Aye Robot

March 7, 2006

Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed Canadian author of such titles as Oryx and Crake and the Man Booker Prize winning The Blind Assassin, astounded the London book Fair yesterday by unveiling the worlds first LongPen, a device which enables writers to sign books anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of their armchairs.

When asked by a journalist if it was an early April Fools’ joke, Atwood said, “Would I really go to the trouble of coming here to launch it if it was a hoax?”

Atwood came up with the idea after a particularly exhausting book-signing trip, which saw her travel to several far flung nations in a short space of time. “It was pretty strenuous,” she said, “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be good if you could sign books with a signature that whizzed through the air?’

When she returned home she set up her own company and developed the LongPen. It works when the author inscribes onto a special tablet, which is then converted electronically. Whatever is written onto the tablet is immediately replicated by the electronic arm on the other side of the world. A video link ensures the recipient can still see the author and they are even able to conduct a conversation through the technology.

But will this innovation spell the end of the book tour? Or is it just another flash-in-the-pan nice-to-have invention?

Atwood doesn’t think so. “It won’t replace the book tour, and I am still very keen to meet my fans. Amazon has changed things over the years. Now books are international and there is a lot of pressure to be in 17 places at once. Authors will still visit major cities but this will enable them to do signings in places they would otherwise never visit.”

Next week: The robotic fiction writer.


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