saw your clip on Esther Williams, which was delightful. I also missed your response to me about the Liane Moriarity books you got from your used bookstore. All of those three books are great, and “What Alice Forgot” was the first one of her books that I ever read. “Three Wishes” falls into Dave’s category of technology-based books. The books are about a set of triplets, and one of the funniest parts of the book were the email exchanges amongst the three. One triplet is upset with one of the others, who replies, please don’t copy me on emails that are disparaging to me as opposed to the other two.

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      • After watching that Esther Williams clip, I immediately did a quick search to see if any of her movies were available. I ordered Volumes I and II of her collection from the Turner Classic Movies website. The movie Easy to Wed is not an aqua musical (it’s more of a comedy), but I can’t wait to watch it anyway because it co-stars Lucille Ball, one of my all-time favs.

        I’m currently reading two Liane Moriarty books. What Alice Forgot is my house book; The Shobble Secret is my at-work/lunch break book. But now I want to thumb through Three Wishes after reading your description. LOL. She is such a fantastic author. I thank you a million times over, Kat Lib, for recommending her to me.

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        • Ana, What Alice Forgot is so well worth it. It’s such an interesting concept to think about what it would be like to wake up after hitting one’s head and having forgot the last ten years of one’s life, and how she has to integrate the new Alice with the old Alice. I’m so glad you are enjoying Liane’s books!

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      • Something else that I love about The Shobble Secret is its book cover, which is something I rarely pay attention to. The cover is beautiful. It’s imaginative, colourful, whimsical, spirited, happy, and captures the qualities of Nicola (supportive, helpful, fearless).

        This cover looks like a more modern, up-to-date version of something that would come from the creative minds of Roald Dahl and his illustrator Quentin Blake. It just tells the story, IMO.

        Just another reason why I love this book:)

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    • I have TWO 78 rpm players, and a couple hundred 78’s. Also 33’s– about 1500. Also cassettes–many dozen. Also DAT tapes; also VCR tapes– about 100. Also reel to reels– around 10. I even own a wire recording.

      But I own no cell phone– never have had one. And no DVDs. And I’ve never downloaded a song or a movie.

      Loved my viewmaster when I was a boy, though, and therefore, collected stereoscope cards in my twenties. Had sets re the Russo-Japanese War, the Spanish-American War, the 1933 and 1939 World Fairs…

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      • What a wonderful set of “retro” collections, jhNY! Your abode doubles as a fascinating museum!

        My vinyl music collection is small in comparison. Maybe a hundred LPs, another hundred 45’s, and about ten 78’s.

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        • My stereoscope collection is now in the hands of my brother, except for the world’s fair sets, which I sold, along with my extensive collection of souvenirs, posters, ephemera from the fairs.

          Truth is, if I knew someone who would cherish my 78’s and lp’s, I would part with them– but for a few. A lot of things I’ve collected are here because I just couldn’t bear to think they might be destroyed or thrown out.

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          • I hear you, jhNY. It feels so wrong to throw out stuff that old and interesting. Ideally, a museum or library collection would want some of those vinyl records if you ever choose to part with them.

            World’s Fair stuff is interesting, too. I attended the mid-1960s one in NY with my parents, and my mother visited the 1939 one — immortalized in the E.L. Doctorow “World’s Fair” novel/memoir that “drb19810” recommended to me a few months ago. An absorbing book.

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            • My Austrian great-grandparents met at the Columbian Exposition of 1892 in Chicago, immortalized in The White City (though I haven’t read it– my wife has, and liked it plenty).

              I have a commemorative US coin struck for the occasion– hardly rare, but nice to have, given family history….

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              • Wow — what a memorable place to meet, and it’s great that the knowledge of that piece of family history has been passed down several generations.

                One of my grandparents was also from Austria, with the other three from Romania, Poland, and Russia. Of course, that was before the borders in that neck of the woods shifted scores of years ago.

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                • Family legend is a bit contradictory, though I think I might clear it up next time I’m home, and will try.

                  Either my great-grandmother was the head of the kitchen staff and my great-grandfather, homesick, met her after sampling some of her food from the old country, or he was the head of the Austrian exposition and met her during the course of their work on the site.

