Guest Book Review: Paradigm Shifts: Typewritten Tales of Digital Collapse and Escapements: Typewritten Tales from Post-Digital Worlds

Paradigm Shifts: Typewritten Tales of Digital Collapse, Edited by Richard Polt, Frederic S. Durbin, and Andrew V. McFeaters, Loose Dog Press, 2019. 9781097972630.

Escapements: Typewritten Tales from Post-Digital Worlds, edited by Richard Polt, Frederic S. Durbin, and Andrew V. McFeaters, Loose Dog Press, 2019. 9781097991105.

Guest review by Robert in Silicon Valley.

My high school’s literary annual was typeset on expensive, rationed mimeograph masters. Only our most accurate typists were entrusted with the work. In college, a fiction writing class focusing on building a science fiction world, then populating it with characters and their stories. Our final project was a compilation produced at a nearby copy shop via photocopier, and the modes of its master copy ranged from highly legible to sketchy dot matrix printers.

Paradigm Shifts and Escapements take me back. The editors, prominent figures in the online typewriter community — “The Typosphere” — solicited stories and poems in which these 20th (and in one notable case, 19th) century machines save the day, or are of use when the day can’t be saved. The machines each author used for the final, correct copies of their work are credited at the end of each selection. The wide range of typestyles and spacing are reproduced, just like the reader made for my college class anthology. It’s not quite the same as the 1880’s newspaper clippings I’ve seen in which the pigeon who’d carried the dispatch got part of the byline, but it’s close.

In only one notable case does the scribe resort to the conceit that the typewriter itself authors the story: “Eat Cake” by Jos LeGrand, in Paradigm Shifts, is written as if by a crotchety, protesting 1876 Sholes & Glidden, with rickety ALL CAPS included. This short contribution was actually typed ON a 1876 Sholes & Glidden, the machine that helped make the QWERTY keyboard the standard. Other authors use two or more typewriters to perform a few typographical trick, including using different typewriters to indicate different narrators. One author’s end of story typewriter credit even thanks his local library for letting him borrow an IBM Wheelwriter while his own typewriter was being repaired!

The subtitles accurately reflect the focus of each volume: Paradigm Shifts is full of tales of just-post-digital collapse: electric power grid woes, electromagnetic pulses,  dread disease, climate disaster, and combinations the aforementioned problems. Escapements offers views of the post collapse world in recovery, or at least in some form of equilibrium, usually without digital tools coming back: rebuilding communications and transportation, exorcising typewriter demons, a young and pregnant typewriter repairer faced with racial intolerance. Across both books there are thrillers, science fantasies, hardboiled crime stories, and even a a tale of indescribable weirdness that could have come from the typewriter of William S. Burroughs (“not the falling” by Jim Pennington, in Escapements). Both volumes also feature stories with cats! If you don’t mind idiosyncratic and shifting typesetting, you might want to give Paradigm Shifts and Escapements a try.

Guest review by Robert in Silicon Valley.


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