E-Books or Realbooks for a Space Colony

colonizationHTImagine you were planning on leaving your safe happy homeworld and going to found a new space colony. Do you ever think about things like that? I like to, and I like to read books about it as well. (The book cover illustrates one of the books in Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar/Colonization series which has the twist that the colonizers are aliens and the world colonized is Earth.)

But think for a moment about what it would be like to go to a new space colony that would be spending its first 50-100 years under harsh, primitive conditions. No aid packages from back home on Earth except for the occasional bit of emergency medical supplies. No new people until the 250 colonists start having babies. How would you keep your culture and your literate traditions alive in such a circumstance?

Let’s set these groundrules: there are strict weight limits to what your colony can have in the way of the one form of entertainment you can have: books. Either you can have a community library of 500 real, paper books, or you can have 5 e-readers with 600 e-books on each (the same 600), and the means to recharge those e-readers.

Let us also say that the paper books are designed to last 100 years at least, as are the e-readers and the recharger. How do you make your choice?


The advantage here is that you get 100 extra books. Pretty good if those are all the books you can read forever— more books is better. In addition, let us say the e-reader has the standard capacity to increase the text size. That will be of great help to aging colonists someday. With printed books, they will be restricted to any that are large print— and those large-print books might be too heavy for a frail elderly person.


Forget the concern that realbooks look, feel or smell nicer. On a primitive colony that won’t make much difference. But imagine some stormy night when there is little to do besides read? With E-readers, five people at a time can read. With real books, all 250 initial colonists could read at the same time.

Now, of course, with e-readers you could have someone read aloud to others. Up to 5 someones, in fact. But while hearing books read is nice, it’s not the same as reading them yourself. It also doesn’t contribute too much to continuing a literate culture, any more than watching movies and television shows based on books turns us all into readers.

Each option has advantages and disadvantages, probably more than I’ve thought of. Can you think of any concerns I haven’t mentioned? What factors would you use to come up with a decision on which option your colony will go with?

And remember, whichever you choose, you and 249 other people will have to live with your choice for the rest of your life. So what do you choose?

Bonus question: if you got to pick 5 books for the colony, which would you pick? (If a good Bible translation is important to you, which Bible translation would you pick, in addition to those 5 books?)

My books would include Gone With The Wind, Lord of the Rings (1 volume edition), Jane Eyre, and World War Z, and my Bible translation pick would be a King James Version with ‘Apocrypha’ (unless they’ve come out with a King James Catholic Edition).


2 thoughts on “E-Books or Realbooks for a Space Colony

  1. 5 e-readers for 250 people? That’s far too few! Anyway, physical books are much better for children’s developing brains. I’d go for the physical books, even though they might start to fall apart after 100 years of use. But hopefully by then someone would have come up with a way to print new ones.

  2. I’m presuming the recharging equipment and the power-generating equipment would be heavy and so there would be fewer e-readers to go around. Either way, anything other than 1000 real books per colonist is pretty dire. But then, so is the no-flush-toilets thing. (I know, my septic tank froze up one winter and I had to go out in the snow several times a night.)

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