Embracing Your Future…The EBM

Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain—Leonardo daVinci

You pause at the front door of the eco-house that you and your partner designed in Vancouver’s Point Grey and pull up the collar of your jacket. The air is fresh with the promise of snow and you smile with thoughts of spring skiing at Whistler.

You glance at the time display on your Smart Glasses. You’ve decided to forego the WaveGate and walk to the café; you have plenty of time to walk through the hilly forested streets, with a view of English Bay. You want to check out the refurbished solar-house on Locarno Cresent that your company helped design. Based on a living model of Biomimicry, the house is the latest iteration of your company’s “symbiosis” model of 100% sustainability, in which people live in a cooperative and synergistic partnership with their environment. The house is an intelligent organic facility with self-cleaning floors and walls; heated, fueled and lit by organisms in a commensal relationship. Everything works on a natural cycle of harmonious renewal and natural evolution. You smile, rather self-pleased. It has taken you a few years to convince the city council to accept this new model in community design. Now, it’s happening everywhere.

It’s April 12, 2074. A special day. And a special year. The year of the wooden horse in the Chinese calendar. Also called the green horse, it’s associated with spring, growth and vitality. The horse symbolizes nobility, class speed and perseverance. Horse energy is pure unbridled spirit. Playful, wild and independent, the horse has a refined instinct that flows through action and movement. Together, these symbols promise both chaos and great opportunity. And transformation.

The year of the wooden horse only occurs every sixty years. And sixty years ago today your mom turned sixty. You release a boyish grin at what you intend to do in celebration. On that day, sixty years ago, she celebrated her sixtieth birthday with the release of Natural Selection, her collection of speculative short stories about human evolution, AI, genetic manipulation, transhumanism, and the human-‘machine’ interface. She also celebrated the local printing of Metaverse, the third book of her space detective trilogy, The Splintered Universe. It was the second book to be printed by Toronto Public Library’s newly acquired Espresso Book Machine; one of only two EBMs in Toronto at the time.

A smile slants across your face as you remember what libraries and bookstores used to look like then. Both were struggling with a changing paradigm of reading, writing and publishing. Many of the older folk feared that books—print books, particularly—were going extinct as more exciting channels of communication like videos, interactive games and instant social networking took over. Of course, that didn’t happen. “Story” and “storytelling” were simply evolving and the paradigm shift simply embraced a new model that incorporated more diverse expression. You remember conversations with your mom about Chapters-Indigo, whose face changed from a bookstore to a gift store and tchotchke filled more and more of the storefront. As large bookstores struggled to dominate, the EBM—like its lithe mammal cousins in the Cenozoic Era—created a new niche for itself: the book ATM.

The size of a Smart Car, the EBM could fit nicely in a stylish café, housing and dispensing—Tardis-style—many more books than its diminutive size. In 2014, the EBM carried over eight million titles, including commercial books and out-of print gems. That number has tripled as virtually every publisher embraced the Book ATM model to sell books.

You inhale the tantalizing aroma of freshly ground and brewed coffee before you reach Zardoz Café. The retro-style café is a converted Edwardian-style house with high arched windows and a living roof overlooked by tall sycamore trees. You climb the stairs and enter the café. Its 2020’s style interior that your company helped design is decorated in earthy tones, avant-garde art, a forest of dracaenas and ferns and a stepped creek, complete with goldfish and crayfish. A shiny brass Elektra Belle Epoque espresso maker sits at the bar, bestowing the finest fair trade coffee.

Your sweeping gaze notes several people at the small round tables, enjoying good coffee and conversation; your special guest hasn’t arrived yet. You spot the WaveGate at the back, resembling an old English pay phone. Next to it sits the EBM. Eager to do your deed before your guest arrives, you sidle to the coffee bar and catch Grace’s eye. She smiles; you’re a regular. You touch her wrist with your watch and the data passes onto her embedded interface. She taps her hand to process the book order—she insists that you not pay—then she makes your double-shot espresso—the old-fashioned way. As she grinds and taps and runs the machine, you and she chat about skiing this spring. Just as Grace hands you a perfect crema-topped espresso, the WaveGate shimmers briefly and then its door opens like an accordian.

Your mom emerges from the “tardis”, smartly dressed in an early-century blazer and skirt, and grinning like an urchin. She resembles the seventeenth Doctor a bit, you decide—the first female Doctor Who, finally! Somehow—you don’t know how she does it—her old-fashioned style manages to embrace “retro-cool”. She’s arrived from Switzerland, where she is house and cat-sitting for good friends in Gruyeres. From there she still commutes—Tardis-style—as sessional lecturer at the University of Toronto, where she maintains a tiny book-festooned office.

“Kevy!” she squeals like a girl, obviously happy to see you. You don’t cringe; you’ve grown accustomed to the ripples of interest your mom’s unalloyed enthusiasm usually creates.

“Happy birthday, Mom!” You seize her in a hug. “I’m glad you made it for your 120th birthday.” Traveling the WaveGate suits her, you consider.

