Margaret Atwood's Remote-Controlled Autograph Signing Machine Now a Reality

Posted on February 21, 2006

Booker Award-winning author Margaret Atwood is formally introducing her infamous remote control autograph-signing device. Here's how it works: the fans show up at the bookstore where an author signing is to be held -- Ms. Atwood appears via video and autographs the book via remote-control. A robot arm at the bookstore actually signs the book in real time. But will fans show up at a bookstore just to see an author on video who is really a continent away? Is a robotic signature the same as a real one? And what do the other authors think about the end of real, live book tours?
The imminent arrival of the gadget, called LongPen, has prompted fears it could kill off the grand tradition of the book-signing tour. Those long hours spent on trains and motorways, trudging the publicity circuit as writers to press the flesh with the people who pay their wages, could be a thing of the past.

Yet the threat has led to a backlash by other authors. D. J. Taylor called it "an absolutely feeble idea - another example of fatuous modern technology", while novelist Jilly Cooper believes "if the signing tour were to die off, it would be a tragedy". Ms Atwood, 66, is to launch the device - which has been seen by only a select few at secret testings - at the London Book Fair a fortnight from today, where publishers and authors from around the world will be given a demonstration. The writer will be in Canada but will create what is being billed as the world's first transatlantic autograph.

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The comedian Charlie Higson, who has recently been promoting his book Blood Fever about the young James Bond, said: "I don't think a robot arm is a substitute for an actual signature. Plus, you still have to go through the actual process of waggling your arm across the page. I do like to do a short tour if I have the time, although if you are in the middle of something else it can take for ever."

Terry Pratchett [says]: "The worst was when I turned up at the bookshop and the manager went white and said, 'Was it today?' After every tour I doubt if I'll do it again ... Tours gouge out big lumps of my life, but everyone seems to think they're essential."
Will Ms. Atwood's device catch on? We're thinking...not.

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