                  That great-grandfather was a real adventurer– before emigrating here, he was in South Africa during the gold and diamond rush at the end of the 19th century, and had a hotel in Kimberley, a newspaper advertisement for which is framed and still hangs in my father’s house. Also have a medal awarded him by Queen Victoria for his having survived, as few others did, a particularly bloody battle with Zulus. And a gold nugget made into a tie pin….

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                    • I’ve heard this stuff since I was teensy, and the medal is real– it’s presently in my father’s safety deposit box–and I hardly wish to see it one day sooner than I must….

                      But eventually, I plan to determine exactly which medal it is (all I remember about it now is the bas-relief of Victoria on the obverse, and that it’s made of silver), and from there, see if I can’t find an account in British records that details the circumstances for which it was awarded. Till then, I must content myself with this harrowing (and possibly fictional, given the ways family lore can undergo distortion) image: my great-grandfather, hiding in the body cavity of a horse whose insides had been gutted by an artillery shell, while the Zulus, victorious on the battlefield, set about killing the wounded.

                      On a brighter note, it is also claimed within the family that my great-grandfather, upon emigrating here, opened a bar, in New Jersey, possibly Trenton, which one day endured a famous visitor, if only momentarily: Carry Nation. The story goes that he chased her and her hatchetation outside by means of a well-filled seltzer bottle! That tale, I think, will be harder to prove….

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks for the recounting of that fascinating family lore, jhNY! It IS a thing to wonder how much is true and how much is embellished in stories such as the hiding-in-a-horse one. But what a great story! (The Trenton one, too.) And it will be so interesting to eventually learn more about that medal.

                      My maternal grandfather (who died in 1970) ended up fighting for the Canadian army during World War I despite being an American, and I’m not sure anyone still living in my family knows why. He also supposedly was in a regiment that suffered major casualties, but he survived. Which — as is the case with your great-grandfather — means that fate, luck, resolve, or whatever spared them ended up determining whether or not you and I would exist.

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                    • Hey Dave: I couldn’t reply right under your comment but this refers to what you said about your grandfather fighting in the Canadian Army in World War I. I know that the author of ‘Paths of Glory,’ Humphrey Carpenter, fought with the Canadians in World War I. One reason might be that he or your grandfather or any other American that joined might have felt so passionately about the cause that they didn’t want to wait around for the U.S. to decide to enter the war and joined in the fight as early as possible. Also, at that time, they had no way of knowing that the U.S. would enter it in 1917 or if they would ever enter it. I think that was Carpenter’s reasoning in any case. Just a thought.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Wow — that could be a possible explanation! Thank you, bobess48!

                      Looking at things from today’s vantage point, what is now known as WWI doesn’t seem like a war worth fighting (unlike WWII). But young men enlisting a century ago didn’t necessarily feel the same way, or didn’t know just how awful the carnage would be, or just needed a job, or an adventure, or whatever.

                      Thanks again!

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        • I went to the thrift store yesterday. Couldn’t leave without checking out the music section. Click on my name here that’s connected to my Twitter page, and take a looksie at that crate full of albums. PLEASE tell me you remember Zayre’s.

          I don’t know which is more epic: an album that costs $1.99, or the fact that the original price sticker was still on it. And for the record, I did not buy that Johnny Mathis album. I did, however, purchase the Oak Ridge Boys album that was right behind it and cost 70 cents:)

          Next time I go in that store, I am going to purposely seek out a book of green stamps. If there are people who still have albums with original Zayre’s stickers on them, then I know someone somewhere has an old book of green stamps hanging around. LOL.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Great photos, Ana! The cars, Johnny Mathis, Ray Bradbury… And those low prices and original stickers!

            I’ve definitely heard of Zayre’s, but can’t remember if I ever shopped at one. Some of my go-to, now-defunct chain stores included Alexander’s, Bamberger’s, Two Guys, Gimbel’s, Korvette’s, Caldor’s, etc. (I might have put some of those apostrophes in the wrong place!)

            I remember those green stamps, too. My mother “cashed in” some of them for an electric can opener back in the day. πŸ™‚

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            • That collection of short stories from the Ray Bradbury Theatre is fantastic, and it features some really great actors (Peter O’Toole, William Shatner, Elliot Gould). I’m just sort of hopping around from disk to disk, not really watching them in any order. But I’ll temporarily put these on the back burner when my Esther Williams and silent films start arriving.

