Writing in the Computer Age — Review

Science Fiction & Fantasy Review, No. 19, November 1983, p. 15.

Fluegelman, Andrew, and Jeremy Joan Hewes. Writing in the Computer Age: Word Processing Skills and Style for Every Writer. Anchor Press/Doubleday, February 1983. Garden City, NY. 256 p. $19.95. ISBN 0-385-18124-8. $10.95, paper. ISBN 0-385018125-6.

All forms of art are sensitive to technological change. Modern sculpture rarely uses the traditional marble, favoring instead such things as acrylics or the once rare aluminum. This change has been limited chiefly to materials; the subject matter has changed little. In science fiction, though, technological innovation forces changes in both technique and subject. Personal (home) computers are one striking example of such technology: science fiction writers, critics, and scholars can now use part of the same technology they write about.

Writing in the Computer Age is a “how to” book–how to use computers and word processing packages to write. It has nothing to do with science fiction per se. It is also not (and deliberately so) a buying guide, nor is it a manual on how to use a specific computer or program. Fluegelman and Hewes take a different approach: they explain what word processing is, what it can do for writers, outline typical as well as exotic writing problems, and then offer specific techniques for solving these problems. No particular level of computer expertise is assumed; novices will want to consume the first half of the book (Skills), and then join the veterans in the second half (Style). Unlike the bulk of popular computing books, you need not have a computer to appreciate the material. On the other hand, after reading it, you probably won’t want to be without some form of word processing.

While the topic is hardly exciting, the text is generally free of the jargon-laden, mind-deadening prose of most computer books. (If you do want excitement and controversy, try Jerry Pournelle’s monthly column in Byte.) There is infrequent tendency to slip into the Imperial Plural but, in Our infinite tolerance, We have decided to forgive them. Flying in the face of tradition, the authors have included an index, but selected only computer terms for indexing, and then usually just the first reference. A detailed table of contents, plus a list of tables and figures, partially overcome the shortcomings of the index.

On the whole, it is a surprising volume. I was surprised to find a Doubleday book both properly bound and printed on decent paper. I was surprised to discover several new writing tricks, and surprised at how few the authors left out. I was surprised to find myself reluctant to return the volume to its rightful owner. One thing still puzzles me, though: when science fiction writers turn to word processing, why do so many start writing fantasy? — Lawrence I. Charters


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