Conventional wisdom has it that Christmas 2010 is going to be the Christmas of the E-Reader.  It’s certainly the case in my own family: Mom has requested a Kindle, and Dad has hinted that there may be other Kindles under the tree.  With Amazon’s* new offering at the tantalizing price point of $139 for what is, by all accounts, a beautiful bit of geekery, it seems like next January will see a flowering of Kindles in the hands of your fellow public transit passengers, like mushrooms after a rain, or Starbuckses in the 1990s.


Up until now, I have resisted the lure of a Kindle pretty well.  Like any good free and open source software partisan, I oppose DRM.  Like most geeks, I grew up devouring books, and still love them as physical objects: cheap, known technology that doesn’t need electricity and is quite tolerant of physical abuse.  And it’s still true that browsing a used-book store is one of my very very very favorite things to do.  I don’t want to lose that.


And yet.  I remember the agonizing process of selecting books for a trip, when I was a kid: carefully balancing size and weight against re-readability, weighing the reading level so it wouldn’t be too impossible or boring to get through while not being too simple to be read only once, coordinating with my sister for the maximum effective library size (no point in both of us bringing Nancy Drews).  There is something terribly attractive to me in being able to bring along everything, all in one beautifully slim case.  Resident Geekachica globetrotter A Nonny Mouse likes this feature, too, and also cites the painlessness of getting more books even while in countries that don’t necessarily sell books in your preferred language, another feature I can totally get behind.


But what would it take for me to go completely Kindle and actually prefer ebooks to physical books, the way I now prefer to buy music as DRM-free-mp3s rather than actual CDs?  Something we can’t do with physical books, or can do so much better on a Kindle that it amounts to much the same thing.  And here I see a couple of interesting avenues for the market to explore.


One is interactive fiction, like those choose-your-own adventure books I loved as a kid.  Here the Kindle really has a chance to shine, because the stories can be arbitrarily long and complex, and divided into chunks of arbitrary length.  One has already emerged: Amazon’s Dusk World, which so intrigued me when I spotted it on a friend’s Kindle that I checked it out.


Dusk World is not without flaws.  The story is more linear than it seems, with many of the dialogue choices not mattering.  It doesn’t have save points, so if you want to try a different choice, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. But it’s an enormously interesting direction to push ebooks: like a cross between a comic book, a choose-your-own-adventure, and an 80s text adventure game.  I really hope we see more offerings like Dusk World soon, and more experimental fiction.


The other avenue is heavily illustrated works, like one of my favorites from 2007: The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  It’s told partially in pictures and partially in text: a paragraph might end with Hugo seen by the station conductor, the next few pages are illustrations of Hugo evading him, and then the text picks back up.  I have it in hardback, and I do love it–but it’s also huge and heavy, because of all the pages of illustrations.  Now this is a book that was made for the Kindle, where it doesn’t matter how much paper it would have taken.  How about more books like this, and like Scott Westerfeld’s books Leviathan and Behemoth, which are not so illustration-dependent as Hugo Cabret but still benefit hugely from their illustrations?


What does the fiction of the future look like to you, fellow readers?



P.S. Just spotted in the Kindle store: The New World, Patrick Ness’ prequel story to his brilliant “Chaos Walking” trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go / The Ask and the Answer / Monsters of Men) is available at the low low price of free. Yay!


* I don’t want to be a shill for Amazon–and I don’t like their IP policies (obligatory link to the EFF)–but neither do I want to type “Kindle/Nook/whatever” and “Amazon/Sony/whatever” all the time.  So for “Kindle”, please read “generic ebook reader”, and for “Amazon” please read “maker of ebook readers”, “seller of ebook readers”, or “seller of ebooks”, depending on context.  Thanks.  I knew I could count on you.