Dear Fan: It Was Very Nice to Not Meet You

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Margaret Atwood was ready to take us on a journey to the future. But technology let her down--for the moment. Atwood, Canadian author of the Booker prizewinning The Blind Assassin, came up with the idea for a telerobotic writing device that permits an author to remotely inscribe books. The first public test of the LongPen, which can transmit a pen stroke written on an electronic tablet to a robotic pen-wielding arm, took place last week. Atwood, at a book fair in London, prepared to sign books across the Atlantic: in New York City and Guelph, Ont.

But a glitch spoiled the transcontinental debut. The broadband Internet connection allowed videoconferencing but not the mechanical operation of the pen. Still, Atwood is optimistic. She created Unotchit, the company that makes LongPen, to eliminate the strain of book tours, which can be exhausting, expensive and in some cases physically impossible. Atwood, 66, says that after more than 30 years of touring, she had to look ahead: "As I enter the golden years, let's face it, I will be incapable of doing that."

The technology will probably be fully functional soon. But will book buyers warm to the experience? Some who gathered for last week's demonstration at a Manhattan book store remained unconvinced. "When you go to a reading, it's exciting," said architect Anne Lewison, who thought the remote link lacked the same energy. That kind of buzz may be harder to create than the invention itself.