My ebooks: sales, prices, reviews

I handed over my ebook pricing to a publisher in return for having them perform some sales magic.  The magic appears to be working.  First they made Senator free on Amazon, which got it near the top of the top of the “sales” list for free political novels.  Then they raised the price to $0.99, and now it’s up to $2.99.  In the meantime it’s gotten a bunch of great reviews.  Here’s a five-star review I liked because, when I started reading it, I had no idea how it could possibly end up being a five-star review:

The beginning of this book put me off. I generally do not care for novels written in the first person, and the first chapters were tedious, another overworked story of the dead mistress whose murder threatens to ruin her high-placed lover. However, once all of the players were identified, I found myself relating to the protagonists and many supporting characters on the same kind of personal level as when I first read Presumed Innocent so many years ago. Bowker creates the flawed hero of the classics, a man driven on the one hand by ambition and on the other,by a sense of honor. Even at the end, the Senator possessed strengths and weaknesses that are not entirely resolved. In other words, he is human. This is not just a fine tuned murder mystery, it is a journey into the very complex issues of guilt and innocence-good and evil. For nearly a quarter century, I was a prosecutor of serious felonies, a position not without personal as well as professional challenges. It was not uncommon for me to sometimes relate to the defendant sitting one chair away at counsel table on a very human level. That did not change the nature of my mission–I was considered a tough prosecutor– but it made me reflect upon the difference between the concept of legal guilt and that of moral evil. This is not a story in which the murderer is arrested, tried and convicted, but its resolution is gratifying. In the past 18 months I have downloaded more than 415 books on my Kindle, and read all but a very few. This is one of the better ones, perhaps when it comes to a political mystery, the very best.

Anyway, Senator is now #22 for political genre fiction on the Kindle store, in between a couple of novels by Vince Flynn–should I know who he is?–and two positions ahead of a volume containing Animal Farm and 1984, with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens.  Yoicks!  The book is also #2515 on the overall Kindle bestseller list.

So that’s pretty good!  On the other hand, my other current ebooks, Summit, Pontiff, and Replica, are still mired in the lower reaches of the Kindle sales list.  Maybe it’s time for my ebook publisher to do something about them.  You can help, of course.  If you’ve read any of them and liked it, please write a review!  It doesn’t have to be as detailed as the one I quoted above.  Reviews on other sites besides Amazon are also welcome.

Books without any reviews just seem sort of lonely.  No one wants to hang with them.  They eat lunch by themselves in the cafeteria.  They go home and watch infomercials on high-number cable channels.  They buy costume jewelry from QVC.

Please consider helping them out.  They will be forever grateful.

Rule 9: Strive to eliminate skimming

Here’s another in my randomly numbered rules for fiction writing, which apply to folks who aren’t good enough to break the rules.  That includes you.  And me.

This rule came to mind as I considered the Ohlin/Giraldi bad review controversy, which I wrote about here (and which generated a lot of search hits–it’s a popular topic!).  First, there was the review itself.  When I read a book review, what I want to find out is whether the book is worth reading–not whether the reviewer is clever.  So I found myself skimming the first paragraph, which quotes Ezra Pound and throws in references to Middlemarch and Don Quixote and calls entirely too much attention to itself.  Just tell me about the book!

But when he finally does start to discuss Ohlin’s work, he makes what seem to be valid points.  If an author’s prose is flabby–if her descriptions and narrative are filled with clichés–then why bother reading that prose?  If I ever do read the book, I know I’m going to start skimming. (Of course, I did read the first chapter of Ohlin’s novel and didn’t skim, which makes me wonder if the reviewer was overstating his case.)

If readers aren’t going to read your words, why bother writing them?  The only way you’re going to find out if readers are skimming is to get yourself some readers–and that’s another rule, which I haven’t written yet–maybe because it’s so obvious. Short of that, here are some things worth thinking about–at least, they’re the kind of things I think about:

  • Have I eliminated all unnecessary words?  This is standard writing hygiene.  Make every word count.  Don’t say “in order to” if you can just say “to”; don’t say “all of” if you can just say “all”.  It makes the prose tighter and clearer.
  • Have I right-sized my descriptions?  This probably deserves to be yet another rule, but the idea is to make your description the length that is appropriate for the significance to the story of the person or thing or event you’re describing.  For example, minor characters don’t deserve fully developed back-stories; we don’t need to know exactly what they’re wearing or where they grew up or what their politics are.  If a meal isn’t a major event, we don’t need to know what everyone ordered and what kind of wine was served.
  • Are my descriptions too ordinary?  This is one thing Giraldi complained about. You can’t just say, “She was medium height, with brown hair, green eyes, and white teeth.”  Why bother?  Typically, a physical description has to merge into characterization.  For example, if you describe someone’s teeth are “impossibly white,” you are starting to say something about that person.
  • Have I de-clichéd my prose?  This is another Giraldi complaint.  If you’re going to say “Nice guys finish last,” you’d better have a good reason for it–for example, it could be funny or ironic in context. Otherwise it’s pure deadweight.

