Wednesday, January 19, 2011

E-Paper: A Precursor to Protean Paper

In my previous blog post on "accidental plagiarism," I included the full text of the story "How to be a Fictionaut, Chapter 19: Safety Check" by Ian Watson; the story was originally published in the April 1996 issue of Interzone. And if you hang in there with me on this blog post, you'll find the text of yet another story included in its entirety.

I was going to include the following entry in my month-end Links & Things, but I decided, instead, to dedicate an entire blog post to the subject....

As reported in the Asian journal Tech-On!, Sony Corp exhibited a 13.3-inch flexible electronic paper (e-paper) device at Eco-Products 2010, a trade show on green technologies held in Tokyo, December 9-11, 2010. This was the first time that the e-paper device had been displayed publicly. Sony evidently had little to say of this new device. However, Alan Henry, in an article for, writes: "The [device] is designed to be a prototype for a gadget that could display images and text in high resolution and possibly someday replace traditional paper in a thin, flexible, and portable way.... Sony also didn't note whether the technology would be coming to any future product, but we can assume they wouldn't put it on display if they weren't thinking about it." Alan states in the article that he used to work in lab "helping design and test thin-film circuitry" that could be used to create "flexible displays that could be mounted on clothing or on other malleable surfaces like backpacks or briefcases."

The Silver GryphonSony's e-paper, and Alan Henry's comment about flexible displays mounted on surfaces like backpacks and briefcases, all reminded me of a story by Paul Di Filippo entitled "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" This story was Paul's contribution to anthology The Silver Gryphon, which I co-edited with publisher Gary Turner (Golden Gryphon Press, 2003). The Silver Gryphon marked the twenty-fifth book -- as in the silver (25th) anniversary -- from the press and included contributions from all the authors who comprised the first twenty-four books. These authors included Kevin J. Anderson, Kage Baker, Michael Bishop, Andy Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, James Patrick Kelly, Joe R. Lansdale, Robert Reed, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop, and others -- 20 authors/20 stories, with cover art by Thomas Canty.1

If you're not familiar with Paul Di Filippo's work, let me share a quote with you from Harlan Ellison. Prior to his "farewell appearance" at Madcon (September 24-26, 2010), HE was interviewed in Isthmus's The Daily Page on September 23. When asked about his "unfinished work," Harlan had this to say:
"My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three-quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I'm concerned. Or God forbid, James Patterson or Judith Krantz should get a hold of The Man Who Looked for Sweetness, which is sitting up on my desk, and try to finish it, anticipating what Ellison was thinking -- no! Goddammit."

So, Harlan Ellison considers Paul Di Filippo "just about the best writer in America." As for me, well... I was intrigued enough with Paul's writing to acquire and edit a collection of his short stories: Strange Trades -- from Golden Gryphon Press, 2001 -- but I'll leave the discussion of that collection for a possible future blog post.

But back to e-paper and Paul's story... "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" stars Bash (short for "Basho"; named after the famous Haiku master) Applebrook, a loner and geek prodigy. From the story:

But from his earliest years Bash exhibited a fascination with computers and their contents.... Bash zipped through public schools, skipping several grades, and enrolled at MIT at age fifteen.... During his senior year on campus he encountered his most important success in the field of moletronics, the science of manipulating addressable molecules, when he managed to produce the first fully functional sheet of proteopape.

Alone late one night in a lab, Bash dipped a standard blank sheet of high-quality dumbpaper into a special bath where it absorbed a tailored mix of dopant molecules.... Removing the paper, Bash placed it in a second tub of liquid. This tub featured a lattice of STM tweezers obedient to computer control. Bash sent a large file into the tub's controllers, and, gripping hold of each doped molecule with invisible force pincers, the device laid down intricate circuitry templates into the very molecules of the paper.

Junctions bloomed, MEMS proliferated. Memory, processors, sensors, a GPS unit, solar cells, rechargeable batteries, speakers, pixels, a camera and wireless modem: all arrayed themselves invisibly and microscopically throughout the sheet of paper.

Thus was born "protean paper," or, as a web-journalist (nowadays remembered for nothing else but this coinage) later dubbed it, "proteopape." Bash's miraculous process added merely hundredths of a cent to each piece of paper processed. For this token price, one ended up with a sheet of proteopape that possessed magnitudes more processing power than an old-line supercomputer. In effect, Bash had created flexible, weightless computers practically too cheap to sell.

Proteopape became an international sensation, making Bash the richest man in the world. Proteopape was used for everything from newspapers and signage to sun shades for cars. In one scene Bash cuts himself shaving: "He put a proteopape band-aid on the cut, and the band-aid instantly assumed the exact texture and coloration of the skin it covered (with cut edited out), becoming effectively invisible. Bash's shower curtain was more proteopape, laminated and featuring a loop of the Louisiana rainforest, complete with muted soundtrack."

However, in an alcohol-and-drug-influenced lustful evening, Bash inadvertently reveals a backdoor in the proteopape code to his female lust interest who later, feeling jilted, hijacks the code. Thus begins Bash's efforts to regain control of proteopape. Bash "pictured schools, businesses, transportation and government agencies all brought to a grinding halt as their proteopape systems crashed. Proteopape figured omnipresently in the year 2029. So deeply had it insinuated itself into daily life that even Bash could not keep track of all its uses. If proteopape went down, it would take the global economy with it."

"What's Up, Tiger Lily?" is just over 13,000 words, so it's a hearty read; nevertheless, I don't want to reveal any more of the story just in case you choose to read it. Aside from The Silver Gryphon, the story can be found in Paul's short fiction collection Neutrino Drag (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2004), and in Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (Tachyon Publications, 2007).

So if you have one of these three books, then you've probably already read Paul's story. Otherwise, the entire "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" is available for your reading pleasure as a PDF via Google Docs; just click on that link. And a special "thank you" to Paul Di Filippo for his most gracious permission to post the story here in its entirety, via a Creative Commons license.

[Thanks again, Paul!]


1 If The Silver Gryphon anthology interests you -- and you are also a book collector -- you might want to track down one of the 100 copies of the signed and numbered, slipcased editions. Each is autographed by all twenty authors, the two editors, and cover artist Thomas Canty. (As the artist is a bit of a recluse -- and I mean that in the most positive way, because he's always at home working on a new project -- a signed Thomas Canty anything is most rare.) And, if you're extremely lucky, you may be able to locate one of the 9 signed and slipcased lettered editions that contains an original Canty sketch on the limitation page. Good luck with that one!

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