“I like the tardis better than you, I think,” she says, smiling sideways at you with knowing. She’s right; you prefer the old-fashioned way of traveling, without having to reconfigure your molecules from one place to another. In fact, you prefer the old-fashioned way of doing a lot of things, you decide with an inner smile.

“I have a surprise for you, Mom,” you say with a knowing grin. Your mom likes surprises. Her eyes light up and she beams at you. You glance at Grace with a conspiratorial look. She takes the cue and starts the EBM.

“Over here,” you say, steering your mom toward the EBM, already humming like an old tomcat getting its chin scratched. Your mom bends down to watch the pages spew out of the paper holder and stack neatly in a tray, then get snatched by robotic fingers as a colour cover is created then laid below, ready to envelope the book interior. After the gluing and binding, the robots trim the book on three sides then summarily send it sliding out a chute on the side.

Your mom has guessed what the book is; but she still squeals with glee when she sees it. It’s Metaverse, of course; the book she first had printed on the EBM in Toronto’s Public Library sixty years ago on her birthday.

“I just thought you’d like another book,” you say with a laugh. Like she needs another book. But this one’s special; it’s sixty years old today. Just like she was, sixty years ago—today. You pull out your PAL and point at your mom, as she seizes the perfectly bound book. “Let me take your picture!”

She poses with the book, looking like a kid with candy. You check the image and laugh. “There it is. You don’t look a year over sixty!” You grin at your 120-year old mother.

“And you don’t look a day over twenty-three!” she teases back. You give her a slanted smile. You’re eighty-three. Beaming, she goes on, “I remember doing this exact thing sixty years ago in Toronto! Those same feelings of overwhelming gratitude and wonder are still there,” she confides. “I remember telling the CBC reporter who covered the EBM launch that it felt like a birthing.” She throws me a crooked grin. “Only the labour was on the computer instead of in the hospital!”

Visibly pleased and touched, she snatches me in a bear hug.

“This is the best present a mom could get from her son. Thanks for remembering. It’s been an incredible ride and it’s all been worth it.”

“Join me in a coffee; then I have a house to show you…” you say, smiling with pride.

The Espresso Book Machine

Many bookstores, libraries, and universities around the world are hosting the Espresso Book Machine® (EBM) by On Demand Books LLC (and associated with Lightning-Ingram). The EBM makes millions of titles available via the EspressNet® software and produces quality paperbacks in minutes at point of sale. The EBM is not a print-on-demand solution, but a powerful new digital-to-print channel that eliminates lost sales due to out-of-stock inventory or the hassle of returns.

Advantages:

  • Readers: millions of books, multiple languages, made on demand for you.
  • Bookstores, Libraries and other Retailers: sell (or lend) more titles without the extra inventory; capture the growing self-publishing market.
  • Publishers: the EBM offers an additional sales channel and greater visibility to a publisher’s titles. It also avoids out-of-stocks and eliminates returns.
  • Authors: earn additional income otherwise lost through the used-book market.

Old maple tree in Jackson Creek Park in December snow, ON (photo and dry brush rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Celebrating 2014, the Year of the Horse

nina-2015-BWgrainJanuary 31st of 2014 begins the Year of the Wood Horse in the Chinese calendar as part of the sexagenary cycle of sixty 2-character terms. Each term (representing a year) consists of a “Heavenly stem” character and an “Earthly-branch” character; these combine to generate 60 unique terms that then repeat; in this case every 60 years. This means that the Year of the Wood Horse will only occur every 60 years.

I was born 60 years ago, so this is very much my year!

The Horse (馬 午)

In Chinese culture, the Horse symbolizes nobility, class, speed and perseverance.

The magical horse is heroic, strong and can fly. Think Pegasus, Tianma, Sleipnir, Epona’s horses, the Hippocamp, the white horse of Rhiannon, the unicorn, the dragon-horse of Xuanzang, the kelpie, and the bailongma. The white celestial cloud horse, sacred to the Chinese Goddess Kwan Yin—goddess of compassion—flies in the heavens and brings peace and blessings. The horse is linked to Varuna and equated to the cosmos. The white horse is also believed to be the last incarnation of Vishnu. Buddha is said to have left this physical plane riding a white horse.

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Nina hiking (photo by Merridy Cox)

Horses love to run, or fly in the case of mythic horses. They love freedom. They’re sexy, elegant and beautiful and embody the qualities of power, grace, nobility, strength, victory and freedom. In Native American lore, the horse symbol combines the grounded power of the earth with the whispers of wisdom found in the spirit wind. The Celts considered the horse noble, embodying qualities of stability, honor, trust, intelligence and strength. The horse was considered a vehicle and guide for transcendence, able to invoke courage and determination. The Celtic Ogham equates the horse with the Oak tree (a strong, stable life-affirming symbol, recognized for its tendency to attract lightning, symbolic of divine light and spiritual rebirth).

Some metaphysical writings describe the Horse as a “triangle” or “trinity” of hypostases: 1) bearing the gift of presence, elegance, and journey; 2) offering the energy of freedom, nomadic spirit, and endurance; and 3) holding the magic of telepathy and spirit messenger.