My first drafts tend to be underwritten–I’m too eager to get through the story and reach my destination.  I add detail and depth in succeeding drafts. But sometimes I overwrite, which will happen when you’re not sure of yourself–you’re describing a character for your own benefit, not just for your readers.  Then you need to prune ruthlessly.

I sometimes worry that I worry too much about skimming.  I recall taking out a lot of detail in the final draft of Replica, concerned that the pace was too slow for what was supposed to be a breakneck thriller.  When I re-read it recently in the process of turning it into an ebook, I thought maybe I had gone a little overboard.

There are no right answers; that’s why they call it art.

New, lower prices on my ebooks

Regular blogging will now resume.  I hope you found other ways to entertain yourself in the past week.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that my ebooks are on sale at Amazon and Barnes & Noble — and probably at other places as well.  My new publisher’s marketing scheme appears to be to set a list price of $4.99 on Amazon, and then discount from that, so the books look like they are on sale.  Which, I guess, they are.  So buy them while the prices are low.

Senator remains free. It’s been interesting to see how it has fared on the “bestseller” list of free Kindle books.  It peaked somewhere in the 100s on the overall list; now it’s down in the 800s.  For a while it was #1 in the political genre; it has now faded to #6.  It was also in the top ten for a while in the suspense genre; it is now at #24.  As the Underpants Gnomes say: Profit!!

Replica is now available for $0.99.  That’s a pretty good deal!  But has not yet broken into the top 100,000 for Kindle.  Shoot.

Pontiff and Summit are both available for $2.99.  Oddly, Pontiff is much higher on the paid Kindle bestseller list than either Replica or Summit.  I’m guessing that, at the sales level we’re talking about, a few copies can make a pretty big difference in a book’s ranking.

The ebook release of Dover Beach is going to be delayed so we can publish its sequel, whose title may or may not be Locksley Hall, at the same time.  But it shouldn’t be very long.

My goal is to get the ebooks for Forbidden Sanctuary and Marlborough Street out the door by the end of the year.

Then we’ll have a party.

Replica is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Replica is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble for the embarrassingly low price of $4.99.

Replica is a near-future thriller about creating an android replica of the president of the United States.  It’s filled with clever plot twists, interspersed with occasional reflections on what makes us human.  Here’s the prologue, which I posted once before, but admit it, you’ve forgotten it already.


It was the last day of his life, and the man in the blue nylon jacket was getting nervous.

He stood on the common, hands stuffed in his pockets. It was a little after two by the town-hall clock. He would be dead by a quarter to three.

The crowd was growing now. Lots of Norman Rockwell families: pink-cheeked grandmas, kids in snowsuits clutching balloons, strong-boned women pushing strollers. Plenty of bored, burly policemen. And the occasional gimlet-eyed man in a gray overcoat, watching.

The high school band was playing next to the temporary stage; a young woman was testing the sound system; the hot-chocolate vendors were doing terrific business. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

He hadn’t expected to be nervous. But everything was real now, and nothing can prepare you for the reality of death.

He had parked his car in a supermarket lot at the edge of town. It occurred to him that he could turn around, walk back to it, and drive away. Life would go on.

This struck him with the force of great insight. He had been anticipating this day for so long now that the idea of living it like any other day was strange and compelling.

Which would be harder: dying, or living with the knowledge that he had failed?

A helicopter swooped by, and then returned to hover overhead. The band played “From the Halls of Montezuma.”

He remembered sitting in the bleak apartment and listening to the others spin their crazy schemes. They were dreamers; worse than dreamers, because they thought they were doing something wonderful and dangerous, when all they were really doing was wasting their lives. “You’re trying to get something for nothing,” he told them, “and you’re not clever enough for that. If you want to do this, then you’ve got to be willing to risk everything—and then it becomes easy.”

But they weren’t willing. And he was. So he had left them behind, to end up here and take the risk.