              Old school stores were the best. I don’t know if this was a national chain, but in Memphis, we also had a McCrory’s in the downtown area.

              I have nothing to play my Oak Ridge Boys album on…that’s cool, I bought it as a piece of memorabilia anyway. The Johnny Mathis album did trigger the soft rock genre in my head, and I remembered that Air Supply is playing in Tacoma next month. Just bought two tickets. I don’t want to miss the chance to wave my hand in the air and sing off-key during All Out of Love. LOL.

              Have a wonderful weekend.

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              • Somehow I never saw “The Ray Bradbury Theater” (though I did recently watch a great YouTube clip of Bradbury appearing on “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx in the mid-1950s). But what an excellent author. You mentioned some stellar guest stars on Bradbury’s TV show; that lineup sounds almost “The Twilight Zone”-like.

                I like the fact that there are/were some regional chains. Who (other than the typical greedy corporate exec) wants a country with retail that’s totally homogenized?

                Johnny Mathis IS almost like a soft-rock founding father. That Air Supply image you painted — LOL. πŸ™‚

                Have a great weekend, too!

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                • drb19810, stores like that did have nice record sections affordable for kid allowances! I was lucky to also live within walking distance of an independent record store, where I got some of my LPs and “singles.”

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                  • I still own my collection of LP’s. They lay stacked at the bottom of a closet unplayed for many years, but I can’t seem to part with them. Even if I could play them (I even have a turntable that I’m too lazy to hook up), they are so worn and scratched that they would sound horrible. I estimate that 70% of them were purchaced at Korvette’s. They used to have a different “label” sale every week. Atlantic one week, Columbia the next week, etc. Once every couple of months they had an “all label” sale, that would set off a buying frenzy!

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                    • Wonderful that you still have those albums, drb19810, even if you don’t play them. And interesting that Korvette’s had those specific-label and all-label sales!

                      About 10 years ago, I bought a new turntable (that also includes a CD player) so I could play my albums and singles again. But, like your records, a number of mine are worn and scratched — plus it’s easier to just click on songs on YouTube. So I don’t play my records that often these days. But they’re nice to look at once in a while. πŸ™‚

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                    • Like Woolworth’s, Korvette’s I think, sold pressings made at the end of the record stamper’s working life– they were closer to factory seconds than the copies available in higher-end stores, and cheaper.

                      The first 45 I bought with my own money was the Orlons’ South Street– and I got it at Woolworth’s.

                      My first r+r single was given to me by a babysitter when I was 11: Heartbreak Hotel by THE KING, complete with cardboard picture sleeve…that was, by contrast, a very well made record. If I had it now in the condition I had it then, I could, upon sale, buy myself and my wife a big meal in a fine-dining establishment. If I had it now.

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                    • Interesting, jhNY! I didn’t know that about different-quality pressings. I also purchased some “singles” at Woolworth’s, including some early Beatles ones (in and around 1964) that I still have.

                      Generous babysitter you had there. πŸ™‚

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              • I read that somewhere, too, jhNY, though the version I remembered had it as eight veterans. But I just Googled the store, and apparently the name had other origins. 😦 Darn! I like the vet version better.

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                    • Maybe a MaxShed…

                      Just housing the sorta stories that grow up around wars would call for a structure as big as all outdoors. Then there’s the sorta stories that fishermen tell…

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                    • You referred to Shed Zeppelin, which I missed till today– such a thing still takes up an enormous amount of square footage in Lakehurst NJ(!)– I’ve only seen it in pix, myself. My 88 year old father claims to have seen the Hindenburg blow up– though from where he was (Trenton, if I remember), it appeared only as a momentary burst of brightness in the sky…

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Wow — that’s quite a specific memory for your father to have, even if the disaster was seen from afar.

                      Speaking of being a witness to tragedy, as a New Yorker did you directly see any aspect of 9/11? I saw the Twin Towers burning as I was walking east on 9th Street to my then-job, but didn’t see them collapse (I feel fortunate not having that image in my memory).

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      • Very impressive collection. I am in awe and envious all at the same time.

        If you don’t have a cell phone and are not into digital music/video/movies that’s ok. Anyone can get a cell phone and download material…very few people can claim to own the cool memorabilia that you have. Rock on, jhNY! *holds up the rock and roll hand sign*

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        • My collections, by this point, having lived 30+ years in the same apartment, towers over me totteringly in places….. though most of my rock and roll stuff is from before Woodstock….

