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#9: Tablet Amanuensis

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.

Reviewing a list of articles submitted to various Traveller magazines, I realised I’d just passed the 100,000-word mark in some two and a half years—which I find astonishing, as that’s a good sized book.

One of the reasons I think it’s been possible was the arrival of tablet devices in 20101. Those of who’ve been fans of science fiction for a while have long dreamed of such things. The 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey is often cited as an inspiration. Star Trek had them from the outset with Kirk being proffered (chunky) tablet devices to sign off and Picard often seen with several scattered across his desk. Traveller, of course, has long since had the hand computer. It wasn’t much of a leap to believe, after a couple of palm-sized computers that I’d loved and carried everywhere, that a tablet might be the ‘solution’ I’d been waiting for.

What I hadn’t expected was just how useful it’d be. There were a lot of nay-sayers who suggested they were only for media consumption, not for creation. And certainly, my spangly new tablet was great at browsing the web and reading ebooks and even watching catch-up TV. But I found the instant on nature of the device, the great battery life, and the ease of use contributed to a change in how I worked. To keep this to Traveller (though I could write the same about work and other areas of life), I could at last easily access and comfortably read the many PDF Traveller books I’ve purchased. Sitting up at the PC for casual reading never appealed to me that much. Secondly, I could browse Traveller web sites and keep up with Traveller mailing lists much more handily, again away from the computer which I might have been sitting at all day at work. Thirdly, now, when I couldn’t be bothered to boot up the PC and sit at it of an evening to create a character or write a review or plan an adventure, I could instantly pick up the tablet and scribble some ideas, or plan a scenario or make notes on a book I wanted to review. Just a few hundred words over a handful of evenings would turn into a 5000-word adventure without ever having to feel I’d had to work at it. I became accustomed to touch-typing on the screen but also bought a Bluetooth keyboard for moments when I really wanted to get going. I could even try my hand at artwork using various apps.

In addition, it was this greater engagement with Traveller and in generating material, that encouraged me to write at somewhat more length until I had enough material for an adventure I could consider offering to run at TravCon which led, as I’ve written previously, to my first experiences of refereeing Traveller. I’m not suggesting it couldn’t have happened with just a PC, but the SF tablets of my youth certainly helped make it a reality.

1 There is a second major reason, I believe, for the output I’ve been able to generate in the last three years, but I’ll save that for another time.