Len Deighton’s "Bomber", the first book ever written on a word processor

A post from 2013 about the first novel ever written on a word processor. This was triggered after a twitter post by Pulp Librarian about the topic.

Would best-selling novelist Len Deighton care to take a walk? It was 1968, and the IBM technician who serviced Deighton’s typewriters had just heard from Deighton’s personal assistant, Ms. Ellenor Handley, that she had been retyping chapter drafts for his book in progress dozens of times over. IBM had a machine that could help, the technician mentioned. They were being used in the new ultramodern Shell Centre on the south bank of the Thames, not far from his Merrick Square home.

A few weeks later, Deighton stood outside his Georgian terrace home and watched as workers removed a window so that a 200-pound unit could be hoisted inside with a crane. The machine was IBM’s MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter), sold in the European market as the MT72. “Standing in the leafy square in which I lived, watching all this activity, I had a moment of doubt,” the author, now 84, told me in a recent email. “I was beginning to think that I had chosen a rather unusual way to write books.”

Today, of course, many—surely most—fiction writers work with computers, laptops, and word processors just like the rest of us. Literary scholarship generally credits Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi with being the first manuscript submitted to a publisher in typewritten form. Would it be possible, I wondered when I began my research into the literary history of word processing a year and a half ago, to locate a corresponding first for the digital age? The answer turns out to be the book Deighton published in 1970 with the aid of the MTST: a curiously apropos novel about World War II, titled Bomber .


Great story! (By contrast, William Gibson used a 1930s manual typewriter to write Neuromancer, published in 1984.)

Some detail from wikipedia on the machine:

The IBM MT/ST was a model of the IBM Selectric typewriter, built into its own desk, integrated with magnetic tape recording and playback facilities, located in an attached enclosure, with controls and a bank of relays. It was released by IBM in 1964. It recorded text typed on 1/2" perforated magnetic tape, approximately 25 kilobytes per tape cassette, and allowed editing and re-recording during playback. It was the first system marketed as a word processor. Most models had two tape drives, which greatly facilitated revision and enabled features such as mail merge. An add-on module added a third tape station, to record the combined output of playback from the two stations.
The MT/ST automated word wrap, but it had no screen, automated hyphenation (soft hyphens were available), or concept of the page; pages had to be divided and numbered by the human operator during playback

Photo of the machine in this downstream piece:

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Seven years earlier, J. G. Ballard had already described a more advanced IBM machine than the MT72: the Verse Transcriber (VT). This machine produced poems after entering start parameters or did things like a transliteration of
James Joyce’s Ulysses in Greek terms to compare the result with Homer’s original.