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"I think we're still on that topic, still trying to figure out what computers are, how they change us, why we use them."
- Neal Stephenson

Electronic Book  
  An early reference and description of electronic book hardware and operation.  

This is perhaps the first science fiction reference to a hand-held electronic device that emulates some book functions. It comes in the context of a remarkable book.

Ford handed the book to Arthur.

"What is it?" asked Arthur.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That's its job."

Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.

"I like the cover," he said. "Don't Panic. It's the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody's said to me all day."

"I'll show you how it works," said Ford. He snatched it from Arthur who was still holding it as if it was a two-week-dead lark and pulled it out of its cover.

"You press this button here you see and the screen lights up giving you the index."

A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.

"You want to know about Vogons, so I enter that name so." His fingers tapped some more keys. "And there we are."

The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared in green across the screen.

Ford pressed a large red button at the bottom of the screen and words began to undulate across it. At the same time, the book began to speak the entry as well in a still quiet measured voice. This is what the book said...

Technovelgy from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.
Published by Harmony Books in 1979
Additional resources -

The first reference that I can find to "electronic book" is in a description of the PLATO II system that ran on ILLIAC in 1961.


(Description of electronic book system, 1961)
(From the Digital Computer Newsletter: Office of Naval Research - Mathematical Sciences Division, Vol 13 #4)

In practical terms, you can't have an electronic book without electronic text of books - and the first known electronic text of books was made available through Project Gutenberg. This project was started in 1971 when Michael Hart was given a substantial amount of computer time by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab by the University of Illinois. He envisioned the idea that computers could indefinitely store books and retrieve them for as many people who needed them, wherever they were.

Speak of the devil - now Google has decided to put millions of books from libraries online - read about the Encyclopedia Googlactica.

For an earlier reference, see the machine book from When Worlds Collide (1932) by Balmer and Wylie, the opton from Stanislaw Lem's Return From the Stars. See also the entry for runcible from The Diamond Age (1995) by Neal Stephenson.

This item was contributed by Simon Smith.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  More Ideas and Technology by Douglas Adams
  Tech news articles related to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  Tech news articles related to works by Douglas Adams

Electronic Book-related news articles:
  - Kindle 2's Missing Cover
  - E-Book Reading Up - Print Book Reading Down

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