Going Digital

Someone asked me the other day what it feels like, to see all my “old stuff” reappearing, at long last, in digital. And I had to smile, because to me it doesn’t feel like “old stuff.”

In fact, of course, I’m delighted that people still want to read them; that the characters, and the places, still have for others the same attraction that they still have for me. I’ve lived with these people for a long time, and I love them very much. (Well, maybe not Benjamin January’s frightful mother so much, or the evil Bishop Govannin….)

Oddly, I feel like I came back to fantasy a year and a half ago, when I started writing short stories about the character-sets from those old Del Rey fantasies, and selling them on my website, long before discussions of digitizing the original series’ was even thought of. To do those, I went back and re-read the Darwath series, the Windrose Chronicles, and Dragonsbane and its sequels, and was pleased to see how true the characters still feel to me.

Of course, I wrote Time of the Dark in 1978 and The Silent Tower in 1984, so the thing that sticks out for me is how totally technology has changed. I suppose that’s the great peril for real-world crossovers. Gil and Rudy had never heard of cell phones, or of Star Trek: Next Generation for that matter. Joanna’s computer technology sounds rather quaint: for one thing, there was no internet when I wrote those books, only the beginnings of connection between various bulletin-boards and that, only for geeks. (It was pretty entertaining, when writing the 2010 novella Firemaggot, to go back and look up how someone would do a computer search for information in those ancient times).

But I love digital for a number of reasons.

It’s very compact. I have a couple of dozen books on my reader: ideal for a long trip, or an afternoon waiting at the medical clinic. It’s flexible. I think in the future we’re going to see a lot of niche-marketing of things that big-money paper publishers wouldn’t take a risk on. And it doesn’t make sense to take a risk on something a little out-there if you have to print 10,000 copies that might not sell. With digital, if it only sells 500 copies, well, that’s 500 happy people in the world (501, counting the author). No storage worries, no returns.

Downside? It’ll take a while for all those strange old books that I love to show up on digital: books that aren’t current bestsellers, but aren’t public-domain freebies either. I suspect, like old Leslie Howard movies or episodes of one-season TV shows of the ‘60s, they will eventually show up. I would love to see that whole market open up.

I’m just extremely pleased that if people want my old Del Rey fantasies, they now know where to get them, easily and without fuss. I hope they don’t disappoint after all these years.


Barbara Hambly is a New York Times bestselling and Locus Award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction, as well as historical novels set in the nineteenth century. Seventeen of her novels are now available as ebooks from Open Road Media

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