The Sydney Writers’ Festival is on us again. The program came in Saturday’s SMH, and the only writer I immediately saw as a possibility was Iain M. Banks – I am currently reading Matter, and enjoying it as usual with his sci-fi novels. Then I noticed that he wasn’t actually appearing at the festival. Instead, they were employing the LongPen technology, proudly trumpeting it as the invention of Margaret Atwood.
Funny, but last time I checked, she was an author, not an engineer, or programmer, or designer. Perhaps she “conceived” the idea, but I think that so say she invented the technology is a long stretch. Anyway, it’s a dumb idea. Neil Gaiman is on record as having the same opinion, likening it to being kissed on the cheek by proxy with a machine, and waling away with a slip of paper saying “you were kissed by…”. For him, the whole point of a signing is to interact with your fans and readers. Perhaps Margaret Atwood doesn’t like her readers.
The whole point (for me) of going to an event to see a writer/musician/actor/whoever is to actually be in their presence. Would you pay hundreds of dollars to see The Police, or Rodrigo and Gabriela, or Linus Torvalds, only to be presented with a mechanical simulcra, or a video screen? You’d feel ripped off. I do see that there are uses for such technology. Perhaps the author is several solar systems away :), and couldn’t get to the event through unforeseen circumstances; perhaps the government has refused travel documents to the author; perhaps the author has been ill. It allows readers and fans to have some connection with the author that they might not otherwise have, and is no worse than having stacks of signed books in a bookstore for you to buy. It’s just not something that I would partake in.
As it is, for some reason the SWF has cancelled all LongPen events, so Iain Banks is not “attending”. Maybe there’s someone else worth seeing, but nothing grabs my attention at the moment. By the way, Neil also pointed to a nice piece on convention etiquette, that is worth keeping in mind, if you run into your favourite author/actor on the street, or at an event.