RARA-AVIS: New Technology and the Future of Books and Comments on a New(ish) Book

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 19 Nov 2009

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    Except to protest that vigorously investigating counterfeit money isn't a manifestation of Orwellian totalitarianisn, I've mostly stayed out of the discussion of Kindles and similar devices and what predictions can be made about the future of books from their arrival on the scene.

    To me it seems that all the "sky is falling" talk is greatly exaggerated. I suspect that every single time new entertainment technology came along, the same sort of discussions were generated. And usually the predictions that a new technology meant "the end of" whatever the old technology was, was just wrong.

    Oh, things changed, certainly. But rarely did anything actually end.

    Movies didn't mean the end of stage plays. The introduction of sound didn't mean the end of film as a medium. Television didn't mean the end of radio, or of movies. The Internet hasn't meant the end of television.

    All of these mediums adapted, certainly. But they didn't go away. Stage plays probably don't draw the audiences they did in prior centuries, but they still exist, and, with the advent of film, playwrights could make money licensing film adaptations. People don't go out to movie theatres in nearly as great numbers as in the '20's, '30's, and '40's, but the film industry made big bucks selling films for television broadcast, and now make even bigger bucks with cable outlets like HBO, and home viewing options like DVD and Blu-Ray. Radio drama did, admittedly, die out almost completely a decade or so after TV's became the major home entertainment center, but radio itself is as successful a medium as it's ever been, providing a venue for music, news, commentary, etc.

    One could make the case that recent music delivery technology has had an adverse effect on the music industry, but that's partly because the music industry was built on a business model of replacing old technology with new technology periodically. Hence, 78's were replaced by 45's, which were replaced by LP's, then 8-tracks, then cassettes, then CD's, etc. Once the technology got to a point where the consumer had more control (as technology inevitably does), the industry was bound to lose its absolute control over its product. Still, music is still being sold, and live performances, once the only way to deliver music to the consumer, haven't died out.

    The Kindle, and similar devices, do not mean that books will go away. Like the stage play, and live musical performances, they have too long a history. Books may be read less often in their more familiar form, just as movies are viewed more often at home than in theatres. But books will no more disappear than movie theatres have. Audiences for the classic-style book, rather than the Kindle download, may be smaller, but they'll never disappear.

    So those of you who love books, and who react to the very idea of the Kindle the way Dracula reacted to a Crucifix, have nothing to worry about.

    Now that I've settled that, has anyone here read the "final" Mike Hammer novel, THE GOLIATH BONE? Admittedly not a "recent" book, having come out in 2008, but I'm always about a year behind.

    So I just finished it the other day, and, while it's not Spillane's best entry in the series, it's a worthy swan song. Set in post-9/11 New York, it involves Mike with what may be the best "quest object" since Hammett sent Spade in search of the "glorious, golden falcon," or at least since Howard Browne sent Paul Pine in search of of a gospel manuscript supposedly written by Jesus Christ himself. It's a huge human thigh bone, disocvered by a pair of young archeologists in the Valley of Elah, a thigh bone so big that the human it came from had to've been at least ten feet tall. A thigh bone that, in all likelihood, came from the leg of the Philistine general Goliath.

    Naturally various forces in the "War on Terror" want the bone, so Mike and Velda (who have finally set a date) take the two young archeologists under their wing, and their protection, and the result is a fast-moving piece of hard-boiled fiction that is far more satisfying than Mike's last outing, BLACK ALLEY.

    I enjoyed the book thoroughly, but it's got its flaws. For example, I got a little tired of Mike and Velda (whose surname is, for the first time, revealed to be "Sterling," though she soon changes it to "Hammer") constantly reminding us of how old they are. At one point Mike even mentions his membership in AARP. For me, it would have been more effective to simply ignore their ages completely and treat them, as Stout treated Nero and Archie, as somehow ageless.

    The whodunit element was substandard. Puzzles were never Spillane's forte, but at least he managed to make the final revelation of the villain a big surprise. In this case, the identity of the hidden killer is pretty obvious. However, the revelation of what strikes me as a fairly obvious solotuion is partially redeemed by a good final scene that brings the series to an end in a particularly surprising way.

    I've heard that the puzzle element was a contribution of Max Allan Collins, who completed Spillane's unfinished manuscript, apparently because he felt that some kind of whodunit was called for, since it was a traditional part of every other Hammer novel. Perhaps he was right, but I think the book might have been stronger if Spillane's original vision was adhered to and the whodunit element had been scuttled.

    Towards the end of the book, when Velda asks Mike how they'll be spending their time now that they're retired, Mike notes that there are still a half-dozen or so of his biggest cases that he hasn't yet finished writing up for publication. This is a reference to a half-dozen or so unfinished Hammer manuscripts that Collins has been given responsiblity for completing.

    The next one, due out in 2010, is set in the '60's, shortly after THE GIRL HUNTERS, and pits Mike against powerful narcotics traffickers. It'll be called THE BIG BANG. I'll be particularly interested in this since Spillane was, supposedly, deeply involved in drug enforcement himself during a period when he was working as an undercover investigator for the Manhattan DA's Office.




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