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          • jhNY, did you see the photo of talk-show host Joe Franklin’s wonderfully cluttered office that accompanied his obituary a few days ago? Now I have that as an approximate image of your apartment!

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            • In fairness, Franklin’s nest was a bit more anarchic, and a bit more overrrun, if only a bit. I know I’m getting old, as I thought Joe F was much older than he was, given how long he seemed old on local teevee….

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              • Thanks for the reply, jhNY! I could have phrased my previous comment better; I think there are VERY few people with dwellings or workplaces as chaotic and cluttered as Joe Franklin’s office was. Before I moved last year, my garage and part of my basement came close… πŸ™‚

                I guess Franklin started in the broadcasting biz at a young age, and there is something about a person’s look and clothing prior to, say, the 1950s that often made them appear to be older than they were.

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                • When my father could still get up and move around, he was quite capable of making places look like Franklin’s, and did so at home and office. As he is my very own cautionary tale, I have restrained myself, at least enough that I would always look to be the more organized and choosy, as compared to my father. Compared to reasonable people, like my father, I suppose I would be lumped in with Franklin. Which goes to show, among families, everything’s relative.

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                  • “…among families, everything’s relative” — but of course! Very clever. πŸ™‚

                    I hear you about people using their parents both as models of behavior, and models of behavior to avoid or somewhat modify. I always remain conscious of that.

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  8. Hi Dave, I immediately thought of “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” by Robin Sloan. The narrator, Clay, has lost his job as a web designer in San Francisco, and finds a job working the night shift at this very curious bookstore. There are hardly any customers, most of whom are very strange and take out books that are in a section that Clay is instructed by Mr. Penumbra he is not allowed to read. Of course Clay does find a way to get his hands on these books and discovers they are all written in some sort of code, involving a secret society. He tries to solve the code with the help of some of his friends, all very tech savvy. It’s really about the intersection between the old (books) and all the new technologies. It’s very complicated and much of it went way over my head, but I found it fascinating and Clay is a very engaging character. I found a review (on-line of course) of the book by Roxane Gay in the NYT. She explains the plot and meaning of the book much better than I ever could, and she mentioned one of the best lines about Clay’s girlfriend Kat (who is in data visualization at Google) when they are on a stakeout at the headquarters of the secret society: “Kat bought a New York Times but couldn’t figure out how to operate it, so now she’s fiddling with her phone.” Ms. Gay also begins her review with Lisbeth in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, and how she can hack into anything using her Powerbook, and yet that laptop is now considered a relic; today our phones have more computing power. I was just looking at the back of the book’s jacket, which has a picture of Robin Sloan, with the one liner, “Robin Sloan grew up in Michigan and now splits his time between San Francisco and the internet.”

    Another book is “Attachments” by Rainbow Rowell, which is about a guy whose job is to read through a company’s emails at night to flag anything inappropriate or even just personal (we used to call them the “email police” at the huge corporation I used to work at). He becomes intrigued by the personal emails between two female friends at the company, can’t bring himself to flag them, and falls in love with one of them.

    Then of course there is one of my favorites, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” which is so very funny with some very affecting characters. It’s in the form of emails, FBI reports, blackberry messages, letters, even an ER bill, all fleshed out by the narration of 8 year-old Bee, the daughter or Bernadette. It mostly takes place in Seattle, and naturally, the father works for Microsoft, in Robotics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for those three fantastic additions to this discussion!

      The first two are now enthusiastically on my to-read list and, as you know, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” has been on that list for a while since you recommended it. I still haven’t been able to find it at my local library, but I haven’t given up hope. πŸ™‚

      That sounds like one intriguing bookstore in “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” and I greatly enjoyed the funny lines in your description!

      Ah, the email police. It’s scary how much power corporations have over employees’ lives. I think employees have every right to do some personal email correspondence at work (as long as it doesn’t get out of hand). After all, so many corporations force employees to work almost non-stop, to work extra hours without pay, and to be available 24/7. An employee almost HAS to do some personal stuff at work, and that’s only fair — given that so much work stuff has to be done during what should be personal time.

