Hyperizons

A study of interactive reading and readership in
hyperfiction theory and practice,
with an outlook to hyperfictions' future inspired by the reading of
Sophie's World and The Pandora Directive

Lisbeth Klastup, 1997.



This dissertation was written as a part of the Masters-programme in Image Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury 1996/1997. The dissertation was supervised by lecturer Bernard Sharratt. It is currently on loan at the University of Kent University Library. For a brief introduction to the contents of the dissertation, please read the Introduction.



Readers guide: a few words on terminology and references
Introduction
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Conclusion
Bibliography


A few words on terminology and quotations

This dissertation enters a field of study where both theory and practice are still at an infant stage and during the process of writing it, I have found that I have occasionally been forced to apply a terminology and methodology of my own invention. For instance, there are no guidelines in the MLA handbook on how to annotate a hyperfiction-work and I have consequently had to decide which way would be the most logical way to annotate my quotations. Hence, to ease the reading of the paper, I offer a brief explanation of the terminology and 'quotational' practice employed in this paper

In accordance with much of the existing literature on the subject, I refer to the individual unit (screen, 'page' or 'node') in a hypertext network as a 'lexia'.

Where I have not been able to find a precise term in the literature at hand, I have invented my own terms where I found it necessary to be able to describe some of the aspects of subject in question more distinctly. As a hyperfiction 'work' tells more than one story, and since the content of the stories it can tell depends on the way the reader navigates through the web of links the hyperfiction work provides, I have chosen to call this 'entity' of both stories and structure the 'storyweb' for the sake of both brevity and terminological clarity. In these storywebs, according to the way the author has linked the web, the reader will often find himself taken back again and again to certain lexias; these I have called key-scenes. Sometimes these key-scenes are part of a progressively ordered number of lexias. Where this has been the case, I refer to this path of lexias a key-trail.

I have chosen to quote the lexias, or snippets from these, as I would quote paragraphs from a 'hardcopy' work that is: separated from my own writing by means of indentation and font size.

Since one of the principal characteristics of hypertexts is the fact that they can be read from the vantage point of whichever lexia preferred, logically it is impossible to number the lexias in a progressive order like the pages in book. Consequently, it is not possible to anchor hyperfiction quotes by referring to specific pages or chapters and I have chosen to provide the link-name and/or path where the lexia in question can be found. For instance, when the reference at the end of a quotation reads:

"Afternoon, lexia: he, he says, my emphasis"


"Afternoon" : refers to the title of the hyperfiction work,
"lexia: he, he says" : 'he, he says' refers to the name the author of the work has given this specific lexia. The lexias are ordered alphabetically under the menu-option 'Writing Spaces' in the Storyspace menubar and can be accessed directly from here by double-clicking on the lexia requested,
'my emphasis': indicates that the words in bold in the quotation have been emphasized by me, not by the author of the lexia.

Should the reader be unfamiliar with the works of Michael Joyce and Stuart Moulthrop, I recommend that they visit Eastgate's website at which it is possible to order these two fictions. Furthermore, an extract of Moulthrop's Victory Garden is accessible at http://www.eastgate.com/VG/VGStart.html. Read the introduction to Joyce's afternoon at http://www.eastgate.com/catalog/Afternoon.html. You may also visit the website linked with Sophie's World at http://www.sol.no/sofiesverden/.

I supplied the original hardcopy of this dissertation with a videotape containing a number of scenes from Sophie's World and The Pandora Directive recorded of the computer. Unfortunately, I am not able to provide this service for the WWW-readers, which might make the reading of part III somewhat less clarifying than I could have wished for. However, to my knowledge, both Sophie's World and The Pandora Directive should still be available at various computer game retailers.

 I welcome any comments or questions concerning this piece of work. Please forward them to lklastrup@hotmail.com.

 

Lisbeth Klastrup, Copenhagen, March 1999


 




Introduction

In the world of existing computer phenomena, a primitive predecessor to Gibson's cyberspace 'matrix', in the shape of hypertext structuring, is now finding its place in everyday reality. Conceptualised as early as in the 1940's by the American scientist Vannevar Bush, hypertext can be defined as the method of binding a number of documents or 'screens' together by means of links, mainly words, that when clicked on take the user to another text link elsewhere in the document or to another document altogether.

In the last few years the explosive growth of people accessing the World Wide Web seems to point in the direction of 'hypertext'-programs (and hence 'hypertext-thinking') becoming everybody's working tools, on an equal footing with word-processing programs such as Word or WordPerfect. As technology has advanced and the tools with which to create hypermedia products have become more accessible and user-friendly, the number of products have proliferated as have the number of 'critical' texts engaging with hypermedia issues. Thus, during the last decade, on parallel lines to the development of hypertextual tools, a body of more or less scholarly texts dealing with the subject from a 'theoretical' point of view has gradually emerged.

