BOOKS & THEIR BRETHREN
The book in digital and physical format has been ubiquitous: it is everywhere. A look at the story of the book is a long and interesting one. From ancient time Man has been recording and re-telling things to each other – a look at the cave paintings in France, the proclamation and decrees from the Kings of Babylonians and Persia; the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians; the use of paper from papyrus in Egypt and parchment from sheep skin from Pergamon; the establishment of the Great Librray of Alecandria by the Ptolemys and the Bayht Al Hikhma by the Abbasids; and the mass production of paper from China in Baghdad. A book a scroll that contained knowledge, information and stories were much prized.
In the West, after the decline of the Roman Empire there were active efforts to reproduce books. They came from all over and in monasteries around Europe – Scriptoriums and libraries : just like the Bayht Al-Hikma , books were manually reproduced in beautifully illustrated forms called Illuminated books. These books were much prized that only the rich and the powerful could afford them.They were much appreciated that owners would resort to book curses and the more practical chains binding them to the walls and tables of the library.
It was only during the development of the printing press that books and other materials were made more available to those who could afford it – not everyone but a larger segment of the population. People’s ideas were being made available for other people to read. The works of Copernicus and Shakespeare were published.
Books and its other printed cousins became the vehicle for idea and opinion. And because of this flow of idea and opinion the book et al there were moves to control it: (i) in Paris, France during the incipient stages of building Universities there were debates whether to allow to writings of Aristotle to be allowed to be read, because it ran contrary to some beliefs of the Christian leaders; (ii) In China the first Emperor Shi Huang Di burned books of the other kingdoms and those that were not deemed practical (at the same time philosophers and scholars opposed to philosophy and politics of the First Emperor were sent to build what came to be known as the Great Wall of China); (iii) Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party led the book burning of works done by Jewish writers and scholars; and book burning is not limited to the past. The acts to control the flow of idea and opinion is still done today by the State, Organised Communities. Special Interest Groups and Individuals.
For ideas and opinions whether expressed in the written word or said is powerful. Hitler’s Mein Kampf was effective in pushing him to power and the Protocols of Zion was instrumental in planting one of the seeds of anti-semitism in Hitler’s mind. Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped the freeing of slaves in the United States. Marx’s Das Kapital helped topple Czarist Russia. While SInclair’s Concrete Jungle paved the way to for food safety measures in the United States. And in the works of Rizal were among the seeds that Philippine Revolution and Independence was built on.
Truly the book and its brethren has come a long way and it still is changing. In our contemporary age books can now be read on paper and on the screen. One can also listen to it as one sits in one corner or perhaps surfing the net. It is not only composed of the written word but of images. It can come in ephemeral form – in pulp paper that oxidises and burn in time or in more permanent form acid free paper (perhaps even treated with mylar) and hardbound, it is not written on gold plates but it is durable. In my opinion the book and its brethren will continue to exist in many forms – print and non-print.
Eric Blair aka George Orwell was a prolific writer and we know him from his work Animal Farm and 1984. He wrote several works one about the execution of an elephant and an essay on why he wrote. If I remember correctly there are five reasons for writing: (i) We write to record things that happen; (ii) We write to entertain; (iii) We write for aesthetic pleasure: (iv) We write to move readers to action or belief; and (v) We write for Ego.
In terms of Science, Technology and Society, one can read several works that fit Orwell’s reason for writing. In non-fiction we see how Copernicus describe his findings about the Universe and in non-fiction we see how Charles Darwin details his belief in Evolution. Later examples we how naturalist Konrad Lorenz wrote about his theories in Animal Behaviour and keeping Aquariums in light and entertaining way in his book Solomon’s Ring. In fiction we see writers depict issues in Science and Technology with Man/Society and in fiction we writers predict what could happen.
In Mary Shelley’s The Modern Prometheus. The creation of the monster/the creature from body parts bought to life by electricity is a backdrop for Victor Frankenstein’s dilemma of going against the law of creating life. It is a cautionary tale any scientist or technocrat would be familiar with, The creature to Victor Frankenstein is what the Atom Bomb is to Robert Oppenheimer. And this cautionary tale is still the blue print for a number science fiction and horror stories.
In Jules Verne’s A Trip to the Moon, we see how our fascination with the stars can produce fiction that try foretell the future dystopian or not. H.G. Wells among other things told of how Martians’ nearly conquered the Earth or what happened to a man who travelled to the future – what he did he see and what are the effects.
One of the strengths of fiction and storytelling is that the reader, the listener and the viewer is brought into the story, He is immersed into that fictional or historical story. And it entertains and informs. And that is how the stories of Star Trek predicts a future where at least on Earth almost everyone is equal – something revolutionary for the 1960s. Stories may seem escapist but they are also cautionary, prophetic and thought provoking.
It would be worthwhile to read the following stories:
Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus
The Sherlock Holmes Stories
A Trip to the Moon
The Stroke of the Sun
A Logic Named Joe
Flowers for Algernon
With his Bootstraps On
The Sound of Thunder
The Billionth Name of God
Leningen versus the Ants
The Log of the Sea of Cortez
Murder in the Rue Morgue
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
The Time Machine
The War of the Worlds