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      • Yes, and there also were the “internet police,” although maybe they were one and the same. I can understand them not wanting employees to go onto pornographic or even gaming sites, but once I was looking up a restaurant on the internet trying to find a location for a business lunch or dinner, and I got the dreaded red “X” which said I was accessing a blocked site. I never learned what was in the name of the restaurant that set off the alarm, but obviously I had to find another place for the meeting. If one got too many red “X’s” it was reported to your supervisor, which could result in termination. They must also have clocked how much time you spent on-line. Someone who had the cubicle next to me was always shopping on-line, but at some point she stopped doing it — then she just started to use her personal smartphone instead. πŸ™‚

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        • How obnoxious — a red X when trying to find a place for a business meal! A perfect illustration of snooping overreach.

          Yes, using one’s personal smartphone at work can be an “end around” corporations’ Big Brother-ism, but I suppose there’s ways of tracking that, too.

          Speaking of Big Brother, I guess the technology used for sinister surveillance and control in Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was pre-digital, but it sure was effective… 😦

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          • I have to reread “1984,” because I read it so long ago. I was (and still am) a huge fan of David Bowie. Back in the mid-1970’s he wanted to produce a theatrical production of Orwell’s book, started to write some material, but the estate denied him the rights. He did put out some of that music on his “Diamond Dogs” album, most obviously “1984” and “Big Brother.” It’s interesting how I’d googled “Mr. Penumbra’s” this morning and just noticed that over on the Salon.com site, there’s an ad from Amazon.com hawking that very book. Gee, what a coincidence! Is it just me, or is this becoming more and more prevalent or have I just been oblivious all along? Anyway, I’m all hunkered down in my home, canceled two appointments for tomorrow, although I don’t think Philly will be getting it bad as further north from here. Stay safe and warm to all who may be in the path of this storm!

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            • I reread “1984” about five years ago, and it was as powerful and sobering as I remembered.

              Interesting! I didn’t know about David Bowie’s desire for a theatrical production of Orwell’s book.

              That IS a coincidence about “Mr. Penumbra…” Or maybe not, as you allude to. Sometimes when I Google a book, or look at the book’s Amazon listing, an ad will later pop up on my computer — perhaps when I’m in my email. VERY personalized marketing, and I don’t like it! Too intrusive, and surveillance-like.

              Stay safe in this weather, too, Kat Lib! Just a couple inches in northern NJ so far, but 18-24 expected by tomorrow afternoon. (I just don’t want to lose power!) I hope it will indeed not be as bad where you are.

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              • Hey Dave, I’m very happy that the computer models were wrong and my area was not hit hard by this storm at all, hope you weren’t hit as hard as some in New England were. I was reading your exchange with GL Meisner and I read probably two to four times what you guys do a month, but the downside is that I can do so because I have a disability and have finally retired at age 65. Which is to say that I’m not somehow more important than anyone else, I just have more time than most folks, and I’d be most happy to trade that in for actual experiences.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yes, such a relief, Kat Lib, that the predicted storm didn’t hit our areas too hard. In my town, there was perhaps four inches and little wind. But parts of New England (as you note) and other places (such as some sections of Long Island) got slammed. 😦

                  Anyone who reads one dozen to dozen books a month, whatever their situation, has my deep admiration. That is impressive!!!

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    • Thanks so much, Almost Iowa, for mentioning Ada Lovelace! I had only vaguely heard of her until seeing your comment, and just read a lot more about her on Wikipedia. Fascinating. A real genius. “Poetical science” — love that term.

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        • Thanks for that link, Brian! As I said before, I hadn’t known a lot about Ada Lovelace (or the programming language Ada being named after her). Another example of how so many women and people of color were given short shrift in the history books, with that being somewhat addressed in recent years. I’m reminded of Hedy Lamarr, who was known mostly as a glamorous actress but also, as Wikipedia now notes, “co-invented the technology for spread spectrum and frequency hopping communications.”

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  9. Interesting to speculate what effect modern gadgets might have had if introduced into classic tales. If one slipped Huckleberry Finn a Blackberry he could have contacted DYFUS once Pap passed out and had the Serpent/Satan given Eve an Apple Laptop she and Adam probably could have gotten past that whole shame thing by surfing a little porn πŸ™‚ I do hope you have a couple of nice novels and lots of food stocked up Dave, this storm looks to be the real deal !

