Interactive Fiction Gets Another Run

Habitual readers agree: nothing can transport you in quite the same way as a novel. The experience is not possible to duplicate. And, anyway, why would you want to? But what about something that does not try to duplicate it, but rather takes elemIMG_6590ents of the novel-reading experience and wraps it into something new? Some of these are already in play. From The Economist:

IAIN PEARS’s new novel “Arcadia” comes as a 600-page hardback, as befits the current trend for literary doorstoppers. But that’s not how the book was conceived and written. “Arcadia” the app, came first, and is another creature altogether. The e-novel gathers up ten characters in three different worlds, and presents them as a skein of coloured, intersecting lines. Short bursts of text propel the characters onward, or across into another storyline: the choice depends upon the reader.

This is not a standard “choose your adventure” book, however. Mr Pears, the best-selling author of “An Instance of the Fingerpost”, had a more radical project in mind. What is unique about “Arcadia”—and intriguing as an experiment in interactive fiction—is the fact that each reader experiences the story differently. Mr Pears controls the story universe, but how readers weave the three tales—pastoral utopia, 1950s Oxford and dystopian future—is deeply individual. “There are readers who are ‘acrossers’ and others who are ‘up and downers’,” says Henry Volans, director of Faber Press, a division of the app’s publisher, Faber & Faber. “It’s meant to be a rabbit hole that encourages all sorts of reading.”

Until now, most e-reading has been static, or pepped up with audio or video enhancements. Mr Pears’s attempt to break from the physical page is subtle, but nonetheless bold. His time-travelling tale is, among other things, a metafictional meditation on storytelling. What is cause, what effect? Do we make our stories, or do our stories make us? Its digital form brilliantly expresses the parallels, overlapping paths and coincidences that are his story’s subject. Reading forward, then doubling back, following a different character to a point where many paths cross, the reader experiences the same events through multiple eyes. Recognition brings a satisfying shock: a sort of enhanced déjà vu, as the story solders itself in the mind.

News Reporter

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