Fein, Esther B. “Read It, and It’s Gone.”

Rev. of Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, by William Gibson. Book Notes, New York Times 18 Nov. 1992: C26.

Short item in the Book Notes column of the Times about the book (“and the word is used in the loosest sense possible”) contemporary to its release. Includes a description of the book and Gibson’s scrolling poem based on announcements from, and an interview with, the publisher.

The “Read It, and It’s Gone” item, excerpted from the Book Notes column:

Social and literary critics and been musing for years over this question: Is the book disappearing?
In the case of “Agrippa: A Book of the Dead,” the answer, literally, is yes.

The book — and the word is used in the loosest sense possible — is a metallic box with a flashing green light and a liquid-crystal display readout. Inside is a bound volume with a distressed cover that contains etchings by Dennis Ashbaugh printed in an ink that mutates when the pictures are exposed to light. Buried in a hollowed-out trove in the back of the book is a computer disk, which contains a new autobiographical novel by William Gibson, the author of “Neuromancer” and the dean of cyberpunk science fiction, and a code that causes the text to self-destruct after it has been read once.

“We are trying to do something that highlights the changes between traditional publishing and electronic publishing,” said Kevin Begos, who is bringing the book out through his company, Kevin Begos Publishing. Only 455 copies of “Agrippa” will be published, in three limited editions that range in price from $450 to about $7,500 for a deluxe copy in a bronze case.

Once the disk is activated, the story scrolls on the screen at a preset pace. There is no way to slow it down, speed it up, copy it or remove the encryption that ultimately causes it to disappear, Mr. Begos said.

Adding to the game of it all, on Dec. 9, the story will be available through a limited number of computer bulletin boards. “Theoretically,” Mr. Begos said, “those are also encoded and protected so that the program will destroy itself after each person reads it.”

Anyone who buys the book will have to decide whether to enjoy its content or save it as a collector’s item. “It depends which experience is more important to you,” Mr. Begos said, “owning it or being part of the experience.”

“Some people have said that they think this is a scam or pure hype,” he added. “Maybe fun, maybe interesting, but still a scam. But Gibson thinks of it as becoming a memory, which he believes is more real than anything you can actually see.