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    • Donny, those are two VERY imaginative and engaging examples of putting modern technology into the past! Thanks! Also, Jane Eyre could have benefited from a handheld navigation app after fleeing Thornfield Hall, but then again she wouldn’t have serendipitously stumbled on those cousins. πŸ™‚

      Good luck with the storm. I do have some reading ready for it…

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        • We need someone brave enough to redo the classics with a modern touch by incorporating new technology. Dorian Grey could easily indulge in his vanity better by taking several pics on his smartphone. Let’s call it The Selfie of Dorian Grey.

          I will buy the book and support the movie, but only if Ryan Gosling is cast in the lead role. And put Morgan Freeman in there too. Don’t care what a movie is about, Morgan Freeman needs to be in it somewhere, you know, to give it some class and credibility. LOL.

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          • “The Selfie of Dorian Grey” — love that title, Ana, and your idea for updating that Oscar Wilde book!

            Ah, yes, Morgan Freeman — the go-to guy to play God or some other sage-like character. He’s a wonderful actor; I wish he would get more three-dimensional parts than he does. Almost like the Sidney Poitier of our time.

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            • Facebook seems to be, in the hands of some, I’d guess, more or less the reverse:

              Over time, the person shows all the tell-tale signs of debauchery and spiritual corruption, but the Facebook page misdirectingly shows a smiling winner with all his hair and teeth and soul intact.

              Goal-appropriate updates achievable through photoshop….

              Now I just might have to join Facebook!

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                • MY wife will be soon self-publishing her second work of fiction (limited edition of 100 printed book– ebook later)– her first came out in the 90’s by means of a trad publisher– and we are steeling ourselves as we know we must join up and get gregarious so as to alert interested parties to her stuff and respond to queries, etc. Good to know you like it– eases my mind a bit.

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                  • Congratulations to your wife on her upcoming second book!

                    I dislike self-promoting, but it is indeed necessary for many writers these days. I sold a number of copies of my book thanks to Facebook — and FB also helps me get more readers for these blog posts and my newspaper column. I find it easier self-promoting online than in person. πŸ™‚

                    I tend to accept FB friend requests only from family, friends, former work colleagues, book lovers, etc., rather than from everyone making such requests. It has worked out pretty well.

                    But I still think The Huffington Post shouldn’t have forced people to join FB to comment. That was WRONG.

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                    • I may bring up this topic of facebook with you again, though by e-mail, as it’s a bit off the subject here, but thanks for assuaging some of my newcomer’s fear. And, as the thread’s maxed out elsewhere, i will answer here: yep. Say 9-11 in real life. Saw both towers fall, heard several firetrucks as they raced their occupants to destruction downtown. The fire company nearest lost more than ten men. Also heard, like far-away windchimes, the glass that popped out during the first building’s collapse and sailed down, in shards, to the streets below. Unforgettable, sadly.

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                    • Agreed completely Dave..as you know I am more open in FB since I am only with my relatives from all over the world and close friends those i know real well.
                      But I don`t trust HP`s management at the top, and I will never ever post there .

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                    • If/when you join Facebook, jhNY, definitely “friend” me. Yup, “friend” has become a verb… πŸ™‚

                      Sounds like you saw/heard PLENTY on 9/11. Sobering description.

                      About a half-dozen people from my town died. When I finally got a very late train home that night and walked to my car in one of my town’s train-station parking lots, there were 10-15 cars still sitting there. Perhaps some of them didn’t again see the drivers they had seen that morning.

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                    • bebe, you have a great approach to Facebook! It IS a very good place to keep in touch with family and friends.

                      And, yes, HP management is totally untrustworthy — as they’ve proved time and time again. Breaking promises, and so much more. 😦

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  10. Hi Dave! I hope you’re staying warm. I’ve enjoyed reading your post and the comments here tonight. This is a hard one! The only thing that comes to mind — and I’m not even sure it qualifies — is Robin Cook’s “Coma”. It’s been so long since I read it, but if I recall correctly all those people were being kept alive by artificial means — computers, maybe? I’m taking a stab here because, even as I’m typing this, I’m realizing I’ve forgotten a whole lot of that book.

    Dave, I hope you have a wonderful week! … and I’ll be looking forward to your column on Henry James πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Pat — and thanks for your engaging comment! I know what you mean about forgetting the details of novels. With some books I read years ago, I remember the title and basic premise and that’s about it! I haven’t read “Coma,” but some kind of technology had to keep those victims alive.