He had been on the road for days. The distance to be traveled was hardly great, but he felt a need to disappear, to find some anonymity in the grimy motels and the self-service gas stations and the fast-food restaurants. Family, lovers, friends, work—it would be easier, he had thought, if he left them all far behind.

But here he was, and it was hard.

Distant sirens. Little boys had climbed the bare trees; infants were perched on parents’ shoulders, necks craned, placards waved. Flashing lights, the roar of motorcycle engines, the cheering of the crowd…

…and there he was! Yes, look, in person—something to tell your grandchildren. Reach out and maybe he’ll touch your hand!

The man in the blue nylon jacket stood in the crush and gaped like all the rest. The reality of his prey was paralyzing. The high forehead gleaming in the sunlight as if polished, the sharklike smile, the large nose red from the cold… Look, it’s him!

We’re both going to die.

He was on the stage now, waving. A local politician stood at the microphone and gestured for quiet. “It is my great privilege…”

Hard to breathe. The anger was returning before the man had spoken a word. How could they cheer him? Why couldn’t they see?

Would one of the gimlet-eyed men notice that he wasn’t cheering?

The introduction was finished; the cheers continued.

The man on the stage waited for silence, then began. Bad joke, gratitude to the crowd for coming out on such a cold January day. Then on to the substance.

“Four years ago, when I came to New Hampshire, I asked a simple question: do you think your lives are as good as those of your grandparents? As meaningful. As rich in the things that make life worth living. Now as you know, in a couple of years we will be celebrating America’s two hundred and fiftieth birthday as a nation. So today I want to ask you fine people a slightly different question: do you think your lives are as good as those of the men and women who brought this great nation into existence? They had no jets to take them across the country, no robots to do their work, no nuclear weapons to wipe out their enemies. But I think you’ll agree they had a better chance at happiness than many of us have today, a better chance to attain the dignity and self-respect that go with having a purpose in this life, even if the purpose is as basic as providing food for your family.”

How could he say that stuff—and how could the crowd listen to it? Inoculated, anesthetized, sanitized, with twice the life-span of their ancestors and half the pain, they didn’t know how good they had it. Maybe they wouldn’t know until they destroyed what they had.

“For years we have been fooling ourselves that technological progress must inevitably produce happiness. But now we have come to realize that it produces merely complexity, and tension, and fear. The technologists say: machines make life easier. I say: I don’t want my life easy; I want it real. The technologists say: you can’t pick and choose your progress. I say: why not? I’ll be happy to let them cure cancer, but I’ll be damned if they’ll force me to own a robot. The technologists say: you can’t stand in the way of the future. I say: wanna see me?”

The crowd roared. Someone slapped him on the back. He jammed his hands deeper into his pockets. He should be past trying to understand or to argue now. He should just get ready to do what had to be done.

“And now they are going beyond even robots; they are putting robot brains into living human flesh. They call these creatures androids. I call them the work of the devil, and if I do nothing else during my second administration, I am going to see that their manufacture and sale is made illegal in this great nation.”

As he watched and listened, the speaker’s head seemed to grow until it filled his field of vision. He imagined it exploding, like a ripe melon dropped on concrete. He imagined the screams and the terror, the hands pointing at him, grappling with him; imagined everything as he had imagined it a hundred times before. But he had run out of time for imagining now; reality was here, ready. He had only to seize it.

He didn’t move, and the speech continued.

“I know many of you have been put out of work by robots and similar machines. And in trying to get the jobs that remain, you find yourself competing with immigrants who are willing to work for pennies. Now, contrary to what my opponents are always saying, I have nothing against immigrants. When the wars of the millennium broke out, it was right and fitting that we extended our generosity to their victims. But over twenty years have passed, and we are still paying the price for our good deeds. I say: enough is enough! Let’s put a stop to immigration! Let’s call a halt to the incursions of technology on the quality of our lives! Let’s regain control of our nation!”

Cindy Skerritt. He hadn’t thought about her in years. He wondered how she was doing. Still living in Montpelier? Still fooling around with those stupid Tarot cards? Geez, they had had some good times together. Why did they ever break up? He could be in Montpelier by nightfall.

He could turn around, walk back to his car, and drive away.

He didn’t want to die.

Maybe he could kill the man and still escape. Why not? He wouldn’t miss. He knew he wouldn’t miss.

The common was overrun with Secret Service agents. He had even seen one with a robot scanner; they were convinced a techie was going to send out a robot to do the deed. But they couldn’t be everywhere, couldn’t watch everything. He just needed a little distance.

