The Nathaniel Rich and Robin Sloan Emails On May 7th, Robin Sloan and Nathaniel Rich sat down in front of an audience at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco to discuss the role of fiction in interpreting the future. After the event, the conversation continued online. Dear Robin, The future and the novel. Where to begin? I’m relieved at least that we’re not discussing the future of the novel—a truly tedious and overtalked subject. (My answer: the novel will be just fine, thank you very much.) Perhaps best to begin with a question, not answers. Is it, What can novelists tell us about the future? Or: Do novelists have an obligation to write about the future? Or: How can novels help us make sense of the future? We seem to be living in an era that is particularly obsessed by fantasies, and fears, about the future, but we tend to seek out scientists and technologists for our predictions, not novelists. You and I have both written fiction about the future. Are we in way over our heads? yrs, Nathaniel
by Robin Sloan When Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was released, the New York Times ran a nice profile of me and the book, and to fit the book's themes, the reporter, Jenny Schuessler, decided we should meet not in a conference room, not in a coffee shop, but in a secret library. We convened on a rainy morning at the Grolier Club, a society of bibliophiles in New York City, where—in addition to chatting about Penumbra—we got a chance to see something special. There, spread out on a dark heavy table, waiting in a pool of lamplight, was a collection of "Aldines"—books made by a guy named Aldus Manutius circa 1500, back at the very dawn of printing. Manutius features prominently in Penumbra's plot. He also features prominently in the history of civilization, because his shop produced the first printed editions of the classics: Aristotle, Homer, Virgil, all those guys. I'd read plenty about Manutius, and I'd seen pictures of his books online. But I'd never seen one in person, and what I saw at the Grolier Club surprised me.