      My next post (this Sunday) will definitely mention a Henry James novel, but also mention books by other authors as part of that post’s theme. I’ve read a few of James’ novels (most recently “Washington Square” — last week), but not enough to devote a whole column to him. πŸ™‚

      What is your favorite James novel? Mine is “The Portrait of a Lady.” The others I’ve read are “The American,” “The Europeans,” “Daisy Miller,” and “The Turn of the Screw.” One of these days I want to read one of his later classics — such as “The Wings of the Dove” — that are known to be more challenging (as in more “densely” written!).

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      • Hi, Dave … Now I’m intrigued about the theme of your next post πŸ™‚

        As for Henry James, it would appear we’ve read pretty much the same books. My favorites are “Washington Square” and “The Turn of the Screw”. I’m interested to know what you thought about “Washington Square”, and if you’ve seen the movie, “The Heiress”.

        I’m not familiar with “The Wings of the Dove” but your description says it all! The truth is, I may have grown too dense for anything too “densely written”, lol!

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        • Thanks for your excellent follow-up comment, Pat!

          I probably shouldn’t offer TOO many thoughts about “Washington Square” until the conversation under new week’s post — πŸ™‚ — but I thought it was very well done. Quite downbeat, but memorable. I can see why it’s one of your James favorites! Plus, as a former NYC resident, it was fascinating for me to read James’ descriptions of parts of Manhattan in the first half of the 1800s. I’ve never seen “The Heiress.” Would you recommend it?

          I hear you about “densely” written novels. I still read a number of them, but space them out. Maybe every 10th book or so…

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          • Okay, first of all, I’m now SO looking forward to your next post πŸ™‚

            Secondly, yes, I would highly recommend “The Heiress” if you ever get the chance to see it, Dave. Olivia de Havilland won an Oscar for her performance as Catherine. The casting was perfect: Montgomery Clift as Morris, Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper (Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor), and Miriam Hopkins as Lavinia Pinniman. I won’t give anything away, but the ending is markedly different than the book, and yet stays true to the ending at the same time, in my opinion. As in the book, there is a sad kind of empowerment at the end of the movie, but with (slightly) more possibility of hope for Catherine. The movie is on my top-ten list of favorites, and always has been; in fact, it’s the reason I read “Washington Square”.

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            • Pat, I’m afraid my next column is getting too much of a buildup; I hope it sort of lives up to it. πŸ™‚

              Thanks for your stellar description of “The Heiress”! That IS quite a cast, and I can picture all those great actresses and actors in those respective roles. Changing the ending of a novel for a movie can be problematic; I’m intrigued at how the different conclusion in “The Heiress” still works!

              “…a sad kind of empowerment” — PERFECT way to describe Catherine in “Washington Square.” And Morris? What a cad. 😦

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  11. i like Dan Browns books because there are a lot of plot related with modern technology,also enjoy to read Arthur C Clarke,and Jules Verne.i have got a lot of enjoyment by reading this unique column which give us different types of taste about technology and literature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your great comment and kind words, sultan! Arthur C. Clarke and Jules Verne are indeed stellar authors. Regretfully, I haven’t had a chance to read Dan Brown yet, though I’ve heard a lot about his work (“The Da Vinci Code,” etc.).

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      • Dan Browns Digital fortress is a suspense thriller which opened a new windows to me, when i first read it.As it was written over a decade ago, now at the time of technology ,many concepts are familiar to us.I read it when i was at college .those days our country was not so technologically developed and i was a novice about the technological world ,and after reading this book i was surprised about the virtual and the internet world.

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  12. Thanks for mentioning Flight Behavior. Am currently reading that and totally engrossed. I’m still waiting for that little thingy Scotty (Star Trek) would lay on his patients heads and instantly heal body damage. Also looking forward to the (Star Wars) computers that replaced Luke’s hand with a realistic orthotic.
    I’m thinking of an old sci fi book (Author’s name has flown from my brain.) but on space flight and battles they used computers for navigation, etc, but didn’t take any action without human mathematicians verifying and/or correcting computer calculations.

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    • I appreciate your interesting comment, energywriter!

      “Flight Behavior” is indeed an engrossing novel. I like the way Barbara Kingsolver in that book (and in her other novels) mixes social/political/topical stuff with a good story and three-dimensional characters. Not easy to do.