He made his way through the crowd out onto the sidewalk. It was full of cops standing next to their cycles, waiting for the motorcade to resume. He crossed the street. A few people were perched on the steps of town hall. He looked around. There was nobody by the Methodist church. He sauntered over to it and turned. He was almost directly behind the stage now, and he no longer had a clear shot.

But he wouldn’t miss.

He climbed the stairs and stood in front of the white double doors. He casually tried them. They were unlocked. He opened one a little and stepped back inside. The stage was still visible, his target still there, head bobbing slightly as he reached the climax of his oration.

His dying words.

“I truly believe that for the first time in generations we are headed in the right direction—toward an America that is more concerned with its people than with its machines, more concerned with its spiritual well-being than with its physical comfort, more concerned with life than with progress. If you will give me your help once again—”

He imagined walking through the streets, unnoticed in the turmoil, getting into his car, driving away. No one would even know he had been in town. Montpelier by nightfall.

And a lifetime to enjoy the memory.

He took the gun out of his pocket and lifted it into firing position. The crowd was cheering.

And the people on the stage were on their feet, applauding, surrounding the man, shaking his hand. The speech was over.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

He fired and fired and fired. Felt the arm clutching at him, heard the cheers turn to screams, saw the jumble of bodies on the stage, the pointing fingers. Then he turned and faced his attacker.

It was a minister, overweight, jowls trembling with fright. Doing his duty even though it meant he was going to die. He knew that feeling. He shrugged off the minister’s feeble grip and shot him in the face.

Blood everywhere. Had to get out of here. He raced down the center aisle of the church, taking off his bloody jacket as he ran. The place smelled of furniture polish and flowers. Had to get out. Past the pulpit, through a door, into darkness. His knee banged into something sharp. He cursed and limped ahead. He found a knob, turned it, and saw sunlight. He forced himself to run down the stairs and along the side street. Which way to his car? If he could only get to his car, everything would be all right.

He heard sirens, squealing tires. He veered onto the sidewalk and dived into a shop.

It was a drugstore, brightly lit, antiseptic. No customers—just a pharmacist, bald, skinny, terrified. He realized he still had his gun in his hand.

The clock over the counter said quarter to three.

“Rear door,” he gasped.

The pharmacist pointed past the shelves of pills. The man hurdled the counter and made his way through a storage room piled high with empty cartons. The door was bolted. He slid the bolt back and wrenched the door open. A dumpster, a car, a chain-link fence with houses beyond. He headed for the fence.

The wire ripped his pants, cut into his hands. He didn’t feel it. A Doberman was running toward him. He shot it, then noticed it was on a leash. A woman stared at him from her kitchen window.

He ran.

Had to find his car. The parking lot couldn’t be far. Montpelier by nightfall. Sirens everywhere.

Cindy, will you tell me my fortune?

His knee was on fire. Couldn’t run much farther.

Just around the corner. I’m sure it’s—

The first shot hit him in the shoulder as he reached the corner. The car wasn’t there. All he saw was flashing blue and red. He stopped and breathed the pure cold air.

The car wasn’t there.

He wanted to apologize to that woman for killing her Doberman. Reflex. Unavoidable.

The second shot hit him in the left buttock.

And a lifetime to enjoy the memory.

The third and fourth shots hit him in the spinal column and the right kneecap, respectively, and he fell to the ground. The fifth shot smashed through the rib cage and lodged in his heart.

The thing of it was, he didn’t know if he had succeeded. And now he would never know.

Rules for Writing — Rule 7: Aim for the right level of believability

Continuing our intermittent and randomly numbered series . . .

Believability in fiction is overrated.  P. G. Wodehouse novels aren’t believable.  Most of Shakespeare and Dickens isn’t believable.  Who cares?

The level of believability you want depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re writing a gritty police procedural aimed at readers who consume lots of police procedurals, you’d better make sure your police procedures are believable.  If you’re writing chick lit that involves a scene at a police station, your readers aren’t going to care very much about the details.

Accuracy is neither necessary nor sufficient for believability.  I recall John le Carré describing how he got the description wrong of the British embassy in some African country — probably inThe Constant Gardener.  Who cares, as long as the description he came up with was believable?  On the other hand, in early drafts of my fiction I’ve written descriptions and dialog that my writing group has found unbelievable — even though I took the stuff from real life.

You need to think about believability for characterization, plot, and setting.  In a realistic novel, readers will put up with outlandish plots, but the characters and setting had better ring true.  In a mystery, the plot doesn’t have to be especially believable, but the mystery and its solution had better work.