The Wood Horse (木馬 午)

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Nina leans against giant cedar in Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Anne Voute)

2014 isn’t just the year of the Horse; it is the year of the Wood Horse, also called the Green Horse (wood being related to a growing tree and the color of young growth). The wood element is associated with spring, growth and vitality.

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Mossy cedar tree, Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Mossy cedar, Revelstoke Park, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Wood represents the first phase of Wu Xing, an ancient mnemonic for systems with five stages or movements, used to explain a diversity of phenomena from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicines. The five elements include wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

As one of the generative cyclical engendering five elements, wood feeds fire; fire creates Earth (ash); Earth bears metal; metal enriches water (e.g., water with minerals is more beneficial to the body than pure water); and water nourishes wood.

Wood is yang in character and associated with the planet Jupiter (and Zeus, the god of thunder and lightning), the color blue, green, and the wind. It is also associated with the Azure Dragon (Qing Long) of the east, one of the four mythological creatures of the Chinese constellations. The Azure Dragon is represented in the Kiyomizu Temple in eastern Kyoto, Japan, where I visited in Spring 2013.

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Bamboo stand near Kyoto, Japan (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In Chinese Taoist thought, Wood is characterized by strength and flexibility (think bamboo and willow). Wood reflects qualities of warmth, generosity, co-operation and idealism. Wood heralds the beginning of life and embraces springtime and buds, sensuality and fecundity. Wood needs moisture to thrive. Wood, in turn, feeds fire. Wood burns. A Wood person is considered expansive, outgoing and socially conscious.

The wooden horse is a potent symbol. Perhaps the best known wooden horse is the Trojan Horse, used by the Greeks in the Trojan war to gain entry into Troy and destroy the city. As told in the Latin epic poem The Aeneid by Virgil: after a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse—the emblem of Troy—and hid soldiers inside then pretended to leave. The horse was apparently left as a peace offering to the Trojans and to the goddess Athena to ensure safe passage home. Despite the priest Loacoon’s warning—“Don’t trust the horse! I fear Greeks, even those bearing gifts”—the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the elite force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the army, which had hidden under cover of night. The Greeks won the conflict as a result of this brilliant subterfuge. This is why malicious computer programs that trick users into running them as useful or interesting are called Trojan Horses.

Today, the Trojan Horse that stands in front of ancient Troy (Truva) symbolizes vigilant peace and freedom. It is a daily reminder to thousands of tourists of the power of deception in the guise of candy-coated “truths”. The ancient Greeks cleverly subverted a noble symbol of honor, grace and power through crafty deception. The noble Wooden Horse, like any symbol, is only as good as those who embrace its original truths and noble meanings. Think swastika, the pentagram, the cross.

Were you born in the year of the horse?

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Nina’s sugar maple in Little Rouge River woodland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Horse years include: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, 1918, and 1906. Horse people are bright, cheerful, popular and fun loving (big giant grin). People born in the Year of the Horse are smart fabulous speakers who have a gift for getting through to other people. They find people and crowds exciting and love parties. Hehe… Horse’s childish innocence, sunny disposition, and natural charm attract many friends. HAR! The horse is a very intuitive animal; horse-people follow their hunches. Luckily our keen judgment and natural intuition help us make the right decisions with those crazy hunches.

Rules constrain the proud horse that needs freedom to run. Horses are elegant, beautiful and highly intuitive animals. Horse people are frank and will tell you exactly what is on their mind; they dislike hidden agendas. The Horse is complex and paradoxical: considered proud yet sweet-natured, arrogant yet oddly modest in their approach to love, envious but tolerant, conceited yet humble. They want to belong, yet they need to be independent. They crave intimacy, yet refuse to be corralled or tamed. One astrologer tells us that, “The Horse will give up everything for love.”

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Nina hiking Highland Creek, Ontario (photo by Merridy Cox)

What does it all mean?…

So, what does all of this have to do with you, 2014 and the Year of the Horse? Why, nothing… Perhaps everything.

It depends on whether you are mindful of the symbols around you; whether you think and write metaphorically; whether you are fanciful and whimsical; whether you appreciate the ancient wisdom of humanity and its link to the divine… Whatever your inclination, I wish you a wonderful and productive year of transformation and wonderful surprises. I for one am looking forward to 2014. I’ve embraced it as my year with its spontaneous “horse” energy for fast action and flow—my style, actually.

I expect no middle ground. It’s a year of extremes, strong fluctuations, general chaos and great opportunity. A time of fast victories and unexpected adventure. A year to travel, especially off the beaten path. A year to connect with Nature and embrace Gaia’s radiant energy. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory. But you have to act fast to catch up with this horse. My book about water, which I started last year (the year of the water snake), will run its course to publication this year. It is half-written and I will finish it—and get it published—this year.

Horse energy is pure unbridled spirit. Playful, wild, and independent. Horse has a refined instinct that flows through action and movement. Leap. Fly. Follow your instincts. Chase your dream. Catch it by the tail. Finish that novel. Send it off. Present that proposal. Go to that convention. Meet that publisher or agent. Assert your honesty and openness. The horse demands it.

I wish you an exciting and wonderful 2014!

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.