      “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” are so much a part of the cultural landscape, and included gadgets we’re now seeing or would like to see, as you note. Those healing techniques would be so great to have in real life, as would the means to “beam” from one place to another. I wouldn’t mind getting to the library or a bookstore that way. πŸ™‚

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  13. Dave! My favorite literary works with modern-technology elements are very recent favorites because I can’t remember much past the last book I read! I am currently reading β€œA Deadly Wandering” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Matt Richtel. I confess that the reason why I’m reading it is that I wanted to get in the face of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Books editor who was hosting Mr. Richtel at a book club event last week. Mission accomplished! My takeaway from the book (which is riveting and reads like a novel) about a young man who was texting while driving, is, well, let me say it cured me of ever using my cell phone with my car in motion. So it’s a good thing I read it. Even if I did have an ulterior motive. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the terrific comment, Cathy!

      Matt Richtel IS an excellent writer. I’ve seen many of his New York Times stories, including those about unsafe driving, and read his “Hooked” novel a few years ago. “A Deadly Wandering” sounds compelling and sobering. Talking on the phone or texting while driving is so #*%*# wrong and dangerous.

      Richtel also wrote (and perhaps still writes) a syndicated comic strip called “Rudy Park.” A multitasker in a multitasking age…

      And I’m glad your mission was accomplished. Perhaps something to do with your brand-new book “Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success”? πŸ™‚

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  14. It’s probably been 40 years since I read “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, but what my mind remembers from that wonderful novel, other than the haunting quality of the writing (haunting in the same sense as “Lost Horizon”), is the technological wonder of the submarine Nautilus which was “electrical”. In my mind, that submarine was powered by computers, although there were none during that time. I need to go back and read that one again to see how well memory matches recollection.

    Liked by 1 person

      • lulabelleharris, I also read “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” many years ago (along with several other terrific Jules Verne novels) and was very often amazed at how far ahead of his time he was. He, H.G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, Mary Shelley, and few other authors somehow saw some aspects of the future.

        And I’m glad you mentioned the mesmerizing “Lost Horizon” in your great comment. πŸ™‚

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  15. Actually, I have little to add to the discussion regarding contemporary fiction set in the present (or post-digital age), not having read any of the recent works that you cited. I have observed in film and cable TV how the cell phone technology shapes how people communicate with each other. The ongoing series, ‘Homeland’, which features Claire Danes as a bipolar agent channeling her obsessive tendencies toward ‘getting’ the ultimate ‘mastermind’ in the terrorist community (and it’s funny how even after capturing one mastermind there’s always another further up with an even more masterful mind), includes almost constant communication between agents on cell phones, warning each other that they’re about to walk into a trap, etc. as well as computer technology that can tag someone’s movements through video surveillance, etc. The late great ‘Breaking Bad’ used cell phone communication almost constantly and earlier in the 21st century the even later great ‘Sopranos’ included characters relying on cell phones for communication (though its use was not as ubiquitous as it has become in the last decade). It’s interesting to contrast this with the period drama ‘The Americans,’ about KGB undercover agents in the early 80’s where they have to find the nearest pay phone. In literature (and early TV), however, most of the advanced technology was actually presented in prophetic science fiction. Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ included prototypes of flat screen plasma TVs (along with ‘reality TV’ partcipatory plays) as well as the ‘Walkman’. And I can’t close without acknowledging that our model for the cell phone was presented to us in the original sixties ‘Star Trek’ with their use of ‘communicators’. Kirk could plausibly ask Scotty to ‘beam him up’ via a cell phone in the 23rd century (or however far in the future the ‘Star Trek’ universe was set).

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    • Thanks for your interesting comment, Brian, and before I go further, I should tell you that I’ll be mentioning Henry James in my next (Feb. 1) post. πŸ™‚

      I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I’m not surprised that cellphones and other modern devices are in so many shows. Same with movies; I recently saw 2013’s riveting/tragic “Fruitvale Station” at a friend’s house, and cellphone conversations and texting were ubiquitous in that movie — even to the extent where text messages were superimposed on the screen as they were being written.

      “Star Trek” definitely seemed to model the idea of the cellphone. Great observation! I suppose one can say Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist communicator in Chester Gould’s comic strip was also prescient.

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