Years ago, I handed one of my finished books to an editor at Bloomsbury publishers. She held it aloft in something like awe and said it was the first time she’d ever seen a novel on a memory stick.
I like technology, but not just for its own sake. Giving someone a USB stick is simpler and cheaper than printing four hundred pages and sending them by post. It’s all a far cry from my first ZX Spectrum computer with a 16k memory. 16k! Just this page takes up almost as much memory as that entire computer. I checked.
I discovered the world of electronic books when someone gave me an iPad as a gift. For the first time in my life, I could no longer run out of reading material! The old horror of ‘no books!’ with the shops all shut has finally passed. Let the bells ring out. I miss it as much as I miss the Morris Ital Estate I owned, one of the world’s worst cars.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love books – my house is full of them. The only problem is that I’ve read them all. Yet these days, I can always find something new to read, somewhere. This is a joy, though why there isn’t a waterproof version of the iPad, I don’t know. I can’t be the only person who likes to read in the bath.
The first generation of electronic books had their problems, as you may know. I hope this edition of Conqueror is well-formatted and the sign for a dollar doesn’t turn up anywhere in the text. If it does, you must email or write to HarperCollins immediately. Not the author, just to be clear – the publisher.
Inside the enhanced edition of Conqueror, you should find some of the features no print version can offer: pronunciation guides to key words, an audio interview and a map that changes throughout, so you can follow Kublai’s travels. You gain access to the map by running three fingers up the screen and if that doesn’t amaze you as it does me, just remember my old ZX Spectrum with ‘realistic flesh-feel’ rubber keys.
The danger of praising technology is that it moves on and makes you look a fool. In 2012, I am thrilled at a touch screen and audio links. No doubt in a decade or so, this sense of excitement will seem laughable – like a Victorian in raptures at the idea of the new-fangled vacuum cleaner. I expect by then you will be able to call up 3D images of the battles, rendered by intelligent software to match the text. For all I know, you’ll even live the stories as a character yourself, in full immersion. All I ask is that there is still a book at the heart of it, a tale about human beings who could be us, struggling through trials and tribulations. I don’t know what tribulations actually are, but I hope they’re worth enduring because so many characters seem to go through them.
The heart of all stories is the characters. Human beings can experience the thoughts and actions of others as if they were our own. It is perhaps, the aspect of humanity that sets us most apart from every other living thing. It’s almost universal, so much so that when someone can’t do that simple thing, we watch them very closely and keep sharp objects out of their hands.
So…no matter how you are reading Conqueror, or whether the year is 2012 or 2080, I hope you enjoy it – and I hope you begin to like these characters, as I do. I’ve lived with them for a long time, since the first Genghis book, Wolf of the Plains, and of course since the dim and distant beginnings of the twenty-first century. It’s been a grand tale to tell.