Sunday 23 February 1997
In practice, this means round in circles. Despite the promise of an overarching classical vision in the title of Michael Joyce's Twilight, A Symphony (Eastgate Systems), the author of this hyperfiction novel seems more interested in the familiar conceit of disclaiming authorship. He is similarly non- committal about his storytelling. There are two "arcs" of narrative, he explains; one moving eastwards towards life, one moving westwards towards death. On the eastbound line, a man holes up by the side of a lake with his baby son, kidnapped from his estranged wife. Westbound, 10 years later, the man is roaming the shore of another lake with a terminally ill woman, fruitlessly searching for the "Twilight Doctor" who assists suicide.
Meanwhile, the reader is on a fruitless quest for the plot. The problem is not so much losing it, as lighting upon any traces of narrative movement in the first place. This is not a shortcoming of the software - Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, reviewed here last week, is a demonstration of what the Storyspace hypertext program can do. But Patchwork Girl is a slim volume of a few hundred kilobytes that fits on a floppy disk. Twilight demands a CD-ROM to accommodate its appetite for storage space, which suggests that telling stories is not high among its priorities.
So does the way in which the default options tend to lead one back to the beginning. If the software takes such a lackadaisical approach to narrative, you have to conclude that the author thinks the text can manage without it. The text windows promote a diligent attitude towards reading, putting frames around short stretches of text, and encouraging the reader to study them carefully for clues to where to click next. Not all texts are flattered by attention, though. The finer stretches of Joyce's lakeside meditations on death were submerged by his misapprehension that no wordplay, however contrived or tenuous, should ever be edited out.
On the other hand, if you think that the prose style that flourished in the NME during the early 1980s was a golden vein in modern English letters, Twilight is the hypertext to take you right back there. You can sample Joyce's style at the Eastgate site (www.eastgate.com), in a piece entitled TwelveBlue (sic).
The work contains tentative experiments in multimedia that may one day be a routine feature of text-based fiction. There are visual sequences, mostly enigmatic, solipsistic images such as a view of a computer keyboard, or a hand holding a snapshot of a view through a doorway. There are also sound effects, though on my computer the ship's horn did not live up to the text's description as "bleating metallic G-sharp modulating to A-flat, its dull echo lingering on the silent edge of twilight".
Perhaps the most significant pointer to the future of fiction, however, is to be found in the credits. Joyce lists a string of copyright works he has "used without permission but with gratitude in a productive and transformative fashion which does not materially impair the marketability of the work", or words to similar effect. He might call it asserting his moral rights, but I call it passive-aggressive.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 All Blacks Aaron Cruden misses New Zealand flight after drinking session, has brilliant excuse
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': TV reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Clothes store Joy angers mental health campaigners with Twitter exchange on bipolar disorders
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Downton Abbey series 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
New Tricks: Dennis Waterman to leave drama after a decade of crime-solving
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'