I find that my own reactions to believability are hard to predict.  In reading 1Q84, I was perfectly happy with a plot that involved all kinds of weirdness, including a parallel universe with an alternate history and two moons (hey, I’ve written a parallel universe story myself — who hasn’t!).  I was annoyed by the idea that Japan could have a short fiction contest that attracted national attention, but I gave that plot point a pass because I don’t know anything about Japan.  I was really peeved, though, by the main character’s reaction to seeing two moons in the sky.  He keeps wondering if this is a hallucination.  He considers asking other people if they see what he’s seeing, but he’s afraid they’ll think he’s crazy.  Dammit, I kept thinking whenever this came up: This character’s not stupid.  Can’t he just read a newspaper, where they give phases of the moon as part of the weather report?  Can’t he go to the library and look in an encyclopedia?   I also wondered about gravitation and tides and such, but I’m not scientifically literate enough to worry too much about that.  Anyway, this one issue periodically marred my enjoyment of the novel.

There are always place is my novels where I find it hard to maintain complete believability. People need to do things that aren’t quite in character; I  need to set up situations that may strain credulity.  The writing craft involves recognizing these problems when they come up; if you can’t avoid them, you need to be able to paper over the crack so that no one notices.

Replica is a complex thriller with a complex technological premise.  You can get away with more hand-waving in a thriller, trusting that the reader doesn’t want to be slowed down by details.  Here are a couple of believability problems that bedeviled me when writing this novel:

  • In the world of Replica, an android is a human clone with a robotic brain inserted.  How does that work, exactly?  You can’t just hollow out the clone’s skull and insert a hard drive.  Or can you?
  • Frightened by an assassination attempt, the president wants to create an android replica of himself to replace him at public appearances.  OK, but how do you create an adult clone of someone?  You can’t just speed up the clone’s development so that you get the equivalent of a 50-year-old man in a matter of months.  Or can you?

I didn’t really solve these problems, but no one complained.  Maybe no one noticed.  Maybe now they will.

The android prepares to leave his maker (an excerpt from Replica)

Here’s an excerpt from Replica

Shana is the scientist who has been kidnapped to create an android replica of the president.  Her father had lost his job to a robot, and she is still coming to terms with this.

The android knows that his consciousness of being an android is about to be suppressed so that he “becomes” the president.  The memories of his brief past, it turns out, are happier than Shana’s own childhood memories.

Replica is an in-your-face thriller.  But it ends up also being an odd sort of love story.


They took a walk one afternoon through the thin woods surrounding the back lawn. Shana knew that Gus was following them, making sure they didn’t electrocute themselves trying to escape, but she didn’t care. She was used to being watched now.

They didn’t say much. The android was probably upset that their little idyll here was coming to an end, but was afraid to say so. That was all right. She didn’t need to talk about the end of their idyll.

She watched him stop and stare at a chipmunk, run his hands over a tree trunk, pluck a leaf and rub it between thumb and forefinger. At times, he could seem so childlike. He knew so much but had experienced so little.

If he was a child, she did not want to be his parent.

She remembered taking walks with her father, holding on to his big calloused hand, struggling to keep up with his adult strides. They, too, had said little. Her father was a quiet man, until liquor fueled an explosion of rage and resentment against a world that had stripped him of his job and his dignity. She wanted so badly for him to be happy, and a wink or a smile was enough to flood her heart with joy. She rarely got either during those walks, but at least he was sober; at least he was with her. What did he think about as he trudged wordlessly with her through the park or to the supermarket for a quart of milk? It never occurred to her to wonder; a child doesn’t wonder things like that. It was enough to be together.

“You were the only thing he did right, the only thing he could be proud of,” her mother said when he was gone. “Everything else failed, except you. And then you had to take up with those computers, and it was as if you were spitting at him, making a mockery of his life. How could you do that? How?”

Look at your grandchild, Shana thought suddenly. The idea would not have brightened her parents’ day.

And then she thought: Pity the poor android. No past to comfort him, no happy childhood memories to console him, as he prepares to confront an uncaring world. She smiled grimly.

He was staring at her, probably afraid to ask what the joke was. He was right to be afraid. “I think we’ve gone far enough, Randall,” she said softly. “Time to head back.”

He obeyed without a word.

* * *

He liked the taste of the scotch. It warmed his body and seemed to warm his thoughts, too. Shana had told him to start drinking to get used to it, and that was an order he had no difficulty obeying.

