The Future of publishing against ‘arthritis of inventiveness’

July 8, 2013
The Future of publishing against ‘arthritis of inventiveness’ By Simon Knapper

Dmitry Glukhovsky, author of the popular Metro 2033 and Metro 2034, as well as Tales from the Motherland has started to publish his new novel The Future on his web-page on the Russian social network V Kontakte, Facebook facsimile, where he has over a hundred thousand followers.

He is planning to release a chapter each week together with character illustrations and key events; he is also planning to upload music to accompany installments.

Glukhovsky achieved success with his most popular work Metro 2033 by initially releasing the work in installments on his own web site. Later the book was put to print and widely sold, prompting a video game and a spin off serialization authored by others.

It is not simply the idea of publishing a free book online that has stirred public interest, it is also the choice of partner. Unlike its American cousin, V Kontakte hosts numerous user uploaded feature films, music tracks and videos. Recently, this has brought much negative publicity to the social network, particularly at a time when the Russian government is cracking down on internet piracy. Also, the site has become involved in political intrigue. Investment Group United Capital Partners (UCP), with close Kremlin ties, has bought nearly 50% of its shares. Its founder, Pavel Durov, has left the country apparently after being accused of hitting a traffic policeman with his car.

In an interview with the newspaper Izvestia, Glukhovsky explained his decision to serialize The Future on the web.  “The decision to publish The Future on V Kontakte was taken a long time before all the anti-piracy hysteria. I set up a page for the book last year and then made a proposal to Pavel Durov to start a project together. The whole of on-line Russia is on V Kontakte. While book publishers garb themselves in sackcloth and ashes and some authors are writing letters to Putin, asking him to protect them from piracy I am just giving people an option to read my book in a place and manner that is more convenient for them. V Kontakte provides a great opportunity to publish a novel; you can attach PDF files, upload an original soundtrack to accompany the book, illustrations, videos and have the potential to spread the publication virally. Where else am I to publish a book entitled The Future?”

The Future is a Utopia”, he explains. “It’s a novel about a happy world, where there is no God and no church, there are no families, no elderly, and no children. There is no ageing and no death. There is only one question: Will humans stop being human if scientists eradicate death. Or rather when they do it.”

Glukhovsky argues that well established Russian literary authors who are seeking protection from the President do not want to be bothered with another media format. He calls this scenario “a kind of arthritis of inventiveness”. He says, “If I am fortunate enough to live to be their age I will also require president Putin to protect my right to publish on V Kontakte. Because all the newfangled things such as the direct transmission of text to consciousness will seem too complex for me and it’ll be too much for me to assimilate.”

Glukhovsky says that the interaction between writer and reader is more suited to people on the autistic spectrum rather than to the modern person chemically addicted to communication. “I cannot write a single novel locked away in an ivory tower. I have to be sensitive to the feelings of people reading my text, in a live atmosphere. My internal combustion engine is powered by their souls. They curse it, praise it, and pass comments – all this charges me up, nourishes me, gives me a thrill and the desire to carry on”.

Although Glukhovsky happily interacts with readers, he is territorial when it comes to book content, “I like the game,” he says, “so the specific interactive part will be that although the novel is almost written, the end has not been thought up and I don’t know how to decide the fate of the main protagonists – who will live and who will die. This is where I can consider the opinions of my readers.”

“The paper book is like a collectable brick that I put on the shelf, but the pleasure it affords is only experienced once, when I first hold a freshly printed volume in my hands straight from the printer’s. As for money, I think that the reward finds the hero. Eventually. Why force people to buy a pig in a poke? Let them read it, decide if it’s the kind of thing they want to buy. I won’t die of hunger.”

“The paper book has become interior décor, it’s a part of our heritage, it’s the jewel of our collection. But as for the book as a way of spending time, of educating or entertaining - people will read from electronic devices because they are more convenient and lighter, because it is stupid to acquire a waste product, for the sake of which, furthermore, an innocent tree has died. Text is particularly ephemeral; it can live on a book reader, on a smartphone and on a tablet. Only if you love it with all your heart will you decide to give it another home and buy a paper book”.

However, Glukhovsky is planning to publish his book in conventional format. In September The Future will appear as a printed book and not just in Russia; translation rights have already been bought in Germany, Italy, Poland and other countries. But, he is not going to constrain himself to ‘normal publication’ for as he says, “Literature is not a business. It is an attempt to infect others with your emotions and ideas. It’s a virus. My task is to infect as many people as possible.”