My studies of state-of-the art today of the literary variant of hypertext, hyperfiction, has revealed a gap similar to that between imagination and reality described by Gibson above: a gap between theory and practice that seems to apply to the field of hyperfiction writing. The exuberant and imaginative theoretical writings on hypertext by 'experts' such as George Landow, Jay David Bolter and Michael Joyce are in themselves somewhat fictional in character in so far as they tend to devote more space to commenting on the future prospects of hypertexts and hyperfictions than on actually analyses of current state-of-the-art work. This apparent gap between theory and practice is interesting since, as far as I can judge, it is in fact possible to do a lot of things to and with hypertexts with the programs commercially available today and hence one cannot blame technology alone for this discrepancy or lack of discussions of how to rectify present day hyperfiction writings.

This paper sets out to examine some of the hyperfiction products now on the market, as well as a number of the seminal critical texts surrounding them, in an attempt to outline some of the main issues and problems within the emerging field of the studies of hyperfiction. I will also briefly discuss which interests and which discourses from other fields of study or 'genres' have so far been influencing the discussion of what the 'virtues' of hyperfiction writing are. Thus, the main objective of this paper is to try to indicate what has remained unexplored in the theory and what might be some of the pitfalls of hyperfiction 'practice' and on the basis of this analysis to suggest what might be interesting to explore in future hyperfictions if the promises of hypertextual thinking is to be fully redeemed.

To narrow down the field of study, I have chosen specifically to focus on hyperfiction products available on CD-ROM or floppy disc. This is mainly because these products are more technically advanced and easier to work with than products downloaded from the Internet. In addition to this, these products are more closely related to the 'old fashioned' printed fictions (i.e.: books). They can be attributed to specific author(s) and in a certain sense can be said to be characterised by some kind of finitude (as it is only possible to store a limited amount of data on discs in comparison with the WWW in which in principle a hypertext structure is never-ending). This facilitates both analysis and contrasting while it is as well possible to sense in them the emerging contours of what hypertext fictions could be like in the years to come. Furthermore I feel convinced that these 'hardcopy' products will exist as long as there are consumers to buy them or at least until the day the WWW is able to offer its users easily down-loadable 'pay per view' hyperfictions.

The dissertation is organised as follows:

In chapter 1, I discuss the writings on hypertext by the hypertext-theorists George P. Landow and Jay David Bolter, authors respectively of Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1992) [1] and Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing (1991) [2]. I examine which aspects of hypertextuality they focus on and which aspects they seem to disregard. Furthermore I touch briefly on the writings on hyperfiction writer Michael Joyce as well of the hypertext 'adversary' Sven Birkerts in order to get a more balanced and differentiated overview of the field as possible.

To contrast theory with practice, in chapter 2, I analyse two hyperfiction products, Michael Joyce's afternoon and Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden from the point of view of a 'naive' reading of these. Taking afternoon as my example, the 'story-web', as I have chosen to call is, is analysed and evaluated according to the parameters I tried to outline at the end of chapter 1. Hence, I try to describe the experience of reading a hyperfiction whereupon I proceed to a discussion of the relation between 'the structure of the structure' and the reader's experience of being in control of his own reading. The discussion includes an evaluation of the degree of interaction the Storyspace authoring tool and the scriptor 'in combination' offer the reader.

In chapter 3, I try to envision what one what one might do in future hyperfictions, partly to approximate them to the 'ideology' of hyperfiction expressed in the writings of the theorists discussed in chapter 1 and partly to counteract the negative effects of hyperfiction that I have come across in my analysis of afternoon and Victory Garden. In order to add a new and prospectively fruitful dimension to the discussion, this chapter briefly examines two variants on the electronic fiction: the semi-fictive introduction to philosophy on the 'entertainment' CD-ROM Sophie's World and the interactive computergame and film The Pandora Directive. Throughout the chapter, I focus particularly on aspects of reader-program' interaction and of identification with the storyworld through character.

In the conclusion I try to make the various strands of thoughts that runs through the paper come together in an attempt to identify what seems to be some of the issues and areas that future scholars dealing with hyperfiction need to confront. One of those subjects that definitely beg for further investigation is that of writing hyperfiction with multimedia and a fundamental issue that, in my sense, calls for further elaboration is the question of the relationship between interaction with and immersion in the time and space of the storyworld(s) that a storyweb renders. Finally, I conclude that what one must also take into consideration when studying hyperfiction is a possible 'erotics of hyperfiction'.