Gus had brought them folding chairs, and they sat in front of the mansion next to the broad columns, sipping their drinks and listening to the birds twittering in the sunset. He could not imagine anything nicer. Except, perhaps, the same scene, with Shana happier, and no deadline facing them.

The deadline was never far from his thoughts now. It was the day on which he would die. He would have served his purpose and would therefore cease to exist except in random snatches, perhaps, yielding his place to the other being inside him who he was and was not, for whom he felt nothing more than a vague sense of ownership, a confused dislike. This was not a prospect that had bothered him before; he supposed it was coded into him not to mind. When he had merely existed in a computer, conscious only in occasional flashes of CPU time as Shana worked on him, it hadn’t mattered that he was constantly dying and being revived. But now something had changed. He had memories—memories that were intrinsically different from the artificial constructs of his Forrester database, even if they were coded identically inside him. They were different because they were his. And when he died, those memories would die with him.

He remembered his first night alive, lying awake in the darkness and wondering if he was asleep, wanting desperately to be with Shana, afraid but so excited that his fear seemed trivial. To have a body! To be real—to touch his creator! And waking up the next morning after sleep had finally taken him unawares—a moment of terror until he finally caught up with his input: a cracked ceiling, a window, sunlight, a firm mattress, soft pillow, full bladder. Alive.

Shana praising him after the first interview with Hunt.

Shana comforting him during his first thunderstorm.

The way she looked at breakfast, her hair still wet from the shower, joking about the food, her eyes sparkling with some idea that had come to her overnight.

Her sadness and her anger, and the many times he had longed to help her and never knew how. And now he would never find out.

He sipped his drink and tried not to be sad himself. There was too little time left to spend it being sad. “It’s beautiful here,” he murmured.

She nodded silently.

“I think scotch makes it even more beautiful.”

That got her to smile, and her smile paradoxically worried him so much that he had to break the fragile happiness of the moment. “When this is over, Shana, will you be all right? What will they do to you?”

She shrugged. “Don’t worry about me, Randall. It’s good of you—it’s hard for you not to—but it’s just a waste of time.”

“All right, Shana.” But it wasn’t hard; it was impossible. He gazed out at the trees and the lawn and the glorious sunset, trying not to be sad and not to worry, and he knew that no amount of beauty, no amount of scotch, would let him succeed.

Computers a block long and other hazards of near-future science fiction

If you were paying attention while reading that prolog to Replica that I posted the other day, you’d have figured out that the novel is set in about 2023.  I wrote the novel in the late 1980s.  A lot has happened since then!

A science fiction novel set in the near future is going to get things wrong.  The classic example is the 1950s novels that extrapolated computers a block long — if you think computers are big and powerful now, wait until the year 2000!  The movie (and novel) 2001: A Space Odyssey got pretty much everything wrong about 2001, if I remember correctly.

If the novel (or film) is good enough, you’ll forgive its silly predictions.  2001 wasn’t about what real life would be like in 2001, any more than 1984 was a prediction about the actual world situation in 1984.  My hope is that Replica will be exciting enough that readers will just smile at the stuff I missed.
Here is the kind of thing that comes up: early in the novel, the lead character, Shana York, is pulled into a limousine against her will while out jogging.  The man in the limousine tells her his name, but she doesn’t recognize it, or him.  So he orders the driver to pull up beside the next payphone.  He then makes Shana get out, call into some database, and search for information about him, which is displayed on the payphone’s screen. (The phonecall costs a dollar.)
This is an attempt to imagine a world in which information is much more available than in the 1980s, and telecommunications technology is much more advanced.  Video screens on payphones!
Missed it by a mile.
Not just in the context of Replica, it’s interesting to think about the ways in which the world has turned out differently from what we imagined it would be in the 1980s. Ubiquitous cellphones (particularly smartphones) and the Internet are certainly at the top of the list.  Some people might have been thinking about a “clash of civilizations” with Islam, but most of us were still worried about the Soviet Union. I don’t think most of us expected that space travel would just sort of peter out. Replica is about artificial intelligence, which was hot back then, but AI hasn’t fulfilled its promise — certainly not in the way my novel envisaged it.  Instead of robots cooking our meals, we have Samuel L. Jackson’s telling Siri on his iPhone to cancel his golf game.  Instead of android bank tellers, we have ubiquitous ATM machines. 
Is life better or worse than we imagined it?  Well, ATMs are pretty useful.  And blogs are great!  How did we live without blogs in the 80s?